Charleston, South Carolina is one of those cities that embodies everything about Southern hospitality. The quaint streets, the history, and above all, the kindness of its residents promise to make any trip there one to remember. Unlike many city vacations, a visit to Charleston is all about slowing things down. So rather than rushing from location to location, choose a few places of interest, and explore the city at your leisure. We promise you won’t regret it.
Where to Stay
The King Charles Inn is located downtown and is surprisingly budget friendly despite its solid list of features and amenities. The inn has an outdoor pool and sundeck, which isn’t always easy to come by in the downtown area, and is a saving grace during hot summer months. Their pub and cafe is newly renovated—a good place to stop before heading out into the city.
86 Cannon is a gorgeous, historic inn located in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. If you’re looking for a small, boutique feel with plenty of charm, look no further. Bonus: the inn’s amenities include original fireplaces, complimentary parking, and a wine and cheese service every night.
The Mills House is truly an icon in Charleston with its pink exterior and ideal location just around the corner from King Street. Rooms feature a heavy dose of southern charm and other property highlights include a beautiful outdoor pool and an on-site restaurant and lounge. This spot is especially ideal if you want to explore the city on foot as it’s close to nearly all the major tourist attractions.
Built in the early 1800s (hence the name), 1837 is a classic historic Charleston property that consists of a main house accompanied by a carriage house. Though it’s a bed and breakfast, you’ll be happy to find all the essential amenities you’d expect from a big-name hotel along with perks like breakfast and afternoon tea. Because each suite is slightly different, you may even end up with an unexpected bonus like a claw foot tub!
The Andrew Pickney Inn is a sunny hotel near Charleston’s historic City Market. The rooftop terrace provides a lovely view of the city and it’s the perfect spot to have breakfast each day. With just 41 rooms, the property is intimate without feeling too small. Though the rooms are all beautifully decorated—the lobby decor with it’s exposed brick will have you swooning.
The Zero George embodies just about everything you’d want in a Charleston hotel. The rooms are luxuriously appointed with the world’s comfiest beds imaginable and combined with the painstaking attention to detail throughout the hotel, well, you’ll never want to leave. Bikes are available for use at any time, breakfast and wine and cheese receptions are included, and the porch provides the perfect spot for an evening cocktail.
Southern charm meets luxury at Belmond Charleston Place. Though there are several great features, the property really shines when it comes to the rooms, particularly in the marble bathrooms complete with custom toiletries. Once you finally venture out of your room, treat yourself to the renowned spa facilities or the variety of on-site dining options.
Inspired by the Roaring Twenties, style and elegance seeps through every part of this hotel. Personalized butlers, a speakeasy-style bar, and some of the most stylish rooms in Charleston are all part of the package here. With its high-end finishes and commitment to customer service, this is the perfect spot for a special occasion (like a bachelorette weekend!).
What to Do
The Aiken-Rhett House was the home of former South Carolina governor William Aiken, Jr. It retained family ownership for 142 years until being sold to the Charleston Museum and today it is preserved and open to visitors for tours. A great option for history lovers, this house gives you a glimpse into what it would have been like to live there in the 1800s.
Charleston has a vibrant visual arts scene and the Gibbes Museum of Art is a great spot to learn more about it. In addition to a well curated collection that consists of several artists with ties to the city of Charleston, the museum is heavily involved in the arts community and often hosts art talks and events for museum members and non-members alike. Be sure to take a look at the calendar page before going to see if your trip coincides with one of their special events.
Magnolia Plantation is a historic property just outside the downtown Charleston area. The gardens were selected as one of the most beautiful gardens in the U.S., while the plantation is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry. There are a number of different tour options so visitors can partake in the historical significance of this site.
If you’re looking for contemporary art in Charleston, swing by the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. Owned by the City of Charleston, entry is free to both residents and visitors, making it a great choice when you need an affordable indoor activity after exploring. Check the website for information on current exhibitions and events.
As you’ve probably gathered thus far, Charleston is a city steeped in history. For those who’d like to learn more, we recommend the Charleston Museum, which provides an in-depth look at the history of Charleston and South Carolina Lowcountry. This region of the country has been home to many different people and cultures over the years, and the museum does a tremendous job of capturing this history.
