Charleston Getaway Guide
Updated January 2020
If you haven’t been to Charleston, SC before, well then, find a way to get yourself there, because this southern town is American perfection. Its historical charm, beautiful architecture, exquisite landscape, hidden gems, excellent restaurants, and an overall warm and friendly vibe make this city one that checks all the boxes, and more.
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Charleston years ago and thought to myself – this is where you can find me in 30 years. Its cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, secret gardens, horse-drawn carriages and beautiful setting on the Charleston Harbor had me swooning from the beginning. Then you have its subtropical climate and a young, happening feel to it (it’s a college town, after all, home to the College of Charleston), lending itself a carefree air not quite found anywhere else.
It’s this combination of old, colonial-era Charleston mixed with a modernism full of good restaurants, trendy bars and a fun and relaxed atmosphere that makes Charleston so appealing. You can’t help but fall in love with this city. No matter what you choose to do you are in for a good time. There’s no “right” way to do Charleston, because no matter where you are, you are surrounded by so much beauty and good vibes!
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So, as my title suggests, this is a Charleston Getaway guide to all that you can do in Charleston in a weekend. Listed here are top activities to see and do, great restaurants, fun bars and popular hotels. My friend and I recently went on a girls trip and did many of these things. But remember – the key to Charleston is soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying life. Don’t rush to try and see attraction after attraction because then you will miss out on the magic that is Charleston.
Ultimate Charleston Getaway Guide
Walk around and admire
I can’t stress this one enough, for Charleston is such a walking city. That’s one of the things I love about it most! It’s compact and easy to navigate, and every turn seems to bring you upon another architectural gem. It’s all about the stunning and well—preserved architecture in this city, and one of the best ways to see it is by just walking around. I also suggest making this your first activity of your trip, as it’s a great way to orient yourself with the city.
Many of the grand, beautiful homes are located in “South of Broad” – literally the area south of Broad Street. Here you will find antebellum houses, wrought-iron gates, manicured gardens and secret alleyways. Many of these details are lost in a drive through, so I highly recommend walking around the area.
Walking by or near the harbor is a must too, in places such as the Battery Promenade where you have White Point Garden, a beautiful public garden full of stately, oak trees. This is what you think of when you think of South Carolina. Do not pass up a walk through this beautiful park and garden. Also along the water is Waterfront Park where the famous Pineapple Fountain is located, Charleston’s ultimate symbol of its gracious hospitality. Near there is Rainbow Row, perhaps the most Instagrammable spot in all of Charleston. It’s named for a series of 13 colorful historical houses all in a “row”. I’m going to be honest – I was a little underwhelmed! The pastel colored houses are pretty and all, but I don’t get the hyped-out buzz. Maybe it’s just me!
You may also enjoy: Beautiful Charleston Architecture: A Photo Tour
Another area nearby that’s fun to walk through, which we loved, is the French Quarter, full of charm and funky details. But, really, all of Charleston is amazing to walk through. We found ourselves walking everywhere, covering a ton of territory, including the College of Charleston campus, which has a few different locations. Travel + Leisure named it America’s most beautiful campus, and it’s easy to see why!
Go Shopping on King Street
This sort of goes hand in hand with the walking part, but for some Charleston shopping, head to King Street, the city’ premier shopping street and district. Lots of boutique southern-style stores and good southern finds are mixed in with some big name stores such as Club Monaco, Calypso and Anthropologie.
Take a Boat Ride
My friend and I figured, we’re in Charleston – on the water – we should go for a boat ride! And we’re so glad we did because it was fun, educational and a great way to see the city. There are several boat companies offering different types of rides – we decided to use Charleston Harbor Tours, recommended by our hotel, The Mills House (more on hotels below).
The 1½ hour tour took us along Charleston by Waterfront Park and The Battery and then onto Fort Sumter, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach and Mount Pleasant. On the way back we went under the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, an iconic symbol of Charleston’s seascape. Our guide was entertaining and funny and had everyone’s attention, and made the tour that much more fun.
