Planning your trip to the Holy City? Make sure you allocate lots of time for the Charleston Historic District. As its name suggests, this neighborhood is packed to the brim with history. But there’s much more to this cool historic area than its vintage charm.
As you explore the picturesque architecture of the Charleston Historic District, you can stop for a selfie on Rainbow Row or shop ‘til you drop at Charleston City Market. Get under the sea at the South Carolina Aquarium or taste it instead at a wonderful choice of seafood restaurants. This is one of the prettiest areas in the city, but if you want to uncover Charleston’s dark side, visit The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and the Old Slave Mart Museum.
Ready to step back in time? Make your trip unforgettable with this complete Charleston Historic District guide, including what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay.
Why Treksplorer? Founded in 2011 by Ryan O’Rourke, Treksplorer provides travel recommendations and advice to millions of readers every year. Our content is rooted in our writers’ firsthand experiences, in-depth research, and/or collaborations with other experts and locals. Read more about our editorial policy.
What to see & do in Charleston Historic District
Charleston City Market
Get a taste of everything the city has to offer at Charleston City Market. With a vibrant history dating back to the 18th century, the market is a haven for local artisans and a beautiful and atmospheric place to shop. It’s the perfect place to pick up a unique souvenir.
The Charleston City Market is a National Historic Landmark and one of the coolest places to visit in Charleston, SC. Back in the day, the market was a hub for grocery shopping in the city. As times changed, it became a hot spot for small independent retailers, with over 50 sweetgrass basket weavers selling here in the 1970s. You can still pick up these Gullah baskets today to help continue a rich Charleston tradition.
At Charleston City Market, you’ll also find Certified Authentic Handmade in Charleston goods. It’s a sustainable way to buy a memento from your Charleston trip itinerary while supporting local businesses. From fashion and jewelry to gourmet food and gifts, it’s a wonderful reflection of the city’s culture.
South Carolina Aquarium
Meet over 6,000 aquatic animals at the South Carolina Aquarium. Its spot on the historic Charleston Harbor sets the perfect nautical tone. With everything from bald eagles to jellyfish to see, a visit here is a global journey across lands and seas.
The most impressive exhibit in the South Carolina Aquarium is The Great Ocean Tank. It’s North America’s deepest tank, and over 100 animals call it home. Come face to face with curious sharks and meet Caretta, a 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle.
But the real highlight of the South Carolina Aquarium has to be the turtle rescue center. The center rescues sick and injured sea turtles, rehabilitates them, and releases them back into the wild. They’ve opened their windows to the public to help educate us about sea turtle conservation. As well as watching the masters at work, you can meet some of the patients and practice giving your own mock diagnosis.
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon has witnessed some of Charleston’s most significant historical events. It’s South Carolina’s oldest building and is now one of the coolest museums in Charleston, SC. It brings the city’s colonial and Revolutionary eras to life with lots of interactive exhibits and historical re-enactments.
The stunning Georgian building is full of grand rooms and opulent period décor. If the walls could talk, they’d tell us about its time as a military headquarters, city hall, and slave market.
But the coolest part of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is underground. Take a tour of the brick dungeon where pirates and prisoners of war were once trapped. Actors, life-sized pirates, and huge gunpowder kegs help bring their stories to life.
If you love history, architecture, or pretty places, hang out in Charleston’s charming French Quarter after your visit. Cobblestone streets, scenic views, and colorful houses make this area one of the cutest spots in the Charleston Historic District.
Take the ultimate holiday snaps at Rainbow Row. Located in the South of Broad neighborhood along East Bay Street, this stretch has 13 historic rowhouses dating back to the 18th century, all in gorgeous pastel shades. Not only is the architecture beautiful, but it’s also steps away from the scenic Charleston Harbour.
Rainbow Row is one of the most recognizable streets in Charleston. The fabulous examples of Georgian and Federal architecture are framed with shady palm trees and blooming flowers.
These historic houses were once stores on the downstairs floor and the homes of merchants upstairs. But why are they such pretty colors? Local rumors have speculated the bright hues guided drunk sailors home, while others think it indicated what was sold in each store.
The truth is, when Dorothy Porcher Legge bought three houses on the street in the 90s, she decided to brighten them up with a colonial Caribbean color scheme. The other residents liked it so much that they followed suit!
Nathaniel Russell House
You can’t go to Charleston and not visit one of its famous period homes. Nathaniel Russell House is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most important Neoclassical houses in the country. The stately façade and lavish interior give you a taste of 1800s glamour. But it has a dark undertone, with much of the Russell family’s wealth coming from the slave trade.
Nathaniel Russell House enslaved at least 18 African Americans to work in his gardens, stable, and kitchen. On a visit to the house, you’ll get to learn about Nathaniel Russell’s work as a slave trader and about the lives of the people forced to work here. Wander the grounds and see genuine artifacts from an archaeological dig.
After you’re done in Nathanial Russell House, continue exploring the South of Broad neighborhood to explore more of the area’s impressive antebellum mansions and townhouses.
The Charleston Museum
If it’s your first time in the Holy City, The Charleston Museum will give you the lowdown on the most important parts of the area’s history and culture. The Charleston Museum is the oldest museum in the USA and dates back to 1773. But a modern approach to learning will make sure you’re completely engaged.
