Centuries-old mansions, Spanish moss-draped trees, spooky cemeteries, cobblestone walks: in a word, Charleston. As you walk the gas lamp-lit streets at night, past horse-drawn carriages and the antebellum architecture, you just might think you've traveled back in time. But just because this South Carolina city is proud to celebrate its heritage doesn't mean it's stuck in the past: Charleston boasts innovative restaurants, interesting shops, contemporary art galleries and the world-class Spoleto Festival USA. This is the place to experience the genteel South – after all, it was the home of suave "Gone with the Wind" character, Rhett Butler.
History pervades almost every aspect of the Holy 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.
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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.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Consider dressing up a little if you don't want to stick out as a tourist in Charleston. Residents like to take casual to another level; women wear skirts and dresses while you'll see many men dressed in khakis and polo shirts.
While you're in town, you might also get a glimpse into Gullah culture. The Gullah are low country African Americans whose ancestors were brought to Charleston in the slave trade. Their tradition has influenced a lot of Charleston cuisine, from the food (red rice, okra soup, gumbo) to the "Bruh Rabbit" folk stories (slave fables starring a devilish rabbit) to the songs ("Michael Row the Boat Ashore"). If you're shopping for souvenirs, keep an eye out for the Gullah's handcrafted sweetgrass baskets.
Charleston is a top foodie destination in its own right. Even if you're not in town for one of the city's culinary events (like the Charleston Wine + Food Festival or Charleston Restaurant Week), you'll still get a chance to sample some low country cuisine at any one of the city's top restaurants.
Travelers and locals alike heap praise on Husk and Magnolia's for their contemporary Southern menus and attentive service. Favorite dishes at Magnolia's include the down south egg roll, the buttermilk fried chicken breast and the parmesan crusted flounder. FIG and The Ordinary are equally popular for their seafood-centric menus and trendy interiors. Poogan's Porch (a great place for brunch) offers a similar low country menu in a charming, restored Victorian house. High Cotton, another purveyor of low country fare, hosts a popular Sunday brunch that features live jazz from local musicians. If you're in the mood for more casual breakfast or coffee spots, consider The Daily or Black Tap Coffee. And if you're not too full from a hearty brunch, head to 167 Raw for lunch, an oyster bar that's popular for its oyster selection and lobster rolls. During peak tourist season, waiting for a table at one of these eateries can turn into a long night. If you already know where you'd like to dine while in Charleston, make reservations before you get into town.
You can't make reservations at Hyman's Seafood, so be prepared to battle the line snaking out of the door for a seat at this perennial tourist favorite. With a more casual atmosphere and budget-friendly menu than some of Charleston's other downtown area restaurants, it's easy to see why travelers (especially those with kids in tow) prefer to stake a claim in the line than pay some of the city's other restaurant tabs. You won't encounter too many locals, but you will find a big menu with just about any seafood you could imagine.
Along with its impressive food menus, Charleston also boasts a bevy of trendy drinking establishments worth checking out. The Gin Joint, The Belmont and The Rooftop Bar at Vendue are all praised watering holes to consider.
Downtown Charleston near the Historic District is generally safe and best known for its Southern hospitality. However, it's still a busy city and visitors should use common sense when exploring. Avoid walking alone at night (especially in the city's many alleyways), and keep valuables close to you.
The best way to get around Charleston is on foot. That said, you'll probably enjoy the use of a car too. You can 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. From the airport, which is located about 12 miles northwest of the downtown area, you can take a cab or shuttle bus. Taxis from the airport to Charleston's downtown area cost about $29 to $34, depending on where your hotel is located. Shuttle buses depart every 15 minutes and cost $14 per person. The price is lower than a taxi ride, but the trip will be longer due to the multiple stops the bus makes.See details for Getting Around
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