There is something about Charleston’s southern charm that never gets old and keeps travelers returning year after year, which is why you should visit the Holy City now. With its walkable downtown, its rich historical legacy dating back to the 1700s and one-of-a-kind architecture, this Southern port city is like nowhere else in America.
The Holy City is the kind of place where old and new intersect, where you can spend a morning learning about the past on a horse-drawn carriage ride and an evening staying very much in the present with a meal at one of its buzzy, innovative restaurants.
Take a walk down centuries-old cobble stone streets in the historic old town and peek into Spanish moss covered gardens in the alleys behind the graceful old mansions lining its waterfront around The Battery. Or head to the sand on one of the many barrier islands just offshore to play in the sea. Whatever you desire in a vacation, Charleston delivers.
Spring is a wonderful time to visit. The lowcountry’s heat and humidity have yet to peak but the flowers are blooming, the beaches are waking up from a winter slumber and if you visit during the 17 day stretch that is the performing arts festival Spoleto in late May and early June you’ll be treated to a host of outdoor concerts and performances.
What to See and Do
Walking and Horse Drawn Carriage Tours
Beginning a trip to Charleston with a walking or horse-drawn carriage tour is a great way to get the lay of the city. Bulldog Tours runs very informative walking tours that allow you to explore Charleston’s rich history and unique architecture on an engaging foot journey. The tours take you around its iconic landmarks and vibrant neighborhoods like The Battery, King Street, The French Quarter and to the local artisan filled Charleston City Market.
If you’d rather not explore on foot, then you can book one of the popular horse drawn carriage tours of the city. Palmetto Carriage Works is one reputable company that offers private or group tours.
Day at the Beach
There are numerous beaches between a 15 and 30-minute drive from downtown, each with its own appeal. Locals love Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor for its gentle waves and wide sand beaches. It also has a number of restaurants and bars walking distance from the beach.
Isle of Palms is another popular choice nearby and has relatively easy parking. Folly Beach can get very crowded when the temps soar and parking can be difficult. However if you drive away from the center of town on E. Arctic Ave. you’ll find fewer people and more parking spots. Slightly further afield, Kiawah Island also has beautiful beaches and great golf.
Angel Oak, Johns Island
Thought to be one of the oldest living oak trees east of the Mississippi, the magical Angel Oak shades more than 17,2000 square feet and is a fairytale like site worth the 20 minute drive from downtown. The drive out here past numerous live oaks and draping Spanish moss is also beautiful.
There are a number of plantations you can tour around Charleston including Drayton Hall, which was founded in 1738 and is the oldest preserved plantation house in America still open to the public. It has three museum galleries and a self-guided landscape walk. Also pay a visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which are the oldest public gardens in the US. A variety of tours are offered around its serene landscape.
Where to Stay
Charleston is home to dozens of hotels for all budgets, but the below properties are two of our favorites.
Charleston’s newest boutique hotel, the Emeline is trendy yet comfortable with gorgeous rooms and suites inside a 19th-century building in the heart of the historic district just across the street from the Charleston City Market. The hotel is home to Frannie and The Fox, an Italian eatery known for its wood-fired pizza, craft cocktails and laidback ambiance. You can dine inside or on the large open courtyard. The Emeline also offers guests complimentary custom bikes to ride around the city or you can sign up to take the house Countryman Mini Cooper out for a spin. The lobby gift shop here features a curated selection of local, hand-crafted goods that is well worth a browse.
King’s Courtyard Inn
Blending the intimacy of a bed and breakfast with the thoughtful amenities and personalized service of a boutique hotel, the Kings Courtyard Inn is a rare find on Charleston’s celebrated King Street. Set in one of the city’s oldest buildings, this charming inn in the heart of the Antiques District boasts 41 freshly updated guest rooms and suites, including some with original fireplaces, four-poster mahogany beds and views of leafy interior courtyards.
Where to Eat
Charleston is a foodie town and whether you are looking for simple lowcountry cooking or something more elevated you’ll find it here. Below are some of our favorite restaurants.
One of Charleston’s most renowned restaurants, it can take months to get a reservation at Husk but it is well worth the wait. Inside a restored Victorian-era home it serves up a locally sourced menu of Southern dishes that changes with the seasons. Recent selections included Wood Fired Virginia Oysters with Fried Chicken “Butter,” Honey and Pepper Mash for a starter and an equally delicious cornmeal fried North Carolina Catfish with Carolina Gold Rice, Collard Greens and Hot sauce.
Located in the original carriage house of the historic Wentworth Mansion in downtown Charleston, Circa 1886 has long reigned as one of Charleston’s top fine dining restaurants. For over a decade, Executive Chef Marc Collins has worked with a network of local farmers and fishermen creating a special kind of culinary magic that focuses on different regions from South Carolina and around the world. If you really want to be decadent try the Southern Grilled Cheese starter. It features pimento cheese mousse, grille brioche, ham, caviar and cured yolk powder.
Slightly North of Broad
Known as S.N.O.B, this is another top Charleston restaurant serving up eclectic lowcountry and modern Southern fare using fresh, local ingredients in an 18th-century warehouse. The food presentation here is delightful and the staff friendly. Top lunch entree choices include shrimp and grits, a grilled salmon salad and a fried chicken and strawberry salad.
The Park Cafe
This laidback venue is the perfect spot for Sunday brunch. With a large, dog-friendly outdoor patio as well as indoor dining, The Park Cafe serves up classic American fare with global influences. One unique (and delicious) brunch example is the Veggie Mess, which features eggs, avocado, curried veggies and cheddar. Pair it with Spicy Bloody Mary.
Butcher & Bee
If you are looking for a light and healthy, try Butcher & Bee just outside the downtown area. Using locally sourced ingredients and sustainably raised meats, dishes are flavor packed. Begin with the Whipped Feta with fermented honey and black pepper served with a pita. Follow up with one of the bowls — we loved the Avocado Crispy Salad Bowl with grilled shrimp. The restaurant also has a bakery onsite and does excellent desserts.
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