While I’m in Atlanta at Haven Conference, I wanted to share our top 10 things to do in Charleston from our trip last summer. It’s still one of my very favorite trips and one of my favorite destinations. I thought in case you are planning a vacation and might need some travel advice for the most popular destination in the U.S. ~ Charleston. Do you remember when your Uncle Bob or Grandpa would get out the film (that’s what we used to call video) projector and you and your family would have to watch the movies (flicks) of their summer vacation through the Ozarks or desert or the 7 dozen RV parks they stayed in? (Please don’t take offense if you are from the Ozarks, live in the desert, or own an RV. I’m just trying to make a point!)
Yep, I remember my dad doing that. But I always loved watching my brother and I swim in the motel pool at the end of day on the road or sightseeing. I squeezed my eyes shut in embarrassment as I watched my 5~year~old self refuse to jump off the diving board ~ multiple times. Since then I’ve watched multiple movies that Sweet Shark took of our trips to Hong Kong, Bali, Bangkok and Italy with a camcorder the size of a portable TV. Those days are long gone. But watching travel movies or browsing through photo albums of vacation pictures (remember when we did that?) is a pastime I still treasure. A million of you must like to do the same things. Just search Pinterest or Instagram for TRAVEL. We even have a Travel Channel. So I hope you enjoy my little Travel Channel series and will learn something new from our top 10 things to do in Charleston.
Top 10 Things To Do in Charleston
Before we get to the top 1o things to do in Charleston, you might want to check out our first leg of the trip to Savannah.
Now we’re ready for the second leg of our Savannah to Charleston to Asheville trip. Just so you know, this list doesn’t include where we ate or what we ate ~ I’m saving that for another time. And remember, I’m recounting the highlights of what we did in just 2 1/2 days in Charleston. I know that we will fill another week when we return ~ and we definitely plan to come back to this wonderful gem of a city.
Getting Around Charleston
Walking ~ Charleston is a town to walk about. Just like Savannah, it’s easy to get around ~ be sure to get a map ~ and you want to be sure to see things up close and personal.
Carriage Rides ~ Savannah has its trolly tours, Charleston has its carriage rides. A horse~drawn (or mule~drawn) carriage slows your day down and lets you enjoy the scenery ~the beautiful homes, gardens and flowers, the churches and historical sites. There are several carriage companies in Charleston and they all start at Market Street and Anson across from the City Market. Our hotel recommended Carolina Polo so that’s the one we used. Carriage companies in Charleston are highly regulated: only 20 carriages can be touring at the same time; the carriage driver has to check in with the “dispatcher” with the name of the company, his horse’s name, how many passengers, and his carriage number. There are only 3 routes and each carriage’s route is chosen by a ball dropping 1, 2, or 3; that way the carriages are spread out around town. The horses (mostly Clydesdales or 2 mules) must be rested between carriage rides and worked a maximum of 5 hours a day. And to keep the streets of Charleston clean, all animals must wear “drop bags”. I’ll let you figure that out.
There’s something quaint and soothing about listening to the horse’s hooves clopping on the streets as your driver explains the history, culture and sites of Charleston. We were on route 3 which was perfect ~ all around the beautiful residential area south of Broad (If you’ve ever read Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, you’ll know why it’s such a special part of the city.) The tour lasts 1 hour and was definitely worth it.
PediCab ~ if you just need to get from point A to point B, you can’t beat the bicycle~powered PediCab. Kind of like a ricksaw, with seating for 2, peddled by a college student. We used PediCab 3 times and it got us where we needed to go fast and it was fun; the fee is $11 for a 10 minute ride. Just call them on your cell phone and they will pick you up or stop at the gathering place at Market and Church Streets. the number is 843~577~7088.
Situated down the center of Market Street between Meeting and East Bay Streets, the City Market has been a landmark since the 1790’s. Spend a couple of hours shopping for local food products, such as Carolina Gold rice ( I bought some) or grits, the quintessential sweetgrass baskets, and other locally~made goods. Inside the City Market, the Charleston Historical Foundation has its own store. I bought 2 books on Charleston and the Carolina Gold Rice (everything there is tax~free) there. It was really enjoyable browsing through the shops.
This is the front of the City Market facing Meeting Street. Our hotel, The Planter’s Inn (which I highly recommend) was across Market Street to the left of this photo ~ a 30 second walk.
Running from north to south in the center of Charleston, King Street, is the place to shop for beautiful clothing (St. John’s, for one), seersucker suits for men (M. Dumas and Sons, Ben Silver, or Berlin’s) or antiques, art or silver. Even if you are not in the market for luxury goods, it’s still an enjoyable stroll down the Rodeo Drive of Charleston. We bought a brass candle snuffer at Birlant’s, a beautiful store featuring fine antiques and collectables.
