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The Ultimate Charleston Travel Guide

By AFAR Editors

03.28.19

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Golden hour in the Holy City

Courtesy of Explore Charleston

Golden hour in the Holy City

The Southern coastal city charms visitors with its strong sense of tradition, tempered by a completely modern sensibility. Here are our favorite places to stay, eat, and go in Charleston.

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Over the centuries, the compelling story of Charleston has unspooled with chapters involving pirates and privateers, brutal wars, colonists and settlers, and more. The city has long been the setting for plantation owners getting wealthy through the labor of enslaved Africans and refugees finding a new home, as well as eras of peace and prosperity, a lively cultural scene, and an active community that gives back.

This dramatic past is reflected in modern Charleston, a city with serene church steeples and renowned restaurants serving traditional recipes handed down for generations. The historic buildings still bear the scars of cannonballs, and local makers still weave sweetgrass baskets and harvest sea salt. 

This once-small port town has become a major tourist destination, drawing visitors who come to explore the past and learn about its present. We've gathered the city's best, so your time in Charleston can be rich and full of local flavor.

9 Iconic Charleston Experiences
In the spring, Charleston is at peak color.
When to visit Charleston
Spring comes early to the coastal south, with daffodils bobbing in gardens by late February and vivid azaleas blazing away not long afterwards. Spring and fall are prime time for festivals and events because of milder temperatures, so those seasons are great for visits. Summer can be oppressively hot, but the local beaches are lovely. Winter requires coats, but also means you'll see Charleston without crowds, experience local events and enjoy a mellower pace. Honestly, if you don't mind missing the beach and the gardens in bloom, winter may be the best time to witness Charleston at its best.
Boroughs, Beaches, and Kings: A Guide to Charleston’s Neighborhoods

Getting around town


Charleston International Airport (CHS) is about 20 minutes from downtown. You can easily get a local cab or rideshare driver (Uber and Lyft both operate here) for around $30. The historic area is very walkable, and the local bikeshare, Holy Spokes, currently has 27 docks and plans to expand further up the peninsula, so bikes are also a viable form of transportation during your visit. Rideshares are relatively cheap and plentiful within the city and far easier than finding parking.

Absolute must-dos in Charleston

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- Eat a lot of biscuits. Drink a lot of cocktails. The food scene in Charleston—from traditional Southern dishes to the work of chefs looking to make a name for themselves on the international culinary map—merits a visit on its own.
- Tour a historic house. The Edmondston-Alston House, a Greek Revival beauty with views across the harbor and a colorful history, is a favorite of ours.
- Walk the streets South of Broad, peeking through iron fences to the beautifully maintained homes, make your way down to the Battery to see the cannons turned to the sea, and back up along the river to visit the painted ladies of Rainbow Row.
- Visit Charleston's Saturday Farmers' Market in Marion Square to see not only the bounty of regional produce but also the food trucks, musicians, and the tables full of the wares by local makers and craftspeople.

AFAR's favorite places to stay

Deciding where to stay takes on a special challenge when the options are so plush.
- The Best Hotels in Charleston
- Charleston Hotels for Every Kind of Traveler 

Plan your Charleston itinerary

Wandering the streets of the historic area gives you a new perspective on life in this gracious city.
- The Best Things to Do in Charleston 
- Why You Should Go to Charleston This Spring
- The Best Free Things to Do in Charleston
- Where to Explore the City's Fascinating History
- What's on When, Y'all: Charleston's Best Annual Events
- Exploring Charleston's African American History

Where to eat. And eat some more.

Dinner in Charleston goes way beyond shrimp and grits.
- The Best Restaurants in Charleston 
- Charleston's 8 Essential Dishes (and Where to Try Them) 
- Charleston's Best New Restaurants
- Where to Find Charleston's Best Southern Cooking and Soul Food 
- The Best Biscuits, Sweets, and Desserts in Town 
- Where to Find the Best Chicken 
- The Best Places to Eat Oyster in Charleston 

Can a person find a drink in this town?

Its cocktail bars, craft breweries, and wine bars make Charleston a great drinking destination.
- The Best Bars in Charleston 
- Where to Find the Best Beer in Charleston 
- The Best Cocktail Bars in Charleston 
- How Charleston Became a Drinking Town

Shop local, like the locals

Find the kind of souvenirs that won't gather dust at these boutiques.
- The Best Places to Shop in Charleston 
- Charleston's Best Local Gifts to Take Home With You 

>>Next:  A Charleston Cultural Odyssey

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