If you haven’t been to Charleston, South Carolina and would like a little glimpse of the historic and picturesque town, keep reading to see what my sister and I did on our recent day trip to this charming southern destination.
I have been to Charleston a few times in the past, but my sister never has been and wanted to go see it for herself. Since the town isn’t very large, you can see most of the highlights in a day which we did.
We started at the Charleston Visitor’s Center that has a parking facility right next to it. The center is not right in the historic district and if that is where you want to go, you can drive to get closer to the sights and find a parking lot, they are well-marked and most you pay via your phone.
At the Visitor center you can learn a lot about Charleston and pick up literature just about everything there is to do.
Make sure you pick up one of the free Discovery Maps. I found it much better than using the GPS on my phone to find and get where we wanted.
Once we left the visitor center for the historic downtown section and found parking we started walking.
You can walk pretty much all of the historic downtown area as Charleston is a relatively walkable city, so you can easily get around without a car.
There are a few other ways to get around to see everything, but the most popular is to take an Old South Carriage ride around the city. There are many other horse and carriage ride companies, but this is the one I always take friends and family to.
It is best to call ahead to make sure you get on a tour that is going to go to the areas you want to see as every tour goes to different areas. You also may want to ask for a tour where the carriage only has a few passengers, not a full carriage as this can be a heavy burden for one horse working all day, especially in the hot and humid summer.
If you get a good driver you will learn quite a lot about the city. For instance did you know that there was an earthquake in Charleston in 1886 that registered about 7.0 on the richter scale?
After the earthquake, tie rods and pattress plates were used extensively to reinforce damaged masonry buildings — so much so that they became commonplace among the stately buildings of downtown Charleston. Thus, they earned their moniker of “earthquake bolts. Some are quite decorative.
Other Ways to Get Around
If you want to see something up close that you saw while on a carriage ride you can hop on a bike taxi to see more.
After our carriage ride, we wanted to see The Battery section which is where all the historic mansions are that face the harbor.
In the area there is also an elevated waterfront seawall promenade that offers stunning views of the harbor and Fort Sumter. We had it all to ourselves.
I highly recommend heading here, especially if it is a hot and humid summer day as the breeze coming off the water is refreshing.
The Historic Houses & Mansions
Since we only had a day, we didn’t go on any tours of the homes – there are a few. We opted to just do a walking tour.
First up is Rainbow Row. It is a colorful line-up of 18th-century townhouses that have become a very popular tourist attraction.
The Sideway Homes – When the city’s first streets were laid out in 1680, residential lots were long and deep with little street frontage. Placing the house sideways on the lot made the best use of space.
Placing the houses sideways also allowed the home to take full advantage of the prevailing southerly breezes, necessary in the hot summer climate.
This pink mansion is across from the promenade and harbor and wasn’t hidden behind a gate like many of the homes are.
Not all the houses are sideways though, many are not.
And many are a shade of pink!
This brick mansion in The Battery section was quite impressive. See the earthquake bolts?
As was this one with the Mansard roofline.
And the surprise color on the ceilings of the porches. Thanks to Linda a reader who left the reason the ceiling is painted the color in the comments – The practice of painting the ceilings in a Haint Blue color traces back to the Gullah Geechee people living in the low country of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Gullah folklore explains that ghosts, also referred to as “haints,” were not able to cross water. In order to repel evil spirits from plantations, the porch ceilings were painted a soft blue.
There were also a few that were undergoing renovations.
Driveway& Courtyard Gates
Many of the larger homes are behind hedges and gates. Some of the gates are quite stately and decorative.
Charleston is also known for its flower window boxes. They are everywhere and always well maintained.
When you tire of seeing historic mansions and sightseeing, Charleston has plenty of shops.
You will find shops from boutiques to art galleries to antique stores and…
…even a Target in the historic downtown area along King Street.
And don’t miss a stroll through the Charleston City Market. This historic market is home to over 300 vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry, souvenirs to ice cream cones.
Where We Ate
Charleston is a foodie paradise, with restaurants serving up everything from Lowcountry cuisine to international fare. Since we were only there for a day, we asked a local where the best place for lunch was and was told Millers All Day on King Street.
It was perfect for lunch and was hopping. (This is a stock photo I found online.) We were lucky to get two seats at the counter. The atmosphere was fun and the food delish.
Additional Things to Do In and Around Charleston
As you can see from what we did in a day there are many great things to see and do in historic Charleston. Here are some additional ideas when planning a trip to Charleston:
- Go on a boat tour. There are many boat tours available in Charleston, which offer a great way to see the city from a different perspective. You can take a harbor tour, a sunset cruise or a tour out to Fort Sumter.
- Visit the plantations. Charleston is home to several plantations, which offer a glimpse into the South’s antebellum past. Some of the most popular plantations include Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place, and Boone Hall Plantation.
- Take a ghost tour. Charleston is a city with a rich history of ghosts and hauntings, and there are many ghost tours that offer a spooky glimpse into the city’s past.
A few tips when planning a day trip to Charleston
- The summer is the busiest time of year in Charleston, so be sure to book your accommodations and activities well in advance.
- The weather in Charleston in the summer can be very hot and humid, so be sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall when it is not so hot.
- Wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot and the sidewalks are old, narrow and in places hard to walk along.
Extra: Don’t Miss Mount Pleasant
When you finish doing the sites around Charleston, hop in your car for an easy 12 minute trip across the harbor to the town of Mount Pleasant. Put Shelmore Blvd into your GPS and head there.
What you will find is a dappled tree-lined newer suburban community with wide sidewalks. If you like taking dream drives to see beautiful homes with lots of character, you will not be disappointed.
After cruising along both North and South Shelmore Blvd for a while, head to Shem’s creek where you will find a handful of restaurants along the water.
We ate our dinner at Tavern & Table. Isn’t the stenciled floor amazing? It was hot, so we ate inside, but there is outdoor seating so you can enjoy seeing the boats go by.
After we finished eating we started the 2 hour trip back home. My sister enjoyed the day. When I asked her what she liked the best – she said Shelmore Blvd in Mount Pleasant. Yes it is really nice and away from the bustle of Charleston.
If you have any questions about day tripping in Charleston, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.