Ask anyone who's sweated through the extensive exam required to become a licensed Charleston, South Carolina, tour guide: This charmed port city takes its history and culture seriously. Tourism authorities go to great lengths to ensure that all official tour guides are well-versed, but that hardly means all tours are the same. In fact, whether you're interested in Gullah culture, ghosts or grits, there are a number of great tours that allow you to experience the city through a unique lens.
The Gullah people are descendants of West African slaves who incorporated elements of their language and culture into their communities on the Sea Islands along the Atlantic Coast. “You can’t understand Charleston without appreciating the impact of Gullah culture on this region,” says Darcy Shankland, editor-in-chief of Charleston Magazine.
[Read: The Best Hotels in Charleston.]
Learn about the history of the Gullah people on Alphonso Brown’s Gullah Tours. Brown, author of "A Gullah Guide to Charleston" who was raised in a Gullah community, takes visitors on a two-hour narrated bus tour of significant sights. Tickets are $20, and reservations are strongly recommended.
Another option if you're interested in Gullah history is the Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens in Mt. Pleasant, says Jenny Miehe, concierge at the French Quarter Inn. “You not only get to see an iconic Southern plantation, the plantation admission cost includes an 'Exploring the Gullah Culture' tour with great storytelling that’s only about 45 minutes long,” Miehe says. Admission is $24 for adults, $21 for seniors and members of the military, $12 for children 6 to 12 and free for kids 5 and younger.
Small and quaint, Charleston is ideal for exploring on foot. “A walking tour is my favorite way to experience all Charleston offers because you can see the city’s delights from a human scale, up close,” says Richard Burton, head concierge at Belmond Charleston Place.
Miehe says there are numerous walking tour options, but the good news is that it’s hard to go wrong. “I've never met a Charleston walking tour guide who wasn’t cool,” she says. Speaking of cool, Miehe recommends scheduling walking tours early in the day, before the temperatures heat up.
According to local experts, standout walking tour options include Lowcountry Legends (a two-hour private walking tour costs $50 per person, with a minimum of four people), Tommy Dew's Walking History Tour (the less-than-two-hour tour costs $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and younger) and Oyster Point Historic Tours (the two-hour tours cost $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger).
A horse carriage tour is a good way to cover a bit more ground than you can on foot, plus it puts you at the perfect height to glimpse over garden gates and into the windows of the historic homes. “I definitely recommend a carriage tour – they’re only an hour long so guests get a good overview, but it leaves enough time to go back and explore on your own,” says Jess Segall, front office supervisor at the HarbourView Inn.
Several carriage companies offer tours, but experts recommend Old South Carriage Co. and Palmetto Carriage Works. Both companies offer hourlong tours that are $26 for adults, $16 for children 4 to 11 and free for younger kids if they ride in a parent's lap. All horse carriages follow one of several routes, and the particular route a tour will go on is determined by a lottery.
[Read: 6 Must-See Charleston Museums.]
Fort Sumter Tours
“You don’t fully experience Charleston until you see it from the water,” says David Hood, head butler at The Spectator Hotel. And one fun way to get on the water and see Charleston’s historic harbor, plus get a refresher on your Civil War history, is to tour Fort Sumter National Monument. Fort Sumter Tours leaves from either Liberty Square downtown or Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant, and includes a half-hour boat ride out to the fort (and back), with breathtaking views of Charleston – plus, if you're lucky, frequent dolphin sightings. Once you arrive, you can take a self-guided on-the-ground tour of the historic fort itself.
Tickets are $21 for those 12 and older, $18.50 for seniors and members of the military, $13 for children 4 to 11 and free for those 3 and younger.
In recent years, Charleston has become as celebrated for its food and James Beard Award-winning restaurants and chefs as it has for its architecture and history. Indeed, much of the city’s history and culture is linked to its food. So, what better way to get an authentic taste of the city than with a behind-the-scenes tour of its foodie scene?
