Charleston Travel Guide

Charleston is one of the oldest, most storied cities in America and has developed a rich culture shaped by a number of historic events (the Civil War commenced at Fort Sumter, for one) with distinct geographic elements (the city is flanked by two rivers and a beautiful harbor on the Southern tip). And due to its small size, you’ll inevitably stumble on significant sites and the picturesque Charleston single houses, with their piazzas and lace-like facades, simply by taking a post-dinner walk. What’s more, many of the newer restaurants, bars, and shops are housed in old buildings that have been beautifully converted to accommodate modern-day needs—though they still retain the old-world charm that makes Charleston so unforgettable.

History permeates almost every aspect of the city, from the majestic homes-turned-museums to the landmarks that promote the city's role in United States history. Civil War buffs should head to Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the War between the States was fired. Meanwhile, shopaholics looking for locally made goods should peruse the Charleston City Market. When you're ready for a day at the beach, the city's got you covered there, too. Several beach towns, including Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palm and Folly Beach, offer sun, sand and gentle waves. Continue reading our Charleston Travel Guide and start planning your Charleston vacation today! For more great East Coast beaches of the U.S., visit our Best East Coast Beaches review here.

Charleston Weather (When to Visit)

The best time to visit Charleston is from March to May or from September to November when temperatures are mild – but not stifling. Hotel rates, however, will be high, especially around Easter. Also, the city will be thick with crowds “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the blooming magnolia trees, the Southern fried food and their tour guide's ghost stories. Steer clear of high prices and tourist swarms by visiting in the late fall or early winter.

Temperate weather accompanies blooming trees and flowers, making spring one of the best times to vacation in Charleston. The warm 60 to 80-degree temperatures usher in a colorful array of blooms throughout the city, which you can tour during the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens. But you won't be alone in a springtime visit: Prepare for high hotel rates and hordes of tourists competing for lodging space, especially around the Easter holidays. Avoid the large crowds and steep rates with a mid-week visit instead of a weekend stay.

Best Charleston Area Beaches

Folly Beach, Charleston SC, Charleston Travel guide, best Charleston hotels, best Charleston Restaurants, things to do in Charleston, Charleston attractions, Charleston nightlife, beach travel, Charleston beaches, best East Coast beaches, best US beaches, beach travel destinations
Folly Beach

Folly Beach with its mix of beachcombers and bohemians, is the most laid back of the local island scene. Spend the day watching surfers line up in the Washout, an area on the east side of Folly considered one of the best spots on the East Coast, then take a surfing lesson. Try Shaka Surf School.

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Sullivan's Island, Charleston SC, Charleston Travel guide, best Charleston hotels, best Charleston Restaurants, things to do in Charleston, Charleston attractions, Charleston nightlife, beach travel, Charleston beaches, best East Coast beaches, best US beaches, beach travel destinations
Sullivan's Island

Sullivan’s Island is ideal for stand up paddle boarding (SUP), with an inlet right off the beach that, in low to medium tide, makes it easier to balance on the board without fighting the ocean waves.

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Bull Island, Charleston SC, Charleston Travel guide, best Charleston hotels, best Charleston Restaurants, things to do in Charleston, Charleston attractions, Charleston nightlife, beach travel, Charleston beaches, best East Coast beaches, best US beaches, beach travel destinations
Bull Island

To see an untouched natural habitat, spend the day on Bull Island at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Perfect for hiking, this wilderness habitat houses one of the largest bird populations in the area (nearly 300 species), 7 miles of nearly untouched beach for shell gathering, and the magnificent and haunting Boneyard Beach, filled with downed trees bleached by the sun.

Isle of Palms, Charleston SC, Charleston Travel guide, best Charleston hotels, best Charleston Restaurants, things to do in Charleston, Charleston attractions, Charleston nightlife, beach travel, Charleston beaches, best East Coast beaches, best US beaches, beach travel destinations
Isle of Palms

Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway just 12 miles from historic Charleston, the Isle of Palms features a beautiful beach, championship golf & tennis, a marina, and endless recreational opportunities both on and off the water.

