Photo: Jason Barnette

How to Have an Indulgent Weekend Getaway in Charleston, South Carolina's Oldest City

Travel Insider Guides
by Jason Barnette Oct 12, 2022

Charleston is a versatile destination — it’s a college town, a historic city, a coastal community, a foodies’ haven, and a great place for a bachelorette party, making it the perfect southern city for just about everyone. No matter the budget, the interests, or the appetite, Charleston delivers — that’s why more than 7 million people visit this beautiful city every year. You can choose to meander the cobblestone streets of South Carolina’s oldest city enjoying everything randomly or you can follow our guide to craft your own itinerary that’ll help make the most of your time in Charleston.

The best times to visit Charleson, South Carolina

Blooming spring flowers, azaleas, at Magnolia Plantation and Garden in Charleston, SC

Photo: Jason Barnette

Spring is the best time to visit Charleston. Daytime temperatures reach the 70s by mid-March, and by May, the water temperature is warm enough for a dip in the ocean. The crowds are thinner, so you’ll spend less time sitting in traffic or waiting for a table. The azaleas typically bloom in April, adding bright pinks and reds and purples to an already-vibrant city.

Alternative times to visit Charleston would be mid-week during the summer or October while many people are away exploring the fall colors in the mountains.

How to get to Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is an easy place to visit — you just need to choose between flying, driving, or riding a train.

  • Charleston International Airport (CHS) offers flights from almost a dozen airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United. From the airport, you can rent a car, schedule a shuttle with your hotel (most downtown hotels offer complimentary shuttles to the airport), or take the Charleston Area Regional Transit Authority (CARTA) bus.
  • The 306-mile Interstate 26 ends in Charleston after crossing through South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The interstate intersects with major highways like I-95, I-77, I-85, and I-81. King Street and East Bay Streets are the primary north-south routes through downtown, while Calhoun Street and Broad Street are the primary east-west.
  • Amtrak offers services to Charleston along their Silver Service/Palmetto line. Trains operating on the line between New York and Miami have sleeper cars, dining cars, and comfortable seating for short trips.

Expert tip: If you’re driving your car to Charleston, be mindful of where you park. Neighborhoods are typically reserved for residents only. As a rule of thumb, you probably can’t park on that street if you don’t see a parking meter. The best parking rates in the city are found in the public parking garages.

Traveling to Charleston? Check out Matador’s accommodations guides to the city:

Things to do in Charleston, South Carolina

For the history lovers: Visit the museums and historical landmarks of Charleston

The Joseph Manigault House, one of the The Charleston Museum's house museums, in Charleston, South Carolina

The Joseph-Manigault House, one of the Charleston Museum’s house museums. Photo: Jason Barnette

The Charleston Museum: Established in 1773, the Charleston Museum is the oldest museum in the United States. Take a walk through Charleston’s early history at the Lowcountry History Hall, check out 17th to 20th-century rifles and pistols at The Armory, learn about the city’s role in the American Revolution, and study the museum’s recently renovated exhibit about the Civil War. In the Bunting Natural History Gallery, learn about millions of years of natural history and snap a selfie with the giant fossilized sloth.

Don’t miss a chance to tour the Joseph Manigault House, one of the museum’s historic houses open for guided tours. Built in 1803 for a wealthy plantation family, the house has a stunning spiral staircase, historically restored rooms, and an impressive collection of 19th-century furniture.

Expert tip: The museum also manages the Heyward-Washington House several blocks away. The 3-Site Ticket grants admission to the museum and both historic houses. But with no expiration date, you can visit each at your leisure.

Parking: Use the Visitor Center Parking Garage across the street from the museum.

Where: 360 Meeting Street Charleston, SC 29403

Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie National Historical Park: Inside the Fort Sumter Visitor Center are exhibits about Charleston’s role in the Civil War. Hop aboard the three-level tour boat for an exhilarating adventure to Fort Sumter at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The thirty-minute boat ride features history narration and spectacular views. Once docked at the fort, visitors are treated to a 15-minute introduction from a National Park Service ranger and then left with half an hour to explore at will.

Expert tip: Fort Moultrie is another component of this national park site in nearby Sullivan’s Island. The visitor center interprets the Revolutionary War and Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the fort’s role in the Civil War, and its role during WWII.

Parking: Use the Aquarium Parking Garage across the street from the visitor center.

Where: 340 Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401

For the nature lovers: Check out Charleston’s aquarium and gardens

South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Jason Barnette

The South Carolina Aquarium: Appropriately located on the waterfront, the South Carolina Aquarium is a fascinating exploration of the state’s aquatic life. The two-story, 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank takes center stage and it’s the deepest saltwater tank in the country. Step outside to the Saltwater Aviary and get hands-on with the touch tanks.

