It has been said that if you can’t visit Europe that a trip to Charleston is the most European experience you’ll find in America. I was born here in Charleston and have lived continuously within less than twenty miles of that spot all of my life. I am a firm believer that you can spend your entire lifetime right here and never “see it all”.
Conde Nast readers have rated Charleston their top pick U.S. city three times in a row and have even chosen Charleston more than once as their top pick city worldwide! You’ll receive a wealth of information and hear interesting Charleston stories. A trip to Fort Sumter can also be a great addition to your visit. Beyond touring the site where the Civil War began, you’ll see Charleston from the beautiful harbor. The church steeples dominating the skyline will illustrate why Charleston is known as the Holy City.
These are merely a few suggestions for a weekend here in Charelston.
Walk the historic streets and take in everyday life as it happens here in The Holy City. Pick up a City Paper and find out what is local, late-breaking news and find out what events are taking place that week. The paper is issued every Wednesday so if Above all else, don’t be afraid to ask a local for recommendations! If all else fails every hotel front door or front desk is a wealth of information.
If arriving by plane at the Charleston International Airport, I suggest arranging transportation to the historic district through Charleston Downtown Limo. Don’t let the name lead you to believe you’ll spend a fortune. They’re able to have a Lincoln Town Car or Lincoln Navigator waiting for you with a professional driver when you touch down for the same cost as an ordinary taxi service. They’re also willing to help you with dinner plans, daily entertainment ideas, and sight-seeing.
Don’t hesitate to ask about a discount for pre-arranging your pick up from the airport and your return to the airport following your stay. Having a transportation plan in advance will not only save you a headache, but can actually save you money. (Please excuse the mess at the airport as heavy construction is underway as the airport receives a $162.5 million dollar renovation!)
If arriving by train, the above car services are also recommended. The train station is in an area that I will admit is not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. However, taking the train has gained popularity and it certainly is an adventure that can save you money! There is no need to feel unsafe, but the outdated station may be an eyesore to you!
If arriving by car, be prepared with a plan to park it. I do not suggest finding a metered spot with intentions of feeding the meter throughout the weekend. It isn’t typically easy to find a spot and it won’t add any fun to the trip when you’re checking constantly to see if you’ve run out of time. Trust me, if you employ this parking method for your stay you will find yourself with a lovely parting gift from the city – a hefty ticket. Instead, I suggest confirming parking with your hotel in advance. I stress in advance – do yourself a favor and find out if there is parking available at the hotel and how much it will cost you daily. I am all about eliminated unexpected surprises!
One of my favorite hotels is the Francis Marion hotel, built in 1924. It isn’t the most historic hotel nor is it the highest end, but you’ll find yourself in a prime location for absolutely everything you’ll want to do. The Francis Marion hotel is located at one of Charleston’s most active intersection – King and Calhoun. You’ll be directly across the street from Marion Square where you’ll find events occurring year-round, including the popular Charleston Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. The Farmers Market is not just a place to buy local produce, it is a place to hear live music, take in work by local artist, and pick up a fresh and delicious breakfast or brunch made right before your eyes in the square.
If you are looking for higher-end hotel accommodations, I recommend The Charleston Place and The Market Pavilion Hotel. You’ll find no shortage of places to stay in Charleston, but you may find a shortage of available rooms! While Charleston has less than 200,000 residents, near 5,000,000 visit Charleston annually. Plan in advance. It is difficult for me to suggest so few “favorites” so I must also mention the more intimate accommodations of Two Meeting Street, the unique and beautiful Ansonborough Inn, and Restoration on King. Again, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “bad” place to stay.
I highly recommend you make your own way through the city and explore independently on your feet. You are safe and welcomed. Walk through local shops and say hello! This is my suggestion for experiencing what sort of daily life a local experiences. You’ll find unique shops and hidden gardens tucked away that you’d miss flying by in a car. From the Francis Marion you can walk out the door and take King Street to The Battery where you’ll find some of Charleston’s most historic and impressive waterfront homes. Relax a bit in White Point Garden and then stroll up East Bay Street past stunning private homes including Charleston’s famous Rainbow Row. Where Broad Street meets East Bay you’ll find The Old Exchange Building, which is the last building constructed in America by the British before the Revolutionary War. Continue on to Market Street where you can browse through local arts and crafts or stop in at one of the many restaurants for a bite to eat. I recommend A. W. Shucks for seafood lovers and Hank’s is not far from the Market is a higher-end option. Of course, both will have options for every appetite.
While in Charleston you will have access to some of the best restaurants in the country. The New York Times recently compiled a list of what they believed to be the 100 best restaurants in America. Of the 100 named, ten are in Charleston. Some of my own favorites from that list include Husk,The Grocery, The Ordinary, and McCrady’s. I also recommend you consider The Victor Social Club, The Macintosh, and a long-time Charleston favorite, Rue de Jean.
For morning coffee at a local spot I recommend you drop in to Kudu Coffee where you will also find local beers on tap and some delicious food options. Leon’s Oyster Shop is a new offering that is all the rage.
Charleston’s sweet grass baskets and the people that craft them by hand are a definite point of interest. You’ll find plenty of these gorgeous creations in the open-air Charleston City Market situated between North and South Market Streets. Their unique basket weaving is a tradition that spans hundreds of years and it has been traced back to Sierra Leone. Captured in Sierra Leone and brought to Charles Towne they carried with them their West African ways of life. Following emancipation, many of these freed slaves remained on barrier islands, some of these islands not having roads constructed to reach them until the 1950s and 60s. There they lived as they would have in Sierra Leone. A documentary followed some of these Charleston basket weavers as they were reunited with their ancestors in Sierra Leone. They took with them baskets made here that were indiscernible from those made there on the African coast. Their ability to maintain their cultural heritage throughout their enslavement – including not just the basket weaving, but also their language and culinary traditions – is absolutely unique and awe-inspiring.
If you’re able, visit Charleston the second weekend of the month: on the second Sunday of the month King Street is closed to pedestrian traffic only from the Calhoun Street south. Restaurants bring their tables into the streets and live entertainment abounds! This event is known simply as “Second Sunday”.
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