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Charleston Travel Guide | SC Tips, Vacation Ideas & More

Jun 16, 2022

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If you’re seeking a break from everyday life with a well-deserved getaway in South Carolina, the state’s oldest city is a lovely destination for an idyllic escape. Charleston boasts an array of fun activities and historical architecture that will leave you gazing in awe!

Here, you can wander around the cobblestoned streets, relax on the sandy shores, or hop in a horse-drawn carriage and learn about way back when.

On a recent trip, Charleston EASILY became my favorite city.

But, of course, with so much to do and see, you’ll want a well-planned itinerary, so you don’t miss out on the city’s highlights! 

Below you’ll find some of the best accommodation options, activities, restaurants, and planning tips for a memorable Charleston, South Carolina, vacation.

Make sure you read my other Charleston blogs too!

Let’s explore!

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links. 

Where To Stay During Your Charleston SC Vacation

Before we jump into the activities to add to your Charleston itinerary, let’s look at possible accommodations for your style, budget, and desired experience.

Below are a few of the city’s finest accommodations to consider:

(Because, who doesn’t like boujee things?)

The Dewberry Charleston

If you’re seeking a luxurious stay in the city, The Dewberry Charleston offers a 5-star experience with exquisite services. It is on Meeting Street in the city’s Historic District, just a short walk from Charleston Farmers Market and Charleston Museum.

The boutique hotel features stunning designs with eye-catching artwork and elegant furnishings.

There are several posh rooms and suites, each equipped with modern amenities for a comfortable stay.

Work off those extra helpings of cornbread at the fitness center, have a relaxing spa treatment, or unwind in the reading library.

Then, make your way to The Living Room or Citrus Club for an innovative cocktail—I recommend the Mai Tai!

The Charleston Place

Charleston Place is another gem nestled in the Charleston Historic District. This 4-star hotel provides world-class services and facilities in a stylish setting.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with many comforts, including plush beds, en-suite bathrooms, and reading nooks.

Some accommodations have private balconies and separate living rooms too—fancy!

Delight your senses with a pampering spa experience, increase your endorphins at the fitness center, or take a refreshing dip in the pool. When it comes to dining, you can indulge in various tasty delights at on-site restaurants and bars.

The rooftop pool and terrace, The Clocktower Terrace, is a little hidden gem where you can sip a cocktail and admire the stunning city views.

HarbourView Inn

HarbourView Inn is an excellent choice if you’re looking for affordable accommodation in the heart of the historic downtown.

At this 4-star hotel, you’ll be treated to southern hospitality and amazing facilities for a pleasant Charleston vacation!

The rooms feature all the necessary amenities for a relaxing stay, including a sound machine, flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi. You’ll also have large windows with beautiful views, with some rooms even having private balconies. 

Start your day with a gourmet continental breakfast and cuddle up with milk and cookies in the evening.

The hotel is within walking distance of many historical landmarks, restaurants, and shops, which you can reach using one of the hotel’s bicycles.

Modern Townhouse

If you’re looking for budget-friendly accommodation, this modern townhouse offers a cozy home away from home. You’ll be near several eateries, attractions in downtown Charleston, and Folly Beach—an epic spot for surfing!

The one-bedroom home is a great pick for solo travelers, couples, and small families.

It can accommodate four individuals, and the host welcomes dogs with open paws.

Show off your culinary skills in the well-equipped kitchen and enjoy your southern-inspired creations in the scenic outdoor dining area.

There is also free Wi-Fi, basic toiletries and bed linens, and laundry facilities!

Best Time To Visit Charleston

The best times to visit Charleston are during the spring and fall seasons. In spring, you’ll experience mild temperatures and see beautiful azaleas and magnolia trees in bloom—adding to the beauty of the historic buildings and picturesque settings. 

The cool weather in Charleston during fall makes it an ideal time for exploring.

During this time, you can wander around and admire the fall foliage.

While spring and fall are excellent times for vacationing in Charleston, SC, the city is also a popular vacation spot during the Easter holidays and spring break. So you can expect higher accommodation prices and more crowds.

Visiting during winter is a great option if you want to escape the masses and enjoy off-season perks.

During the summer, the city experiences hot and humid weather, and you’ll find crowds and lots of little ones on vacation.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun in the sun!

Each season and month has pros and cons, but regardless of the time of year, you’re sure to have a good time visiting Charleston, SC.

Best Things To Do in Charleston SC

The city is filled with fun activities for history buffs, foodies, fashion lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Here are some unmissable things to do during your trip to Charleston, SC!

Browse Around the Historic Charleston City Market

Your vacation would be incomplete without visiting this historic market in downtown Charleston.