Parking: Use the Aquarium Parking Garage across the street from the aquarium.

Where: 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401

The famous Long White Bridge at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Jason Barnette

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: In 1676, Thomas Drayton established a plantation on the Ashley River. After the collapse of the plantation economy, the private gardens carefully curated by the Drayton family were opened to the public in 1870 — making it one of the oldest botanical gardens in the country.

Admission includes trails crisscrossing through romantic gardens of azalea bushes, oak trees, and the iconic White Bridge. Other activities include (at an additional cost) a guided tour of the house, access to the swamp gardens, and the Slavery to Freedom Tour that explores the history of enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation.

Expert tip: Book a narrated tour on the Nature Tram to get the most out of your visit. During the one-hour tour, you’ll visit the gardens, swamps, and scenic vistas of the plantation from the comfort of an open-air trolley car.

Parking: There is plenty of on-site parking.

Where: 3550 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414

For the art aficionados: Hit the Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Jason Barnette

The Gibbes Museum of Art has an impressive collection of 18th and 19th-century paintings, sculptures, and furniture, as well as contemporary artwork, spread throughout three galleries. The Miniature Portraits Gallery is the museum’s signature showcase, displaying dozens of intricate palm-sized portraits – a trend that started in Charleston over two hundred years ago. But while enjoying the exhibits at will, be sure to take note of the gorgeous architecture of the building itself. Adult tickets are $12.

Parking: Use the Queen Street Garage or Cumberland Street Garage, each just one block from the art museum.

Where: 135 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

For those in need of retail therapy: Walk around the Historic Charleston City Market

Contrary to popular belief, enslaved people were never sold at the city market. Opened in 1807, it was the central market where residents bought daily supplies. Today, the city market has dozens of shops filled with local artwork — photography, paintings, clothing, home decor, jewelry, and sweet grass baskets. Far from typical tourist trap souvenir shops, the Historic Charleston City Market is a place to meet local artisans and find something authentic to take home.

Parking: Use the Cumberland Street Parking Garage one block from the city market.

Where: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

For the romantics: Take a sunset cruise

A sunset cruise on the Schooner Pride is a unique way to spend an evening in Charleston. The 84-foot, three-mast schooner takes passengers on a peaceful two-hour journey around Charleston Harbor. It’s a chance to relax, take in the sight of the city’s skyline, and enjoy occasional dolphin sightings. The tour does not feature narration or food, however, the friendly crew will answer questions, and visitors can bring a picnic.

Parking: The Schooner Pride sets sail from a dock beside the South Carolina Aquarium. Use the Aquarium Parking Garage one block away.

Where: 360 Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401

Where to eat and drink in Charleston, South Carolina

For those who want to try everything: the Charleston Culinary Tours

The best way to discover your personal favorite Charleston restaurant is with a guided culinary tour. These three-hour tours stop at about half a dozen restaurants and each visit includes a sample of the menu. When you’re done, you’ll be well-fed and armed with a list of restaurants to visit during the remainder of your trip.

For southern food: biscuits, seafood, and barbecue

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits: In 2005, Carrie Morey started an Instagram page in order to sell her buttery, tender, made-from-scratch biscuits. The popularity of the delectable southern staple soon led to a food truck and brick-and-mortar locations in the Historic Charleston City Market and King Street. It’s common to see long lines stretching down the sidewalk in the mornings — and it’s worth the wait.

Parking: Use the Cumberland Street Garage one block from the city market.

Where: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401 (Enclosed building at Historic Charleston City Market)

Poogan’s Porch: When Poogan’s Porch opened in 1976 inside a nearly one-hundred-year-old house, the first guest was the neighborhood dog named Poogan, who settled onto the porch for a nap, hence the name of the establishment. At Poogan’s Porch, chef Daniel Doyle takes a contemporary approach to southern dishes like she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken.

Parking: Use the Queen Street Garage within sight of the restaurant.

Where: 72 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401

Poogan’s Smokehouse: In 2016, Doyle branched out with his take on southern-style barbecue. Meats are smoked daily, and everything is made from scratch in the state-of-the-art kitchen. The menu includes pulled pork or chicken sandwiches, smokehouse ribs and slaw, and homemade sides. Their Skillet Mac & Cheese appetizer — topped with country ham, smoked gouda, and toasted breadcrumbs — could serve as a meal.

Parking: Use the Concord Parking Garage, less than a block from the restaurant.

Where: 188 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

Fleet Landing: In 2004, Tradd and Weesie Newton converted a 1940s naval building on a concrete pier into one of Charleston’s best waterfront restaurants. Ample outdoor seating and oversized windows offer stunning views of Charleston Harbor to go with the savory food. Specialties include shrimp and grits, crab cakes, and seafood pasta. But the best way to experience their signature style is with a fried seafood platter.