For even more history—which is important to get a handle on in a city such as Charleston—head over to the Nathaniel Russell House. The National Historic Landmark has been restored using period-appropriate materials. You can take a group tour or guide yourself around the property. Nathaniel Russell House is open everyday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Shopping on King Street
Put on your walking shoes and meander down King Street to see the best shops in Charleston. You’ll find everything from local boutiques (like Hampden Clothing and Lily) to your classic favorites like West Elm and Sephora. If you get hot, stop in at The Skinny Dip, a designer collective with a frosé bar and patio upstairs.
Sweet 185 is an inviting salon and boutique located right on the city’s bustling King Street. Though they’re famed for sugaring treatments, you can also stop in for spa standbys like facials and massages. If you don’t have time for a full treatment, it’s a great spot to stop to stock up on organic all-natural skincare products.
If you prefer a lux spa experience, the spa at Belmond is the place for you! In addition to high-end treatment rooms, the spa also houses a pool, Jacuzzi, and fitness center making it easy for a spa treatment here to turn into a full day affair.
You’ll want to transport Candlefish back to your hometown once you experience the beauty of this shop. As the name suggests, candles are the name of the game but the shop also curates other goods that you’re guaranteed to love. In addition to an amazing selection of candles, you can also stop by the shop for a variety of candle making workshops.
If you’re anything like us, you’re constantly on the search for the perfect unique item for your home. While it seems a bit strange to be on the hunt for light fixtures while on vacation, a visit to Ro Sham Beaux is a must for any interior design lover. Just know their pieces are not the most budget friendly, but browse through to gather inspiration for your own place.
This building is one of the oldest on the block, and has tons of history attached to it. It’s a great place to see a show or catch a movie.
A short 15 to 20 minute drive lands you on South Carolina’s beautiful shell laden coastline. Bring a towel, sunscreen, and sunglasses to set up shop on the beach and relax in the sand. As long as you don’t mind walking a bit, you can easily find a secluded spot away from the crowds (a big plus in our book!). If you forgot to grab snacks before embarking, stop by the Lost Dog Cafe for a quick and delicious fix.
The Battery is one of the most quintessentially Charleston spots around, and it’s a must on any trip. The homes in this area are among the most historic and iconic in the city and you’ve probably seen these brightly painted beauties on postcards or in guidebooks. After taking in the historic homes, walk along the water and experience one of the most relaxing, scenic parts of the city. Though it’s close to the action downtown, it provides a serene experience that makes you feel as if you’re much farther away.
After a day at Folly Beach, consider making your way just up the road to rent a kayak for the afternoon at Charleston Outdoor Adventures. You can choose to rent a boat per hour or go on a guided tour for a more in-depth experience. For group tours and stand-up paddleboards, head to Nature Adventures. If paddling isn’t your thing, you can charter a boat instead—a relaxing way to get out on the water and take in the views.
Downtown Charleston is compact enough that you can get almost anywhere on a bicycle in less than 15 minutes. The narrow streets also make biking feel safe and welcome. Drivers are polite, and you definitely don’t have to be a biking expert to get around. While there are many different places you can rent a bike, we recommend trying Affordabike or The Bicycle Shoppe to hit the road as quickly as possible. Many hotels in the area also offer bikes for rent so you may want to explore that option first.
Take a quick trip to Sullivan’s Island and explore all this charming town has to offer. Sullivan’s Island is a barrier island on Charleston Harbor. There aren’t any hotels or inns on the island, but there is a limited number of vacation rentals. Luckily, it’s super close to Charleston, making it an easy day trip from the city. Relax on the beaches, splash in the waves, fish, kayak, sail, check out the history, or just wander the town.
On Saturdays from April through November, you can visit the Farmers Market at Marion Square Park for a taste of all things local in Charleston. In the past, its been ranked one of the best farmers markets in the entire country, so needless to say, it’s worth the visit. There are a great variety of farmers, food vendors, and local artisans to choose from. If you’re visiting in December, you’ll be able to experience a holiday market (instead of the regular market).