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Kiawah Island, Charleston SC, Charleston Travel guide, best Charleston hotels, best Charleston Restaurants, things to do in Charleston, Charleston attractions, Charleston nightlife, beach travel, Charleston beaches, best East Coast beaches, best US beaches, beach travel destinations
Kiawah Island

Kiawah is a residential community incorporating a world-class resort and a unique, vibrant shopping village within a natural maritime setting that is being preserved and enhanced for current and future generations.

Things to do in Charleston by Viator

Viator.com – Tours, sightseeing tours, activities & things to do

Charleston’s Old South Carriage Historic Tour

Experience more than 300 years of history on this guided carriage tour of Charleston. See the many mansions, churches, and gardens as your horse-drawn carriage tour covers more than 2.5 miles and 30 blocks of historic Charleston. Belgian and Percheron draft horses will you lead you through the streets while you learn about this “Holy City” and its role in the Civil War. Learn more about Charleston's Old South Carriage Historic Tour.

Charleston Harbor History Tour

See the Charleston Harbor by boat with a leisurely sightseeing tour along the Cooper River to Fort Sumter National Monument. This fully-narrated tour focuses on Charleston history from Civil War sites to antebellum houses and landmarks, passes under Cooper River bridges, and explores a waterfront that’s home to bottlenose dolphins and pelicans. Learn more about the Charleston Harbor History Tour.

Charleston See-It-All Sightseeing Bus Tour

Charleston's colonial history, laid-back vibe, and beautiful sites continue to steal the hearts of visitors to the Holy City. See the highlights of the peninsula in comfort on this 90-minute guided tour on a climate-controlled minibus with a maximum of 15 passengers. This narrated tour keeps you cool as you ride past must-see Charleston sights such as the Battery, the Citadel, Old City Market, and Hampton Park as well as enjoy spectacular views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan Island Lighthouse at a distance. Bonus: Admission to Charleston Powder Museum is also included with the price of your tour. Learn more about the Charleston See-It-All Bus Tour.

Charleston's Historic Residential Carriage Tour

This one-hour tour tells the tales of Charleston's most pivotal moments and will have travelers falling in love with the unique culture and beautiful landscapes of this southern city. Your experience begins in the stable opposite Market Street, where you'll interact with horses before riding along in a custom carriage through the landmarks and attractions of this coastal town. The 16-passenger carriages are lighter and more comfortable that most, making them as enjoyable for the horses are they are for travelers! Learn more about Charleston's Historic Residential Carriage Tour.

Morris Island Lighthouse Eco-Cruise

Cruise through Lowcountry tidal creeks and marshes en route to the uninhabited Morris Island on this boat cruise from the Charleston area. A private boat company launches from Bowens Island for the scenic ride through an estuary rich in biodiversity before a soft landing on Morris Island. Spend free time to taking photos the historical Morris Island Lighthouse, combing for seashells, and looking out for birds, sea turtles, and dolphins before your return. Learn more abou the Morris Island Lighthouse Eco-Cruise.

Best Charleston Restaurants

Husk $31 – 60

Chef Sean Brock's testament to new southern cuisine, Husk sources heirloom grains, heritage animals, and classic Lowcountry produce both from area farms and from its garden. The menu changes regularly, but the dinner rolls are a constant, sprinkled with benne seeds and bourbon-barrel-smoked salt, served in a locally crafted sweetgrass basket with pork-infused butter for dredging.  Telephone: 843-577-2500 Web: Husk

Fig $31 – 60

Old enough to be considered an institution, but still creative enough to wow the locals who have favored it for years, Fig is one of Charleston’s biggest success stories. Owned by Mike Lata, the kitchen is run by James Beard winner Jason Stanhope, who brings his South American background and French technique to Southern cuisine, creating dishes like fish stew provencal, made with locally caught white shrimp, squid, mussels, and Carolina gold rice. Telephone: 843-805-5900 Web: Fig

