Charleston is one of the country’s top cities for living, visiting, eating and everything in between. This historic port town has drawn visitors for hundreds of years for its unique blend of hospitality, quintessential Southern architecture and easy proximity via car or air to many major East Coast destinations.
We’ve put together a go-to guide to help you make the most of your stay at this popular Southern stop.
Charleston City Market
One of the oldest public shopping halls in the country, the Charleston City Market is a must-stop after exploring the city. Hundreds of vendors peddle locally made wares, including food, jewelry and paintings. But the best souvenir is a handmade sweetgrass basket from one of the more than 50 artisans weaving them onsite.
Eat, Eat and Eat Again
You can’t mention “Southern hospitality” without thinking of comfort food, and Charleston is no exception. In recent years, the culinary and cocktail scene has emerged to rival any on the East Coast. But it’s not all shrimp, grits and biscuits, darling — although Charleston does do those things quite well. It’s hard to have a bad meal in the city, but we do have a few favorite spots.
Savor some of the best steaks in town at Halls Chophouse (try the bone-in ribeye); fine dining from one of the Southern greats, chef Sean Brock, at McCrady’s; or elegant lowcountry fare at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Charleston Grill located inside Four-Star Belmond Charleston Place.
For more casual dishes, we love Slightly North of Broad (SNOB), a Charleston institution, as well as its sister restaurant, High Cotton, for brunch. For grab-and-go bites, get a namesake pastry at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit or an iced rosemary latte at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Restoration’s Rise Coffee Bar.
King Street Shopping
King Street, downtown’s main drag, has everything from high-end shops (Louis Vuitton and Gucci) to one-of-a-kind boutiques like Candlefish, which carries more than 100 different types of housemade candles and offers in-house DIY workshops.
For men, there’s no better spot to score a suit than M. Dumas & Sons. Antique lovers will want to stop and view the Battery Benches at George C. Birlant & Co. or the rice spoons at Croghan’s Jewel Box.
While we like a good horse-drawn carriage ride, we’re firm believers that walking is the best way to get your bearings in a new city. Charleston Strolls offers one of our favorite historical walking tours; the two-hour jaunt takes you where cars and carriages can’t and will give you great insight into the city’s rich history, its role in the Civil War and more.
There are many grand historic homes in Charleston proper, and the Edmondston-Alston House is one of our top picks. Here, you’ll see an original print of the Ordinance of Secession, stand on the same piazza where General P.T. Beauregard watched the start of the Civil War and even sit on an original “joggling board,” a piece of antique exercise equipment unique to the South Carolina Lowcountry.
About a half hour outside the city, Middleton Place has some of the country’s most beautiful (and oldest) landscaped gardens and, on the same road, Drayton Hall is a magnificent example of Georgian architecture. If you have a sentimental streak, visit Boone Hall Plantation, featured in both The Notebook and miniseries North and South.
Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
Most visitors would tell you that Fort Sumter is a must-visit, but unless you’re a true military history aficionado, skip that tour and head to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in town instead. A real underground prison once stormed by the infamous Blackbeard, the space is also home to some of the city’s original battery wall.
Stay or Play at the Beach
There are many beaches to enjoy near Charleston. For an overnight excursion, head to Kiawah about 45 minutes away to frolic in the sand and then rest your head at Five-Star The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. If you opt for a day trip, visit the surf spots at Folly Beach, which is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Nearly every weekend, Charleston hosts an event of some sort. Plan your trip around a festival and you’ll discover fun for all ages. Some of our preferred annual events include the Spoleto theater and arts festival in late May and early June, annual fall home and garden tours, the Lowcountry Jazz Festival in September and foodie-focused gatherings held throughout the year.
Hit the Water
The best way to experience a waterfront city like a local is, of course, by boat. Sure, you can charter your own, but we love the two-hour sails on the Schooner Pride, a gorgeous four-masted, 84-foot sailboat modeled after the 18th-century coastal trading ships that once crowded the port. For the best photos, opt for a sunset tour.
Instagram Your Heart Out
There are so many scenic spots in Charleston, your fans and followers won’t know what to do. Some of our choice stops for selfies include Rainbow Row’s colored houses, the Battery, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park.