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Why Go To Charleston, SC

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 IslandIsle of Palm and Folly Beach, offer sun, sand and gentle waves.

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The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC Travel Tips

Best Months 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.

Weather in Charleston, SC

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Average Temperature (°F)
56.7
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67.1
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74
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76.9
86.4
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71.8
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62.5
67.3
53.6
59.5
45.6
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Average Precipitation (in)
2.94
2.51
3.3
2.53
2.16
4.65
5.4
6.71
5.76
3.67
2.19
2.6
Jan
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See details for When to Visit Charleston, SC

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Take it slow You're in the South now – life moves at a slower pace. To enjoy an authentic Southern experience, you should take it easy too.
  • Take to the streets Charleston is known for its excellent (albeit decadent) Southern food. Burn some calories by strolling to dinner or taking a walking tour.
  • Don't forget the sunscreen Summer here is hot, hot, hot. The sun scorches and the humidity can be suffocating. Lather on sunscreen, wear your shades and hydrate.
  • Consider a tour A great way to get a feel for this city and all its charm is to take a tour.

How to Save Money in Charleston, SC

  • Visit in the winter You might score a lodging deal by traveling in the offseason, and you'll definitely see fewer tourists. What's more, winter temperatures are hardly inhospitable – they hover between 40 and 60 degrees.
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast Charleston is full of charming B&Bs and many of them are cheaper than the city's brand-backed hotels. Plus, you'll likely enjoy extra perks like complimentary breakfasts and evening happy hours.
  • Make lunch reservations Get the most bang for your buck by making lunch reservations – rather than dinner ones – at the most expensive restaurants. Many eateries offer reduced-price midday menus.

Culture & Customs

Consider dressing up a little if you don't want to stick out as a tourist in Charleston. Residents have a different take on casual; 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.

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What to Eat

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 Magnolias for their contemporary Southern menus and attentive service. Favorite dishes at Magnolias include the down south egg roll, the buttermilk fried chicken breast and the shellfish over grits. 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 Second State 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.

Another way to experience all the culinary delights Charleston has to offer is on a food tour. Many of the city's walking tours also incorporate food.

Along with its impressive food menus, Charleston also boasts a bevy of trendy drinking establishments worth checking out. The Gin JointThe Belmont and The Rooftop Bar at Vendue are all praised watering holes to consider.

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Safety

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.

Getting Around Charleston, SC

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. There is a $15 minimum charge for taxis departing from the airport. From the airport, there is also a shared shuttle bus that departs every 15 minutes and costs $15 per person. The price is lower than a taxi ride, but the trip will be longer due to the multiple stops the bus makes.

Learn about Neighborhoods in Charleston, SC

Photos

Charleston, SC1 of 51
Charleston, SC2 of 51

To get a feel for Charleston's character, simply walk around the downtown area. You'll spot antebellum architecture, towering palm trees and cobblestone streets.

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