The quiet, antebellum city of Charleston, in South Carolina, has long been creeping its way up the World’s Best Cities list. From its No. 2 spot in 2015, the Holy City had only one place to go: up.
If you’re traveling to Charleston, there’s no shortage of historic sites, world-class restaurants, attractive public squares and diversions. But there are a few highlights every itinerary should include.
Start your trip with a stroll along King Street, a three-mile shopping promenade known for chic boutiques and antique shops. Definitely peek your head inside Blue Bicycle Books, George C. Birlant & Co, and Croghan’s Jewel Box.
You’ll need to ring a bell to get access to Croghan’s, a century-old jewel box of antique lockets, estate diamond brooches, and a selection of unusual Charleston-only items (think: $120 bowties made from South Carolina turkey feathers and $320 Corinthian white bronze oyster belt buckles on local alligator strap).
Related: Hotels in Charleston
While you may only see 10-feet of storefront from the street, Blue Bicycle Books contains more than 50,000 volumes of rare, signed first editions, and new titles from local authors. The collection of Charleston-themed texts is impressive.
On Saturdays, you can follow King Street until you hit Marion Square, a green space that has been hosting a farmer’s market every weekend for 200 years. Hundreds of vendors congregate here to hawk fresh flowers, reclaimed furniture, and hand-made soaps. Hats from Carolina Millinery Co. and the black-truffle cheese by Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse are particularly good souvenirs.
Shopping in Charleston, no doubt, will work up your appetite. Make a reservation to secure a table at Husk, one of the hottest restaurants in the American South. Local chef (and superstar) Sean Brock serves Lowcountry cuisine inside a 19th-century estate. You’ll find pork everything on the menu, including bacon-corn bread with salty pork butter and fried pork skins. Even the tableware is decidedly Charleston: earthy ceramic tableware by designers from the community.
Enjoy a nightcap at the next door bar, where the bourbon selections are vast. Enjoy a cocktail (like the grapefruit, pamplemouse, and bourbon Turcotte’s Tipple) from the second-story veranda.
When you’re ready to bed down, you’ll be relieved to find that The Spectator—one of the World’s Best new hotels in the country—is only a 10 minute walk away.
The 41-room boutique property transports visitors back to the Roaring Twenties, and guests surely feel like Gatsby when everyone gets a personal butler and a complimentary welcome drink.
Here’s another exceptional Charleston bar, evoking the look and feel of a 1920s speakeasy with stuffed white peacocks, pintucked-leather sofas, and a cocktail menu featuring clever creations like the Fizz-Gerald.Gilded elevators ascend to take guests to rooms with private patios and sweeping views of the Old Quarter.
After a good night’s sleep, you’ll want to wander around Charleston’s romantic French Quarter, famous for gas lamp-lit cobblestone streets and tree boughs draped in Spanish moss.
Catching a show at Dock Street Theatre, a recently-revamped space with elaborate black cypress woodwork and modern amenities like air conditioning, is one of the most fun things to do in Charleston. And, of course, you must photograph the line of homes from 83-107 East Bay Street. Jasmine-fringed, pastel colored Georgian-style homes here have become known as Rainbow Row.
And what to do in Charleston to get reprieve from the balmy summer heat? Take a water taxi to Sullivan’s Island, where the waters are calm and tourists fewer than neighboring Folly Beach It’s not hard to pass an afternoon lounging on the 3.3-mile stretch of sandy beach. For lunch, grab a bite at The Obstinate Daughter, which serves Bloody Marys mixed with yellow tomato juice.
Look closely during your trip to Charleston, and you may even catch a glimpse of hometown hero Stephen Colbert, who still has a home here, enjoying his Charleston favorites: the fried chicken at Husk, the 18th-century antique stores, and sipping local corn vodka at a new distillery.