Charleston Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Places to Visit in the Carolinas
Credit

Courtesy of Sam Antonio Photography/Getty Images

2-day Itinerary in Charleston

Explore the best things to do in Paris in 2 days based on recommendations from local experts.

Day 1

  • 1
    #6
    Walking Tours
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    #6 in Charleston
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    With its centuries-old mansion and cobblestone streets, Charleston is like a living museum. One of the best ways to learn about its history (and its ghosts) and the significance of its best-known landmarks is on a walking tour. There are a variety of options available, ranging from broad tours of the city's historic downtown district, to more niche tours that explore the city's paranormal presence, pirates and art galleries and studios.

    Recent visitors praised operators like Charleston Footprints, Oyster Point Historic Walking Tours and Two Sisters Tours. To see a more complete directory of available walking tours, check out the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau's website.

    Most tours last two hours and cost $20 per person. Some operators may require you to make reservations in advance; check each tour company's website for specific times, reservation requirements and rates. And remember, you'll want to wear sturdy shoes and sunscreen, and bring water with you.

    ...Read More »
    10-15 minute walk
  • 2
    #1
    The Battery
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    #1 in Charleston
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Many visitors say you can't leave Charleston without seeing this stretch along the city's southern tip. This row of Southern-style mansions overlooking Charleston Harbor was formerly the heart and soul of the city's maritime activity. Today, the area attracts camera-toting tourists from all over the country.

    As you explore this picturesque neighborhood, make sure to also spend some time in the nearby White Point Gardens, where several Civil War relics and memorials commemorate the city's role in the battle. Start your tour of the Battery at the 12-acre Waterfront Park (home to the giant pineapple fountain featured on many Charleston postcards), then follow the walking paths on East Battery Street for the nearly mile-long stroll to White Point Gardens. If you're staying at one of the hotels or bed-and-breakfasts located downtown, you can easily walk along the Battery from your digs. If you're driving to the Battery, you'll find some limited street parking, and some lots closer to Waterfront Park. Bus route No. 211 provides service to Waterfront Park and East Bay Street.

    ...Read More »
    10 minute walk
  • 3
    #15
    The Nathaniel Russell House Museum
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    #15 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Constructed at the turn of the 19th century by Nathaniel Russell  a wealthy Southern merchant  this historic home is best known for its magnificent spiraling staircase, detailed furnishings and landscaped gardens. Unlike the Aiken-Rhett House, the Nathaniel Russell House has undergone an architectural and interior restoration.

    Recent visitors said this is the place to go if you're looking for insight into the more lavish side of Southern comfort. Tours, which last approximately half an hour, are docent-led and commence every 30 minutes. During the tour, you'll learn about the Russell family and the slaves who cared for the home.

    The Nathaniel Russell House sits in the heart of downtown Charleston, rubbing elbows with The Battery. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 4:30 p.m. every day. Adult admission is $12; children's admission costs $5. If you're also planning to visit the Aiken-Rhett House, you can purchase a joint ticket that grants entry to both properties for $18 ($10 for children). For more information, visit the home's section of the Historic Charleston Foundation's website.

    ...Read More »
    10 minutes by car
  • 4
    #2
    Boat Tours
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    #2 in Charleston
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    To get a better view of the Charleston harbor (and maybe even spot some dolphins), consider signing up for a boat tour. Not only will you enjoy some time on the water, you'll also have the chance to learn more about the city's maritime history (many boat captains provide historical commentary throughout their tours). Along the way, you'll likely see some of Charleston's top landmarks, including The Battery, Waterfront Park, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney.

    There are a variety of tours and operators (including private charters) in Charleston that offer a bevy of experiences for all types of travelers. Adventure Harbor Tours receives high praise from previous visitors for its Morris Island tours and sunset cruises. Tours aboard The Schooner Pride are also popular, especially if you're interested in the mechanics of sailing, as the captain offers travelers the option to raise and trim the sails with the crew. If you're looking for a less intimate or more formally narrated experience, sign up for a Charleston Harbor Tour, which has a fleet of boats that can accommodate hundreds of passengers.

    Tour prices and excursion lengths can vary, but generally, you can expect to pay between $25 and $55 for adult tickets. Not all tours leave from the same harbor; check with your tour operator. Some companies allow you to bring your own food and beverages (including alcoholic libations) on board, while others sell snacks and drinks on the boat. Tours can last between one and three hours, with many spanning 90 minutes. For more information, visit each individual company's website.