The Ordinary $31 – 60

Housed in a 1920s bank building, the high ceilings and expansive room—designed with clean white tile and black wood accents—is elegant in a simple, Parisian cafe sort of way. The website says “fancy seafood,” and this is the place for it in the city. Don't miss: oysters on the half shell, crudo, the lobster roll, or the crispy oyster slider, since it's something that most people who frequent get every time, no matter the choices for the rest of the meal. This bar has an impressive collection of rum, so the cocktail list is divided into “With Rum” and “Without Rum” categories, with 12 in the former. Telephone: 843-414-7060 Web: The Ordinary

Xiao Bao Biscuit $11 – 30

For a taste of something outside of fried green tomatoes and sweet tea, head to Xiao Bao Biscuit on the corner of Rutledge Ave and Spring Street. Here you'll find a beautiful marriage of Asian and Chinese soul food, with spicy dishes like Thai yellow curry with mung bean cakes, Japanese cabbage pancakes with pork “candy,” or local snapper prepared with Chinese spices and seasoned greens. Inside a converted gas station, it's popular for business and casual meals among the creative class. Web: Xiao Bao Biscuit

Le Farfalle $31 – 60

Although firmly in the “tourist district,” it is still firmly a neighborhood spot. You can pop in for a happy hour bite of fried mozzarella sticks, enjoy a plate of rigatoni verde and a glass of wine at the bar, or go all out with courses and spend the evening there. Standouts include the Fideos with toasted angel hair pasta and local shrimp, a filling Warm Rosemary Focaccia served with whipped ricotta, anything from the excellent vegetable selections, and Octopus Carpaccio, a fan favorite. Telephone: 843-212-0920 Web: Le Farfalle

Best Charleston Nightlife

The Cocktail Club

The Cocktail Club mixes up some of the most creative “farm-to-shaker” cocktails in town using house-made infusions, syrups, spices, roots, shrubs, bitters, herbs, and rare spirits. Telephone: 843-724-9411 Web: The Cocktail Club

Prohibition

In addition to dancing, many come here for infused craft cocktails, an impressive whiskey selection, seasonal beers on draft, and elevated edibles such as squid and grits and maple-bourbon hot wings. Telephone: 843-793-2964 Web: The Prohibition

Proof

An intimate nook, Proof fills with craft cocktail connoisseurs escaping the collegiate pub crawl. Telephone: 843-793-1422 Web: Proof

The Belmont

A classy evening and late-night cocktail lounge with towering pressed tin ceilings and black-and-white movies projected on a rear screen, The Belmont maintains a vintage vibe and devoted following. Web: The Belmont

The Bar at Husk

Next door to uber-trending restaurant Husk, the freestanding Bar at Husk is a destination in itself, thanks to an impressive drink menu. Telephone: 843-577-2500 Web: The Bar at Husk

Best Hotels in Charleston

40 Comments

  1. Bex Arnold

    The architecture looks incredible! I love a vintage vibe and the origins of things, and the Aiken-Rhett House Museum looks absolutely amazing and chalk full of interesting historical knowledge to absorb. I never really had Charleston on the radar as a place to visit before reading this page and now I am super eager to dial in an adventure down this way. The content is vast, informative and clearly delineated which takes the overwhelm that is sometimes felt when venturing out on a new adventure. Very empowering to have all this knowledge at my disposal. Thank you Leahrae!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are so welcome Bex! I am glad you enjoyed your digital visit to Charleston. I have to agree that it is a pretty amazing place with so much. Thanks for the visit as always!

      Reply
  2. Sylvia

    I never have been to the Southern States and the city of Charleston certainly is very intriguing to spend a visit.

    I have read in the past about its history and I always felt a pull to get there.

    I appreciate all the detailed information you have provided in your article like the best time to visit and what can be expected. I have saved your article to get to it when the time is decided when to travel.

    Thank you for sharing all the information and I also enjoyed the images 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Sylvia, and when you are ready to start planning, just let me know.  I would love to help!

