Charleston City Guide

By: Janice McDonald

Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Charleston

©2006 Charleston CVB Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston Harbor is one of thelargest naval and maritime museums in the world.

You've learned about all of the things to do in Charleston, from visiting historic plantations and one-of-a-kind shops to listening to great jazz and eating Low Country Cuisine. But how do you fit everything into your trip? We've put together some suggested itineraries that focus on specific areas of interest -- use them to make sure you do everything you want while visiting Charleston.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Charleston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Charleston


The must-see attractions in Charleston include the Old City Market, history museums, and plantations that are open to the public. Here are some suggested itineraries to consider:

1 day: If you have just one day in the city, make the most of it by taking a carriage tour starting at the Old City Market (Market Street at Church). That way, you can get some of the history associated with the buildings you pass by. When you are through with the tour, walk through the City Market itself and watch the basket weavers work their magic on their sweet grass creations.

Grab a quick bite at one of the nearby cafes and head over to Liberty Square and catch a boat ride out to Fort Sumter (Liberty Square at Aquarium Wharf). Just as the day gets hottest, cool off with a visit to one of the best aquariums around, the South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf). Finish the day off with drinks and American cuisine with a Charleston flare at the Library Restaurant on the roof of the Vendue Inn (19 Vendue Range). The view of the harbor isn't what it used to be, but you'll still get a great skyline view of the city and Charleston Historic District.

2 days: Start the day off at Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston Harbor (40 Patriots Point Rd, Mount Pleasant), one of the largest naval and maritime museums in the world. The centerpiece of the museum is the celebrated World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. The museum includes the Destroyer -- Laffey (DD-724), the Clamagore (SS-343) submarine and the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham (WHEC-35), as well as 25 aircrafts and weaponry. Patriot's Point is directly across the Cooper River from downtown Charleston.

When you've finished, head out to Highway 17 and go north to Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd). With its mile-long, oak tree lined driveway, you'll recognize one of the most photographed plantation sites in the South. The house is less than one century old, but the plantation also has a slave cabin avenue that dates back to the 1700s and hundreds of acres of farmland still in use.

On your way back to Charleston, take Highway 17 and stop at Mount Pleasant in a section of town called Shem Creek, known for its cluster of restaurants along the docks where you can watch all the shrimp boats come in (so you know the fish of the day will be fresh!). R.B.'s Seafood Restaurant (97 Church St) is one of the most established restaurants and close to the water. Try the coconut shrimp or Low Country crab cakes. For those who aren't seafood lovers, sample the chicken breast with peppercorn brandy cream over rice and asparagus.

3 days: Start the day off with a trip to see the Hunley Submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the Charleston Naval Center in North Charleston. Built in 1863, this was the first submarine to ever engage and sink a battleship.

It would be a shame not to take in the beach, especially when you're this close. When you're through at the Hunley Submarine, head south to Folly Beach and the Pier Area. Take Sam Rittenburg Boulevard from the Naval Center and head south on Route 171 or Folly Beach Road. The drive alone is beautiful as you cross through the marshes. When you get to the barrier island, you'll understand why its nickname is "the Edge of the World" because straight out is the Atlantic Ocean, for as far as the eye can see.

Stroll the beach and explore the neighborhoods that inspired George Gershwin's music and you may want to stick around for sunset. Even though the sun sets in back of the island, the pinks on the horizon are simply beautiful. End the day back in Charleston as a SNOB, having dinner at the Mobil Two-Star Slightly North of Broad (192 East Bay St), a unique Charleston restaurant with some fine Low Country dining. The menu changes with the seasons, but look for the salmon in creamy sauce, shrimp and grits (unlike you've ever had before), or the soft shell crab sandwich as must-try dishes.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Charleston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Charleston

Soaking up the rich Charleston culture can keep you busy for days. Organize your precious time by using these suggested itineraries.

1 day: For a day of adventure searching for the best artworks that Charleston has to offer, you'll need to check out the numerous art galleries that are actually located in the heart of Charleston, where you'll find a wide variety of pieces that center around the South in general and Charleston in particular. The downtown galleries are enough to keep you occupied for more than a day, so start out early in the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) area and go up and down Market before you head over to Church, and then King Street.

©2006 Charleston CVB Charleston's art galleries house a variety of artwork centering on Southern themes.

Don't forget to stop in the Old City Market itself and see not only the displays of some of the local artists, but the basket weavers. Their centuries-old method of weaving sweet grass into various basket shapes is itself a form of art.