    ...Read More »

Day 2

  • 1
    #12
    Charleston City Market
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    #12 in Charleston
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    While some may say that the Charleston City Market is a bit of a tourist trap, others call it a great glimpse into life in the Old South. It is often referred to as the "Slave Market" because it was here that slaves would purchase food for the plantation. Today, the market buzzes with residents and visitors alike, perusing stalls loaded with toys, clothes, leather goods and regional souvenirs. But if you plan on buying anything here, you should head straight to the "basket ladies." These women (and men) have been weaving baskets for centuries  this craft originated in West Africa and has been passed down through the generations  using local materials such as sweetgrass and palmetto leaves.

    Although this is a great place to experience southern charm and to people-watch, recent visitors recommend that buyers beware: A few travelers said some vendors hawk overpriced trinkets.

    The Charleston City Market is located in the heart of downtown Charleston on Meeting Street (about a 12-minute walk from Broad Street, the city's main thoroughfare). If you choose to drive, you'll find limited street parking available. The Nos. 201 and 211 buses operate routes that also stop nearby. The market is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. From March through December, the market also offers night hours from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. While you don't have to pay to browse, you might want to carry some extra cash on you in case the sweetgrass baskets prove to be too seducing. There are also plenty of places to eat scattered throughout the market. Find out more about vendors and goods on the market website.

    ...Read More »
    5 minutes by car and 45 minutes by boat
  • 2
    #14
    Fort Sumter National Monument
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    #14 in Charleston
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    You probably remember Fort Sumter as the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, back in 1861. Today, you can see for yourself where all the action happened by taking a ferry to the actual fort. Take your time exploring the thick stone caverns, which still house several Civil War-era cannons. You should also stop by Fort Sumter's small yet informative museum, which provides more in-depth information about the fort's role in the war. According to most Charleston visitors, Fort Sumter is a must-see, especially for kids and history buffs.

    Fort Sumter National Monument is perched on a small island in Charleston Harbor several miles southwest of the city. Ferries to the monument depart from the Liberty Square Visitors Center and from Patriot's Point, which sits just opposite of the harbor in USS Yorktown State Park (parking is available at both departure points). Though the ferry ride is not the main attraction, most enjoyed it, calling it relaxing and a great way to see some of the area's dolphins. Ferries to the fort and ranger talks take place daily, but hours vary depending on the season. Guided tours aren't available at Fort Sumter, but you can listen to a 10-minute, ranger-led history discussion before heading out on your own self-guided tour; rangers and volunteers are available to answer any questions you may have.

    While it is free to explore Sumter itself, the ferry ride costs $21 for adults and $13 for children ages 4 to 11. The National Park Service highly recommends purchasing your ferry ride tickets in advance, which you can do at the Fort Sumter Tours website. For more information about the history of the fort, visit the National Park Service website.

    ...Read More »
    15-25 minutes by car
  • 3
    #3
    Sullivan's Island
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    #3 in Charleston
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Comprising only 3.3 square miles, Sullivan's Island may not seem like a must-see for Charleston visitors. But this beachfront town proves that good things come in small packages. Sitting at the mouth of the Charleston harbor  a little less than 10 miles east of the downtown area  Sullivan's Island boasts beaches, tasty restaurants and unique shops, plus a colorful history. You'll also find a bevy of vacation rental properties here  a worthy alternative if you want a little more seclusion than some of downtown Charleston's hotels and bed-and-breakfasts can provide.

    Even if you're not much of a beach bum, you'll still find plenty of interesting local history to make a pit stop here worthwhile. For instance, Fort Moultrie was the first fort on Sullivan's Island. Composed of soft palmetto logs, it withstood a nine-hour battle in 1776 when nine warships were advancing on Charleston. Its soft composition meant enemy cannonballs simply bounced off its cushy exterior. Aside from its triumphant ability to protect the city, Fort Moultrie also served a purpose in literary history: Edgar Allan Poe was stationed at the fort from November 1827 to December 1828. Those who have read his short story, "The Gold Bug," will recognize Sullivan's Island as the backdrop of the tale. His brief residency is celebrated at Poe's Tavern, a local watering hole situated about two blocks north of the beach.

    The easiest way to reach Sullivan's Island is by car. To stake your claim on a patch of sand, park alongside the street and walk down to the beach (there are no municpal parking lots on Sullivan's Island). For more information, visit the town's website here.

    ...Read More »

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