What are the best things to see in Charleston, South Carolina? Well, you are in for quite a treat! With its interesting history, fascinating architecture and great food and hospitality, Charleston is a fantastic place to relax and enjoy. Walking its streets on a sunny day will instantly throw you back in time, and the friendliness of the locals will make you feel like you’ve been living here for years. Add to that the fact that there are so many places to visit here, and you’ll get a very memorable trip indeed. To come here is to nurture one’s body and soul.
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What’s the best time to visit Charleston?
Because of its location on the Atlantic coast of the US, Charleston is warm all year round. However, the climate here also boasts high humidity, so expect rain all year round, as well. Because of that, you may want to avoid summer (temperatures go well beyond 35 degrees Celsius, i.e. 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and this is also when you will encounter the biggest amount of rain) and set your day trip to Charleston up for maybe April or May or late September. But winters are also a good choice because they are very mild, so if you want to get away from the cold this is the place.
As for the events, the Festival of Lights that takes place from mid-November to the end of the year is very much worthy of your attention, and the same can be said for Fall Tours (held in October) which showcase the fascinating architecture that can be found in this city. Spoleto Festival also needs to be mentioned here because it’s been going on for more than 40 years and through it you can enjoy loads of great performance. But pretty much every month has something interesting going for it, so you can be sure you won’t be bored.
A few facts about Charleston
The history of this city begins back in 1670, when it was founded under the name of Charles Town, in honor of England’s King Charles II. However, the city was founded at Albermarle Point, and this was abandoned for its present location in 1680. After the change, Charleston grew very quickly and became one of the largest cities on the continent, with the slave trade bringing in much of its revenue.
In the early 18th century, when pirates in these waters were at their peak, Charleston was an important port. The famous pirate Blackbeard operated regularly in these waters and would sell his goods in the city.
Today, Charleston is the biggest city in the state of South Carolina with its metropolitan area being home to around 800,000 people. It is also the oldest city in the state.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Charleston.
Start your day at Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Visiting Joe Riley Waterfront Park is a great way to start exploring Charleston. Grab yourself a cup of coffee to go and enjoy this peaceful place and the great view from it. Don’t miss the pineapple fountain in the park – it’s really pretty and interesting because of the echo rocks around it.
Then proceed to the pier to recharge your batteries in the pavilions there and enjoy the company of various birds all around you. A great way to start your day!
Visit the Old Slave Mart Museum
Just west from the park and the fountain is the Old Slave Mart Museum. To be honest, I think this place is one of the most important things to see in Charleston, primarily because of the city’s history. This small museum is located in the building which was once a real slave market, so you will get a real sense of the horrors these poor people had to go through. You can learn a lot from the people working in the museum, and the storyboards placed there are extremely enlightening. Without a doubt, one of the more interesting things to see in Charleston, SC.
Explore the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
After that, go south via State Street and turn east when on Broad Street to get to the Old Exchange, also know as Provost Dungeon. This building is another must-see in Charleston because it’s so full of history. This was actually where a dungeon for pirates before in 1771 an Exchange and Customs House was built. It is also the place where the ratification of US Constitution took place, so you can be sure that this museum will be quite an entertaining visit.
Go for lunch at Charleston City Market
If you want to see Charleston in a day AND enjoy some great food, a trip to Charleston City Market (just above the Old Slave Mart Museum) must be on your itinerary. Not only is the market full of beautiful brick buildings which are about two centuries old, but you can also find loads of excellent restaurants around here. Therefore, this is pretty much an obligatory stop.
Lowcountry food should be your goal in this case, cuisine specific to this part of the US. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant is a great candidate because it is undoubtedly the best seafood restaurant in town. Peninsula Grill is also a pretty good choice if you want more of a fine dining experience, and if you want just a quick bite Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is the place to go.
Tour the Nathaniel Russell House
But what to see in Charleston after lunch? Well, simply head south to the tip of the peninsula and find the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. This former merchant’s house is a splendid example of Charleston architecture which was recently fully restored using the very latest technology and the results are extremely impressive.
Everything, right down to the smallest detail, has been restored to perfection, and there are plenty of artifacts to see. The quarters where the enslaved people used to live are still being renovated, but even if you don’t see them you really should come here.