East Bay Street to the Battery
East Bay is close to the Cooper River on the east side of Historical Charleston. Full of restaurants and shops between Market and Broad Streets, it’s a bustling street where you will never go hungry. Starting at Broad, East Bay becomes a quieter avenue, lined on the west by beautiful homes and on the east by the Cooper River. Stroll down along Waterfront Park and try to see Fort Sumter out in Charleston Bay, where in April, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired as wealthy residents watched from the balconies of their piazzas.
Where you see the people walking to the right in the picture is the seawall which was built in the early 19th century. Everything this side of the seawall had previously been swamp. When you reach the end of the Charleston Peninsula you’re at the Battery.
White Point Gardens @ The Battery
After your walk along (I should say a long walk) East Bay Street, stop at this lovely green spot at the point of Charleston Peninsula and relax on a bench under the spreading trees. You can see where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together. We tried to imagine what it was like 2 or 3 hundred years ago. Hint: it was swamp! Today it’s a lovely place to rest before heading back up East Bay or through the residential streets, which is what we did.
The Rooftop at The Vendue
While you are on East Bay, be sure to stop in The Vendue at the corner of East Bay and Vendue. It calls itself an art hotel, but the main attraction is the 2~level The Rooftop bar with awesome views of the city, Cooper River and the Ravenel Bridge. Charleston has an ordinance that no building can be taller than the church steeples (maximum of 4 stories), which means that you can see everywhere.
This is the inside of the Rooftop. That’s Sweet Shark on the right looking at the wine list.
We were there on Sunday afternoon and enjoyed the life music; the special ($5) was prosecco which was perfect for sipping while enjoying the views, visiting with locals and watching the sunlight light up the bridge.
As we were standing with our glass of prosecco looking at the bridge in the distance, the sunlight went from left to right, slowly highlighting struts of the bridge. It was beautiful.
Charleston is a city of beautiful homes (I’ll share those in another post.) and architecture, many dating back to the 1700’s. As you walk along East Bay, you’ll pass some of the most iconic ones, the Rainbow Houses, named for the lovely pastel colors on their exteriors: beige, yellow, green, blue, pink, lavender. Definitely make a point to stop and admire them.
Charleston has over a dozen historic homes to tour. Fortunately, they all have been beautifully restored to allow visitors to see the furnishings, design, and architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. These homes have been passed down through families for over 2 hundred years and in some, family members may still live in them. We toured 3, 2 of which I strongly recommend.
The Edmondston~Alston House
Located on East Bay Street, The Edmondston~Alston House is outstanding. Built in 1825 in the “new” neighborhood created by the back~filled wetlands to the west of the seawall by Charles Edmondson and later sold to Charles Alston, the home was a family home with beautiful furniture and accessories. The side porch and garden is lovely as well as the 2nd story piazza from which you can see Charleston Harbor. Well worth the time.
On the lovely porch, Sweet Shark sat on a really long joggling bench, a long, pliable board that is supported on each end by wooden stands. The board is springy and a person sitting on it can easily bounce up and down. Sources differ as to the origin, whether it was used to resemble riding a horse or as a way for young men and ladies courting to get closer with each “joggle”; its usage in the Lowcountry of South Carolina around Charleston in the early 19th century is well-documented. You can buy one for your own porch.
The Nathaniel Russell House
Located within the residential area south of Broad on Meeting Street, this home features a free~flying staircase and beautiful craftsmanship in the architectural details of moldings, faux paint treatments and plasterwork. Finished in 1808, the home has been researched for original paint colors (22 layers) and restoration continues today. Built by one of Charleston’s wealthiest merchants, the house and gardens reflect the grand living style of the 19th century. Our docent was excellent and we learned so much about Charleston.
The Dining Room ~ see the color on the walls? That’s a reproduction of the original found under 22 layers of paint.
The Window Boxes of Charleston
As you walk the residential streets of Charleston, you can’t help but notice the window boxes of gorgeous flowers. Since most Charleston homes do not have front yards, the window boxes provide the beautiful plantings favored by Charleston homeowners ~ tourists get to enjoy them too. I was alerted to the window boxes by an article in the May 2016 Southern Living ~ just in time for our trip; the flowers are planted and maintained by a group of dedicated ladies. All I can say is “thank you very much”.
The Churches of Charleston
I know this is #11, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Charleston isn’t called The Holy City for nothing. Some of the oldest and most historical churches in America are in Charleston, many with cemeteries. We saw headstones dating back to the 18th century. The churches of every denomination are represented and in use today. You can’t mss them as you walk around. From the Rooftop at the Vendue, you can see dozens of church spires. They are beautiful.
If you have ever been to Charleston, you will recognize many of the sites I’ve mentioned here. You probably have your own top 10 things to do in Charleston and could add many more to my list. If you haven’t been to Charleston, put it on your bucket list. Don’t wait as long as we did to go there.
I hope you enjoyed our travel to Charleston. Thanks for “watching”.