It’s one of the oldest markets in South Carolina and spans four city blocks.

The market is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. And with around 300 vendors, you’re sure to find something that fits your style. 

Here you can buy handmade items, artwork, clothing, jewelry, and tasty treats like southern-style shrimp and grits. If you need a little shopping break, pop into one of the many restaurants for a delicious bite.

Hank’s Seafood Restaurant serves classic seafood dishes and raw bar items, and it’s only a one-minute walk from the market!

Take a Horse & Carriage Tour

Ride through 300 years of Charleston’s history on a relaxing horse-drawn carriage tour.

On the one-hour journey through the cobblestone streets, you’ll get a glimpse of the past and learn about the local history, culture, and architectural gems!

Along the way, you’ll see centuries-old houses, historic churches, and manicured gardens and parks.

Admire Architecture on Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row is a collection of thirteen pastel-colored homes on East Bay Street. This beautiful location is a must-see for anyone planning to travel to Charleston, SC.

The houses were built around 1740 and have been through notable events like the Civil War and World War II.

Today, this series of historic homes is one of the most photographed areas in the city. So you’ll want to snap a shot for your Instagram story!

Wander Around the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

For an enjoyable outing in a peaceful environment, take a trip to the Magnolia Plantation. The plantations’ history dates back to around 1676, and it’s one of the oldest and most beautiful gardens in the South. 

You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale as you stroll around the picturesque gardens filled with thousands of gorgeous flowers and plants like daffodils, honeysuckles, azaleas, dogwoods, and wisteria.

Tip: For abundant blossoms, it’s best to visit during the springtime!

At this scenic site, you can wander around the grounds, smell the fragrant flowers in the garden, and tour the historic home. If you’d like to learn more about its history, take a guided tour of the premises.

There’s also a small petting zoo, where you can see white-tailed deer, beavers, bobcats, and more.

Window Shop on King Street

Calling all fashion lovers, King Street is the place to be if you’re looking to shop till you dropppp! This popular shopping area is home to various retailers selling everything from fashion and home décor to antiques and art.

And, as you may have guessed, there are several quaint boutiques and century-old family-run businesses.

There are also several eateries to grab a bite and refuel.

I have a blog on the best food spots in Charleston you can check out for recs!

Whether you want southern food at Virginia’s on King, seafood at 167 Raw Oyster Bar, or a wood-fired pizza at Indaco, your options are plentiful!

Enjoy Watersports & Unwind on the Beach

Enjoy the sun, sea, and sand with a relaxing beach day in Charleston.

There are several sandy shores to visit and many exciting aquatic activities to try.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just feeling adventurous, you can partake in surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, kite surfing, and plenty more water activities! Or sunbathe with a good book and take a refreshing dip.

Folly Beach is the nearest beach to downtown Charleston and a haven for surfers and eager anglers.

Edisto Beach is another superb spot with gentle waters, but be sure to bring along comfy shoes as some regions have many seashells! For solo travelers or couples who want a more secluded experience, make your way to Sullivan’s Island.

PS: The famous Angel Oak Tree is a short drive from Folly!

Charleston Nighttime Activities

In Charleston, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun starts to set. Here are a few ways you can experience the city’s nightlife!

Relax on a Sunset Cruise

End off an exhilarating day of adventures with a relaxing Charleston Harbor cruise. You’ll see scenic lighthouses and local landmarks like the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the Battery while soaking up the beautiful sunset. 

Aboard the catamaran, you can admire the sea birds that soar above you, and be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins in the water! 

If you’re visiting with your significant other, a sunset cruise is a wonderful idea for a romantic date.

After the two-hour journey, treat yourself to a meal at one of the nearby restaurants in Downtown Charleston.

Explore Charleston on a Spooky Ghost Tour

A quirky way to spend an evening in Charleston is by discovering its spooking charm on a ghost tour.

Ooooooooo—spooooookkyyyyyy

This haunting experience will take you through the historic old town and provide exclusive access to the famous Unitarian Church Graveyard—where you’ll meet a wandering ghost or two.

You’ll have an engaging guide tell you stories about dark secrets and notable events.

On the tour, you can also listen to tales from Julian Buxton’s best-selling book, The Ghosts of Charleston.

Have Drinks at The Cocktail Club

You’ll find many stylish bars for a fun night in the city. However, this trendy spot on King Street shouldn’t go unmissed.

The Cocktail Club serves killer hand-crafted cocktails and often features live music.

There’s also a rooftop terrace where you can marvel at the beautiful sunset.

