Charleston is the oldest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina and is at present the second largest city in the state. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was created. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 347.5 square kilometers (134.2 sq mi). 251.2 km2 (97.0 sq mi) of it is land and 44.3 km2 (17.1 sq mi) (15%) of it is water. The city limits also have lengthened crossways the Cooper River encompassing Daniel Island and the Cainhoy area. North Charleston blocks any expansion up the peninsula, and Mount Pleasant occupies the land directly east of the Cooper River.
Charleston has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), with mild winters, hot, humid summers, and major rainfall all year long. Summer is the wettest season; almost half of the annual rainfall occurs throughout the summer months in the form of thundershowers. Fall remains relatively warm through November. Winter is short and mild, and is characterized by occasional rain. Snow flurries seldom occur.
Attractions of Charleston:
Captain Rick Hiott’s Fishing Charters
Charleston native Rick Hiott, winner of the 1998 Inshore Angler and Light Tackle Angler of the Year award for the Trident contest, is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard and provides half- and whole-day inshore fishing charters. Monster Red Drum (up to 50 pounds) is his specialty, even though Captain Rick also goes after with stripes bass during weekend trips on Lake Moultrie.
4131 Flynn Drive. (843) 412-6776
Since 1773, the Charleston Museum – America’s first museum – has assembled and sealed artifacts pertaining to cultural and natural history of the low country. Antique fossils including a whale skeleton, elegant costumes and Charleston silver are part of the treasure trove, with exhibits as well as African-American history, crafts and slavery.
360 Meeting Street. (843) 722-2996
First laws of the Carolinas provided for the widest measure of religious liberty in all 13 colonies. By 1704, what was known as Charles Towne was an ideal of denominational freedom with English, French, and Quaker, Anabaptist and Independent churches. Charleston is the birthplace of Reform Judaism, with Beth Elohim, at 90 Hassell Street, the nation’s oldest improvement synagogue. Circular Congregational Church, at 150 Meeting Street, formerly called the Independent Church of Charles Towne, was founded in 1681. French Huguenot Church, at 44 Queen Street, was the first built in Gothic style, and its original Tucker organ is among the nations rarest.
This splendid town residence, built in 1818, was extended and redone by Gov. William Aiken Jr. and his wife who scouted Europe for glorious crystal and bronze chandeliers, classical sculptures and paintings. Original outbuildings include kitchens, slave quarters, stables, privies and cattle shed.
48 Elizabeth Street. (843) 723-1159
Specialty shops and personal homes now line this stretch of Church Street inspiring the “Catfish Row” of DuBose Heyward’s book Porgy, later spawning George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, a fictionalized take on black life in Charleston through the 1920s. Porgy’s character was based on Charlestonian Samuel Smalls.
89-91 Church Street. (943) 853-8000
After the Civil War, wealthy banker George Walton Williams built this Victorian Baronial Manor House with a stairwell that reaches to a 75-foot vaulted ceiling. The 24,000-square-foot manse with 14-foot ceilings has ornate chandeliers, plaster and moldings, and a ballroom with a glass skylight.
16 Meeting Street. (843) 772-8205
During the academic year a colorful dress procession is conducted on Fridays at 3:45 p.m. at The Citadel, established in 1842 and one of the last two military state colleges in the nation. The Citadel Museum offers a history of the military college of South Carolina and Corps of Cadets from 1842 to the present.
171 Moultrie Street. (843) 954-3294
Denmark Vesey’s House Marker
After birth into slavery in the Virgin Islands, Denmark Vesey bought his freedom from his Charleston slave holder and settled on Bull Street as a carpenter. In 1821, Vesey’s home was the meeting place for organizing what is considered the most extensive black revolution in American history, involving thousands of Charleston area free and enslaved blacks. Set for July 12, 1822, advance word of the plot leaked and Vesey and 36 others were hanged. The house is a national historic landmark.
56 Bull Street. (843) 953-7609
Grills, Gates & Hearts
Grills, Gates & Hearts, named for master blacksmith Philip Simmons, reveal Charleston history as participants wander along streets of the East Side neighborhood where 18th century slaves and free people of color worked. The tour, departing from the Charleston Visitor Center, visits Simmons’ garden where he sometimes comes out to chat. Simmons, born on the nearby Daniel Island in 1912, learned his craft from blacksmith Peter Simmons (no relation) after taking a job to apprentice at age 12. He started sweeping floors and moved on to shoeing horses. Yet because of dwindling demand for services with advent of the automobile, he became a car mechanic. He also learned to repair ironwork in houses and eventually moved into ornamental design. Simmons has become the most celebrated of Charleston ironworkers and the city is literally embellished from end to end by his hand with wrought iron gates, fences, balconies and window grills. In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him its National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the U.S. can bestow on a traditional artist. In 2001, Simmons received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for “Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.”