Charleston Culinary Tours offers various delicious options. Its classic 2.5-hour "Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour" allows you to sample classic Southern fare at three or four well-known restaurants (destinations vary by tour) while your guide gives you a primer on the city's culinary scene. The tour costs $60 per person, and alcoholic beverages aren't included.
Any history-rich city has its share of hauntings, and Charleston is no exception, according to its many popular ghost tours. Among them, Bulldog Tours gives its guests an up-close-and-personal tour of the beautiful historic Circular Congregational Church's graveyard, whose earliest resident was buried in 1695. As you hear ghoulish tales, you'll also learn about some of the city’s prominent citizens.
The hour-and-a-half-long ghost tour costs a few shivers and $25 for adults and $15 for children 7 to 12. It's free for brave souls 6 and younger.
To experience more of what Charleston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
9 Tours for Solo Travelers
Find an itinerary tailored to your preferences and goals.
With the chance to explore remote corners of the globe, step out of your comfort zone and embrace cultural immersion and self-discovery, solo forays offer gratifying vacation experiences that appeal to adventurers of all ages and interests. But embarking on a solo journey comes with its own unique set of challenges that factor into the decision-making process, from safety to logistics to pricing. Happily, trailblazing travel companies are eliminating the intimidation that often impedes prospective jetsetters from venturing on their own by empowering them to set off with like-minded travelers on enriching small-group tours. Here are a few choice itineraries to spark your wanderlust.
Corrected on July 11, 2017: A previous version of this story misstated where a tour in South Africa is located.A culture-filled adventure in Greece.
A culture-filled adventure in Greece.
If you've always wanted to see dramatic ruins, whitewashed buildings and charming villages, consider joining operator AdventureWomen on a journey through Delphi, Athens and Naxos, Greece, from Sept. 12-23. The mother-daughter tour company, managed by three pioneering women, aims to help women plan life-changing trips in exotic, safe and beautiful locations, where they can engage with other women and enjoy cultural immersion and enrichment, explains owner Judi Wineland. On the 11-day tour, you can join an interactive cooking class and explore tucked-away treasures on Mount Pelion. With transportation and perks like accommodations in four-star hotels and bilingual guides, the tour – starting at $5,695 – caters to soloists who don't want to sweat the details.Hike in the Himalayas.
Hike in the Himalayas.
For a one-of-a-kind adventure in Nepal – complete with Bengal tiger-spotting, Buddhist temple viewing and an optional flightseeing tour around Mount Everest – join AdventureWomen's 16-day itinerary from Oct. 21 to Nov. 5. On the trip, "we do river rafting, we look for tigers and rhinos and we hike," Wineland explains. What's more, all permits, lodging and local flights, along with adventure travel gear are included in the $4,995 price tag. On the journey, you'll be accompanied by a trip leader and have the opportunity to meet local Ghundruk women who are expert Nepalese weavers. Another highlight: excellent wildlife viewing at Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Take an exhilarating tour across New Zealand.
Take an exhilarating tour across New Zealand.
With otherworldly landscapes and abundant opportunities for paddleboarding, surfing, hiking and other recreational pursuits, New Zealand has long attracted those with a zest for adventure. Take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere's warmer temperatures from Feb. 26 to March 9, 2018, on an adrenaline-pumping journey with AdventureWomen. During the 12-day trip, you'll explore Waiheke Island, soak in the area's dreamy backdrops and world-class wine, and delight in stargazing on New Zealand's South Island. What's more, you can explore Great Barrier Island and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, where penguin and whale populations reside, and partake in kayaking, bungee jumping and surfing, among other activities. Pricing starts at $6,990 per person and includes meals, transportation and lodging costs.Go on a sightseeing adventure across Chile and Easter Island.
Go on a sightseeing adventure across Chile and Easter Island.
