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Something I am asked about frequently since beginning this blog is how to plan a visit to Charleston, South Carolina. I have been especially surprised at just how many readers have set their sights on coming South based on the extended winter seasons they have endured this year in particular, so I guess the tourism industry should thank Mother Nature and all of the snow and ice she delivered to our Northern neighbors. Charleston is open! C'mon y'all!
Charleston herself is quite small, however when you add up the sum of her parts, it is important to know where you plan to spend the focus of your time as well as the purpose of your visit, and aim for a hotel in the immediate vicinity. This is important if you plan to walk versus to drive to the sights you want to see. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on where I am asked the majority of questions about - downtown Charleston. Landing a centrally located hotel in the midst of downtown will enable you to park your car when you arrive, and walk to most sights, never having to move the car until you are ready to leave. For every place else on the peninsula, and depending on weather and your personal fortitude, there's Charleston Rickshaw or Charleston Pedicab. These guys and gals are lifesavers when it comes to temperatures outside and how well your walking shoes are actually made for walking! There are many amazing hotels in Charleston, but a favorite of mine for so many reasons is the Belmond Charleston Place . Not only is this five star hotel a central location to access so many points downtown, but also is home to one of the Holy City's most award-recognized and BEST restaurants, The Charleston Grill. If you are interested in quarters more intimate and brimming with colonial charm, try Two Meeting Street Inn south of Broad. I had one friend stay years ago, however she has not stopped talking about it since, so much so that her parents, sister and brother in law, and other extended family have subsequently visited the Holy City and ALL stayed here.
Charleston Places to Stay, Places to Dine
Maybe it is the antiquity that attracts so many folks. Charleston boasts not only constitutive history and staggering architecture, but also among the largest number of private formal gardens in the United States. Don't worry, most of Charleston's walled gardens feature peering gates or key holes for passerby's to catch a glimpse of all that is magical beyond the iron and bricks. Let's not forget about the dining. Charleston is named year after year among the top United States destinations for superior cuisine. To name every venue I have dined with and enjoyed would take another article entirely, and perhaps someday, I will get to to one, but suffice it to say, that when visiting the Lowcountry, you will want to step out of your everyday comfort zone, and be willing to allow the absolute best the American South has to offer to dazzle your senses. To keep it downtown and walkable, try a stop at Anson Restaurant and delight in my personal fav, the Crispy Flounder, a whole scored flounder flash fried and served with an apricot shallot sauce. Ask to be seated on the main level to survey the heavy foot traffic across the street at the Historic City Market if you are a people watcher right from your table, otherwise head upstairs for a more intimate experience. The Establishment is one of Charleston's new kids. I have dined only a handful of times, but thus far, this location has hit the tippy top of my recommendation chart. If you are coming to the coast, keep in mind the seafood is locally caught and sourced. That said, find a fish and try it. The Establishment features two dishes I have a difficult time deciding between, the Red Snapper and the Seafood Stew. Both dishes rival one another. If it's beef you prefer, no visit to Charleston is complete without a visit to Hall's Chophouse. Named one of the top 20 best restaurants in the country, Hall's is arguably hard to beat. If you do not choose to dine in with them, checking out the smooth live jazz while taking in a cocktail at their bar is as good as putting yourself on the map. And if you are up for something totally different, Hall's offers a Gospel Brunch every Sunday. I highly recommend if this is the only way you can work a visit to Hall's into your schedule.
Downtown Charleston, And What's Not To Be Missed
You could visit Charleston and the surrounding for a week and not see everything. In terms of downtown and what not to miss, I recommend heading to the heart of City center and taking in the Market. If nothing else, the glimpses of the passing carriages may inspire you to hop aboard and join Old South Carriage Company, Palmetto Carriage Tours, or Carolina Polo and Carriage Company for a well-relaxed sit back, and allow yourself to be enlightened by a professional guide who will point out the lesser known facts of the Holy City's past. Be sure to save a sugar cube or three from breakfast as treat for your REAL driver!
Charleston's rich history cannot ignore it's participation in a sad truth; slavery. I recommend the Old Slave Mart Museum before I recommend seeing anything else. Why? Because Charleston could not have existed or become what we know it as without the shadowed past of African slave labor. This is one of the most 'no sugar coating' displays of American history I have ever visited, and it sets forth the way in which all visitors should view the City, the dark which is ever-present and silently lurks behind the beauty.
Want to get an idea of life back in the day? How about an idea of life as it still exists today? For many Charlestonians, a home on the peninsula is as it was, all but for the addition and convenience of modern appliances and televisions, 100 years ago. Look to Historic Charleston Foundation for tickets for the Aiken Rhett House, a self guided audio tour of a preserved urban plantation. The Edmonston Alston House is an exceptional example of working house museum. Unlike the Aiken Rhett House, Edmonston Alston is furnished. It is a great idea to incorporate both.
I would be remiss if I ended without mentioning that there are 1000 additional experiences in downtown Charleston. Shopping experiences like no other, unique grab and go eateries for the connoisseur who still appreciates a quick snack, rooftop bars with amazing views which will drive home why Charleston is referred to as the Holy City, a River Dogs baseball game at the Joe, and of course, a stroll along the Battery. If you are planning a visit, check out some of the links in this article and map your experiences based on your interests. I promise you will not leave having said you found it boring, rather a Southern City with a heartbeat louder than no other. There is something surprising in every nook of this iconic destination.