Take a Carriage Ride
People rave about Charleston’s carriage rides and had we not done the boat ride we would have taken one. There are several different companies, all offering carriage tours of the city. The only catch – you can’t choose your route. Charleston only allows a certain number of carriages on its streets at a time and therefore you are dependent on a route chosen for you.
Eat Good Food
Charleston has become a mecca for delicious, high-quality food and has earned a reputation as one of America’s most “foodie” cities. The restaurants in Charleston are excellent, and there are so many of them too. You can’t go to Charleston without eating your way through the day – in fact, maybe one of your days visiting will be dedicated solely to going from one restaurant to the next! It’s a southern past time here to while the day away with good food and drink, and perhaps nothing more.
Poogan’s Porch was the first restaurant we went to, as it is located across the street from our hotel. It’s adorable (with the cutest porch you ever did see), and a fun bar scene inside. We ate shrimp and grits at the bar and had a grand old night – but I also hear it’s great for breakfast.
Next to Poogan’s Porch is HUSK, Charleston’s most well-known and trendiest restaurant. The buzz around Husk is so big I figured it might be a let-down, but it wasn’t. Far from it! It’s popular for a reason – the farm-to-table food is fresh and delicious, and the service top-notch. Their pimiento cheese is out of this world – this is a must order!
Tip: Husk has long waits and you must make a reservation way ahead of time. If you want to wing it, like we did, I suggest putting your name down for brunch, walking around and then eating. At that hour of the day the wait was only 45 minutes (compared to 2 hours at night).
We enjoyed an amazing Greek meal at Stella’s, at the recommendation of a friend who lives in Charleston. I love Greek food, and this neighborhood joint hit the spot.
My friend and I are huge fans of Mexican food and always seek out Mexican restaurants wherever we go – so of course we did the same with Charleston. We had a good meal at Minero. We actually went there twice – once to meet up with friends for margaritas and another time to eat. Food and drinks were good and the atmosphere lively.
For a happening Sunday brunch spot, head to the Barbados Room at the Mills House Inn, which is what we did. The courtyard is a site, and with live music in the background and bloody Mary’s in the foreground, it was the perfect way to spend brunch on a sunny day. The courtyard is one of the prettiest in all of Charleston.
Other restaurants that come highly recommended include:
Charleston is brimming with energy, and going out is very much a part of the experience. I’m no expert at the bar scene in Charleston, but the below spots came highly recommended. Seems it’s all about the rooftop bars!
We had a fabulous time at the Vendue Rooftop – atop the Vendue hotel. Nice views, funky seating and décor, great drinks and good food made this popular rooftop bar a must visit. It was our fave.
The Bohemian Grand hotel has a rooftop, Eleve, which we went to as well. Very chic and obviously of the moment, this is another popular rooftop spot to hit.
Watch at the Restoration Hotel is another rooftop restaurant and bar that came recommended to us, but we did not go.
A favorite spot of ours was the Bar at HUSK – it’s actually not in the same building as the restaurant, but in a renovated building next door to the restaurant. Excellent drinks, good apps and an old-school, yet modern vibe made this two-story bar a lot of fun.
Other places that came recommended:
The Gin Joint
More Sites to see in Charleston
Take a House Tour
The homes of Charleston are so beautiful to look at from the outside – why not tour one on the inside. There are a bunch of historical homes you can see, and it’s a nice way to see how Charleston homes were furnished from a time long ago. I toured the Nathaniel Russell House, but there is also the Edmonston-Alston House, and the Aiken-Rhett House.
Tour a Plantation
Charleston of course is known for its large plantations outside of the city. This is another great way to get a sense of Charleston’s – the South’s – past, but in my opinion it also comes with mixed feelings, knowing that slavery was very much a part of them.