Tucked off of King Street in Charleston, you may end up stumbling upon this historic cemetery on accident. Completely overgrown with trees and plants, the cemetery is equal parts fascinating and historic (and a little bit creepy!). The cemetery is referenced in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem Annabel Lee adding to the spooky factor.
Where to Eat
Butcher and Bee is definitely not your average sandwich spot. With innovative options such as a pulled squash sandwich (butternut squash and smoked cabbage with BBQ sauce) and a creative take on a Jamaican sandwich with jerk chicken and bananas, you can get a high quality meal for under $10 easily here. Offering indoor and outdoor seating, it’s frequented by both tourists and locals alike. This spot is BYOB so you can pick up wine or beer at The Daily right around the corner.
Xiao Bao Biscuit serves up comfort food with influences from several Asian countries including China, Korea, and Thailand. Be ready to gorge on rice topped with super flavorful proteins and pickled vegetables with a healthy dash of chili sauce. But beware, the spice may not be for the faint of heart!
If you’re looking for a taste of Italy in downtown Charleston, you’ll find it at Monza Pizza Bar, where they serve up pizzas (wood-fired of course), a small selection of pasts, salads, and “Italian-ish” cocktails. Because they use local ingredients when they can, everything tastes super fresh. It’s a great place to stop in for lunch or end the night.
Imagine your most beloved Tex Mex restaurant melded with all of your Lowcountry favorites and you’ll end up at The Taco Spot. Start with chips, salsa, and guacamole before selecting from their menu full of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Paradise for those who have a soft spot for Tex Mex and a good deal.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat near Charleston Music Hall, look no further than 39 Rue de Jean. This bistro-style restaurant also serves sushi, so there’s nearly guaranteed to be something on the menu for everyone. They also have a reasonably-priced feature dinner every day of the week, crab cakes on Monday to bouillabaisse on Sunday.
For a great breakfast, lunch, or quick break, you can’t go wrong with the effortlessly charming and sweet Harbinger. Their scones and salads rotate daily, so there’s always something new to try, they serve wine on weekdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. for a casual happy hour, and there are tons of sweet treats for the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
Delicious sandwiches bursting with flavor and overflowing with pickled veggies, cilantro, and protein? Check. Under $10 so you can save money for a fancy dinner later in your trip? Check. Free delivery so you don’t have to get out of your hotel bed if you don’t want to? Check! This is a convenient, filling, and budget friendly option where you can’t go wrong.
Before heading out to Folly Beach or Sullivan Island for the day, swing by The Daily for everything you’ll need for a delicious day out. Try the Sausage Biscuit or Breakfast Pita to fuel you up before you go, or the Whipped Feta Toast or the Hummus Bowl for the best beach lunch. Don’t forget pastries (they serve from sister restaurant Butcher & Bee) and coffee, matcha, or juice to keep you going.
The two founders at EVO (which stands for Extra Virgin Oven) actually met in another famous kitchen in town—FIG. The menu is full of inventive wood-fired pizzas and salads, with plenty of options for everyone. Check out their daily specials for featured offerings and don’t forget dessert—the chocolate is not to be missed.
Until a few years ago, you couldn’t dine at the Zero Cafe unless you were staying at its hotel but luckily, for you, that’s changed. Its off the beaten path and you may even accidentally pass it while trying to find where it’s located. But worth the search, chef Vinson Petrillo crafts beautiful food in a kitchen built inside a carriage house from 1804. You may even recognize him as a contestant on both Chopped Champions and Top Chef. The food is elegant, daring, and downright delicious. Grab an outdoor seat and a bottle of wine to ponder why you didn’t get to this place sooner.
You basically can’t beat local cheese and charcuterie shop goat.sheep.cow. for picnic or casual happy hour supplies. Eat in for a relaxing afternoon or evening, or take it to go. But you definitely shouldn’t sleep on their daily sandwiches. They only make a limited amount, so be sure to call ahead or swing by before they run out.
Looking for a touch of something sweet in an absolutely charming locale? Carmella’s Cafe & Dessert Bar features all kinds of Italian classics, plus dessert cocktails, a full bar, and smoothies, lattes, stromboli, and sandwiches earlier in the day.