Two galleries you may want to pay special attention to: The Charleston Renaissance Gallery (103 Church St) labels itself as the oldest gallery in the South and only exhibits Southern art. Gallery Chuma (43 St. John St) features entirely African American artists.

In the evening, try to take in a performance at the Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St). There's something to be said about entering a building that still has gas lanterns at the entry and watching a performance in this stately building.

2 days: For true Southern culture, venture south and west to what many call Plantation Road. Along the Ashley River Road, you'll find three distinctly different plantations.

The first is Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd), which was built in 1742 and still occupies 630 acres of land. It's known as the oldest preserved plantation in the United States. It'll give you more of a sense of living history and how the Southern culture developed.

Just up the road is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). This 17th century former rice plantation has an incredible ecosystem with river and woodlands to explore. It also has one of the largest azalea and magnolia collections in the country.

Built in 1741 and the home of Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Road) is more a artistic plantation, featuring terraced gardens, a museum, and the lifestyle of plantation living. You can even end you day here, enjoying a sunset over the Ashley River and having dinner in the beautiful Middleton Place Restaurant. You may need reservations, so check before you go.

3 days: The Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St) is Charleston's premier area of exhibition and you could spend a good portion of your day in its galleries. Located just two blocks south of Market on Meeting Street, its mandate is to, "collect, conserve, and interpret an American fine arts collection with a Charleston perspective." You can spend hours looking at the more than 10,000 pieces in its collection, including some of the best-known Southern artists like Charleston native Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

In the afternoon, schedule a Gullah Tour. Gullah is a language and culture created by the former slaves in the Coastal Carolinas and a Gullah tour will give you not only a different perspective on Charleston's history, but also an insight into the language and customs. Some destinations on the tour include the Old Slave Market, The Whipping House, and Slave Quarters. End your day with quality meats and seafood accompanied with boldly flavored Low Country accents like collard greens, hushpuppies, grits, and black-eyed peas at the elegant Mobil Four-Star Peninsula Grill (112 N Market St).

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston

Charleston is filled with historic landmarks; the architecture of the city represents several styles and eras. Here are a few itineraries that will enable you to make the most of your historical sightseeing:

1 day: A walking tour through downtown Charleston could start at just about anywhere, but it's always good to start at the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) and work your way south to the Battery, located at the very tip of the Charleston peninsula, overlooking Charleston Harbor.

The first stop is the Market Hall and Sheds (between North and South Market Streets in historic downtown Charleston), a great example of Greek Revival architecture. Built between 1840-41 on land donated by an Atlanta family, the attraction is conveniently located near a rifled cannon that is said to be the first made in the United States.

Then, make your way over to Church Street, between Meeting and Bay streets, and visit St. Philip's Episcopal Church (146 Church St), home of the oldest congregation in South Carolina. Originally founded in 1681, the current building was built in 1835.

This path also will take you past the 160-year-old French Huguenot Church (44 Queen St), which stands out from other Charleston Churches with its stucco exterior and buttresses, typical of Gothic Revival architecture.

©2006 Charleston CVB Broad Street has many examples of Charleston's amazing architecture.

When you get to Broad Street, head over to Bay Street taking in other architectural marvels along the way, like the Farmers and Exchange Bank (141 E Bay St), which is also on the National Historic Registry and is the only Moorish Revival building in Charleston.

When you get down to the Battery, almost every home there has its own wonderful architectural features. One outstanding building is the Edmondston-Alston House (21 East Battery), constructed in 1852 and features a Greek Revival Style. Its porches on all three stories feature a different style of columns on each level; Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian.

After you circle the Battery, make your way up Meeting Street for a host of historic homes, including the National Russell House (51 Meeting St). Completed in 1808, this Federal-style townhouse is considered one of America's most important neoclassical dwellings. End your day with nouveau Southern cuisine at the Mobil Three-Star Magnolia's (185 E Bay St).

2 days: Charleston's plantations have their unique architecture and landscaping that are worth a day's tour. Venture west to Ashley River Road, which is about 14 miles northwest of Highway 61, where you'll find three distinctly different plantations.

The first is Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd), a Georgian-Palladian house built in 1742 that is the center piece of 630 acres of land. It's the oldest preserved plantation in the United States open to the public and will give you more of a sense of living history and how the Southern culture developed.

Just up the road is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). This 17th century former rice plantation has an incredible ecosystem with river and woodlands to explore. It also has one of the largest azalea and magnolia collections in the country. The current house was brought to this location and reassembled after Sherman burned the prior dwelling. A mixture of Greek revival and Victorian architecture, it's surrounded by porches and has a Victorian water tower, which was added to the home in the late 1800s.

