I have been to South Carolina many times, and if the Palmetto State is my favourite US state, then Charleston is my favourite city. Not just in South Carolina, but in the whole US!
I love America. I am on the same wavelength with the obsession for sports. Thanks to various visits over the years and some die-hard locals, I have become a big Clemson Tigers fan. I also really enjoy the big, loud culture and am fascinated by the politics. I love some of their big cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami and San Francisco. However I also love the smaller towns. Charleston is small by US standards. It only has a population of about 130,000. There are no real high rise building to speak of. It is steeped in history. In fact, it’s about as far back at US history goes. It has got a kind of quiet, sleepy feel to it, that is in keeping with the sub-tropical climate. However it has some fine luxury hotels (both big and small), a number of superb restaurants that are amongst my favourites in the whole US and plenty of things to see and do.
To cap it all, for a UK traveller, it has never been easier to get to Charleston! British Airways fly direct from London Heathrow twice a week in the Summer. http://www.britishairways.com
Here is Watt Travels list of Top 5 Must Do activities in Charleston:
1. Walk around Charleston’s Historic District
So clearly one of Charleston’s main attractions is that it has some wonderful old buildings, and lots of history (Charleston was established by the British in 1670.) Charleston also has a fairly small city centre and it is easy to walk around the beautiful streets and take in these sights. Of course, there are lots of other ways to get around, such as horse carriage or one of those pedi cabs or even take an escorted guided tour. However I think that making your own tour and discovering Charleston for yourself, is the best way to fall in love with this city.
It doesn’t really matter too much where you are staying in terms of starting a walk. Most of the hotels are situated pretty much in the centre, It is easy to construct a circular walk starting and finishing from your hotel and taking in the best of the historic city of Charleston. My personal favourite to stay at is the Belmond Charleston Place http://www.belmond.com. This hotel is ideally located on corner of King Street and a great place to start a stroll.
I recommend taking in the following sights in a circular direction:
- Charleston City Market – Dating back to 1788, this is a great place to browse stalls, pick up a few bargains and grab a bite of local food.
- Waterfront Park – One of the best viewpoints in Charleston. Lots of photo opportunities and don’t forget the famous pineapple fountain.
- Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – An interesting piece of history. This is where slaves were bought and sold in the 18th century.
- Rainbow Row – Famous street of coloured houses. Built in the 1740’s these houses were once owned by wealthy Charleston merchants.
- Robert William Roper House – One of my favourite Charleston houses. It is a great example of 19th century Greek revival architecture.
- White Point Gardens and The Battery – From here, you can get spectacular views of the Ashely and Cooper Rivers, and Fort Sumter.
- Legare Street – One of the quintessential Charleston historic streets, with many stunning houses like No23.
- King Street – Charleston’s Main Street. You need to end your walking tour with a spot of retail therapy on beautiful King Street.
2. Eat at Hall’s Chophouse
Hall’s is a Charleston institution. Located on King Street just up from Marion Square, it has been operating since 2009 in Charleston. If you like your steak and meat, then they don’t come much better than at Hall’s.
I have eaten there 3 or 4 times, and on each occasion, it has always been packed. I would always advise booking ahead. The other tip is to get there a bit earlier than your reservation and have a pre-dinner drink at the bar, which is lively and has a great atmosphere.
After you have been seated at your table for dinner, you will spend some time browsing the extensive menu and wine list. When you come to make your choice, one of the extremely knowledgeable waiters, who will give you an education on steak! You also get a brilliant sommelier to give you the perfect winer accompaniment. One piece of advice, is if you like your steak medium rare, then I would order medium here, which works out about the same. I would also recommend some of their great sides – Mac N Cheese of course, plus creamed spinach and you should always give that Southern classic of grits a go!
A great evening and my favourite restaurant in Charleston. http://www.hallschophouse.com
3. Visit Charleston Farmers Market
Farmers markets seem to have become ubiquitous the world over. However Charleston Farmers Market is pretty special. It is definitely worth going to. The Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 8am to 2pm between April and end November in Marion Square. This market sells so much that you want to buy and take home as a memory of time in Charleston and South Carolina. Whilst you may not be able to take the freshest produce home, there is plenty of food to try whilst you are there. You have to get some pimento cheese spread, which is typical of the South. You can also get all sorts of local art and craft. I bought a great photo of the Atlantic coast mounted on canvas, which I now have up at home as a memory.
The atmosphere and smells and an open-air market in the middle of Charleston is a not-to-be missed experience. I also love listening to that great Southern accent! Y’all have a good time now!
4. Stay and/or Play at Kiawah Island Resort
Kiawah is actually about 40 minutes from centre of Charleston, but I count it as part of the ‘Charleston experience’. The final part of the drive to Kiawah is through a lovely tunnel of oaks. It might only be 20 miles from downtown but it feels like a different world.
If you are a golf nut like me, then you will of course know all about Kiawah from the 1991 Ryder Cup ‘War on the Shore’ and Rory Mcilroy winning the PGA Championship there. It is an absolute golfing mecca. There are 5 golf courses on the estate including the (in)famous Ocean Course. The scenery around is spectacular, the service is excellent and the wildlife is, well, wild! There are plenty of alligators around and on the golf course (see below).
However Kiawah is not just for golf enthusiasts. There is luxury accommodation and restaurants, tennis, spa and gyms, fishing trips, kayaking, beaches, swimming pools and water slides and a lot more! The luxury accommodation option is The Sanctuary, which is the only AAA 5 Diamond Hotel in South Carolina! There are also a wide range of rental villas which are ideal for families.
In short, you have to fit in a stay at Kiawah into your Charleston trip if possible. http://www.kiawahresort.com
5. Take a trip to see Fort Sumter monument
One of the great attractions of Charleston for me is its history and heritage. Fort Sumter is an important monument. Located at the entrance to Charleston Harbour, Fort Sumter is where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War. The Confederacy opened fire on the Unionist-controlled Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861. They took it over and held it for 4 years. It is a fascinating piece of history and well worth a boat trip out to see it.
You can catch a ferry for the tour from the Visitor Education Center in Liberty Square. The Rangers are really well-informed and offer you some great insights into the people and the history behind Fort Sumter. They will also give you artillery firing demonstrations! The added bonus is the ferry itself which is a lovely ride across, and where you might spot some of the dolphins that regularly visit Charleston Harbour.