We took an uber to see the Middleton Place. We toured both the grounds and the house, which were beautiful. Other plantations include Boone Hall Plantation, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Drayton Hall Plantation.
We stayed at the beautiful Mills House Hotel, which is a Wyndham hotel but looks and feels more like a boutique hotel. Its famous pale pink exterior is easy to spot in what I would say might be the best location in the city. It’s centrally located, plus right across the street from HUSK! We loved everything about this hotel – the lobby is timelessly beautiful, the staff super nice, the pool looked divine (it was too cool for swimming weather), and the rooms comfy.
Other hotels to consider:
The Grand Bohemian
King Charles Inn
Andrew Pickney Inn
And that’s a wrap! If you’re still with me at this point, thanks for reading – I think this might be the longest post I’ve ever written. That’s what happens when you write about your favorite town in America! Can’t say enough about the beauty that is Charleston, and I can’t wait to go back.
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Wow that looks gorgeous. I love that rooftop terrace, I’d like to live there I think! #farawayfiles
Lots of fun rooftops in Charleston!
I can see why you want to move to Charleston. It is super cute and trendy (I find most college towns are). As I don’t get good Mexican food where I live, I would probably also go to Minero (twice).
I live for Mexican food – eat it on a weekly basis in fact just had it for dinner tonight!
Wow, it looks so lovely and charming! I love the colorful, quaint streets, and the boat ride seems like a great idea on a beautiful day. I can’t believe I’ve never been, definitely will keep this in my radar! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Oh you must try and make a visit to Charleston some day! Trust me you will love it!
I have been to a wedding in that church at the top of your post! Charleston just drips with charm doesn’t it? Beautiful post Corey. I am now craving shrimp and grits something fierce. Ha! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles
Oh that’s too funny! Charleston is a beautiful place for a wedding!!
I have wanted to explore this region for so long. I have read so many books set there and want to go all over the whole state. Southern charm for sure. One day soon!
That’s interesting – I feel like I’ve read a lot of books set there too! And movies. It’s a beautiful state I can see why!
Charleston is one of the cities we’re considering for our girls’ trip with my mom and sisters next year. I’m pinning this for later.
Allison – it is the BEST city for a girls weekend. Do it!
So much to do! I’d love to see the antebellum houses and the carriage ride and boat trip would be high on the list for my children. How fantastic that it’s a city that’s great to walk around – you see so much more that way. The food looks amazing to. I’d love to visit one day! Thanks for hosting #FarawayFiles
Thanks Jo! Charleston really has it all, and the walking is fabulous. Highly recommend a visit!
It’s been great having a look around Charleston! Thanks for putting this guide together, I love historic towns and this looks like a perfect destination for me xx
Thanks! It oozes history and charm, I think you would love it.
Oooh I’m dying to visit South Carolina and at the moment we’re planning a road trip to FL and might stop on Charleston, but I would hate to visit actually for only a few hours! Seems there is sooooo much more to do! #FarawayFiles
Oh, trust me, if you’re there for just a few hours you will try and find a way to stay!
I am so bookmarking this!! I am off to Charleston in the fall, a stop on a roadtrip from DC to New Orleans. It’s going to be so much fun! #farawayfiles
What a timely post for you Bea. Enjoy your upcoming trip. Annette x
I am so behind in my comments it’s been the craziest past week – that sounds incredible! Charleston and New Orleans on a road trip? Two of my favorite cities! I have a bunch of posts on New Orleans if you’re interested. You’re going to have the best time!
Colorful buildings and so much greenery! And historical (at least for us in the US!). I’ve wanted to visit but never have — so this is moving higher on my bucket list!
I think you would really love Charleston, Sharon – I hope you make it some day!
What a beautiful city. I love Rainbow Row, so pretty. I visited when back packing over 20 years ago now, i barely remember it. I would love to go back and explore properly one day #FarawayFiles
I love that you were backpacking in Charleston. Miss those days!
it’s really beautiful #farawayfiles
Yes it is
I’ve never been further south then Williamsburg in the States, I can see that I need to be more adventurous
There’s a lot of amazing things to see in the South – it’s definitely a world all its own.