25 Eighth Avenue. (843) 853-2500
Home to Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, this house was borrowed for George Washington for his trip to Charleston in 1791. The house, built in 1772 by rice planter Daniel Heyward for his son, is in the locality used as the setting for the book Porgy. Furnished with Charleston-made pieces, the collection includes a priceless Holmes bookcase. The formal garden is filled with plantings available to Charlestonians during that period.
87 Church Street. (843) 722-0354
Historic Charleston Foundation Preservation Center
A film and exhibits highlight Charleston’s architectural history and a gift shop offers books on its culture, structural design and history. Another shop, at 105 Broad Street, specializes in facsimile furniture and gifts.
108 Meeting Street. (843) 724-8484
Joseph Manigault House
As a premier example of graceful Adam-style architecture, this house was built in 1803, designed by gentleman-architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph. A curving central staircase accents the doorway hall and the interior reflects an outstanding collection of American, English and French furnishings of the period.
350 Meeting Street. (843) 723-2926
As Charleston’s oldest public cemetery, founded in 1849 on the Cooper River’s banks, Magnolia Cemetery is the final resting place for generations of southern leaders including governors Thomas Bennett, Langdon Cheves, Horace L. Hunley and Robert Barnwell Rhett. Five Confederate generals (along with hundreds of soldiers) also are buried here: Micah Jenkins, Arthur Manigault, Roswell Ripley, James Conner and C.H. Stevens.
70 Cunningham Avenue. (843) 722-8638
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
In the same family since the 1761 arrival of Thomas Drayton from Barbados, this 300-year-old plantation property includes the country’s oldest garden dating to 1680, and a Reconstruction-era plantation house. The Draytons, of Norman nobility, debuted in English history when Aubrey de Vere, later Great Chamberlain to King Henry I, landed in England with William the Conqueror. Featured on the grounds are a Biblical Garden, Barbados Tropical Garden, train tour, petting zoo, wildlife observation tower, nature trails, art gallery, rental bikes, canoes, an 18th-century herb garden, topiary garden, horticultural maze and an antebellum cabin. The Audubon Swamp Garden’s 60 acres of blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp have bridges and boardwalks.
3550 Ashley River Road. (843) 571-1266
Barns, stables, dairy, gin house, kitchen, and a street of slave dwellings provide insight into antebellum lifestyles at the McLeod Plantation, one of the South’s best preserved. In its heyday of 1860, about 75 slaves cultivated cotton here, making the plantation among the major in the South. It was occupied by both Confederate and Union forces in the Civil War and was used as a field hospital.
325 Country Club Drive. (843) 723-1623
Scenes from the movies Queen, Scarlet and The Patriot were filmed on the grounds of this National Historic Landmark surrounding America’s oldest landscaped gardens, the Middleton Place House Museum and the Plantation Stableyards. The Middleton place Restaurant serves lunch daily and the museum shop has books, jewelry, artwork, and curios.
4300 Ashley River Road. (843) 556-6020
Nathaniel Russell House
The grand Federal townhouse of Nathaniel and Sarah Russell reflects the marriage merging two family fortunes in rice and indigo. Finished in 1808, the house is regarded as one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings, with a magnificent free-flying staircase, geometrically shaped rooms and period antiques.
51 Meeting Street. (843) 724-8481
Old City Market
A flea market offering everything from antiques to produce, along with restaurants and small shops, fill this market dating to 1841. The Daughters of the Confederacy Museum is in the main building.
On Market Street. (843) 723-1541
Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
Used as a prison by the British during the Revolution, the Provost Dungeon was where South Carolina elected delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774. Sturdily constructed using a brick barrel vaulted ceiling, the dank Dungeon, and remaining floors of the Old Exchange Building, have survived hurricanes, earthquakes, and wars. Archaeological excavations unearthed a portion of the original Half-Moon Bastion, the only visible section of the early fortification of Charles Town.
122 East Bay Street. (843) 727-2165
Historic Dock Street Theatre
Dock Street (the colonies’ first theatre) opened in 1736 to be lost in the fire of 1740. The Planters Hotel opened on the site in 1809, thriving until war damage left it derelict in the 1860s. Mid-1930s hotel preservation included a reconstructed theatre, in constant use since 1937. Each spring, Dock Street is a major venue for Spoleto Festival USA. Pre-booked tours can be arranged.
