There’s a reason Charleston was named the number one city in the world by the 2013 Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards for the third consecutive year. Okay, scratch that—there are a lot of reasons. With its iconic architecture, rich history and phenomenal cuisine, it’s actually harder to find a reason not to visit Charleston.
The settlement of “Charles Town,” as it was originally named, was officially formed in 1670, making Charleston one of the oldest communities in the United States. As a port town, it was a destination for settlers from places like Barbados and England, but the town was also the subject of several military attacks from Spain and France. The city’s ethnic and cultural diversity dates back to its early settlers and lingers in the unique blend of varying architectural styles. Walking through the cobbled downtown streets of the French Quarter section, it’s hard not to be lulled by the Spanish moss and gas-lit alleyways.
Of course, there are a slew of must-sees for the first-timer. It may actually be illegal in some circles to leave Charleston without making it to The Battery, a stretch of defensive seawall lined with antebellum homes along Charleston Harbor. A stroll through Charleston City Market is also compulsory and be sure to check out—and take home—one of the famous handmade sweetgrass baskets. The Aiken Rhett House Museum, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens give a voyeuristic view of what life was like on a southern plantation. Just don’t linger too long in the summer. Modern conveniences like air conditioning weren’t invented back then! And of course, no vacation to Charleston would be complete without a jaunt to Sullivan’s Island. It’s only 3.3 square miles in size, but it’s packed with history. In fact, even Edgar Allen Poe spent time there, stationed at Fort Moultrie from 1827-1828 and used it as the backdrop for his short story, The Gold Bug.
Then, there’s the matter of cuisine. Foodies beware: Charleston has some of the finest restaurants and most acclaimed chefs around. With creative forces like Blossom executive chef Adam Close putting their spin on Southern classics (the fried green tomato with bacon jam, pimiento cheese, tomato butter and red pepper jelly bares mentioning here), epicurean appetites are in for a treat!
Already under Charleston’s spell? Visit Insider’s Weekend May 1st through 3rd to indulge in everything you love about the Holy City. Not to be confused with Jerusalem, Charleston's church steeples populate the skyline bringing about the epithet. This weekend is steeped in Epicurean delights, shopping excursions and history is sponsored by the likes of Food + Wine and Southern Living and requires advanced tickets for its wide array of scheduled events.
No matter how many times you’ve visited, there’s always something new to explore in the oldest and second-largest city in South Carolina.
All of these overnight options put guests in the heart of the city and offer a great place to check in before checking things out.
HarbourView made the 2015 Travel + Leisure 500 World’s Best Hotels list and got voted into the Top 30 hotels in the South list in the 2013 Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards. Enough said? Not really. Once they experience this upscale take on Southern hospitality, guests keep talking about their stay long after checkout.
The Restoration on King
An impeccably restored boutique property, The Restoration on King takes a contemporary twist on the exposed brick walls and original wood floors that are endemic to the city, making it a pitch-perfect blend of charm and convenience.
French Quarter Inn
They won spots on the Travel + Leisure lists for Top 100 Hotels Overall and Best U.S. Small City Hotels. According to Trip Advisor, it’s currently the number 2 Hotel in the United States. And, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as one of the best hotels of 2015. Champagne check-in, triple-sheeted European bedding and complimentary bicycle rental are just a few reasons French Quarter Inn lives up to its stellar reputation.
King Charles Inn
With its regal name, no wonder the King Charles Inn delivers the royal treatment to every guest. The luxurious amenities and Eighteenth Century charm offer a relaxing retreat from the day’s events.
Sites Worth Seeing
In addition to all of the must-see sites of Charleston, these tours and locations provide entertaining ways to enjoy the local color.
Walk the Museum Mile
As you wander down Meeting Street, you’ll see no less than six museums (hence the nickname), five historic homes, historic worship houses and several other attractions. If you want to wander through each attraction, a Museum Mile ticket package can save a few dollars and a lot of hassle.
Charleston Ghost and Graveyard Walking Tour
A fun way to learn about Charleston after dark, this walks you through the history of Charleston’s graveyards and hear the tales of the famous citizens who call The Holy City their final resting place.
The Haunted Jail Tour
Featured on the Travel Channel, this tour goes behind the scenes at Charleston’s infamous Old City Jail and tells the tales of 19th century pirates and Civil War prisoners who called it home from its opening in 1802 until its closure in 1939.
Once you’ve toured the town and seen the sites, sink into the sand at Folly Beach for some much-deserved R&R! Take a walk on the pier and check out the water, but be sure to head over to Taco Boy and grab a bite—you won’t be disappointed!
Visit The Citadel
Be sure to visit esteemed military college, The Citadel on the bank of the Ashley River. And if you’ve never attended a Friday parade before, pencil that in. Citadel parades are free and open to the public. May 8th is the Long Gray Line Graduation Parade for the Class of 2015.
When a day of site seeing get the appetite word up, these restaurants are sure to please any palate.
Fresh local cuisine has made 82 Queen a favorite destination of both visitors and locals for the past 32 years. Queen is a three-time winner of the Best City Restaurant award from Southern Living and five-time recipient of the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. For an extra romantic experience, request a table in the gardens.
Cypress Lowcountry Grille
Wine Enthusiast hailed Executive Chef Craig Diehl’s trend-setting style. Southern Living named it a Best Romantic Restaurant of the South. With dishes like grilled pork belly & crab bun
featuring Korean mustard, mirliton salad, chiles and peanuts, Cypress is where Lowcountry meets haute cuisine.
The Drawing Room
Located in The Vendue Hotel, The Drawing Room extends beyond typical hotel fare. The menu is refined yet surprising, featuring items such as heirloom beets with duck prosciutto, smoked goat cheese, Valencia orange and licorice “soil.” With an equally creative cocktail list—definitely check out the Blue Ridge Manhattan—diners might appreciate the option of having a room nearby!
S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad)
Their name pro ves they have a sense of humor, but don’t be fooled — Executive Chef Frank Lee is serious about food! The Carolina quail with Tasso cornbread stuffing, sautéed spinach and fried quail leg is proof they understand how to turn fresh, local ingredients into a dish that doesn’t disappoint.
Charleston City Paper consistently ranks Basil as the best Thai and favorite overall local restaurant in Charleston. The mixture of great atmosphere and unforgettable food makes it a popular destination for anyone craving an Asian flare.
If you’re in the market for some seafood, it’s hard to beat dinner at Coast! Ceviche de Cangrejo is crafted with fresh blue crab, scallops, pico de gallo, citrus and corn chips; bacon-wrapped sea scallops are wood grilled then basted in pomegranate barbeque glaze. And while you wait for the main dish, indulge in the perfect compliment to their fresh cuisine – one of their sinfully refreshing mojitos!
This Charleston eatery has the farm-to-table concept and an array of covetable dishes such as the Pan Roasted Black Bass and the Fish Stew in Cocotte. Wash it all down with a red or a white from their extensive, curated wine list.