Full of historic sites, museums, scenic views, and cuisine, Charleston, South Carolina is a popular tourist city with much to explore.
In the late 1700s, George Washington spent some time in the dance halls of Charleston, South Carolina, where he praised the local ladies for being some of the finest dancers in the newly formed United States of America. Since colonial times, Charleston has served as a central gathering point for the who’s who of Carolinian and early American society. From founding fathers and diplomats to traders from Europe and the Caribbean, Charleston was the place to be and to be seen.
Charleston’s modern downtown area, also known as The Peninsula by locals because of its positioning point between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, is a prime setting for weddings featuring picturesque colonial and antebellum architecture. Foodies flock to the city for the new southern cuisine served in painstakingly restored buildings.
Regardless of the motivation, no visit to Charleston is complete without soaking up the city’s rich history.
Tours of Historic Homes
As home to the Southern elite for many generations, Charleston is overflowing with fine homes ready to be experienced. Take in the beautiful exteriors on a historic walking tour of the cobblestoned city center, or arrange interior tours through the Historic Charleston Foundation. Created to protect the city’s architectural heritage, the foundation has raised money to purchase and restore the homes of its most venerated residents, often securing the original furnishings that once belonged to the families.
Nathaniel Russell House
Built in 1808, the Federal-style Nathaniel Russell House is recognized nationally as one of the finest examples of American neoclassical architecture. It features a unique, free-flying staircase, and careful renovations have unearthed extravagantly painted ceiling moldings, silk wallpaper, unique chamber pot hiding places, and other details of the Russell’s lives.
Aiken-Rhett House Museum
The Aiken-Rhett House Museum offers an upstairs-downstairs experience that allows you to see how the family and the enslaved workers lived. The house remained in the family until it was sold to the Historic Charleston Foundation, and the 2,000-volume family library and approximately 10,000 historic household items excavated from past renovations have been preserved.
On the Water
Charleston’s waterfront is a jumping off point for boat tours of Fort Sumter National Monument, the fully-enclosed island fort that was the location of the first official shots fired to start the Civil War. The fort later protected the harbor for most of the war. The fort is only accessible by boat, and you can visit by using the National Park Service concessionaire or organizing a private boat tour of the harbor, the fort, and the surrounding islands, including the nature reserve on Kiawah Island.
As the heart of the city’s commercial trade throughout the 1700s and 1800s, the waterfront was the first sight many visitors saw. To ensure new arrivals to the city were greeted with the finest the city had to offer, only the wealthiest residents of the new republic were invited to build their homes along the shore. In the early 1800s, the precursor to the city’s housing market took shape in the form of temporary sheds until the rise in 1841 of the elegant neoclassical edifices that still give the city its personality today.
Dine with the Times
A Charleston chef makes the short list for the prestigious James Beard awards (the Oscars of the food world) nearly every year. One of the best places in the country to dine, particularly for new Southern cuisine that elevates classic dishes to fine dining, Charleston is a prime spot for enjoying a meal in a truly historic setting.
One of Charleston’s finest dining establishments, Circa 1886 is set in the carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion. The restaurant utilizes a modern mix of materials to enclose former building exteriors, and the result is an entry hall that takes you back to a street scene at the turn of the 20th century. Chef Marc Collins focuses on local, seasonal ingredients to add refreshing new twists to traditional Southern favorites.
Husk, one of the most awarded restaurants in town due to its house-made everything (charcuterie, pickles, cocktail fixings, etc.), is located in a historic manor house that was completely destroyed in a fire and later rebuilt. The restaurant has even been honored for its work in preserving local properties by the Preservation Society of Charleston, so you can enjoy your meal and know the bill is supporting a good cause.
If you can’t get a table right away, grab a drink at the bar in the separate two-story brick structure in front of the restaurant. The building features narrow stairs, a carved wooden bar, and wine barrels used as tables to transport you back to colonial times.
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