      Reply
  3. Kenechi

    I really can’t wait to visit this very detailed historical magnificent structures in the city of America. The Charleston area has so much historical events to visit. Indeed it’s worth visiting. I so much love the Charleston attractions but the very one that I am looking forward to is Middleton Place. Ohh,  Middleton is so beautiful. The only challenge for now is just that the hotels are expensive, but I am planning and saving for it!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes, tons of history and tons of beauty.  I hope you can vacation to wonderful Charleston soon.  Please let me know if I can help in any way or answer any questions.

      Reply
  4. Seun Afotanju

    Thanks for writing this Charleston travel guide,  as I’ve always wanted to visit this city which is the oldest and biggest city in the U.S. Taking walks around and learning about the history of this great city has me dreaming of Charleston! I am planning to go towards the end of the year when I will be able to take off from work. Looking forward to a good experience.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I think it will be an amazing experience!  Please let me know if you need any additional information, or help with planning your Charleston vacation.

      Reply
  5. Caldero

    My problem with travel is that, even if the place is beautiful and affordable, I prefer not to go unless there is family close in the area that I could stay with in case things don’t go fubar, like if a hurricane hits. And while it’s close to Florida on the full scale, it’s not close enough in relative distance. Maybe I’ll grow past this little attribute of mine when I start travelling more. But that’s how it is for now.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Well, I do hope you can get past it.  If you don’t travel during hurricane season, and you also keep a watch on the weather, you won’t have any issues.  I live in Florida, and I have lived thru two hurricanes (I moved here just 2 years ago!), but the National Weather Service is very good at letting us know when one is coming.  

      Reply
  6. Paul StPierre

    I am so glad I found this website! I am planning a trip to Florida in March and by using the Easy Click Travel, I found hotels listed that were not found on other travel sites and I will be able to save over $30 per night. Before I book though, I am going to try the other recommended negotiating tips directly with the hotel 1st.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great Paul!  You can also shoot me an email at leahrae@beachtraveldestinations.com with your travel particulars, and I can help you find the best deal.  Thanks for visit my Charleston Travel Guide.

      Reply
  7. Chris

    As a eleven-year-old, myself and my sister were lucky enough to be taken on a month trip around America by my parents, as my dad had retired young from being a dentist (football injury). Funnily enough, one of the last destinations on that wonderful holiday was Charleston, and I seem to remember a horse drawn tourist ‘bus’ journey we took. 

    I’m wondering if they still have these types of ‘horse’ tourist vehicles around the area now?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I do believe they do have the horse drawn carriages there!  That is pretty cool you have such fond memories of Charleston.  It really is a great beach community.  Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  8. Salim

    Hello! good day,

    Thanks for this great write-up on Charleston, you have made me realize a very cool place to visit on vacation some days. I will also love you to write a review on Santorini, I heard they have got great views and sights to behold. You’ve really done a good job on this article. 

    have a nice day.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thanks so much and Santorini is wonderful.  I have actually written a review that included Santorini, but I need to cover it exclusively, as it is one of those great bucket list items.  

      Reply
  9. Babsie

    Yes, I think September or October would be my perfect time to visit Charleston. You’re right, you don’t want to be sweating to death; it would be so much more enjoyable to visit during the cooler weather. I also like going on vacation after the kids go back to school. I know some people with children in school would be forced to go during their breaks, but that is not my situation, so I have the luxury of missing the crowds.

    Great article on this quaint and beautiful city. Thanks for all the info! Really helpful!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Babsie, glad you enjoyed!

      Reply
  10. Daniella

    Hi Lea,

    An excellent guide to travel to Charleston, thank you!