Sean Brock is something of a legend in Charleston, running some of the most iconic restaurants in the city. Book reservations in advance to enjoy elevated yet simple Southern classics as well as a few surprises. The restaurant is housed in an old Southern home that will make you feel like you are at a dinner party rather than one of the best restaurants in Charleston. Don’t hesitate to get the fried chicken—we promise you won’t be disappointed.
For casual, yet super tasty eats anytime of the day, head over to One Broad Street. There you’ll find a variety of breakfast and lunch offerings ranging from shakshuka to pastrami lox bagels and tamagoyaki, as well as daily happy hour specials running from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Because they serve their breakfast menu daily, it’s also a great weekday brunch spot.
As the name suggests, you can find all of your fresh raw seafood offerings at 167 Raw on east Bay Street. Raw seafood not your thing? The menu also boasts lobster rolls, fish sandwiches, tacos, po’ boys, and more. There’s only one dessert on the menu: homemade key lime pie. Make sure to save room for a slice.
Don’t leave town without heading over to Lewis Barbecue. Pitmaster John Lewis got his start in Texas, but moved to Charleston and opened Lewis Barbecue in 2016. Get all of your barbecue joint classics (think brisket, ribs, pulled pork, mac and cheese, collard greens) or try one of their daily specials, which are only available until sold out.
Paris by way of Charleston. You’ll find plenty of French bistro staples here, including French onion soup, Lyonnaise salad, Croque Monsieur, quiche, and pommes frites. But you’ll also find deviled eggs, crab croquettes, and more. Definitely order from the extensive cocktail list. Brunch is also not to be missed. The brunch menu features many of the heavy-hitters from the lunch and dinner menu, but also Pain Perdu (French toast with bananas, pecans, and a caramel sauce), a Parisian omelette, and the restaurant’s take on eggs Benedict.
Minero focuses heavily on tequila and whether you’re a fan or not, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll find a drink you love here. Order one of Minero’s ultra-creative cocktails that feature ingredients such as habanero, cinnamon, and ancho chiles. While you’re there, also grab one of the best tacos in Charleston.
The sweet and charming Sugar Bakeshop has been a staple of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood since 2007. The shop features local ingredients, which means the menu rotates based on what’s currently in season and available. It’s tiny, however, so you may be better off taking your treats to go and exploring the neighborhood a bit.
Where to Drink
Don’t be upset if you were unable to snag a table at the notoriously hard to get into Husk. The two-story bar next-door offers a large selection of their best dishes and cocktails in a comfortable saloon style setting. We recommend grabbing a booth in the corner, and starting with a simple Old Fashioned before seeing where the night takes you.
For cocktails, you can’t go wrong with The Belmont. Sit at the beautiful wooden bar to take a step back in time or opt to sit at some of the marble high-top tables near the front for some quality people watching. It’s also a good spot for a late night snack! Food is available until 1:00 a.m. and the bar is open until 2:00 a.m.
There are a few different local breweries in the area, but we love the fun vibe, live music and, of course the beer at Palmetto Brewing Co. You can tour and taste the brews from Tuesday through Saturday every week. Be sure to check the events calendar before going as they often host concerts and live acts.
Another local brewery, Revelry boasts a stellar outdoor space, live music, an inventive menu (including both sushi and tacos), and, of course, delicious local brews.
Charleston is also known as the “Holy City,” and this brewery is named after its hometown. Like some of the others in town, this one has live music, great beer, and plenty of tasty eats. Make it a brewery crawl and hit them all.
What night out with the girls would be complete without a glass of wine? Bin 152 is a wine bar that takes their craft seriously and they execute it perfectly. Grab a glass or share a bottle and pair it with cheese and charcuterie with freshly baked bread. Bin 152 is proof that doing one thing well pays off. As if the wine wasn’t enough, their friendly knowledgeable staff will have you pining for a second visit.
This 1920s style bar serves gin cocktails in a cozy, intimate setting. The bartenders are knowledgeable and the ingredients (especially the gin) are all high quality. In addition to fantastic drinks, the menu consists of bar favorites (think grilled cheese) as well as interesting experiments like Pad Thai popcorn. If you aren’t a fan of gin, they also have plenty of other fantastic mixed drinks using other spirits.
This post was updated June 7, 2019 with current recommendations.