Charleston, South Carolina, is known for its cobblestone streets, colourful homes, and steepled skyline. While the city’s historic district and waterfront are certainly a big part of its captivating allure, there’s much more to be discovered in this Southern mini-metropolis. From coastal landscapes and rich American and cultural history to a thriving food scene and its settings for popular movies and TV shows, Charleston invites you to immerse yourself in the heart of the Lowcountry.
Stroll Through Charleston: AKA The Holy City
Charleston is also known as “the Holy City,” thanks to its more than 400 churches, which reflect its reputation for religious tolerance, which has endured since 1670, when it was settled as Charles Towne. Walk on almost any street, turn any corner, look left, then right, and you’re bound to see a church.
The building of St. Michael’s Anglican Church, the city’s oldest religious institution, began in 1752 on the corners of Meeting and Broad Street in downtown Charleston. This intersection is known as the “Four Corners of Law.” On each corner there is a building that represents federal, state, local, and religious law (the U.S. Post office, the Federal Courthouse, the Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston City Hall).
Look to the sky, and you’ll see the tallest church steeple atop St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, built in 1872. Local codes dictate that no other building in the city shall exceed the height of St. Matthew’s steeple. Across the street from St. Mary of the Anunciation on Hasell Street was the first Catholic Church in the Carolinas and Geogia. Its attached graveyard, a popular stop on ghost tours, is worth a walkthrough.
Across the street is Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the oldest Reform synagogue in continuous use in the United States. The Moorish Revival architecture and stained-glass windows beckon you into this modern place of worship that celebrates its 275th anniversary this year. Docent-led tours of the synagogue, sanctuary, and museum include a 20-minute documentary video, and can be booked HERE.
Charleston’s Rainbow Row: Where Beauty Meets History
The charm of Charleston’s historic district is best appreciated by strolling through its cobblestone streets and hidden alleyways. Explore Rainbow Row on East Bay Street, facing The Battery. Named for a civil-war coastal defense artillery, The Battery stretches along the lower shores of the Charleston peninsula, bordered by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers.
One of the most picturesque streets in Charleston, the pastel-coloured homes built in the 1700s were purchased by preservationist Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge in 1931. In an effort to restore them to honor the area’s Colonial Caribbean heritage, she directed the homes be painted in pink hues. Future owners followed suit, creating the “rainbow” of pastel colours present today.
Fun fact: Keep your eyes peeled for Charleston Green, a very dark, green, often seen painted on doors, shutters, or as exterior accents.
The origins of the colour are attributed to the reconstruction period after the Civil War when the federal government supplied area builders with black paint. Charlestonians, wanting to put their own spin on their city, mixed yellow or greenish pigments into the black paint, creating Charleston’s unique shade, which can be found in paint stores too.
Shopping Delights: Charleston’s Treasures
Shopper will not be disappointed, especially along King Street, named after King Charles II of London. King Street crosses through the middle of the Charleston peninsula and is divided into three zones:
- Lower King is the Antiques District
- Middle King has the Fashion District
- Upper King is known as the Design District.
Eclectic shops and artisanal galleries beckon with unique treasures. Discerning shoppers will enjoy browsing for fashion-forward finds and accessories. Sprinkled throughout King Street are cafes, patisseries, bookstores, bridal shops, and galleries.
If you’re looking for a unique souvenir or gift, consider a piece of jewelry, bow tie, or cufflinks crafted by Brackish. Founded in Charleston, Brackish creates stunning accessories inspired by the beauty of the Lowcountry’s marshlands and waterways. Each piece is meticulously crafted using sustainably sourced feathers, precious metals, and natural gemstones, resulting in heirloom-quality jewelry that captures the essence of Charleston’s coastal charm.
Close to King Street is the Charleston City Market, which stretches four blocks and offers wares from local artisans who create Lowcountry specialties, including sweetgrass baskets, paintings, soaps, candles, apparel, and artisanal foods. Built in 1841, this Greek Revival-style market hall is easily identified by its vivid use of brownstone stucco, red sandstone, and green ironwork.
Fans of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook will recognize American Theater, the setting for Noah and Allie’s first date, which is now a private event space. You just might be tempted to recreate the scene but be sure not to lie down or dance in the street during the busy part of the day. The Art Deco theater has become a true Charleston landmark in the years since its opening in 1942.
