Travel Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

By Jessica Russo

Ah, Charleston. The pastel, palm-lined streets, the colonial mansions, and the giant oak trees straight out of your Southern dreams--it's pretty much a fairytale. From biscuits and barbecue to seafood and sunsets, this pretty city awaits with plenty to see and do. Discover whimsical gardens, picnic by the water, and stroll through the historic market. Don't know where to start? Here's everything you'll need to visit Charleston, South Carolina.

What to Know

Nicknamed "the Holy City," Charleston is an eclectic mix of beautiful beaches, gorgeous architecture, indulgent cuisine, vibrant main streets, and complicated history. With deep roots in the American Civil War, Charleston is filled with reminders of the past. Fort Sumter National Monument, located in the Charleston Harbor, is more than just a tourist attraction - it's where Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War in April of 1861! All around the city, you'll weave in and out of past and present.

When to Go

There's nothing quite like Charleston in the springtime - when blooming flowers adorn colorful homes to create a bright kaleidoscope of color. In addition to pretty flowers, springtime travel offers mild weather without the humidity of summer - and with fewer crowds. While summer is undoubtedly Charleston's hottest and most crowded season, it is a great time to go if you're looking to hit the beach.

During the months of December-February, Charleston is pretty much locals only. It rarely snows in Charleston (heck, it rarely dips below 55 degrees F!), but winter lacks the sundress-wearing, flower-blooming, whimsical feeling of the spring/summer.

How to Get Around

Most of Charleston is completely walkable, and we will always advocate that walking is the best way to explore a new city. With that being said, walking may not always be an option for everyone. The DASH Trolley is a free and easy way to get around the city, as it makes several stops along three different routes. Uber and similar car services are also widely used in Charleston, and are probably the most convenient.

If you're driving to Charleston, having a car will give you the freedom to explore surrounding areas and take day trips - but when it comes to seeing the city, you can park it and forget it.

What to Eat

In Charleston, the food is as good as the streets are pretty! Where seafood meets sweet tea and barbecue meets biscuits, Charleston will leave your belly happy and your pants way too tight. For breakfast, fresh biscuits are a must. You'll also want to find a cafe that serves eggs benedict with fried green tomatoes or crabcakes (you can thank us later). For lunch, it'll be fried chicken or South Carolina barbecue with cornbread - and a refreshing sweet tea, of course.
Then, get ready for some of the best seafood you'll ever sink your teeth into. Start off with some oysters, then get ready for shrimp and grits. If you see "Frogmore Stew" on the menu, don't shy away! We promise, there are no frogs harmed in the making of this seafood boil - only shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes.
Last but not least, crab! Locals in South Carolina seem to find new ways to eat crab every day - each more delicious than the last. Be sure to order She-Crab soup, deviled crabs, and crab rice when you spot it. Enjoy!

What to See

  • Rainbow Row Located between Tradd and Elliot streets on East Bay Street, this block of colorful houses is one of Charleston's most iconic spots. Put on your favorite sundress and get ready to pose - this perfectly Instagrammable street awaits your photoshoot!
  • Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park The pineapple is a symbol for the kind of warm hospitality you'll find in Charleston. Take a gorgeous walk through Waterfront Park and be sure to stop at the must-see Pineapple Fountain - it's impossible to miss!
  • The Battery Formerly used as an artillery battery, this defensive seawall and promenade is now known for the stunning houses that overlook it. Walk along the water and catch yourself "oohing" and "awwing" at the architecture! White Point Garden, which sits at the southern tip of The Battery, provides the perfect place for a picnic, with its lush grassy areas and shady old oak trees.
  • Historic Charleston City Market Established in the 1790s, this huge market buzzes with Southern charm - and stretches for four city blocks! Whether you're in the market to buy souvenirs, nosh on some tasty treats, or just "window shop," the Charleston City Market is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of Charleston.
  • King Street In Charleston, there's no street like King Street! Filled with bars, shops, and restaurants, this 300-year-old street is Charleston's "main drag." From old theaters to chic eateries, King Street feels a bit like a movie set - where past meets present.
  • Magnolia Plantation Despite its dark past during the era of American slavery, Magnolia Plantation boasts one of the prettiest gardens in the US. With the Ashley River running through old bridges, weeping mossy trees, and vibrant flowers, Magnolia Plantation is the definition of whimsical beauty. (Think: The Notebook).
  • Angel Oak Get ready for an awe-inspiring experience. This massive rougly-500-year-old oak tree stands over 66 feet tall, and measures 28 feet in circumference! You won't want to miss this surreal natural beauty.

Tips and Tricks

  • Don't plan your meals too much. It's great to research restaurants - especially these days - but make sure you keep some flexibility in your schedule. Food is a huge part of visiting Charleston, and when you walk by a place that looks interesting, don't pass it by.
  • When you do plan meals, make reservations. Like we said, food is important to everyone in Charleston. If there is a restaurant you'll be heartbroken if you don't try, make a reservation.
  • Get a history lesson before traveling. Much of Southern past and present is rooted in the American Civil War and the history of slavery. While these topics may dim some of the happy colors of Charleston, it is important to understand the city's past in order to appreciate its present.
  • Rent a bike. Sure, people might tell you to hop on a horse-drawn carriage, but the flat peninsula that is Charleston makes biking fun and easy.

Day Trips

  • Savannah, Georgia A two-hour drive is well worth it if you're driving to Savannah. Known for its canopies of weeping trees and well-preserved architecture, Savannah is a historic city that defines Southern charm. And for all you Forrest Gump fans, be sure to check out Chippewa Square, where the famous "bench" scene was filmed!
  • Georgetown, SC This little town is big in Southern charm. Lined with inviting restaurants and boutiques, the streets of Georgetown look straight out of a movie. Explore after dinner and watch the sunset over the water!
  • Hilton Head Island, SC (stop in Beaufort) Famous for its beaches and world-class golf courses, Hilton Head is a must-see stop in South Carolina. Pack the car for a beach day and take in some sun at Coligny Beach Park. Then, mosey around the pier and spot the Harbour Town Lighthouse! On the way to or from, be sure to stop and see the gorgeous mansions in the historic city of Beaufort.
  • Kiawah & Wadmalaw Islands While both islands practically neighbor Charleston - 45 minutes to Kiawah and 30 minutes to Wadmalaw - you will feel worlds away from city life. Explore maritime forests, relax on the beach, play a round of golf, or stop at a vineyard! The blend of farmland and beach beauty makes these islands truly unique.

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