8 Can't-miss Points of Interest in Charleston, South Carolina

Things you definitely don't want to miss on a trip to Charleston.

Charleston Historic District
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Frequently at the top of Travel + Leisure's "World's Best Cities" list, Charleston boasts coastal beauty and Antebellum history, as well as traditional Southern charm and some seriously superb food and shopping.

One of the oldest cities in the United States, with a culturally-rich mix of West African-inflected Gullah and Lowcountry flavors, there's no shortage of things to experience and points of interest in Charleston, South Carolina.

Husk Restaurant

It's your own fault if you don't show up in Charleston hungry. There's a lot to eat — and all of it good. First, order biscuits. (Try Callie's Hot Little Biscuit.) For lunch, get a bowl of the she-crab soup at Poogan's Porch. Another local favorite is shrimp and grits, which is excellent at Hominy Grill and chef Sean Brock's much-lauded Husk (where the dish is served with smoked tomato and kale). It's hard to go wrong with restaurants here, just don't forget to make reservations.

Fort Sumter National Monument

Rebels fired on the tiny island of Fort Sumter only a month after Lincoln's inauguration in April 1861, marking the first shots of the American Civil War. U.S. forces retook the fort in 1865, and raised the American flag they were forced to take down four years earlier to the day. Fort Sumter is accessible by a 30-minute ferry from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in downtown Charleston.

White Point Garden

White Point Garden also marks the end of the Battery, the city's seawall and promenade. A beautiful park surrounded on three sides by water, it's also full of miscellaneous, historic bric-a-brac, from Civil War-era cannons (still pointed at Fort Sumter) to a 1943 statue commemorating the 18th-century pirate Stede Bonnet, and even pieces of the USS Maine, which exploded and thus triggered the start of the Spanish-American war.

Charleston scenics
Peter Frank Edwards

“Bench by the Road” at Sullivan’s Island

After Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison remarked in 1989 about American slavery, "There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby. There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road..." the Toni Morrison Society (founded in 1993), decided to build that bench. In 2008, Morrison, members of the Society, and the National Park Service placed an inscribed bench on Sullivan's Island, where 40 percent of the millions of Africans kidnapped and enslaved in the United States first entered the country.

Old Slave Mart Museum

Before the 1808 ban on bringing newly enslaved Africans into the United States, Charleston was a bustling depot in the transatlantic slave trade. Yet even after, the city remained an important hub for interstate trade of enslaved men and women. The museum, housed in a building once used as a gallery where enslaved people were auctioned, tells this tragic story.

Nathaniel Russell House Museum

A lavishly recreated 1808 house, the elegant Neoclassical mansion was first built by Nathaniel Russell, a Rhode Island native and merchant who participated in the slave trade. Today, visitors learn about those men and women who helped run and maintain the townhouse, as well as the Russell family.

King Street

Charleston's unparalleled shopping district, King Street offers the best in antiques (Croghan's Jewel Box), art galleries (Gallery Chuma), bookstores (Blue Bicycle Books), clothing (Berlin's Clothing), and other specialties, like the roasted pecans and palmetto jelly at Gullah Gourmet.

Folly Beach

Now best known as a surf spot, this island beach community was also the inspiration for the DuBuse Heyward novel Porgy and George Gershwin's operatic adaptation, Porgy and Bess. Gershwin even visited the island in 1934 to find inspiration for his compositions from the local music. You can thank Folly Beach for the enchanting melodic drawl of "Summertime, and the living' is easy."

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