South Carolina’s oldest city sits on a peninsula flanked by the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Downtown Charleston is packed with architecture, gardens and public buildings built by rich merchants and plantation owners of the 18th and 19th centuries. As the population grew, the city expanded to encompass the Cainhoy Peninsula, John’s Island, Daniel Island, James Island and West Ashley.
Charleston’s early plantation history comes alive a few miles west from the downtown area. Explore the contrast between the luxurious lives of rich planters and the slaves that worked on the plantations at Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Charles Towne Landing, the original English settlement, immerses visitors in the way of life in 1670.
Back in downtown, stroll the “Museum Mile” along Meeting Street. This walk is a convenient way to see many of Charleston’s historical and architectural attractions, including the Charleston Museum, America’s first museum, Nathaniel Russell House and Joseph Manigault House.
It can get rainy in Charleston in the summer, but don’t let that stop you from sightseeing. Visit the rare albino alligator at the South Carolina Aquarium or explore the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.
In spring, Charleston’s performing arts festival, Spoleto Festival USA, draws thousands of visitors into the city. Over a hundred performances take place across artistic disciplines, including theater, opera, classical music, jazz and dance. The Festival of Houses and Gardens also runs throughout spring, when you can tour Charleston’s historic neighborhoods and visit gardens in full bloom.
Gardeners and foodies alike will appreciate the emphasis on locally grown heirloom ingredients in the city’s restaurants. Taste the flavors of the South in updated classics such as deviled farm egg, and wood-fired clams.
Buses, bicycles and free trolley buses provide easy transport to downtown Charleston, but you should devote some time to sightseeing on foot. The weather is generally balmy and many attractions are within walking distance of each other.