At a Glance
When to Go
The Charleston International Airport is located about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston by car. Taxis cost about $30, while shuttles—which run every fifteen minutes and don’t require reservations—cost $14 per passenger. The city is also an easy road trip away from places like Atlanta, Charlotte, Columbia, and Jacksonville. Stay downtown so you can wander out your front door without worrying about transportation—sneakers or flats are recommended for the uneven sidewalks and cobblestoned streets, and bike taxis, known as “pedicabs” or “rickshaws,” are good for longer trips. The city's Holy Spoke sharebike program has rental options that range from one hour ($8) to a year and allow quick trips around the peninsula. A rental car (or a cab budget) is necessary if you plan to enjoy the beaches, golf courses, plantation houses, and surrounding sights, all of which are well worth the short drive out of town.
Food and Drink
In recent years, a spate of breweries and distilleries have opened up, mostly outside the boundaries of the historic area so that they can sprawl comfortably in restored warehouse and manufacturing buildings. You'll find their wares served around the city, and you can go to the source to do your tasting, too: Most operate tasting rooms.
Charleston is rich with politesse, history, and traditions. One of the city’s main cultural draws is simply strolling the picturesque streets to admire the architecture, from narrow colonial buildings to grand antebellum mansions and the modern flourishes that private owners have achieved within the strict building and historic preservation codes. Several house-museums, both privately owned and ones operated by Historic Charleston, open daily for public tours and provide insight into the lives of the city's previous residents, both free and enslaved. Charleston—often referred to as the Holy City—also features a wealth of historic churches and synagogues, many of which are open to visitors. The French Quarter has a clutch of art galleries as well as the Gibbes Museum of Art. Also in the French Quarter, continue your exploration into Charleston's history and culture at the Old Slave Mart Museum and the new South Carolina Historical Society Museum.
The biggest event in Charleston each year, the Spoleto Festival, takes place during the last two weeks of May, with everything from outdoor jazz performances to full-scale operas. Piccolo Spoleto, a showcase for local artists, runs alongside the larger festival. Visitors should also consider planning their trip around the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (which brings tens of thousands of nature aficionados to the city), the MOJA Arts Festival (which celebrates African-American and Caribbean culture with performances, parties, and parades), or the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (which has quickly become one of the city’s main events).
What the Locals Know
- Street parking is expensive and hard to find. That's what all the golf carts are about.
- Hasell Street is pronounced 'hazel' and Lagare Street is pronounced 'la-GREE' (like the villian in Uncle Tom's Cabin).
- Happy hours start early, some as early as 3:30 p.m.