Looking for some classic Southern hospitality in your life? Pack your bags and visit Charleston, South Carolina. Famed for its Southern charm, historic buildings, and burgeoning foodie scene, Charleston is fast becoming a popular weekend getaway in the Southeast USA.
From historic city markets to national monuments to gorgeous peninsula views, Charleston, SC, is a varied and vibrant city. If you love history, South Carolina’s biggest city is an ideal place for you to spend a few days!
Ready to plan your trip to Charleston, SC? Create your dream getaway with our Charleston travel guide, including where to stay, what to do, how to get around, and more!
Looking for more ideas for your trip? Check out our South Carolina Travel Guide for more recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do!
What to see & do in Charleston, SC
Charleston Historic District
If you’ve only got one day in Charleston, visiting the Charleston Historic District should be top of the list. Frequently voted as one of the best things to do in Charleston, SC, the cobbled streets of the Charleston Historic District evoke memories and visions of centuries past.
With a huge collection of 18th and 19th-century architecture covering the area, a wander through this area feels like stepping into history. If you’re into history and architecture, the Charleston Historic District absolutely can’t be missed. Enjoy the brightly colored, multi-columned homes towering above the traffic-free streets.
The Charleston Historic District typifies the image of the city that most people have in their heads before they arrive. It’s the old-world, Southern vibe that hooks you in. Each house has its own story to tell, some darker than others. There are plenty of historic homes open for tours to the public, including The Nathaniel Russell House, the Joseph Manigault House, and more.
Historic Charleston City Market
Looking for a place to buy lunch or some tasteful gifts and souvenirs from your trip to Charleston, SC? Spanning four city blocks, the Historic Charleston City Market is the beating heart of the historic city area and is full of tasty treats. Take your pick from the delicious vendors, handmade gifts, or artisanal wares.
As with everywhere in the city, the Historic Charleston City Market is dripping with history and culture and has been the center of the community for centuries. Originally opened in 1841, the market has a long and illustrious past that you can learn about as you wander the rows within.
Another architectural marvel in the middle of the city, the Historic Charleston City Market was designed in the Greek Revival architecture style, similar to many antebellum houses in the region.
If you need fresh air, Charleston’s coastline is a great place to reset. Specifically, take in the views at The Battery. A defensive seawall with a stunning promenade alongside the shoreline, The Battery is the ideal place to enjoy the South Carolina weather.
A historic site in itself, The Battery is named for the coastal defense artillery wall that kept the city safe from harm in years gone by. Nowadays, it provides the perfect walking route for exploring the city, having a flat run, or getting out and about on two wheels.
Set up camp on the benches all along The Battery for a panoramic picnic, or stop off at one of the many fine cafes, bars, and restaurants located near this iconic Charleston landmark.
Old Slave Mart Museum
Charleston, SC, isn’t without its dark and shameful past. As one of the most bustling cities in the South throughout the past three hundred years, it more than played its part in the slave trade. Learn more about this barbaric period of history and the longstanding impact it’s had at the Old Slave Mart Museum.
The first African-American Museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum educates visitors on the practices and realities of life in the South at that time, as well as being an open place for questions and curiosity. Located inside the old slave market, it’s a poignant reminder of the past and one that should not be forgotten.
Open from 9 am until 5 pm from Monday to Saturday, the Old Slave Mart Museum is closed on Sundays; plan your visit accordingly.
Fort Sumter National Monument
If you’re looking to get out of the city, Fort Sumter National Monument is one of the best day trips from Charleston, SC. A popular attraction for military buffs and wannabe historians from all over the world, Fort Sumter lies just a 30-minute ferry ride away from Charleston Harbor.
Critical in US history, Fort Sumter National Monument was where the first shots were fired in the pivotal Civil War in 1861. From here, the war raged on, with Fort Sumter National Monument being well endowed with artillery, cannons, and plenty of defenses.
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Enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on the ferry ride across, learn more about this crucial piece of American history, or just stop and take a minute to appreciate the beautiful view of Charleston back across the water.
Where to stay
With so many different areas and neighborhoods in this beautiful city, it can be difficult to pick where to stay in Charleston, SC. It all depends on your personal vibe and what you’re looking to get out of your trip.
- Downtown Charleston: If you’re a first-time visitor to the city, stay in Downtown Charleston. Here you’ll be close to the action, including all the best places to eat, drink, and have a good time in. Considered the “younger” part of the city – it’s all relative here – Downtown Charleston has a fun, colorful edge to it which makes it the ideal spot for first-timers.
- Historic District: Coming to Charleston to experience the culture and history? You’ll want to stay in the Historic District. Close to all the main tourist attractions and the older side of town, you can wake up already immersed in the vivid history of this legendary city.
- French Quarter: Charleston is also known for its growing art scene, and there’s no better place to find fabulous galleries than the French Quarter. Characterized by the colorful building facades, patisseries, and cafe culture, the French Quarter lives up to its name. Stay here if you want a more relaxed, cultured getaway in Charleston.
- West Ashley: One of the more affordable and quieter places to stay lies over the Ashley River in West Ashley. Filled with parks and green spaces, West Ashley has a considerably more laid-back vibe than the city center. If you’re spending longer in Charleston and can afford to spend more time traveling in and out of the city, the lower rates of West Ashley might be appealing.
When to visit
To get the most out of your next trip, the best time to visit Charleston, SC, is between March to May or between September and November. At these times, you can see the city in full bloom without having to deal with the oppressive southern summer heat and humidity that plagues Charleston between June and August.
Of course, avoiding school vacation periods is always an added bonus, especially around Easter. With Charleston’s nickname being the “Holy City” and the weather improving, it tends to get pretty busy and expensive around the holiday.
Charleston is served by Charleston International Airport (CHS), located about 12 miles northwest of downtown. Several major airlines fly to CHS from other US destinations, including:
- American Airlines
- American Eagle
- Delta Air Lines
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
Charleston is well-connected by road to other destinations in South Carolina and other neighboring states. Popular road routes to Charleston and estimated driving times include:
- Columbia, SC (2h12m)
- Myrtle Beach, SC (2h21m)
- Savannah, GA (2h20m)
- Augusta, GA (2h52m)
- Charlotte, NC (3h13m)
- Asheville, NC (4h7m)
With such beautiful cobblestone streets, one of the best ways to truly explore Charleston is by foot. As the city was largely planned and designed for horses and carts and pedestrians, there are plenty of intriguing side streets and interesting routes that you simply can’t access by car.
For perspective, the whole of the downtown neighborhood is less than five square miles and encompasses a huge swathe of attractions, restaurants, and bars that you’re likely to visit. As a small aside, if you’re planning on exploring the magical Historic District on foot, be aware that as it’s over 300 years old, the streets aren’t exactly level. Take care, especially if it’s been raining or if you’re heading out in heels or sandals.
One of the most popular ways to see the city is to take advantage of the free DASH shuttle. Looping around the Historic District, you’ll find the DASH green line; around the university area is the purple route; finally, the orange line can be found near the aquarium and College of Charleston.
All the DASH shuttle routes stop at the visitor center. You can easily hop on and off on these free shuttles between 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays, with them being on reduced hours over the weekend.
There are regular ticketed buses in and around Charleston. However, unless you’re planning on traveling outside of the main tourist spots, the free DASH shuttle or pounding the pavement are going to be your best bets for getting around Charleston.