What I remember most about Charleston is the carriage tour. We learned the rather gruesome origins of ‘saved by the bell’,’ the graveyard shift’ and one other expression which I have momentarily forgotten. All to do with having to bury cholera victims quickly and having systems in place in case they woke up six foot under…. totally charming town!
Charleston has been through its trials and tribulations that’s for sure – but it’s managed to keep the charm so utterly alive after all this time.
It does have quite a French look to it, I am not surprised to read that there is a French quarter. It sounds like a great foodie destination too. #Farawayfiles
The French Quarter is one of my favorite ‘hoods in Charleston.
We loved Charleston so much too. Stayed in an awesome airbnb and spent 4th July there last year!
That sounds amazing!
That sounds amazing! I’d love to experience 4th of July there!
SO excited to read this post as I’ve always dreamed of visiting Charleston and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s the next place we visit in the US. Your hotel sounds nice and so does Husk… think I’ll look them up right now… #farawayfiles
So strange – I replied to this but now don’t see my comment here – you would LOVE the food in Charleston. So many great restaurants and Husk is a must.
You have sold me – I now want to move to Charleston, but I might just have to settle for visiting..lol! I adore places that are easy to walk around, as this is how you discover more about a destination, and see things you may of missed. Great guide Corey – Thank you! #FarawayFiles
Thanks Sharee! Yes, walking around a city is the best way to discover it. Charleston is so charming you wouldn’t want to do it any other way!
I stayed to the end… haha and what a great post! I can tell you love everything about Charleston. I understand your feelings of being able to just move in – some towns or cities have that special touch #FarawayFiles
Thanks for staying to the end Annette! Haha
Charleston looks like a pretty destination to visit in the US. I love the building architecture especially the French Quarter and I would love to go on a tour to the plantation. Don’t worry about not liking the pastel-coloured buildings – perhaps they were not maintained well or we have seen too many of such, as a result, its brilliance is lost on us 🙂 #FarawayFiles
Thanks Kat! The pastels didn’t totally stand out…not that they’re not pretty, but yes have seen them before.
Who would of thought Charleston has so much to offer! Great guide! 😉 #FarawayFiles
Those old trees and houses look beautiful – I’d def be interested in visiting here! #FarawayFiles
Once in a while, my husband and I say we are going to stop traveling internationally and travel more in the US. Not sure if we are going to be able to do that (we are obsessed with Europe right now) but I know we need to make an effort to see more of the States (especially the East Coast). Charleston has all the things I love about a place: beautiful architecture, good food and green areas. And, I fall with places that are close to the water. I enjoy boat rides a lot.
I love exploring the U.S. It’s such a vast country with so many different types of landscape. But I have an obsession with Europe too :).
Charleston looks like a fantastic city, I love the colourful architecture. I’ll definitely be adding this to my American cities list. #farawayfiles
Thanks Janis – I hope you make it some day!
We had a choice of savannah or Charleston or savannah and went to the latter! I think we made he wrong choice now #farawayfiles
Oh I wouldn’t say that – Savannah is gorgeous! And an intriguing city. I love Savannah.
Charleston looks so beautiful and quaint and laid-back, no wonder you’d like to move there! It reminds me of a Clint Eastwood movie, set in Savannah, I think?
Popping over belatedly for #FarawayFiles
Oh I’m not sure which movie! But I love Savannah too. I really need to write a post on it..
Despite frequently saying we *want* to go to Charleston, we still haven’t. Your post confirms our suspicion that it’s a fantastic city that we are likely to fall in love with! I love that you start off by making the point that the city itself is the main attraction. We are looking forward to soaking in that vibe!
You guys would love Charleston!! Hope you do indeed make it some day to this beautiful city!