American South history greets you at every corner in Charleston, a gorgeous town full of quaint streets and pretty houses.
Walking around is the best way to enjoy Charleston. While doing that, you will undoubtedly linger at the Waterfront Park ♥, a comparatively quiet pleasant oasis by the river, headlined by a couple of fountains, or stroll on one of the Battery ♥ pedestrian walkways, fronted by stately houses. Nearby, you will come across a popular photo spot called The Rainbow Row ♥ – the provenance of the term is very easy to guess when looking at the houses. Among the streets in the core historic area, Tradd Street ♥ is a can’t-miss, but there are others just as atmospheric.
Mansions built by prominent residents in the 18-19th century are key points of interest, offering not only a look into Southern architecture but also a good narrative of the history of the region. Nathaniel Russell House ♥♥ boasts several impressive rooms with remarkable furnishings and architectural details, plus a pleasant garden. Edmonston-Alston House ♥♥ is no less interesting; during the tour there, you get a chance to step out on a piazza, a side porch of the house which is one of the defining features of Charleston architecture. Young kids enjoy a visit to this house a bit more as they get a “treasure hunt” booklet to keep them occupied.
Aiken-Rhett House is just one of the other historic mansions that should merit a visit. There is also Charleston Museum that could be worth considering.
As in almost any place where religion always played a significant role in society, any church in town will display one or two features worth stopping by. St John Baptist Cathedral ♥ is big without being huge, airy, and adorned with some stained glass but not too much other ornamentation. St Michael’s Church ♥ is beautiful in a reserved way, with a brilliant mahogany pulpit and some nice newish stained glass behind the altar.
Historic City Market ♥ is at the northern edge of the city core, housing many arts, crafts, and souvenir stalls, as well as some clothing vendors, and only a couple of food stations. Not exactly superb, but a worthwhile diversion, especially for those who love markets in general.
The city is full of art galleries, and interesting arts and crafts and antique shops (a large concentration is along King St). One of the most impressive galleries is Ella Richardson Fine Art, on Broad Street, focused on a couple of artists who paint in a modern impressionist manner.
When you are tired of walking – or at the start of your visit to get a feel for the land – a horse-drawn carriage tour ♥ is an excellent activity (not exactly cheap, though). There are several carriage companies headquartered near the market on Anson Street and they are all seemingly adequate (we used Palmetto Carriage). There are actually 3 standard routes assigned to carriages randomly to minimize congestion but they differ mainly in the sequential order of the sites visited.
River cruises are offered only on weekends in the off-season. Another seasonal note is the fact that after sunset in the off-season, the town seems mostly deserted – there are only a couple of clusters of mild activity, and most shops close their doors around 6 pm as well. Plan your time accordingly.
Hazel Parker Playground, off East Bay Street, is an agreeable place to get a break from sightseeing – invaluable when you travel with young’uns.
Several historic sights are located up Ashley River, 20-25 minutes away from the city center by car. They include popular destinations such as Magnolia Gardens and Drayton Hall.
Middleton Place ♥♥ is a huge plantation that can sustain more than a half day of sightseeing. It offers different landscaped gardens, large open areas, wooded walking paths, stableyards, ponds, several traditional craft shops, as well as a number of guided tours focused on different aspects of plantation life, and an interesting main house that can be visited with a guided tour only.
In the “memorable stays” category, Andrew Pinckney Inn (link) is located at the edge of the main historic area, practically next door to the City Market, within walking distance to major sights. One of the major features is the nice open terrace on the 4th floor, with pleasant rooftop views. Happy hour with wine and cheese is served on the terrace between 4-5 pm daily; an adequate breakfast is also served there.
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Charleston. However, there are literally no places to eat in the core historic South of Broad area. While it will take at most 10-15 minutes to walk from there to a location north of Broad, lunch planning becomes slightly more important.
Worthy of specific recommendations are: Gaulart & Maliclet (on Broad St), a bustling and excellent French bistro; and Barsa Tapas (on King Street some distance from the historic core), a Spanish eatery with regular live music.