If you are heading to Charleston and its Surrounding area, here is our article, complete with guide, maps and suggested self guided walking tours.
What better way to take a break and re-charge than to take a step or two back in time and immerse yourself in history. Walk, touch, watch in awe as you are thrown into the 18th century, with all those modern day perks of course.
The fresh Charleston sea air, brightly colored houses, sprawling mansions and selection of eateries are a sure way to re-charge your batteries.
Charleston and the surrounding area has so much to offer, all that’s left is to choose what you want to do. So here’s a break down of your options, Feel free to scroll down to the maps, watch the short film or just absorb it all!
Self Guided Walking Tours
Charleston is a city made for walking and in our opinion is the best way to explore it. Cobbled streets and perfectly framed homes make a beautiful back drop for your explorations. We’ve come up with two awesome self-guided routes for you to enjoy.
French Quarter and Water Front Tour
The first explores the French Quarter and Water Front. Take your time ambling through the indoor market, take a seat next to the Pineapple Fountain and look over the water, test your balance over the cobblestone roads and have a picture on Rainbow Row, then finish up with a coffee and THE best bacon and egg sandwich at 1 Broad Street.
Historic Houses and Mansions Tour
The second focuses on the historic houses and mansions of Charleston. It starts further north at the Aiken-Rhett mansion, takes you down King Street, with its boutiques, to the biggest single-family home, the Calhoun Mansion. Laze under the giant trees in White Point Garden before heading along the mansion lined sea front, finally take your time to wind up and down the quaint streets to admire the well kept, perfectly trimmed and majestic houses.
Historic Mansion Tours
Charleston has plenty of mansions, many of which you can tour around. Some are restored others preserved and some still lived in today. It gives a great insight into how the rich used to live and the history behind the people who built and owned them. We decided to tour both a preserved and a restored mansion to experience both sides of the coin so to say. You can also buy a combined ticket and save yourself some money!
The Aiken-Rhett house is a preserved 1800’s home that comes with slave quarters, carriage houses and three spectacular floors of family living. You get a headset so you can explore the house at your own pace whilst learning about the history of the family and what it would have been like to live in antebellum Charleston. There are still original pieces of furniture and art work in every room to give you a better visual and the slave quarters are an interesting element to explore.
Nathanial Russell House
Our second tour was of the spectacularly restored Nathanial Russell House. No imagination is required here to envisage how this family used to live. Re-painted to the exact colors (thanks to a paint historian) the detailed trims, gold paint and magnificent furniture are something to behold. The time and effort that has gone into restoring the house is clearly evident and the guided tour allows you to learn about the original owners, which rooms they would host in, what their day to day lives were like and also allows you to probe deeper into anything that takes your fancy. We would highly recommend a trip.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Nathanial Russell House is the Calhoun Mansion. This spectacular building, although still occupied today, can be toured with a guide. A knowledgeable guide will enlighten you as you marvel in the size, the artifacts and spectacle of such a grand mansion.
The indoor market is a highlight and hub of Charleston. Running the length of three blocks and offering everything from handmade local crafts, souvenirs, authentic goods and of course food theres something for everyone in here. Watch vendors weaving sweet grass baskets by hand, try on a genuine cowboy hat, find a new piece of jewelry, take home a pineapple souvenir or snag yourself a photograph of some of the beautiful buildings to take home.
If you need a caffeine injection half way through grab yourself a coffee and sandwich to re-energize before carrying on. It’s open every day but they also host a night market on Friday and Saturdays.
In days gone by Charleston was a very busy port and was surrounded by lots of plantations mainly growing rice. Today many of these plantations are still available to tour, allowing you to learn about the history of slavery, view the plantation houses and learn about the old ways of life. Two of the bigger ones in the nearby area are the Magnolia Plantation and Boone Hall.
The Magnolia Plantation, although the oldest public gardens in America, for us lacked the history. The basic ticket only includes access to the gardens, they are extensive but need to be timed right to actually enjoy any blooms.
You can add additional tours such as the house, swamp garden, boat tour and slavery tour, for an extra fee of course. We went on the from slavery to freedom tour which included access to four authentic houses in which the plantation families used to live. Seeing inside the houses was a great experience but the tour covered the slave trade in general and didn’t really focus on the specifics of this plantation which I found a bit disappointing. If you do go I would recommend taking your own picnic, there are plenty of benches to sit and admire the wandering peacocks whilst you eat and the ‘cafe’ is more like a window walk up than a place to sit and have a cup of tea.
Boone Hall’s ticket is inclusive of everything including the house tour, plantation coach tour and gardens. Founded in 1600’s as a plantation for cotton and pecans it still grows produce today such as strawberries and peaches that you can pick yourself in season. A better insight into the history and running of the plantation you get a good overview of what it would have been like. You can enjoy the gardens at your own pace and learn as much or little as you desire.
Isle of Palms
Just across the bridge from Charleston lies the Isle of Palms. Accessed via a bridge over swamp lands and lined with a sandy beach all along the front we decided to stay here whilst we visited Charleston and enjoy the best of both worlds.
The Wild Dunes resort offers both hotel rooms and vacation rentals of varying sizes. Our one-bed rental had a kitchen, living room, a deck overlooking the ocean and further upstairs viewing room where you could admire the starlit sky or lapping waves.
Super quiet with access to the pool or a 2-minute walk from the beach it was a great location.
If you want to take a break from all that walking, grab a towel and enjoy a vast and empty sandy beach to recuperate before heading back to your rental and enjoying a beer on the deck. You can also use all the amenities of the resort as well, hire a bike, play tennis or spend a morning golfing, if you aren’t lounging by the pool that is.
The kitchen was well equipped and allowed us to enjoy breakfast in bed and whip up a seafood pasta but you can have groceries delivered if you require anything or eat out at one of the restaurants at the pavilion. We spent an evening at Coastal Provisions and had one of the most delectable meals we’ve ever eaten. Fresh seafood served with uniquely crafted sides, a good cocktail menu and desserts that look like a piece of art. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
If you decide to spend longer in Charleston than a couple of days there is still plenty more activity options:
- Take a horse-drawn carriage ride
- Do a haunted prison tour
- Eat as much fried chicken as you can
- Visit a tea plantation
- Have a shopping spree on King Street
- Learn more at the Slavery Museum
- Picnic on the sea front
Steph and Rich