Charleston City Guide

By: Janice McDonald

Charleston Special Events & Attractions

©2006 Charleston CVB At Charleston's Old City Market,shoppers can buy sweetgrass basketswhile soaking up the local culture.

A visit to Charleston is about history and culture. Yes, its surrounding communities have wonderful beaches and there are numerous water activities, but this city is truly unique and getting to know her is a must. Two cultures meld together in this city. One is a gentle old Southern culture and other is the culture of the descendants of former slaves called Gullah, which has its own language that's a blend of English and various tribal dialects. You can often hear it if you listen closely to locals, especially at Old City Market (Market and Church Sts). This is the site where vendors have swapped wares for centuries, such as handmade sweetgrass baskets and fresh pralines.

Wander around the Old City Market, or walk along The Battery and its surrounding neighborhoods. You're more likely to hear the clop-clop of horses' hooves from carriage tours than traffic noises. It's easy to spot the locals, because they're the ones politely smiling as they watch visitors snapping pictures and pointing at events and sights like you'll find nowhere else in the world.


You'll marvel at how beneath all the history, Charleston is still very much a modern city with a strong economy based on its role as a port and the home of various naval commands. It's easy to fall into the relaxed way of life here while you soak up history and eat fresh seafood or traditional Southern cooking.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Charleston

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Charleston

For something uniquely Low Country, go to the Old City Market (Market Street at Church) and watch the basket weavers. Most are women who have passed the tradition down through their families for generations in a technique that dates back to when slaves first came from Africa in the 1700s. The weavers use a sweet grass gathered from the marshes and their baskets are considered works of art.

To avoid parking problems, go one street north of Market, on Hayne Street just off of Meeting Street, where there's a parking deck that will save you search time and relieve worries about expired meters. Another option is valet parking at Charleston Place, directly across from the Market.

New England may have its clambakes, but the Low Country has its Oyster Roasts. Between September and mid-April, you can find an oyster roast at many of the seafood restaurants on the Islands, and in late January, Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd) plays host to an annual Low Country Oyster Roast. Amid a carnival atmosphere, 65,000 pounds of oysters are steamed, shucked, and consumed to raise money for local charities. Those unfamiliar with oyster roasts would definitely want to experience this event.

The Hunley Submarine is worth any visit. This amazing sub was privately built in 1863 and was the first submarine to ever engage and sink a battleship. The Hunley sank just after the encounter and was recovered from Charleston Harbor in 2000. It's been a fascinating archeological find and has been well documented. The display includes a fascinating presentation about what happened during the sinking and the retrieval. You can obtain tickets to view the Hunley Submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center (1250 Supply St, Building 255, Former Charleston Navy Base, North Charleston, SC).

Attend a tour of the Fort Sumter National Monument (Liberty Square at Aquarium Wharf) located on a small manmade island in Charleston Harbor. There you can view historic homes nestled among trees that line the Battery (the tip of the peninsula) where South Carolina troops of the Confederacy fired upon the Union-occupied fort in what became the opening confrontation of the Civil War. The tours last about two hours and tickets can be purchased on the Cooper River in downtown Charleston or at the Patriots Point Maritime Museum (40 Patriot Point Dr, Mount Pleasant).

Step back in time to an 18th-century estate by visiting Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Rd). This property belonged to Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and includes the country's oldest landscaped gardens, stableyard, and a museum house. Craftsmen will demonstrate the skills needed to work on a plantation at that time, and you can tour the main house and grounds for an additional fee.

If you're curious about the Civil War, you may want to plan a trip in November when Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd) also hosts a re-enactment known as the Battle of Sessionville. The three-day event includes living history presentations describing encampments, uniforms, and weaponry. Other activities include a "Ladies Social," a dance (hoop skirts optional) and even an old-fashioned church service on Sunday morning.

Charleston Museum (360 Meeting St) has a rich collection of all things Charleston, but interprets them in such a way that visitors feel engaged and interested. George Washington's christening cup, chairs that delegates sat in while signing South Carolina's Ordinance of Session, and firearms used in the Civil War are just some of the exhibit pieces. Having opened in 1824, this museum claims status as America's oldest museum.

The South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf) has more than 10,000 fish, snakes, river otters, sharks, jellyfish, and more to see. Most of its exhibits focus on the Appalachian Watershed -- the mountains, piedmont, coastal plain, coast, and ocean. You can also enjoy expansive views of Charleston Harbor.

Your visit won't be complete without seeing hundreds of colorful flowers and exotic flowering shrubs that give Charleston some of its beauty and charm. The Audubon Swamp Garden (3550 Ashley River Rd) is a 60-acre blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp accessible to guests. This is a good place to safely see the local wildlife, including alligators, while strolling boardwalks, bridges, and dikes surrounded by gorgeous plants.

Angel Oak is 1,500 years old and is considered the oldest living tree east of the Rockies. Located on Johns Island, 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, it's worth a detour to see this beautiful oak tree.

With such a rich maritime history, it's only fitting that one of the best festivals to bring kids of all ages is the annual Charleston Maritime Festival. It usually takes place just prior to the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in May and encompasses everything from wooden boat races to visits from tall ships.

Charleston has a rich history of arts and culture. We'll explore this scene on the next page.