Built in 1741 and the home of Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Rd) is known for its 60 acres of terraced gardens. The main house was damaged in the Civil War and what little remained was destroyed by the 1886 earthquake. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as part of what was then a three building residential complex. You can even end your day here, enjoying a sunset over the Ashley River and having dinner in the estate's beautiful restaurant. You may need reservations, so check before you go.

3 days: The military history of Charleston is worth exploring by visiting the numerous forts and installations. The first stop has to be Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began in 1861. Take a boat ride across Charleston Harbor to visit what is now a National Park. The five-sided brick structure has walls five feet thick and was designed to house 650 men. The fort was built on a sand bar that was built up for defense purposes. The site includes a small museum and gives a real sense of a soldier's life in the 1800s. Tours leave from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or from Patriot's Point in Mount Pleasant.

When you get back to land, make a trip up the Ashley to the Citadel Military College of South Carolina (171 Moultrie St). The college was founded in 1822 and moved to its current location in 1918. Sitting on 300 acres of land, there are 24 main buildings, including four barracks, 10 classroom buildings, a chapel, and a student activities building. At the center is a 10-acre grass parade ground, where you can see the cadets performing drills. You'll find about 1,900 cadets there when class is in session.

Then, head over to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, where South Carolina's nickname "The Palmetto State" originates. The original fort was built of palmetto logs because cannon balls sank into the soft wood. Moultrie is actually a series of forts and there's evidence in your tour of how the installations were updated and modernized from its first uses in the 1700s until its last military uses in World War II.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in Charleston

Shopping in Charleston centers around the city's rich past, featuring timeless antiques and regional memorabilia. To get your shopping off to the right start, here are some suggested itineraries:

1 day: Whether you just want souvenirs or you're looking for unique clothes, stay in the downtown Charleston area for a wide selection. On either side of the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) is a wide selection of shops, ranging from collectables to resort wear to any item possible labeled with a South Carolina state flag. Check out the vendors in the market stalls. Some sell antiques while others sell handmade works of art. Speaking of which, you really shouldn't forget to stop in the market itself and see not only the displays of some of the local artists, but the basket weavers. Their sweet grass baskets are works of art and their technique have been passed down through generations, dating back hundreds of years.

When you've had your fill of the Old Market, cut through to the Shops at Charleston Place and the Riviera (130 Market St). Attached to the spectacular Mobil Four-Star Charleston Place Hotel, you'll find dozens of upscale stores featuring everything from Gucci and St. John to Tommy Bahama and Brookstone.

The shops will take you over to King Street, where you'll find a great range of shopping from Saks Fifth Avenue to the eclectic. Some of the best antique jewelry you will ever find is in Croghan's Jewel Box (308 King St).  

2 days: Antiquing is a very Charlestonian shopping thing to do and a great place to start is Roumillat's Antique Mall & Auction in West Ashley (2241 Savannah Highway, Highway 17 South). The facility includes 15,000 square feet of antiques and galleries that can keep you busy for several hours. Another great antique shop is Carolopolis Antiques (814-A St. Andrews Blvd, in West Ashley).

And if you still haven't found something to remind you of Charleston, and as long as you're still in West Ashley, why not drop down to the gallery and studio of local artist Jim Booth (1929 Maybank Highway on James Island). Booth is a self-taught artist who has become widely known for his life-like realism, whether he's painting a Civil War scene or a Charleston building like the Morris Island Lighthouse.

3 days: If you're into flea markets, it doesn't get much better than the Coastal Carolina Flea Market in Ladson (about 20 miles west of downtown Charleston on Highway 78, off Exit 203 on Interstate 26). Opened on the weekends only, there are more than 800 stalls, so this is an all-day affair. You'll find everything from antiques and other furniture to arts and crafts.

If you get your fill and want some more traditional shopping, then as you head back to town, stop at Northwoods Mall (off Exit 208 on Interstate 26). Northwoods has more than 135 stores ranging from Belk's and Dillard's to specialty shops like Charlotte Russe and Yankee Candle.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston

Jazz lovers will be right at home in Charleston, as will anyone who loves beer, seafood, or both. Here are some suggested itineraries to keep you entertained while visiting Charleston:

1 day: Start you evening off at the rooftop bar at the Mobil Three-Star Market Pavilion Hotel (225 E Bay St). Relatively new and right at the center of town, it's a great place to see the skyline, watch the sun set on the landscape, or people watch.

If you're up for some live music, then take in the Trio Club (139 Calhoun St). There's always a wide range of music from jazz to rock to Latin. There's even a patio if the crowd gets to be too much. You can then head for some dueling pianos at Pluto Rocks (479 King St), then sample a variety of various beers at Charleston Beer Works (468 King St).

©2006 Charleston CVB Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is a perfect place to begin an evening out.Get there while it's still light outside and then stay to wach the sunset.

2 days: Start the evening out in Mount Pleasant on Shem Creek, facing the water for the sunset. There are several restaurants in the area, but one of the more rustic is Shem Creek Bar and Grill (508 Mill St), where you can even sit and watch people crabbing in the saltwater creek.

After the sun sets, head on over to Sullivan's Island and Bert's Bar (2209 Middle St). The name is as basic as the place itself, but there's generally good live music there. You can also hear a variety of live music at Dunleary's Pub (2213-B Middle St on Sullivan's Island).

3 days: Venture out toward James Island and Folly Beach and drink in the atmosphere of a real old beach community. There are several bars, all frequented by the locals and the occasional tourist. In James Island, the best know in the Charleston Oasis (1409 Folly Rd), otherwise known as the "O." A bit of a dive, there's usually live music playing and the beer is cold and cheap. Or just head straight to the beach and sit out on the deck at the Rolling Thunder Roadhouse (123 West Ashley Ave). When there isn't a band playing, you're close enough to the ocean that you can listen to the waves.


Charleston's slow pace and laidback atmosphere make it the perfect place to take a break from it all. Check out these ways to take it easy in Charleston:

1 day: Start your day with a morning stroll exploring a 16th-century maze, an 18th-century herb garden, and nature trails at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). Follow it with a relaxing carriage ride through the Battery (the tip of the peninsula). If you don't want the full history recitation from your driver, he'll happily comply and let you soak up the scenery on your own.

After a laidback lunch in a cafe in the Market area and spending a few hours people-watching, book yourself an afternoon massage at the Mobil Four-Star Charleston Place Hotel (205 Meeting St). It's conveniently located right in the heart of downtown and it's one of the best spas around providing fabulous facials that can make you feel 10 years younger to aromatherapy massages to get the kinks out from walking around on the cobblestones.

2 days: Up for a little exercise? Do a bridge walk across the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge. The entire walk is 2.7 miles and it's a busy place in the morning as joggers, walkers, and even cyclists make their way across the span. If that's a little more strenuous than you had planned, then opt for a stroll on the beach on Sullivan's Island.

©2006 Charleston CVB If you like golf, you'll love Charleston.You'll find about a dozen golf coursesin the Charleston area.

You may want to consider doing a private boat charter for the afternoon. Sandlapper Tours will take you to areas that the regular tours don't visit and will even pack a picnic lunch for you to enjoy on one of the many barrier islands in the harbor. There's something to be said about cruising up on of the estuaries and feeling like you've discovered a new land.

Then finish the day sitting on the deck of the Shem Creek Bar and Grill (508 Mill St, Mount Pleasant) and enjoy a cocktail or even some good Southern Sweet tea as you watch the sunset and shrimp boats come back to dock.

3 days: Spend a day on the links at any one of a dozen golf courses in the Charleston area. Check out the Golf Club at Wescott Plantation (5000 Wescott Club Dr, North Charleston) or the Shadowmoss Golf Course (20 Dunvegan Dr, Charleston). In nearby Mount Pleasant, you can go to the Charleston National Country Club (1360 National Drive) or Patriots Point Golf Links (100 LO Bud Darby Blvd).

Follow it up with a relaxing late afternoon on Folly Beach or fishing from the 1,045-foot fishing pier. In the evening, you can take a stroll on the 4,000 feet of ocean frontage as you watch the sun go down.

With its rich history, beautiful scenery, regional cuisine, and great jazz, Charleston is the perfect place for a getaway. It's little wonder, then, that this city has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the South.

© Publications International, Ltd.


Janice McDonald grew up in the Low Country of South Carolina and has spent much of her life exploring Charleston. Afer spending 20 years traveling the world as a CNN producer, she now lives in Atlanta. McDonald has logged time in more than 70 countries, on all seven continents, and is now a freelance writer. She writes for a wide variety of travel publications and is a contributing editor for Travelgirl Magazine.

Related Links

Angel Oak

Charleston Museum

Citadel Military College of South Carolina

City of Charleston

Coastal Cyclists Bicycle Club

­College o­f Charleston

Drayton Hall

­Festival of Homes and Gardens

French Huguenot Church

Gibbes Museum of Art

Hunley Submarine

Middleton Place Plantation

Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum

Piccolo Spoleto Festival

School of the Arts

Sottile Theatre

South Carolina Aquarium