The Best City Guide to Historic Charleston
All the hype about Charleston is true, it’s one of the most history-rich cities in America that will captivate audiences of all ages. Founded in 1670 as Charles Town by British colonists from Barbados, Charleston was planned right from it’s inception with a town square and streets. Though the Civil War, hurricanes and earthquakes have taken it’s toll on the city, the people of Charleston have always paid respect to their heritage while restoring and rebuilding. Southern hospitality abounds here and it is easy to fall under the spell that speaks of culture, civility and charm.
Historic downtown Charleston encompasses many streets where delightful architecture ranges in rich Southern styles from the late 1600’s to present day. Even if you are there for only a day or two, you’ll see history peeping out of every corner of this southern gem. If you are a history buff, we’ve highlighted a few of the local’s favorite mainstays to help you navigate your way around here.
Located along the water’s edge on the tip of the peninsula, Battery Park has some of the best waterfront views in the city as well as being the perfect place to discover the unique architectural history of Charleston. Bring your walking shoes as you’ll find yourself meandering down one enchanting street after another. Follow the path on the Battery and you’ll end up at Waterfront Park where the Pineapple Fountain is located.
One of the most authentic Charleston experiences is the indoor markets. It’s a great place to discover both new and traditional Charleston crafts. You’ll find a plethora of hand crafted items, Southern food and even jewelry. Ask the women who are weaving baskets along the side of the market about their craft and the generations of basket weavers that came before them and you’ll get an insight into some of what Southern life is like here in Charleston.
Where to Stay
0 George Street
Zero George is comprised of three restored Charleston residences and two carriage houses. The youngest of the five buildings is 150 years old, the first of which dates back to 1804. The buildings have been restored to perfection to create this boutique hotel which offers fine dining and a cooking school in a historical neighborhood setting. Only two blocks from the harbor, Zero George has bikes at your disposal for meandering purposes.
173 Meeting Street
The Charleston Theater was the first occupant of 173 Meeting Street in 1837, but that building was destroyed in the great fire of 1861. A German wine and beer distributor built the current 3 story building in 1874 which had a saloon on the first floor and the family’s living quarters on the top 2 floors. In 1992, the building was restored and opened as a luxury Inn which is enjoyed by many today.
72 Queen Street
John Rutledge, one of the founding fathers of the United States, built this house in 1763 for his bride. The house was renovated in 1853 when a third story and many of the Italianate ironwork and updates were made. A few years later, although hit by British canon fire, it withstood the Battle of Charleston during the Civil War. It survived the next century and in 1989 was renovated and transformed into today’s John Rutledge House Inn.
149 Wentworth Street
Wentworth Mansion was built by a wealthy cotton merchant for his wife and family of 13 children in 1887. Designed during the height of the Gilded Age, the Second Empire architectural styled building went through an extensive restoration and upgrade in 1997 and opened their doors as this 21 bedroom luxury historic hotel that prides itself on their southern hospitality.
Where to Eat
186 Concord Street
Fleet Landing is built on the original Cooper River Ferry landing were ferries would transport people and goods from the outer islands into Charleston. It was later used by the Navy when they had a larger presence in this Southern port town. Fleet Landing is a casual experience where you’lll find good ol’ Southern comfort food on the menu while relaxing by the water’s edge. Lunch is served from 11 am to 3:30 pm and dinner from 5 to 10 pm. If you just want to grab a drink in the afternoon hours, ask for a Dark n’ Stormy or a Julep Noir. Sip and enjoy!
72 Queen Street
Poogan’s Porch is one of the most sought-after restaurants in Charleston by tourists and locals alike. They serve farm-to-table southern food such as Biscuits & Gravy, Fried Chicken Salad, Shrimp Etouffee . The house itself is well known for the many spirits that are said to haunt it, one of which is the restaurant’s namesake, a dog named Poogan.
1081 Morrison Drive
Edmund’s Oast goes pretty unnoticed by tourists for their Sunday brunch which, in the opinion of many locals, is their best asset. Founded in 1760 by Edmund Egan, nicknamed in his day as “The Rebel Brewer’, this celebrated English style brewery brings out the best of European traditions upon which Charleston was founded. And the answer is yes, you may have a beer with your brunch!
