Top 7 Reasons to Visit Charleston, South Carolina

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Print out that boarding pass or fill the car’s tank with gas and head on a road trip to Charleston, South Carolina. We’ve compiled details on seven of the top reasons for tourists to visit America’s favorite city as voted by readers of Condé Nast Traveler for four consecutive years, and prized in the “World’s Best Awards” by Travel + Leisure for the past two years.

We’re so proud to be your escort as you explore Charleston by carriage with our experienced guides on the very best Charleston carriage rides. We can’t wait to meet you.

1. The Most Affordable Vacation You’ll Ever Take

charleston churches

As grand as Charleston appears, she’s packed with plenty of free things to do. Some of the city’s most popular attractions include free admission. Bring a camera and take a stroll around the Charleston City Market in the heart of downtown. From artistry in blown glass to sweet grass handwoven baskets and from hand carved wooden wind chimes to saltwater taffy, there is a lot to see among the stalls.

King Street is the main shopping and dining street in town, and it looks to be straight from the pages of a picture book. On the second Sunday of every month, it’s turned into a pedestrian passage as they shut the street down and the vendors move outside. There’s free entertainment, great food, and plenty of people watching between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. So if you happen to be in town on one of these Sundays, be sure to stop by for this family-friendly event.

Produce markets lend so much to a sense of place, and the Charleston Farmer’s Market at Marion Square is no exception. Open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. from April through November, you can live like a local and grab the delicious makings of a picnic lunch to enjoy on a grassy lawn with refreshing breezes and water views.

You’ve seen that large signature fountain in photographs of Charleston; the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. Waterfront Park’s half-mile along the Cooper River serves as a playground for children in the city’s front yard.

2. American History

charleston battery

From The Battery to antebellum mansions, Charleston is a well-preserved living museum, one of the nation’s most outstanding examples. Look up at the statuesque church steeples or down at cobblestone streets. You can explore three hundred years of American history everywhere you turn.

Take a boat cruise out to Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston Harbor, where National Park Service Rangers explain the pivotal events leading up to the first shot of the American Civil War.

Gracious townhouses with fragrant gardens tucked behind elegant gates give us insights into early 19th century lifestyles and grandeur of the city’s earliest residents. The Historic Charleston Foundation looks after Nathaniel Russell House, one of the nation’s most significant neoclassical houses, and the Aiken-Rhett House, which can be visited on a joint ticket.

3. Arts, Festivals and Entertainment

Spoleto Festival USA 2015; Opening Ceremonies

Just pick a month, any month to visit the arts and entertainment scene in Charleston. Come for Charleston Restaurant Week dining out deals in September or for the Lowcountry Oyster Festival in January. Attend the Spoleto Festival USA in May, which is one of the nation’s outstanding performing arts events, or book your stay at one of America’s historic hotels, or explore the Preservation Society of Charleston’s Annual Fall Tours of Homes and Gardens. You’ll be welcomed inside architectural gems that represent some of the nation’s most exceptional historic houses.

4. Beaches

sullivans island

Dip your toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Three public beaches with smooth sands, gentle water and tidal pools to explore are within a few minutes of downtown Charleston. Go to Folly Beach, Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island, a favorite for kids and offers free parking too. Only 20 miles from Charleston, Kiawah Island is world famous for its 10-mile stretch of naturally beautiful shoreline, tapped as one of the nation’s best by the Travel Channel.

5. Food and Culture

spoleto festival

By now, you’ve seen that our pace of life is a bit slower here. Charleston is distinctively Southern, and of course, that means friendly and charming. Trustworthy home recipes and Lowcountry dining dominate, featuring unbeatable oysters, shrimp and grits, and gold Carolina gold rice. Try the oysters at The Ordinary and shrimp ’n’ grits at Hominy Grill; you’ll see how Charleston is giving New Orleans a run for its money as the food capital of the South.

The National Park Service suggests that you take a peek into the “four corners of law” at the intersection of Broad Street and Meeting Street is home to the 1804 Adamesque Charleston City Hall, Charleston County Court House, the U.S. Post Office and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

The nation’s first museum, Charleston Museum founded in 1773, tells it like it was and includes The Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House, for a further look into lifestyles of wealthy late-18th and early-19th century Charlestonians.

6. Plantations and Gardens

boone hall plantation

Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is America’s most photographed plantation. The must-see stop on any trip to Charleston is one of America’s oldest working, living plantations, growing and producing crops for over three centuries.

If the plantation bug bites you hard, as it does with so many of our visitors, tick off Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Macleod Plantation, Cypress Gardens, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, chosen as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” by Travel & Leisure, 2014.

7. Weather

rainbow row carriage tour

What’s winter? With beautiful weather almost all year long, Charlestonians don’t know what it means to be cold and cooped up inside. There is always something to do outside and you can spend your day enjoying the gorgeous weather. You can paddle board around the Barrier islands that are just 15 minutes from downtown, practice your swing on one of our stunning golf courses, give your feet a rest on one of our historic Charleston carriage tours, or have a brew on the deck of a restaurant on Shem Creek and bask in the 70 degree weather that lasts throughout most of the glorious spring and fall months.

We’ll Be Expecting You

historic charleston sc

The doors are open in Charleston, South Carolina. As The Tennessean magazine wrote, “Some vacations require lots of planning, but to enjoy Charleston, all you have to do is show up.” Of course, we’d love to save you some seats on the best Charleston carriage tours, so it would be great to hear from you even before you head our way.

Historic Charleston tours provide the opportunity to peek into the past, and we’re certain you’ll love what you see in Charleston, SC.