Top Tips for Visiting Charleston: Best Hotels, Attractions, & Restaurants

Charleston SC Travel Guide

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The first time I visited Charleston, South Carolina, I was 14 years old. Basically, all I remember from that trip was that it was hot, and there were a lot of old houses to tour.

Those facts hadn’t changed. 

While Charleston in late spring and summer (May – September) can be swelteringly hot and humid, you’re not going to want to miss a visit to this idyllic southern city no matter what time of year you go.

Charleston South Carolina Rooftop Vendue Inn
“Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship…You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced…you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes” Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

Where To Stay In Charleston

Hotel Recommendation | The Mills House Hotel

Charleston Travel Guide Road Taken To
Image Courtesy of MillsHouse.com

Centrally located in downtown Charleston within walking distance to most attractions, the historic (and very pink) Mills House Hotel is an ideal selection.

“Experience the ultimate in southern charm at our hotel in the heart of historic Charleston. Opened in 1853, The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel is a unique hotel close to the Museum Mile and many historic downtown sights. We are a full service hotel with warm hospitality and friendly services, concierge staff and valet parking.” 

The surrounding neighborhood is a lovely place to walk as well, with its quaint neighborhood theatres, stately art galleries, and ebony-colored wrought iron gates offering brief glimpses of lush clandestine gardens with softly gurgling fountains within.  For a tasty nearby lunch spot, check out Blossom on East Bay Street, a cozy spot offering low country dishes with a modern twist. 

Also, don’t miss out on eating at least one breakfast at Toast, also located within easy walking distance of the Mills House Hotel. There may be a waiting line, but the breakfast here is worth the wait. 

I’m fairly certain their famous “Bottomless Mimosa” is what kept me going during the “toasty” trip to Fort Sumter.

The Belmond Hotel Charleston Place

Charleston Hotel Belmond Road Taken
Image Courtesy of Hotels.com

Full disclosure: I have never stayed at this hotel. However, I did enjoy a cocktail at the Thoroughbred Club (which serves as the Lobby Bar) and afterward explored the hotel. 

I was hooked. 

It’s hard not to be drawn in by this large, striking hotel with its opulent features. It’s also located in a prime downtown position, making it easy to walk to nearby attractions and shopping venues. 

What To Do: Charleston Attractions

FORT SUMTER

FORT SUMTER CHARLESTON SOUTH CAROLINA

On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began at Fort Sumter when the Confederacy fired on the U.S. garrison. Now, Fort Sumter is one of Charleston’s most popular visitor destinations. 

There isn’t an entrance fee for Fort Sumter, but you have to pay for the ferry to the island. Click here for the operating hours and ticket/tour information. 

Roaming about the tiny island and remains of the fort, you can’t help but think about how terrifying it must have been to watch deadly bombs bursting over your head. Where do you run to? How do you escape the fiery blasts or collapsing rubble? Or the heat in May?

THE YORKTOWN

Yorktown South Carolina
“Being on a ship dead in the water gives one a strange feeling. A ship is a vibrant, dynamic living thing. With her great power plant knocked out and her throbbing heartbeat stopped, the Yorktown, in motionless silence, sprawled listlessly in the sea” Andy Mikus, aboard the Yorktown during the Battle of Midway

A drive across the arching, harp-like Arthur Ravenel Jr.  Bridge will take you to Patriot’s Point Naval Museum, where you can explore the Yorktown aircraft carrier and even the claustrophobia-inducing USS Clamagore submarine built-in 1945. 

If you’ve ever wondered what being inside a submersible tin can is like, I highly suggest it. Otherwise, steer clear. 

Although (like practically everywhere else in Charleston) the Yorktown is supposedly haunted, I don’t think it actually is in the “traditional” sense of the word. I would, however, describe the experience of wandering through the cavernous, echoing ship as “haunting.”

All the lives, all the deaths, all the history–it’s a lot to take in.

For ticket information and other tour details, click here. 

THE CHARLESTON CITY MARKET

“In 1788, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney ceded the land to the City of Charleston for the express use as a public market, and he stipulated that the land must remain in use as a market for perpetuity.”

TheCharlestonCityMarket.com

A trip to Charleston isn’t complete without a stroll through the historic City Market. Spanning 4 city blocks, visiting each vendor can be a bit of an undertaking, but it’s a fun and vibrant way to spend a morning or afternoon. 

From March – December on Fridays & Saturdays, a Night Market features live entertainment and other fun activities while still allowing you to shop the 100% locally crafted or grown goods. 

CHARLESTON WATERFRONT PARK

Charleston South Carolina The Road Taken To Travel

The Palmetto Tree Fountain is an icon of Charleston and just one of the beautiful features of this 10-acre waterfront park. 

Wrought iron park benches line the wide curing walkway where you can pause to watch the boats sail by. This park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch or an ice cream from one of the nearby vendors.