    We are planning a trip there with the whole family, and we didn’t really know what activities to do once will get there. After reading your article, I am convinced we won’t be able to participate in all these activities. We need to choose some of them. I really like the Charleston sailing charters and kayak company tour. Now for the hotel, I still didn’t make my mind up. Is there a hotel you have already tried and that you would suggest? I mean which of these would be the best?
    Thank you for this useful post!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi Daniella and thank you for visiting my Charleston Travel Guide. You know, Charleston is a wonderful place and it is going to be tough to give you a hotel recommendation, as they are all wonderful. But the Wentworth Mansion is awesome! I would definitely recommend that one as my first choice 🙂

      Reply
  11. Rob Sciubba

    I’ve actually been to Charleston but not for a long time now and not for an extended visit.
    This is a beautiful city and I love South Carolina. We’ve actually been planning a trip north to the area.
    We’re history buffs and will enjoy going there only this time we will stay longer and get to see more of Charleston.
    The coastal expeditions and harbor tours will be on our list for sure! There sure is plenty to see and to do in Charleston! We were going to wait until autumn but I think we’re going sooner now!
    Thanks for a great write up on such an awesome place to visit!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Rob! I am excited for you as Charleston is a wonderful coastal community. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  12. Sarah

    Wao what a wonderful post with lots of beautiful, colourful pictures and detailed information. Actually I love historic places and after reading your post I can’t stop myself for being there. Hope I visit there someday. Thanks for sharing such informative post. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Sarah and glad you enjoyed your digital visit to Charleston South Carolina 🙂

      Reply
  13. Bella

    Wow its so amazing photos of this place.Hoping we already can visited this in a future.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Charleston is a wonderful East Coast beach community. It has so much to offer besides just beautiful beaches. Thanks for reading my Charleston Travel Guide.

      Reply
  14. Dan Strong

    What a beautiful, historic city. I did not realize that there was so much to do there. It sounds like a wonderful place. Sadly, I have never been to South Carolina but it is on my list of states to go to in the very near future. There are a lot of people from my state moving there and I have heard that they love it. I really like that most of the things to do there are outside. Sounds like a vacation I’m going to have to book in the future. Thank you for the great information!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are right! It is a beautiful historic city. Not only do they have great beaches, they have so much more. A little for every one actually. So for beach travel, I think it is a definite bucket list item. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  15. Moni

    Hi Leahrae, thank you for sharing Charleston… I am so glad I came across your site.

    When I landed on this page and saw the beautiful photo of Charleston I immediately fell in love with Charleston. The town is so picturesque and looks “Classy”. The kind of place I would love to visit.

    It has gone on my bucket list to visit… thanks to you! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Moni! I had not thought of Charleston as being classy, but now that I think about it, yes it is classy! I love a good beach town with good food, shopping and things to do besides just relaxing at the beach. Charleston has it all. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  16. PEARL AWA

    As usual, you always pick the most attractive locations.
    This even makes it more difficult for one to make a choice. LOL
    You’re doing a great job Leahrae.
    Keep it up. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Pearl and thank you for your support!

      Reply
  17. Demi

    I have been an explorer lately and in constant search for new places to travel. Charleston seems to be a place I would enjoy the most. I love how you have provided all the information about the place. This satisfied all the queries I had. Middleton Place seems mesmerizing.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Oh Middleton Place is a must when you head to Charleston. So beautiful, just like the whole area. Glad you enjoyed reading and learning with my Charleston Travel Guide. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  18. Barry

    Several years ago we visited Charleston and after reading this article want to return. Lots of neat places we missed and now we have the time to go and visit for an extended time (not a short vacation).

    A lot of Charleston we did not get to enjoy because we were not prepared with a plan of what there was to see, Going to Charleston was sort of a last minute decision. I can tell you his will be added to travel folder for when we get to go back.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great Barry, there really is a lot to see. For me the tough choice is the hotel. There are so many wonderful historic hotels there. Makes the decision very tough, except that I just have to keep going back!

      Reply
  19. Roaul

    Another great read, it’s like I’m there! Now I want to go.. well played 😉 Definitely looking to plan a beach vacation to Charleston!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Awesome, please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  20. Amanda

    This is very well put together, no lack of information. Looks like a beautiful place to visit, maybe i’ll get there someday.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Amanda for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      Reply

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