Walk the Battery and White Point Garden
As the afternoon slowly turns to dusk, you will want to come and visit White Point Garden on the tip of the city’s peninsula. The place is incredibly beautiful with loads of greenery and an excellent view of the ocean, so it gets very romantic here in the evening. A perfect place to bring your loved one after going through the sights of Charleston in a day. A walk along the Battery, which is the fortified wall on the very edge of the peninsula, is a great way to end your day and relax and enjoy the city just a little bit more.
See what Charleston nightlife has to offer
While it may not be one of the biggest cities in the US today, Charleston still has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife. The Rooftop Bar at the Verdue is one of the places to visit because of its location next to the ocean and the beautiful view you get from that. This and The Cocktail Club are the best places to grab some colorful and creative drinks, while Revelry Brewing is the place to go if you want some great local beers.
Where to stay in Charleston?
Hotel Indigo Charleston
250 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, Mount Pleasant, Charleston
Hotel Indigo Charleston represents tremendous value for every tourist. It is located on the other side of Cooper River from the downtown area and is in a very tranquil place. The hotel boasts its own restaurant, fitness centre and an outdoor pool, with bright modern rooms providing everything you need for a comfortable stay
The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel
115 Meeting Street, Historic District, Charleston
If you want something that will allow you to stay in the city centre, The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel is the place for you! Located in the neighborhood of Harleston Village, it is in the most picturesque part of the city. And with its fitness room, business centre, great pool and excellent restaurant, the hotel makes sure you enjoy every second of your stay. Of course, the rooms are nothing short of excellent, with coffee machines, free Wi-Fi and huge flat-screen TVs.
Hotel Bennett Charleston
404 King Street, Historic District, Charleston
Want to make your one day in Charleston a memorable one? Then you need to book a room in Hotel Bennet Charleston! Not only is this luxurious hotels right in the city centre, but it’s also quite new and is a proud member of the five-star club. The rooms are huge and well equipped, the beds are incredible, the bathrooms are fantastic, the food is excellent and the pool is great. Everything you could ask from this kind of hotel and a little bit more.
Hyatt Place Charleston – Historic District
560 King Street, Historic District, Charleston
Now, this is another hotel that provides incredible value for your money, especially because it too is in the city centre. Hyatt Place Charleston offers extremely spacious rooms with a coffee machine and a fridge, and you can also enjoy a great restaurant (the breakfast is excellent!) and the hotel’s indoor pool. Really a great stay and a great place from which you can enjoy Charleston’s beautiful architecture.
Day trips from Charleston, SC
Interested in organizing some Charleston day trips? Don’t worry, there are plenty of great options! South Carolina is quite a fascinating state, so you’re in for a treat. Some destinations, however, do seem to be more popular than the others, so here’s a short overview of those places to help you decide what to see.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall is a plantation that opened waaay back in 1681 and is still working! Because of that, this Charleston day trip can teach you plenty of incredible stories about the way the United States evolved over time. You can also explore the slave quarters used to house people who were forced to work here, which will certainly make you think. Before you go, though, don’t forget to check out the 100-year-old roses growing here!
Another plantation that can be visited on a day trip from Charleston is Magnolia Plantation. They sometimes call it America’s most beautiful garden, which can certainly give you a good idea of what to expect. Not only that, but this plantation is also incredibly old and has weathered both the American Revolution and the Civil War. The tram will take you all over the place, and there is plenty of wildlife to see, including alligators!
This particular plantation is a great day trip from Charleston for history lovers because this was the home of two of the US’ founding fathers – Henry and Arthur Middleton. The place boasts the status of National Historical Landmark and is absolutely beautiful, so you will enjoy roaming the premises here. The house there actually contains a museum, and there are many other historic sites you can visit. Oh and the Middleton Place Restaurant is pretty good, too.
Extra tips for visiting Charleston
- Residential districts are places where you can find some free parking. Yes, you will usually be able to park for free for an hour or two, but if you have a car with you that can be very valuable.
- Don’t be shy! People here are very friendly and will appreciate it very much if you treat them the same way. Southern hospitality at its finest!
- Walking tours are a good way to learn about the city from a knowledgeable source if you’re not sure what to see in Charleston. Go for one if you have the time!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Charleston Itinerary, feel free to share it in the comments below!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).