Whether you’re planning an evening cocktail party or just popping in during happy hour, you’re sure to find something that fits your taste.

Another great place for drinks is The Rooftop at the Vendue, just a short stroll from Waterfront Park.

At the Rooftop, you can sip on a classic Sazerac cocktail, nibble on light bites, and admire breathtaking city views. The Citrus Club has a great rooftop too!

Listen to Live Performances at the Music Farm

Sing along to live music at the Music Farm in downtown Charleston.

You’ll find this popular music venue between the Charleston Visitors Center and King Street.

The Music Farm has been operating since the early 90s. It hosts a variety of performances, including both well-known performers and emerging artists.

There is also a bar and kitchen serving tasty meals if you’d like to grab a bite.

Best Restaurants in Charleston, SC

The city is home to an array of refined restaurants, charming cafes, coffee shops, and buzzing bars. You can also have flavorful culinary experiences on a food tour in Charleston.

Below are some of the finest restaurants to check out!

​​Magnolias

If you’re in the mood for Southern food with a twist, make your way to Magnolias. This elegant restaurant uses traditional recipes and techniques to provide hearty dishes plated to perfection.

Indulge in buttermilk fried chicken with mashed potatoes and greens, or enjoy salmon and veggies—yum yum!

If you’re craving something sweet, the dessert menu includes southern pecan pie, salted caramel cheesecake, and crème brûlée.

I’ll take 5 brûlées, please.

It’s also a lovely spot for brunch from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM on Sundays!

High Cotton Charleston Restaurant

High Cotton is a sophisticated eatery situated on East Bay Street.

The spacious setting features a warm, cozy vibe with dark wood furnishings.

Tuck into comforting dishes and drinks and enjoy live music in the evenings.

The menu includes oysters, seafood platters, soups, beef salad, and more.

If you have space for dessert (why wouldn’t you?), try the key lime pie or lemon blackberry cheesecake for a refreshing burst of flavor with each bite.

Hank’s Seafood Restaurant

Hank’s Seafood Restaurant offers a charming setting for a delightful dining experience on Hayne Street.

The restaurant serves classic seafood dishes in a turn-of-the-century warehouse.

Try the scrumptious lobster with lemon and melted butter, or enjoy sea scallops with seasonal greens, fried mashed potatoes, and a tangy grapefruit soy-ginger vinaigrette.

WOW. My mouth is watering.

You’ll also have views of the Charleston City Market from the restaurant.

Carmella’s Café and Dessert Bar

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings, head to Carmella’s in downtown Charleston.

This Italian café and dessert bar will make you feel like a kid in a candy store.

There are many desserts to choose from—and the menu continuously changes, so you might be pleasantly surprised with each visit.

This cute-as-a-button café offers a variety of sweet and savory delights, from carrot cake and cannolis to yummy sandwiches!

There are also aromatic coffees, wine, beer, and cocktails.

Charleston Guide: Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know where to stay, what to do, and where to eat in the city, there are just a few more tips to help you plan the perfect trip.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about traveling to Charleston, SC!

Is It Worth Visiting Charleston, SC?

Yes! Charleston is undoubtedly worth visiting. It boasts a laid-back atmosphere and southern charm with lots of fun experiences.

There aren’t many places with so much variety.

From trotting through the historic, cobblestoned streets to relaxing on the sandy shores, there are plenty of amazing activities!

How Many Days Do I Need in Charleston?

Three to four days is the ideal amount of time to tour Charleston. However, a longer stay (one week) allows you to explore more of the city’s highlights and historical treasures.

From experience, I will say that 3 days in Charleston hit the spot.

Regardless, there is plenty to do for any length of time.

Does Charleston Have Good Beaches?

There are several pristine beaches for you to relax and soak up the sun in Charleston. This includes Folly Beach, Morris Island, Isle of Palms, Edisto Beach, and Sullivan’s Island Beach.

The city is an excellent destination to enjoy water sports and family-friendly activities on a coastal vacation!

What Is the Best Way to Get Around Charleston, SC?

You can get around the city on foot! However, a car does come in handy—especially if you’re not a big fan of walking long distances. You can rent a car, bring your own vehicle, or use Uber and Lift to get around.

Renting a car will give you a ton of flexibility too!

Plan the Perfect Trip With this Travel Guide to Charleston

The city is teeming with thrilling activities and attractions for all types of travelers, from spooooooky historical sites to relaxing beaches.

Hopefully, after reading these Charleston, SC travel tips, planning your ideal vacation will be easier! 

So, get ready to immerse yourself in the city’s southern charm. You won’t be disappointed!

If you’re looking for more Charleston travel guides, read my other blogs!

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!