Archaeological artifacts help you to step back in time to when Native American people lived in harmony with the South Carolina Lowcountry. Trace the steps of the early colonialists and their fortification of the Charleston Peninsula.
The Charleston Museum will give you an unfiltered look at plantations and the slave trade and demonstrate the unfairness of the opulent profits of their labor. Then, you’ll dive into the turbulent times of the American Revolution and the Civil War. Head to the armory exhibit to learn about the weapons used between 1750 and the twentieth century.
Soak up the sea breeze at The Battery. Located on the tip of the downtown peninsula, this fortification has something for everyone, with an interesting history, beautiful scenery, and fabulous architecture. Walk along the stunning promenade to take it all in.
The wall was built in the 1750s but was then demolished and rebuilt in the 1820s. The defensive Civil War fortification is lined with impressive 19th-century homes like Edmondston-Alston House.
As you amble along The Battery, you’ll have glorious views of top points of interest in Charleston, SC. See if you can spot Fort Sumter, USS Yorktown, and Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse.
Stop for a rest at White Point Garden. It’s a peaceful place to get away from the hustle and bustle, but it has a dark past. Pirates were once hung here and left to deter other pirates from coming to Charleston Harbour. The park also has some interesting monuments commemorating the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Old Slave Mart Museum
The Old Slave Mart Museum is another harrowing reminder of Charleston’s dark history. There was a point when 35-40% of slaves entered the states via Charleston. This site was once an auction gallery for the slaves. Today, it’s a museum that’ll immerse you in the horrors and impact of slavery to prevent humanity from making the same mistakes.
The Old Slave Mart Museum was built in 1859 and might be the last surviving slave auction house in the state. The grim building has kept its creepy façade, but the inside is now packed with information about slavery in the Unired States.
Informative posters, multimedia displays, and haunting murals document the struggles of enslaved people. Learn how our culture and history will forever be marked by these human atrocities. There’s also a small selection of artifacts from the time to help bring the stories to life.
Where to eat & drink
You’ll love the evening scene at Charleston Historic District. The dreamy vintage ambiance sets a romantic tone and attracts some of the city’s most renowned restaurants. The bars lean into this and take a playful approach to the area’s heritage. Its position by the harbor means you’ll get some of the freshest seafood, but expect a big injection of Southern fun.
See and taste the ocean at the same time at Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar. It’s right on the waterfront and has a tasty menu of classic Southern seafood dishes.
The family-owned Charleston Crab House has been serving up low-country seafood for 27 years. Make your way through their fresh seasonal menu of shrimp & grits, Southern fried oysters, and world-famous steam pots.
Get a taste of history at Poogan’s Porch, the city’s oldest independent restaurant set in a charming Victorian townhouse. Their stylish approach to wholesome Southern classics will have you coming back for more.
For Southern food with upscale flair, check out Magnolias. Among the cozy but refined décor, you can sink your teeth into works of art made with traditional ingredients and cooking techniques.
The Griffon is a trendy dive bar and one of the most popular joints in town. Jump into their huge beer menu and find a cozy corner to make new friends.
Soak up the old-world vibes at Blind Tiger Pub. This 1803 alehouse has been a staple in Charleston for generations. Grab a cocktail and relax in the pretty historic courtyard.
Prohibition will throw you back to the jazz age. Nestle in the chic wooden interior while you enjoy live music and a great choice of beer, wine, and cocktails.
Savor the glorious Charleston Historic District skyline at The Rooftop at the Vendue. The bar offers some of the most toothsome craft cocktails in the city.
Where to stay
With its historical charm and bevy of attractions, the Historic District is the most interesting neighborhood to stay in Charleston, SC. Many of the city’s top hotels are located in areas like the French Quarter and Wraggborough.
Sleep in 300 years of history at the Andrew Pinckney Inn. Two glorious, restored buildings offer dreamy views across the historic downtown. The rooms tie in historic features with a stylish modern design, allowing you to live out your charming Charleston dream. Mix with other guests at the daily cheese and wine reception and at their weekly artist series.
This luxury hotel is steps away from some of the area’s top sites. Throw yourself into decadence with guestrooms in a grand historic Charleston style and a flawless premium steak house. Sip cocktails on the rooftop while you soak in Charleston’s only rooftop cascading pool.
This boutique hotel will feel like staying with your wealthy southern friend. Elegant rooms combine historic touches with luxurious amenities. Tuck into a gourmet breakfast, then take the complimentary bikes out for a day of exploring. You’ll be greeted with a glass of fizz on arrival and get milk and cookies or a cheese and wine reception every evening.
Just two minutes from Charleston Harbor, this stylish hotel has some of the finest waterfront views in the city. Take them in on the private roof terrace while you sip on a curated selection of beverages. Or head to the stunning lobby decked out in hand-crafted wooden furnishings and cool off with a refreshing iced tea.
This modern and breezy hotel is the perfect place to unwind in the heart of the historic district. Tucked around the corner from the Charleston City Market, you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips. Let your worries drift away at the spa or in the rooftop pool.