Mount Pleasant: Hollywood’s Southern Set
Venture across the 2.5-mile long Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant, a quaint suburb that has served as the backdrop for numerous blockbuster films including The Notebook, Ace Ventura, Forrest Gump, Die Hard with A Vengeance, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Mount Pleasant is also the filming location for much of the popular Netflix series, Outer Banks. Check out 16 filming locations HERE. Devoted fans should book a tour of the sets through Eclectic Tours of Charleston
From streets of the Old Village draped in Spanish moss to the panoramic vistas of Shem Creek, Mount Pleasant exudes timeless elegance and deserves a few hours on your itinerary.
The Gullah Geechee People: Preserving a Rich Cultural Legacy
Charleston’s cultural mosaic is enriched by the vibrant heritage of the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans who have preserved their distinct language, traditions and cuisine for generations.
Delve into the centuries-old art of sweetgrass basket making, a tradition passed down through generations of Gullah artisans. While at the Charleston City Market, take time to watch skilled crafters weave intricate baskets using sweetgrass, bulrush, and palmetto leaves, creating works of art that embody the spirit of the Lowcountry.
Whether as a cherished keepsake or a unique souvenir, a sweetgrass basket is a testament to the enduring legacy of Gullah craftsmanship.
Pineapple Bus Tour: Unveiling Charleston’s History and Waterfront Splendour
Give your tired feet a rest and explore Charleston on a climate-controlled bus tour with your own guide and storyteller who entertains and informs. A Pineapple Bus Tour is the perfect option for those brutally hot and humid days, or winter cold snaps. Enjoy picturesque views of Charleston Harbor, grab a selfie at the iconic Pineapple Fountain at the Joe Reilly Waterfront Park, and marvel at majestic sailboats adjacent to Fort Sumter, the birthplace of the United States Civil War.
Your Pineapple Tours guide will provide plenty of opportunities for questions, and periodic breaks to stretch your legs and take photos.
Dining: The Jewels in Charleston’s Culinary Crown
A variety of influences from Europe, West Africa, and the West Indies whisk together in to create tasty Lowcountry cuisine.
At the top of its game is High Cotton, hemmed into the heart of historic Charleston and part of the esteemed Hall’s Restaurants family. Set in a beautifully restored 19th-century building, High Cotton blends Southern hospitality with contemporary flair.
Savor the flavours of the Lowcountry while dining on innovative dishes crafted from the freshest local ingredients. From savory shrimp and grits to decadent pecan pie and a cinnamon roll with vanilla glaze you didn’t know you needed, each bite tells a story of culinary excellence and timeless tradition. Be sure to ask one of the staffers to show you the exact spot where Noah spots Allie dining with Lon in The Notebook, which was filmed in Charleston.
Charleston brims with other culinary choices, especially for diners looking to satisfy their desire for traditional coastal cuisine. Among the standouts are Husk (resident and actor Bill Murray’s favorite) and 82 Queen in Charleston’s French Quarter. Other recommendations include Poogan’s Porch, in a beautifully restored Victorian house, the Obstinate Daughter, whose chef is a two-time James Beard nominee, and the casual and neighborhoody Leon’s Oyster Shop.
Enjoy cocktails and light bites while viewing the panorama of the Holy City from one Charleston’s rooftop bars. The Dewberry Hotel in the L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building (circa 1964) is worth a visit, if not to be transported to a different decade in a beautifully restored government building. Take the elevator to the 8th floor terrace Citrus Bar for views from the highest rooftop in Charleston. Or cozy up in the Living Room, curated with mid-century furnishings, a library and a classy brass bar. It’s an inviting destination for coffee, afternoon cocktails or an evening aperitif.
Charleston’ is full of hidden treasures to discover, and offers a journey of history, culture, and culinary delights. Come explore its myriad wonders and discover the essence of Southern charm.
Plan your trip www.charleston.com
BeSeeingYou In: Charleston, South Carolina
Tip: Toss around your good manners. A nice, “yes, ma’am” and “no sir” along with please and thank you courtesies will go far here, and everywhere.
WOW Factor: Charleston’s Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which spans the Charleston Harbor, connecting historic Charleston and Mount Pleasant, is North America’s longest cable-stayed bridge.
Good to Know: Charleston is full of superb hotels:
- The Dewberry offers Volvo car service, beach and towel service, spa, complimentary bicycles, and chef-curated minibars
- Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston, Autograph Collection – pet-friendly and perfect for the oenophile. Enjoy crafting your own blend of wine, or enjoying rare pours by the ounce in the Eleve Bar
- Emeline is described as a beloved Southern aunt, and every suite includes working record players. There’s also a resident chocolate-truffle chef, a discreet panel leading to a speakeasy behind the bar, and a creatively curated gift shop.
Author bio: Kerry Kriseman
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