Parking: Use the Concord Street Parking Garage across the street from the restaurant.

Where: 186 Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401

For spirits and craft cocktails

Bartender Adam Graudin pours a sample in the Tasting Room at Firefly Distillery in North Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Jason Barnette

Firefly Distillery: In 2005, Jim Irvin and Scott Newitt came up with the crazy idea of establishing a distillery in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Hearkening back to their childhood of catching fireflies and stuffing them into Mason jars, they named their fledgling business Firefly Distillery. Their signature Sweet Tea Vodka was an instant hit.

In 2020, Firefly Distillery moved to a sprawling campus in North Charleston. Guided tours offer a sneak peek into the distillery and ends in the gorgeous tasting room. After the tour, visitors are treated to six samples of their products — with the option to buy craft cocktails to finish the day. Live music is often played on the weekends across the grassy yard in front of the tasting room.

Expert tip: The Firefly Distillery is only five minutes from North Charleston’s Park Circle, a neighborhood filled with local restaurants, breweries, and retail shops. It’s a great place to get something to eat before heading back to Charleston.

Parking: There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Where: 4201 Spruill Ave, North Charleston, SC 29405

The Rooftop at the Vendue: The best way to enjoy the Charleston skyline is from the water. But the second-best way is The Rooftop at the Vendue, the city’s best rooftop bar. The towering steeples of St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s are perfect backdrops to conversations around craft cocktails.

Parking: Use the East Bay Street Parking Garage or Concord Parking Garage, each one block away from the rooftop bar.Where: 19 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401

Where to stay in Charleston, South Carolina

We hope you love the Charleston hotels we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

For the budget-conscious travelers

Best Western: Across the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant, this hotel has free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and complimentary continental breakfast. It’s a 15-minute drive from downtown Charleston – and only five minutes from dining and recreation at Shem Creek.

Parking: There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Where: 259 Magrath Darby Blvd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

Sleep Inn: On the other side of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard – the main thoroughfare in Mount Pleasant – this hotel is a peaceful escape with an outdoor swimming pool and free on-site parking.

Parking: There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Where: 299 Wingo Way, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

Hilton Garden Inn: This hotel is an impeccable place to spend your night recovering from a long day of visiting the city. The hotel has an on-site bar and restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, and an outdoor terrace with fire pits.

Parking: There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Where: 300 Wingo Way, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

For travelers in search of luxury

Francis Marion Hotel: When completed in the early 1920s, it was one of the grandest hotels in the Carolinas. Named after Revolutionary War hero General Francis Marion, the hotel has a glamorous decor, an on-site spa, restaurant, bar, and a convenient location in the heart of downtown Charleston.

Parking: Use the Marion Square Parking Garage next door.

Where: 387 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

French Quarter Inn: Considering price, location, and amenities, the French Quarter Inn is one of the best hotels in Charleston. Located beside the Historic Charleston City Market, the hotel has guest rooms with gorgeous furniture, upscale decor, and stunning views of the city.

Parking: On-site valet parking is available for an additional charge. Their parking garage has electric vehicle charging stations.

Where: 166 Church St, Charleston, SC 29401

The Charleston Place: Located near the Historic Charleston City Market, this hotel is one of the largest complexes in the city. There are three on-site restaurants, four bars, and a full-service day spa. The rooftop Clocktower Terrace overlooking King Street is only available for guests.

Parking: On-site valet parking is available for an additional charge. Their parking garage has electric vehicle charging stations.

Where: 205 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

The Dewberry Inn: This modern boutique hotel is conveniently located beside Marion Square in the heart of downtown Charleston. The hotel has an on-site restaurant and bar.

Parking: On-site valet parking is available for an additional charge. Their parking garage features electric vehicle charging stations.

Where: 334 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403

How to get around Charleston, South Carolina

2nd Sunday on King Street monthly event that sees the closing of King Street, allowing people to walk the street, place dining areas outside, and enjoy downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Photo: Jason Barnette

Getting around Charleston is more complicated than getting there. Downtown streets are narrow — after all, many of them were designed for horse-drawn carriages in the 1700s. The best way to get around Charleston is to park your car and use one of the following options:

  • CARTA operates the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH), a free public transportation bus connecting many of the top attractions in the city. The air-conditioned buses have comfortable seats, charging stations, and short transits between stops.
  • The most interesting way to get around is the Charleston Bike Taxi. Two-seater open-air carts driven by a bicyclist offer a quick and affordable way to get between destinations while enjoying the best sights of the city.
  • Walking is a great way to get around Charleston, but it has a few caveats. Cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks make walking feel like an Olympic event. If you have mobility issues, you may want to go for another mode of transportation.

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