Last Updated On: August 25th 2016
I had little knowledge about Charleston before I visited it three years ago as part of a two week trip around the southern states of the United States of America (see also: New Orleans and Savannah). The only information I had was that it has been voted the most popular tourist destination in the US and Canada for three years in a row… hence I had high hopes (with a mix of skepticism).
Charleston ended up being one of the most pleasant cities I’ve visited in the US. Besides the (expected) southern charm of the town it has something for everyone: the history-buff, the shopaholic, the foodie, and/or the beach babe/dude.
Located in the south, Charleston is blessed with generally good weather all year around. The best time to visit is between March and May or September to November when the weather is mild. Hotel prices, however, are also high during these periods especially at Easter when swarms of tourists take over the city.
Charleston is served by Charleston International Airport (CHS) ( ), which is located approximately 20 kilometers northwest of the historic downtown. There are plenty of ways to get to the center from the airport such as taxis for about 25 United States Dollars (USD), shuttles for 14 USD pp, and express busses (4/hr nonstop) from the airport to the downtown Visitors’ Center every day of the week for 3 USD. Charleston can also be reached with the trains thanks to Amtrak that runs the Silver Service/ Palmetto from New York to Miami along the east coast.
To prove my point about Charleston ticking everyone’s fancy here is a handful of must-see places in and around the city.
To get a get a good feel for the history of Charleston a trip to Fort Sumter ( ) is necessary. This is the place where the very first shots of the American Civil war were shot on April 12, 1861 in front of many civilians who were watching it in celebratory spirit. The next day the fort was cut off from its supply line and surrendered.
No holiday to the south is complete without a trip to a plantation and the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens ( ) is one of the most amazing (and oldest!) plantations in the south. It dates back to 1676, when Thomas and Ann Drayton built a house and small formal garden on the site – amazingly it is still under the control of the Drayton family after 15 generations and it spreads across 390 acres.
When the weather permits (and luckily it does most of the time in Charleston) a stroll along the Rainbow Row ( ) is a real treat. As the name suggests it is a row of 14 houses along the East Bay Street painted in all colours of the rainbow. The reasons behind the colours vary between urban legends – one of my favorite is that they were used to capture the attention of drunk sailors who might not have otherwise been able to find their way home (smart, huh!).
For a bit of retail therapy head downtown to the Charleston City Market ( ) where you can get anything from recipe books of amazing southern food to trinkets and art from local artists. It is also possible to visit the night market every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between 6:30 and 10:30 pm.
If you need to cool off, Folly beach is a great option for a day of sea, sun, and sand. Located less than 20 kilometers from downtown it is a city located on historic Folly Island in Charleston County. Anything from surfing, through fishing to kayaking can be done if you decide to head out of the city for the beach.
You can’t go wrong with food in the south and Charleston is no exception. Restaurants after bars, after cafes, will keep you busy – just make sure to try as many local delicacies as possible.
For an upscale dining experience make sure to visit Magnolias ( ). It’s pricy but the food is divine. Don’t forget to make reservations.
I think I died and went to cake-heaven at Kaminsky’s Café ( ). Crazy sized and flavoured cakes with great hot and cold beverages.
For a great breakfast (and lunch… and deli and…) head to Caviar and Bananas ( ) which has a couple of locations across Charleston.
If you want to feel like a proper Southern Belle (or Beau) and money is no object make sure to book a room at the Wentworth Mansion ( ) in downtown Charleston – room rates are between 500 to 700 USD/night.
For a more affordable stay in Charleston why not stay at Town and Country Inn and Suites ( ). A bit of a drive from the city center but definitely worth the 90-120 USD/night rate accommodation.
If you are a budget traveler NotSo hostel ( ) is a good option for your wallet. It has dorm and private rooms between 28 up to 100 USD/night.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Charleston.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more information on Charleston and insider tips and suggestions from experts and locals make sure to visit the following sites:
Official tourism site for Charleston, highlighting the best Charleston has to offer.
Where the locals go according to Southern Living.