Geared toward worldly female travelers in pursuit of exotic itineraries, The Women's Travel Group features tours focused on culture, history, enrichment and exploration. "It's a group of pretty serious travelers," says Phyllis Stoller, the company's founder and president. On the 11-day expedition from Nov. 3-16 – through Buenos Aires, Santiago, Patagonia and Easter Island – all meals, lodging, national park admission fees and transportation are included. Best of all, the company negotiates single supplements – the added cost for solo travelers staying in double-occupancy accommodations alone – by pairing participants with each other. If no match is found, the company pays the cost, Stoller explains. On the tour, you can visit Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, before continuing on to Easter Island.Escape Thanksgiving and retreat to Portugal.
Escape Thanksgiving and retreat to Portugal.
If you want to get out of dodge this November, head to Portugal with like-minded companions on a weeklong trip with The Women's Travel Group. Take a picturesque tour of the UNESCO-recognized Batalha Monastery in Lisbon and explore charming sights across the Alfama quarter, including Belém Tower, before making your way to Sintra to catch sight of Pena Palace. From there, you can also embark on an expert-led tour of Colares, a coastal village. Best of all, you can count on all accommodations, breakfasts, excursions and local transportation being included. And the tour price is a reasonable $2,399 per person based on 15 participants.Discover South Africa's top historical, cultural and natural sights.
Discover South Africa's top historical, cultural and natural sights.
Cape Town and Johannesburg offer plenty of enticements for culture and history buffs, architecture enthusiasts and outdoorsy types alike. On the upcoming Women's Travel Group tour from Feb. 17 to March 3, 2018, you can check out Cape Town's must-see attractions, including Table Mountain, the District Six Museum and Robben Island. After taking in Cape Town's top sights, you'll enjoy wine tasting in Stellenbosch, admire jaw-dropping views at Victoria Falls, steal away to a lodge along the Zambezi River and explore Chobe National Park to catch sight of lions, zebra, buffalo and other magnificent wildlife. Even better, the trip price, $5,890, includes local transportation, game-viewing entrance fees, lodging and meals.Explore the rich history and ruins of Mexico City.
Explore the rich history and ruins of Mexico City.
"In Mexico City, it's an immersion trip," Stoller explains. Here, participants explore the city through an anthropological lens as they visit authentic restaurants, interact with locals and connect with other women, she adds. On the upcoming trip with The Women's Travel Group, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2018, you can explore Mexico's cultural history as you tour the mysterious town of Tepoztlán, known for its colorful craft market, before admiring the iconic frescos in the Palace of Cortés and the vibrant outdoor markets in Cuernavaca. Afterward, you can explore the colonial town of Malinalco, which features spectacular scenery and impressive ruins. The trip is priced at a reasonable $1,129 per person for bookings made before Sept. 15.Embark on a coastal journey through the Amalfi Coast.
Embark on a coastal journey through the Amalfi Coast.
"Tours are great if you don't have the time to plan," says Janice Waugh, publisher of SoloTravelerWorld.com. Curated small-group tours are also ideal if you haven't gone overseas often and have concerns about safety and other practicalities, she explains. She suggests picking a tour based on your interests (i.e., art, cooking or music). An upcoming weeklong tour of the Amalfi Coast from Oct. 7-13 with small-group outfitter Explore Worldwide encourages solo travelers to indulge in the area's excellent culture, scenery and cuisine with ferry rides along the coast and a tour in nearby Pompeii, Italy. Pricing starts at $1,420; you can share a room or book a single room for an added fee.Take in old and new influences in Morocco.
Take in old and new influences in Morocco.
Adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel caters to millennials in pursuit of far-off journeys with unique group-trip itineraries designed specifically for singles. On a 15-day trip through Morocco (available throughout the year), you can wander past the city walls and through the Old Medina of Casablanca, peruse the markets of Fez and take in the sights and sounds of the spice markets of Marrakesh. With most meals, activities, local transportation and accommodations included in the $1,125 rate, the tour offers an enticing option for bargain hunters. You can also get matched with a roommate for no additional fee or opt to pay the single supplement (a minimal fee) if you prefer to room alone.Read More
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