Sometimes, the best trip is the one that lets you get lost--uncovering hidden gems along the way. The historic streets of Charleston are perfect for pleasant detours. Charleston exudes charm and everything comes together to make it one incredible destination: antebellum houses with secret gardens, horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets, Spanish moss-draped trees, intricate ironwork, church bells ringing, amazing cuisine, and Southern hospitality.
A little background
Originally founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in the name of Charles II of England, the city didn't receive its present name, Charleston, until 1683. With its warm, humid weather and a natural harbor, Charleston flourished as the production and commercial center of trade in rice, tea, and indigo. By 1770, Charleston was the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. Filled with a charming sense of European elegance, Charleston is home to confection-colored architecture and historic churches. The most famed historic houses are concentrated on the lower peninsula of Charleston. The neighborhood of South of Broad--including Meeting Street, Legare Street, Tradd Street, and East Bay Street--is full of colorful, historic houses for visitors to explore.
Explore the living history
Called the Holy City, Charleston houses many churches that dominate the city's low-rise skyline. Charleston enjoyed greater religious freedom than any other British colony in North America. The high density of churches built by different dissenting groups reflects the city's religious liberty. Each church and temple tells its own remarkable story of faith, destruction by natural or man-made disasters, and rebirth. We recommend that you take a horse carriage tour and explore the rich history of this beautiful city.
Shopping on King Street
King Street is the city's main shopping strip, filled with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, as well as iconic mom-and-pop shops. Opened on the side porch of a Charleston single house over 100 years ago, Croghan's Jewel Box is the oldest family-owned jewelry store in town. With a unique array of antique and estate jewelry, Croghan's carries on its rich legacy. Another iconic store on King Street is Ben Silver, which is known for its blazer buttons and British-style menswear including tweed coats, silk neckties, and bench-made shoes.
Taste the Flavors of Charleston
This vibrant city is also a culinary paradise for foodies, with all kinds of restaurants pushing the boundaries of both new and traditional Southern cuisines. Set inside an old bank building, where the vault serves as the raw oyster bar, The Ordinary is a seafood restaurant that is anything but ordinary. Enjoy locally sourced clams and oysters, including Capers Blades and Otter Island wild oysters that are unique to Charleston waters. For dessert, head over to the Peninsula Grill for their Ultimate Coconut Cake with its signature twelve layers enveloped in cream cheese icing and gently toasted coconut pressed onto its sides.
Historic Mansions and Homes
Among Meeting Street's many beautiful homes are two must-see historic mansions. The Nathaniel Russell House boasts original 1808 furnishings and is known for an elliptical flying staircase that spirals to the roof. The Calhoun Mansion is both an architectural treasure and a private house museum with original 19th-century interior furnishings, lavish furniture, and a stunningly massive antique collection that amazes all visitors from the moment they enter. Both homes offer tours where visitors can see what life was like in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as a close look at the detail and precision that went into their construction.
A plantation established in 1741 and home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Middleton Place is the oldest landscaped garden in North America. Carefully planned to bloom throughout the year, the gardens and flowers include camellia allées that give a delicate fragrance in the winter season. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the geometric garden, the extraordinary house collections owned by the Middleton family and the ruins of the main house.
Experience the Gullah culture
The African-American community of Gullah has been an important piece of South Carolina's history. This distinctive group formed a tight-knit community after arriving in South Carolina, preserving many parts of the languages, rituals and customs that originated from their ancestral communities in West Africa. For example, Gullah language is very similar to the Krio of Sierra Leone, while their sweetgrass baskets are connected to the Sierra Leonean shukublay.