135 Church Street. (843) 720-3968
As the only plantation house on the Ashley River surviving both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, this huge two-story brick structure completed in 1742 was built by John Drayton, a member of His Majesty’s council. The masterpiece of Georgian-Palladian architecture is filled with 18th century craftsmanship, embellished outdoors by marsh and garden walks.
3380 Ashley River Road. (843) 769-2600
This 19th-century two-family Freedman’s cabin, on the grounds of Middleton Place, is a National Historic Landmark and an 18th century plantation. America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a Colonial period stableyard are open for tours. The structure is named for its last occupant, Eliza Leach, born in 1891. She died at 94 and almost to the last continued to tote water from the spring house and chop wood for her fire, even though modern conveniences had been installed.
4300 Ashley River Road. (843) 556-6020
Fort Sumter National Monument
First shots of the Civil War were fired at this preserved national monument. Tour boats depart Liberty Square in downtown Charleston and Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant. On April 12 and 13, 1861, the first Civil War engagement unfolded here. After 34 hours of battle, the Union surrendered the fort to Confederates. From 1863 to 1865, Confederates at Fort Sumter withstood a 22-month siege by Union forces. During this time, most of the fort was reduced to brick rubble. Fort Sumter became a national monument in 1948.
340 Concord Street. (843) 883-3123
Frankie’s Fun Park-North Charleston
Arcade attractions, bumper boats, mini golf, a rock wall and more entertain at this family fun park.
5000 Phosphate Road. (893) 767-1376
Gibbes Museum of Art
From portraits of the Colonial South to the era of Porgy and Bess and beyond, the museum, opened in 1905, contains a collection of American and European paintings reflecting Charleston’s history.
135 Meeting Street. (843) 722-2706
Old Powder Magazine
As the only public building remaining in North or South Carolina from the period of the Lord Proprietors, it was used to store munitions for Charleston’s defense against onslaughts from marauding Spanish naval vessels based in St. Augustine. It was replaced by a newer magazine in 1748, but continued to serve in the American Revolution. The Historic Charleston Foundation offers an audio tour of the property, which has exhibits on early Colonial Charleston.
79 Cumberland Street. (843) 724-8482
Old South Carriage Company
Hour-long narrated tours of the Historic District are conducted by the city’s only licensed guides in Confederate uniforms. Tours depart every 20 minutes from the Anson Street barn. Combination tickets are offered with the Spirit Line Harbor Tour.
14 Anson Street. (843) 723-9712
Original Charleston Walks
For those whose feet are made for walking, Original Charleston Walks options include the famed Lowcountry Ghost Walk filled with Gullah superstitions, the Civil War Walk, the Pirates & Buccaneers Walk, the Patriots of Charleston, and Wicked Charleston, tracing the city’s red light history.
45 Broad Street. (843) 408-0010
Terrace Oaks Antique Mall
American and European country and formal furnishings, china, glassware, estate jewelry, books, bronzes, prints and more are offered at competitive prices.
2037 Maybank (Highway 700). (843) 795-9684
Thomas Elfe House
Cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe built this pre-Revolutionary War period Georgian-style single house with woodwork of rare quality. Cornice moldings, china cabinets and closets are artfully incorporated with chimney alcoves. The home also showcases 18th and 19th century furnishings.
54 Queen Street. (843) 722-9161
Thomas Miller’s House
Successfully petitioning for a law prohibiting white teachers in black schools, Thomas Miller was first president of South Carolina State University and served in both houses of the state legislature and in the U.S. Congress. His home was built in 1860.
156 Smith Street. (843) 953-7609
Named for 14 private homes mirroring colors of the rainbow, this section dates from 1740 and in the 18th century was Charleston’s waterfront district.
83-107 East Bay.
Slave Mart Museum
The last slave auctions at this market were in 1863 and presentations narrate the African-American experience from arrival in the South Carolina low country to the present. Permanent exhibits explore Caribbean influences on America, slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, arts, cuisine and the civil rights movement.
6 Chalmers Street. (843) 724-7395
South Carolina Aquarium
South Carolina’s complete range of aquatic habitats are represented here from sparkling mountain streams and rivers to lakes, saltwater marsh and the Atlantic. River otters, snakes, turtles, birds, fish, jellyfish and sharks are part of some 60 living exhibits.
350 Concord Street. (843) 720-1990
St. Philip’s Graveyard
Col. William Rhett, known as the “Scourge of Pirates” and charged with bringing Blackbeard to justice, is buried here. So are Gen. Moultrie, defensive Charleston against the British, Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution, and John C. Calhoun, senator and vice president of the United States.
142 Church Street. (843) 722-7734
Top Hotels in Charleston:
Harbour View Inn
French Quarter Inn
Holiday Inn Hotel
Market Street Inn
Barksdale House Inn
Elliott House Inn