South Carolina, US Roadtrips

First Timer’s Guide to Charleston South Carolina

Charleston SC

What can I say about Charleston that hasn’t already been said?  Regularly voted one of the top visitor destinations in the US by travel magazines, Charleston combines southern charm with excellent food and rich history.  Being a huge fan of Savannah, Charleston had been on my list for some time.  Over Thanksgiving week, we made our second trip to the Holy City within a few years.  Since we concentrated most of our first trip in the historic district, we decided to branch out more this time to see some of the surrounding sites.  Today I’ve compiled the best of both visits for a picture-filled first timer’s guide.

Where to Stay

Both times we stayed in the French Quarter in Historic Charleston.  This area is in easy walking distance to most of the sites on the island and is full of the character and history you would expect from Charleston.  I would recommend both of these hotels due to excellent service, but there are plenty of other options nearby at various price points.

The Vendue Inn

The Vendue Inn is a great hotel just a block from Waterfront Park.  The service was excellent, they offer free bike rentals, a great afternoon wine and cheese reception and cookies and milk at bedtime.  They also offer a wonderful rooftop bar that is open to the public with excellent views.  Even if you don’t stay here, make an effort to enjoy a cocktail on the rooftop during your trip.

The Vendue Inn, Charleston

The Meeting Street Inn

Located across from City Market and a block from King Street, the Meeting Street Inn is located in the heart of the city on Meeting Street.  The rooms are older but quiet and relatively comfortable and there is a nice patio for enjoying the complimentary breakfast and the afternoon wine and cheese reception.

The Meeting Street Inn Patio, Charleston

Things to Do

Historic Walking Tour or Carriage Tour

I always recommend starting your trip with a guided tour given by a local.  There is such value in getting the history and the lay of the land before setting out to explore on your own.  We opted for a walking tour with Charleston Footprints but the Carriage Tours are very popular here as well.

Waterfront Park

This park is a lovely area to wander through.  It has two fountains, walking paths, gardens, a pier and a nice view of the water overlooking the Cooper River toward Patriots Point and the Ravenel Bridge.  Make sure you visit here on your self guided walking tour.

Waterfront Park Fountain, Charleston

Waterfront Park, Charleston

Rainbow Row/The Battery

One of the most photographed areas of Charleston is Rainbow Row.  We walked through 3 different photography sessions alone on our way to the Battery.  Time your walking tour to hit this area toward the end of the day nearing sunset when it is especially beautiful.

Rainbow Row, Charleston

The Battery, Charleston

White Point Garden

Continue your walk past the Battery and into the waterside White Point Garden.  Filled with beautiful oak trees and cannons from the Civil War, this park overlooks Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter.  The houses that line the park to the north along S Battery are worth taking a look.

White Point Garden, Charleston White Point Garden, Charleston

Historic Charleston City Market

With an entrance located on Meeting Street, this open air market dates back to the 1800s and is full of vendors selling souvenirs, food and Gullah sweetgrass baskets.  Walk through and pick up a local souvenir to remember your trip.

City Market, Charleston City Market, Charleston

King Street

King Street is over 300 years old and one of the most important streets in Charleston History.  These days, it is thriving with restaurants, shopping, art galleries and nightlife.  We watched the annual turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning which ran right down King Street.

King Street, Charleston

King Street, Charleston

South Carolina Aquarium

During a rainy day on our first trip, so we decided to check out the South Carolina Aquarium.  It was nice, but certainly not the most impressive aquarium we’ve been to.  Keep this on your list as a perfect rainy day activity.

Day Trips from Charleston

Patriots Point

Patriots Point, Charleston

Home of the carrier USS Yorktown, destroyer USS Laffey and submarine USS Clamagore, we found half price tickets on Groupon and enjoyed a few hours here exploring.  There are plenty of info-graphs and interactive displays on your self guided tour to give you the history of the ships and a taste of what daily life was like for the sailors on board.

Boone Hall

There are a handful of plantations just outside of Charleston, but we choose to visit Boone Hall due to the Avenue of the Oaks.  Despite the grandeur of the entrance, Boone Hall plantation was built and came to prominence on the backs of slaves in extremely dire conditions.  Boone Hall makes an effort to commemorate the lives and working conditions of these slaves through the preserved slave quarters on site and a live presentation of Exploring the Gullah Culture.  It is certainly an important piece of this country’s history that must not be ignored and made for an informative afternoon.

Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston

Boone Hall Plantation, CharlestonBoone Hall Plantation, CharlestonWhere to Eat/Drink

Charleston is a well known foodie city with a multitude of acclaimed restaurants.  While I would point you other sources as authorities on food, I’ve compiled a list of where we ate and enjoyed on our trips.  I will note that Husk and Poogan’s Porch are two of the most popular restaurants that we didn’t make it to during our visit.

Slightly North of Broad (SNoB) – Excellent southern cuisine in a great ambiance.  Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.

Slightly North of Broad, Charleston

Cru Cafe – A historic house that doesn’t seat many, but we enjoyed a delicious lunch here.

Toast – Breakfast spot with good cheesy grits.

Leyla Fine Lebanese Cuisine – Great option if you need a break from all of the heavy southern fare.

The Vendue Rooftop Bar – Go for a drink just for the view alone.

The Vendue Rooftoop Bar, Charleston

Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House – Tavern with a big selection of craft beer.

The Blind Tiger Pub – Enjoy your drinks on the back patio in the sunshine.

The Griffon – An English pub located next to the Vendue Inn.

Best Time to Visit

Both of our visits were in the off season, in late February and November.  The weather was beautiful and moderate during the day.  However, we did get caught with a rainy day on both trips.  Since Charleston is a city you will want to explore on foot, I find the cooler seasons preferable to the heat and humidity of summer.  That being said, don’t let the weather stop you from visiting this charming, historic city!

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Charleston, SC

Hilary Style


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  • This is a FANTASTIC guide! Would love to visit South Carolina more in depth one day! I’ve sadly only driven through! This town just looks so adorable and the history alone is intriguing! #FarawayFiles

  • Wow, this looks absolutely amazing. Charleston has everything I think a citybreak should have!! Thank you for the useful guide.

  • Have not done the Deep South yet, but it is definitely on my list! It looks amazing! #farawayfiles

  • Hilary

    My husband and I have been talking about going to Charleston for YEARS! Somehow we always end up in NOLA… I guess it’s because it’s hard to get to Charleston from the west coast and expensive too… Seeing your photos makes me realize that we really need to make this visit a priority. Thank you for the reminder! We’ve visited the plantations in Louisiana, and it’s bittersweet isn’t it? Those majestic homes and gardens, but knowing they were built by slave labor. #farawayfiles

  • Lindsey Andrews

    I cannot wait to go back to Charleston! It was so beautiful and historic. The food was amazing and it was so romantic.

  • Chris Bloomfield

    Well we enjoyed Charleston when we visited, but we missed a few things you talked about. Oh well, now I have a reason to visit again! I really want to go on the warships, our family loves learning history that way.

  • I’ve lived two or three hours from Charleston for almost my entire life and it makes me so happy to read about other people enjoying a trip there! And I did learn a few new things from your post, too – I always love a good Lebanese restaurant reccomendation! (My husband and in-laws are Lebanese.) Great post! #FarawayFiles

  • Oh I do declare! I do love Charleston’s charm. I lived in a little less charming Columbia when I was a girl, but we would often visit the coast and Charleston. I was lucky as an adult to attend a wedding in that very church from the top of your post! I agree about a visit off season. Craving some real southern shrimp and grits now! Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin