Charleston has always been dreamy in my imagination. A historic port town with cobblestone streets, the taste of salt in the air, and large, old oak trees lining every street. That’s what I imagined. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pictures in my head weren’t too far off.
But with all the other beautiful U.S. cities to choose from, why did I decide on Charleston for my next trip?
Good question! A lot of it stems from the small seaside city’s growing popularity over the last couple of years. Charleston is everywhere these days, don’t you think? It pops up all of the time in those ‘America’s Most Charming Cities’ round-up posts. And it’s all over my Instagram feed.
And I guess that’s what caught me – The southern charm of Charleston that I noticed in photos over and over again. So when it was time to pick a destination, I had an easy answer. I needed to go to Charleston because I knew that I’d love it. And I did.
Welcome To Charleston, South Carolina
I fell in love with Charleston the minute I arrived. After getting settled at my Airbnb (more on this in Part 2), I started my ‘Holy City’ adventure simply with a walk through the neighborhood, which happens to be my favorite way to explore.
There were four things, specifically, that I noticed (and appreciated) during my walk.
Four things that I will forever associate with Charleston: The smell of jasmine in the air. The bird songs are both familiar and foreign. The heaviness of the warm air. And the beautiful Spanish moss hanging from those old oak trees that I had been dreaming about.
There truly is a charm about Charleston that I adored. And hey, perhaps one day, I’ll make my way down south to enjoy everything that it has to offer.
So let’s get to the real reason why you’re here: The Charleston travel guide!
When I started developing my travel itinerary, it became very clear that I wouldn’t have a dull moment in Charleston. There were SO many places that I wanted to see that I wasn’t even sure I could do everything in 48 hours. In fact, my Google map of Charleston was jam-packed with little green flags, all featuring points of interest.
At first, it was overwhelming looking at that map, but that’s exactly what I wanted to share with you over the next few Charleston posts that I’ll publish. Because now that I’ve experienced most of the places on that list, I’ve been able to condense it down to my top recommendations for places, restaurants, and accommodations for you to check out the next time you’re in Charleston.
In Part 1, we’ll cover a few of my favorite things to do in Charleston proper. And then Part 2 (coming next week) will cover additional day-trip ideas, cafes and restaurants you should 100% add to your list, and unique places to stay. So, without further ado…
Things To Do In Charleston
Get your walking shoes ready, because Charleston has an amazing walking score (93 if you’re curious). This means that you can explore this charming city on foot and thoroughly enjoy everything that it has to offer.
Walk through the open-air markets at the historic City Market: Each day, vendors set up their shops in the long market sheds that span four city blocks. Throughout the 19th century, the market was used as a place for farmers to sell meat and produce. But today, it’s used by merchants and small business owners who are there to sell weaved baskets, jewelry, souvenirs, and more.
Stop at the fountains in Waterfront Park: At the entrance near Concord St. and Vendue Range, you’ll find a pretty fountain that kids and pets frequent during the hot summer months. It’s also a great spot to relax for a bit and enjoy the city views and the sea breeze.
Keep walking south through the park and you’ll stumble upon another beautiful water fountain, affectionally called The Pineapple. It’s lovely during the day, but I’m told it’s quite stunning at night, too, when the water fountain lights up.
Stroll down E Battery Street to White Point Garden: There’s a pathway along E Battery that makes for an easy breezy walk along the Charleston harbor down to the Battery and White Point Garden.
It’s such a pretty spot to walk around or relax on a bench in the afternoon. I loved how the sunshine filtered in here and there through the trees, casting a dreamy haze throughout the park.
There are also historic monuments, mortars, and cannons scattered about the park, providing stories and context on how the city was defended during the Civil War.
Head to the corner of Chalmers Street and Church Street: Here you’ll find one of the most idyllic spots in Charleston. With cobblestone streets, iron gates, romantic 19th-century mansions, street lamps, and pretty oak trees. It’s a lovely spot to take a photo. You’re welcome. 🙂
Shop and eat on Kings Street: If you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, just head to Kings Street. There are so many great places for you to choose from. But more of that in Part 2. One place I wanted to recommend though, for shopping, is a boutique called Lily. It’s a dreamy shop full of home goods, jewelry, bath products, stationery, and more.
Walk the South of Broad neighborhood: I could have spent hours walking through these tree-lined streets to admire all of the beautiful homes.
Not only are the houses beautiful, but the gardens and greenery give off the most intoxicating smells. You’ll never want to leave.
And I’m pretty sure someone could do a photo series called ‘The Window Boxes of Charleston’. Everywhere you look, in the streets or alleyways, you’ll find most of the shuttered windows adorn with a window box full of flowers, which I loved. It’s just so cute.
Pro tip: Make sure to head back to South of Broad in the evening. The gas lamps (yes, they still work!) light up at night, which is the perfect place for a romantic stroll after dinner.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride around Charleston: I usually don’t do the carriage rides, but I had two Charleston natives recommend it. So I decided to try it out! I’d recommend getting tickets with Palmetto Carriage Works. They’re very mindful of how often they’re working their fleet of horses, with most of them only active 4-5 months out of the year. The rest of the time, the horses are relaxed out in the pasture.
So what’s the consensus? Do it! I learned a lot about Charleston’s history during the one-hour carriage ride. Plus, it’s kinda neat exploring the historic district of the city that way.
Those were my favorite things to do in Charleston – But of course, there’s SO much more the ‘Holy City’ has to offer. A few additional ideas for you:
- If King Street is not doing it for you, you should also head over to Cannonborough and Elliotborough for more food and shop options.
- If you’re not into the carriage ride, do a walking tour instead. There are all kinds of options to choose from with a quick Google search.
- Did you get caught in Charleston on a rainy day? No worries! There are all kinds of museums, churches, and mansions you can tour while you wait for the sunshine. Try the Calhoun Mansion, Nathaniel Russell House, and the Edmondston-Alston House.
In Part 2 of my Charleston travel guide, I’ll share additional locations that you’ll want to add to your list. This includes a few plantations, a boardwalk, a beach, and day-trip destinations in the surrounding area. And as promised, it will also include restaurant recommendations and where to stay while in Charleston, South Carolina.
Part 2 will be out sometime next week. Make sure you don’t miss it! Subscribe to my blog to get email updates that hit your inbox every Sunday. Or get blog post updates by following me on Instagram.
Let’s go places,
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Have you been to Charleston? Share your recommendations with us in the comment section below.