185 East Bay Street
Magnolia’s is the most famous restaurant in Charleston and for a good reason. They started the revolution of traditional Southern foods mixed with modern flair in Charleston serving such yummies as Low Country Bouillabaisse, Shellfish over Grits, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Don’t forget to ask for a side of skillet Mac & Cheese or their Brussels Sprouts Slaw. Magnolia’s is the best place to find upscale southern cooking in the heart of the city.
Take the morning to explore the rich history of the most famous plantation in Charleston, Boone Hall. Located just over the bridge in the town of Mt. Pleasant, this 320 year old plantation is one of the oldest working farms in the country. The Avenue of Oaks, planted in the early 1800’s, leads to the mansion, which was built in 1936 replacing the existing frame house. It, as well as many of the outbuildings and existing slave quarters and gardens, are open daily to tour and view . Among their ongoing exhibits includes an homage to Black History by showing the role black slaves played in the building of the south. They discuss their lives on the plantation from their daily life, struggles and historical progression up to current times. Check out their continual special events they hold throughout the year.
Carriage & Walking Tours
After you’ve finished with the markets, you’ll find the carriage tour stands right outside. It might sound a little corny or touristy, but your guide will give you an overall narrative and the lay-of-the-land of the city. If you’d rather walk, there are also plenty of historical walking tours available also.
Drayton Hall is different than other plantation you’ll visit down South. It is not a restoration, it is a preservation. What’s the difference?
” In order to preserve the seven generations of history within its walls, a radical decision was made to stabilize the house rather than restore it to a particular period, and to preserve it as it was acquired from the family in the 1970s.”
They focus on the architecture, the gardens, the outbuildings and talk about how they were used, designed and maintained. If you want to learn about how people lived back in the day, this is the place to visit. Be prepared to step back in time.
Not to be forgotten is Charleston’s Museum Mile. Located on Meeting Street, you’ll find every possible homage paid to historic Charleston right here in museums that feature historic home tours, art, colonial history and even it’s most haunted buildings.
Managed and preserved by the Historic Charleston Foundation, these homes give a comprehensive view of upper class antebellum Charleston; one being the Governor’s home, the other the home of a very wealthy merchant.
Founded only 30 years after the Civil War, the Daughters of the Confederacy maintain Market Hall, a building that heads the long stretch of Market Hall where all fresh foods were sold, as a museum documenting every aspect of the Civil War in the deep South.
This 300 year old building exhibits the colonial military history of Charleston in one place. It even has its own haunted Arsenal where you can take a guided tour through the Powder Magazine by candlelight.
The Exchange has operated as a meeting place for local patriots, a commercial exchange, custom house, post office and military headquarters. It’s bottom floor is the Dungeon, where the occupying British forces kept prisoners.
So named for the many churches of several different denominations as well as Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim the second oldest Jewish Synagogue in the United States. Among a few of the churches are; Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, The Citadel Square Baptist Church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Circular Congregational Church. Meander down Meeting Street and you will find many other churches that each hold their own rich stories in history while still playing active and important roles in current day Charleston.
Plan your Trip around These Events
Ten little known facts about Charleston:
– Charleston holds the nickname of the “Holy City” because of the amount of churches.
– Charleston started out with a population of just about 150 in 1670 and has expanded to over 132,000 people today.
– The majority of the land that makes up downtown Charleston was originally marshes, giving it the nick name of the low country.
– Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in the United States and is located in the center of downtown.
– Pineapples can be found all over the city as a symbol of hospitality.
– The first official battle of the Civil War occurred at Fort Sumter, just off the coast of Charleston.
– Charleston serves as one of the major cruise ports in America.
– Some of the most well preserved houses and plantations in the United States can be found in Charleston.
– Many noteworthy characteristics of Charleston houses are there for spiritual reasons.
– Charleston has miles of beach front to enjoy on both sides of the city.