BOAT TOURS

One of the best ways to get a better perspective on Charleston is to take a boat or sailing tour. You can also book a midnight ghost tour which offers a twist on the traditional walking ghost tour. For more information, click here for more information.

To book a traditional harbor boat tour or even a sunset wine-tasting sail, visit CharlestonHarborTours.com.

TOUR AN HISTORIC HOME

Edmonston Alston House Charleston Travel Road Taken
Image Courtesy of EdmonstonAlston.org

Much like Savannah, Charleston offers many historic home tours – so much so that you could spend an entire day touring houses. 

During my stay in Charleston, I chose to tour the Edmonston-Alston House, which I happily recommend. The house, built in 1825, is located in High Battery with unobstructed views of the waterfront. The furniture and artifacts inside the home each have their own history to tell and don’t miss the “joggling board” on the terrace.

THE ISLE OF PALMS

If you want to branch out from the city of Charleston and enjoy an evening, you can drive the 12 miles across the waters to the Isle of Palms

The tiny barrier island is lined with colorful beach houses combining festive resort life with the peaceful setting of the quiet shores and waterways.

You can watch the sunset over dinner at the Boathouse, and if you’re looking for a casual spot to enjoy a drink with a view, you can climb up to their rooftop bar, which overlooks the rocking boats on the golden, rippling bay of Breach Inlet below. 

Isle of Palms Boathouse Charleston South Carolina
“I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders” Pat Conroy

Where To Eat In Charleston

Fleet Landing Seafood

Fleet Landing Seafood Charleston South Carolina
Fleet Landing
Fleet Landing Seafood Restaurant Charleston South Carolina

Although Fleet Landing Seafood is touted as having some of the best waterfront views in Charleston, there really isn’t much to see.  The waterfront from inside the restaurant. No worries about that, though, because their seafood and southern sides are the true reason to go. 

My favorite menu item? The Fleet Landing Stuffed Hushpuppies. Each one is filled with lobster, rock shrimp, savory leeks, and creamy corn served over a creole tomato sauce. Yum. 

Poogan’s Porch

Poogan's Porch Restaurant Charleston South Carolina

Poogan’s Porch is supposedly haunted (and if you read the tourism brochures, so is practically everywhere in Charleston, SC). If it is haunted, the ghosts sure do have excellent taste. Poogan’s Porch is so good, I actually ate here twice on the same trip. They are open daily for brunch from 9:00 – 3:00, and the dinner service starts at 4:30. 

My hotel room at the Mill’s House Hotel actually overlooked the 1888 Victorian home that houses the restaurant. One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I thought I saw the slender silhouette of an old woman dressed in black. Most likely, it was a shadow cast by an overhanging eave, but perhaps it was the specter of Zoe St. Amand said to haunt still the premises where she once lived with her sister.

Magnolia’s

Magnolias Charleston South Carolina

If you’re looking for an upscale yet laid-back option for Sunday Brunch, then definitely check out Magnolia’s. The building and decor is historic and elegant, and the food is beautifully prepared with the freshest ingredients. There can be quite a wait, so be sure to get a reservation.

Cocktails with a View

THE PAVILION | Rooftop Bar

Pavilion Rooftop Bar Charleston South Carolina Travel Guide

If you need a break from shopping in the Market, then glide up the elevator to the rooftop of the Market Pavilion Hotel. Here you’ll find an oasis with views of historic Charleston below, and there’s even a pool cascading in one angle of the rooftop. 

Enjoy a specialty cocktail or a glass of wine or beer and rest your feet for a while. A food menu is available as well, where you can order an appetizer, sandwich, or flatbread. 

THE VENDUE | Rooftop Bar

Charleston Travel Guide Road Taken To
Image Courtesy of TheVendue.com
Charleston Travel Vendue Inn Rooftop Bar Road Taken
Sunset View from Vendue Rooftop

AWARDED “BEST ROOFTOP BAR” BY CHARLESTON CITY PAPER SINCE 2007

“The Rooftop Bar is a perfect setting for an al fresco lunch or after work meeting spot to enjoy a refreshing cocktail. The Rooftop is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, offering sweeping views of the Charleston Harbor, Waterfront Park, The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, and more.” | TheVendue.com

If you love a rooftop bar, then definitely check out The Rooftop on top of The Vendue Hotel, known as Charleston’s “Art Hotel.”   It can get a little crowded at sunset, but it’s the perfect spot to catch a whiff of a breeze while enjoying a refreshing beverage as the sun sets behind Charleston’s many church spires. 

The historic neighborhood called the Battery is nearby, making it the ideal place to go for a stroll in the dusky glimmer of evening.

Here you can admire the historic, stately homes glowing softly by the darkening water, ghosts in their own right reflecting the past.

Charleston South Carolina Bridge
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey” Pat Conroy

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Charleston SC Travel Guide

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