The small town of Charleston in South Carolina exudes old world charm, is rich in history and is famous for its exciting luxury homes, delicious cuisine, and southern hospitality. You will soon see why this is called “the best city in America”.
In Charleston Spring is the season for romance: magnolia and azaleas are blooming and late spring evenings can be quite comfortable for candlelit dinners in the open air. Autumn is also the right time. In hot summer, you will want to escape to the beaches south of the city. In winter, daytime temperatures range around 60F (although it can be cold), the crowd subsides and hotel prices drop.
Every time of year, the classic way to see the city is to ride a horse-drawn carriage and pinch your way along a rocky road. It’s fun with entertaining comments from your guide (more likely to famous Charleston people than historical data), but you will see far more on foot.
Train Tours in Charleston
Wherever you go, be it a mansion, a fortress, a museum or a garden, there are always reminders of the city’s past.
Founded by the British invaders in 1670 as Charles Towne, named after King Charles II, the city has a long and complex history. It was a key player in the country’s history from colonial times to the Civil War and by the mid-18th century had become very rich from growing rice and cotton. About 40 percent of the city was built on forced labor and South Carolina is a hotbed of secession. On April 12, 1861 Confederate soldiers opened fire on Union-occupied Fort Sumter, signaling the start of the Civil War.
Charleston is a city for walking
Historic Charleston’s lush streets are surrounded by neatly restored homes, in the style of Georgia, Italy, Colonial and Victoria. The eight-hectare Charleston Waterfront Park is a beautiful place where you can watch sailboats and schooners in the harbor or dip your toes into the cool waters of the iconic Pineapple Fountain.
Incidentally, pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and you will see carving motifs in art and architecture throughout the city.
Fountain of Pineapple, Waterfront Park
The quarter known as South of Broad (ie Broad Street), stretching to the southern tip of the peninsula, offers ancient houses before the war, some open to the public.
Rainbow Row is named after a row of colorful and very Instagram Georgian houses at 83-107 East Bay Street. Walk to the south end to admire the peaceful views of Battery and White Point Gardens and visit the beautifully maintained Edmondston-Alston House.
No trip to Charleston is complete without a visit to at least one of the plantations around Charleston. Middleton Place is a magnificent 18th-century rice plantation, with beautiful gardens jutting into the Ashley River and large oaks hung with a mass of Spanish moss such as moss.
Explore Charleston Middleton Place House
The restored house is full of family portraits, silver and furniture, while Stableyards shows the skills of enslaved craftsmen. Eliza’s House, a slave residence, shows a list of 2,800 enslaved people who work on Middleton plantations.
The less striking McLeod Plantation, two miles from downtown Charleston, offers untainted truth from the lives of enslaved Africans who work here. In the old French Quarter, Old Slave Mart, where slaves were enslaved, had more horrible stories to tell.
Charleston has seen a restaurant boom, and food lovers flock here. Lowcountry cuisine owes to the West African and French culinary traditions and is based on abundant rice and seafood.
International fares are increasingly available but it would be a shame not to enjoy southern specialties such as Shrimp and Grits and She-Crab Soup (rich cream crab soup with a little dry sherry). Grits, made from milled and boiled corn, are a big problem in the south – and even appear at breakfast.
Start the day at Millers for all-day breakfast, a former pharmacy that offers waffles, sorghum syrup, bowls of daily grits, steaks and eggs.
For fancy seafood, go to The Ordinary, the oyster and seafood hall in a former bank. Carnivores will love pork dishes at Rodney Scott BBQ; (8-10 pigs smoked per night) or the best piece in Charleston at Chophouse Halls.
For romance and old world charm, choose Circa 1886 which serves Lowcountry cuisine in the beautiful atmosphere of ex-carriages at Wentworth Mansion. End the day with cocktails and live music at the Prohibited gastro jazz pub. Or dancing to make love (yes right, this is the official dance of the state of South Carolina!), Traditional dancing on the beach under the stars.
Shop at City Market
The bustling and atmospheric City Market is home to 150 traders and traders selling everything from stone grits and feather bowties to fashion, toys and rocking boards. It is famous for basket-sweetgrass weavers, originally made to winnow rice on local plantations. The craft is from West Africa and is 300 years old.
Fashionable King Street is the main shopping line: Lower King Street for antiques, Middle King for Fashion, Upper King for Design – with plenty of opportunities to eat and drink along the way.
BICYCLE: The city is easily reached by foot. Or use a bicycle from one of the 25 Holy Spokes locations. For plantations or beaches outside the city, use Ubers.
WALK: Walking tours, with history, Gullah culture, ghost themes or food, order with the Bulldog.
UP: Take a train ride with Palmetto Carriage Works.
BOAT: Historic Fort Sumter, in the middle of the harbor, is reached by boat. Follow pelicans and dolphins as you go. You can also enjoy city views from schooner cruises.
For luxury rooms and book a prime location at the new Bennett Hotel you can read our reviews about Bennett Hotel
For comfortable boutique rooms at lower prices, try The Vendue (www.thevendue.com), well placed with a harbor-view rooftop bar, extensive art collection, free bicycles, including breakfast and Champagne upon arrival.
FLY: BA flies directly from London Heathrow to Charleston Airport twice a week.