Stately centuries-old mansions, Spanish moss-draped trees, spooky cemeteries, cobblestone walks: in a word, Charleston. But this South Carolina city also boasts innovative restaurants, interesting shops, contemporary art galleries and the world-class Spoleto Festival USA. This is the place to experience the genteel South -- it was after all the home of suave Gone with the Wind character, Rhett Butler. And as you walk the gas lamp-lit streets at night, past horse-drawn carriages and the antebellum architecture ... continue»
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The best time to visit Charleston is from March to May and from September to November, when temperatures are mild -- but not stifling. Hotel rates, however, will be high. Also, the city will be thick with crowds, ooh-ing and aww-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 winter.Best Times to Visit Charleston»
Laid out on a grid pattern, Charleston is an easy city to get one's bearings. The Southern end of the city is constricted by the Charleston Harbor while King Street runs the length of the city, through the most northern ends of the historic district.
Visitors will probably spend most of their time in Charleston's downtown. Packed with most of the city's historic attractions, the city's past has been well preserved with stunning architecture that's not to be missed. Downtown is split into two halves, separated by Broad Street, with a large number of hotels and restaurants scattered throughout this area.
South of Broad
South of Broad Street is more residential and generally quieter than the rest of the city. Located on the tip of a peninsula, the area consists of a large collection of historic mansions and churches. We recommend visiting the Nathaniel Russell House and the Edmondston-Alston House. Also in the area is St. Michael's Episcopal Church, built in 1752 and still standing as the city's oldest church.
At the most southern edge is the Battery, a promenade that provides fantastic views of the rest of the city and the Charleston Harbor.
North of Broad
The area North of Broad Street is known as Charleston's "Historic District," since it contains many of the attractions from the city's antebellum days. Many Charleston hotels and restaurants are situated North of Broad, and some of the best shopping spots are located here as well, concentrated around King Street.
The area shelters the Aiken-Rhett House and the Joseph Manigault House, both of which are available to tour. North of Broad is also where you will find the city's collection of museums; from the Charleston Museum, to the interactive Children's Museum of the Lowcountry and the Old Slave Mart Museum, housed in a building once used for slave auctions.
Located east of downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant is actually an entirely different city. Although it does not have as many places of interest for tourists as Charleston, it makes for a nice trip if you have the time. The Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, where The Notebook was filmed, is here. Across the street is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, the former estate of Charles Pinckney, whose signature is on the U.S. Constitution.
The area's best beaches are less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Charleston. Folly Beach, south of downtown, is home to a range of accommodations, wildlife including loggerhead turtles and bald eagles, as well as a fishing pier. A bit south of Folly Beach is Kiawah Island, whose main feature is the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Northeast of downtown Charleston is the Isle of Palms, which is more residential and mainly filled with shopping spots and walking and bike paths.
We strongly warn against wandering outside of downtown; particularly against visiting the North Charleston area. Downtown Charleston near the Historic District is generally safe and best known for its Southern hospitality. However, it's still a bustling city and visitors should use common sense when exploring. Avoid walking alone at night, and keep valuables close to you.
The best way to get around Charleston is by foot. That said, you'll probably enjoy the use of a car too. Our best advice is to rent some wheels at Charleston International Airport (CHS) -- or bring your own -- and leave it parked in one of the garages that pepper the city. Having a car is especially helpful if you're staying in the city outskirts or if you plan on indulging in some beach time. City buses and trolleys are available too, as are taxis.Getting Around Charleston»