Charleston Travel Guide
Several convincing reasons have placed Charleston, South Carolina on Travel & Leisure's World's Best List year after year. The Southern port city offers a variety of food, art, and entertainment that rivals larger destinations and features a walkable downtown with charming architecture and hidden treasures everywhere you turn.
While Charleston has its centuries-old cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, the city is far from stuck in the past. Creativity and innovation are as synonymous with Charleston as the humidity and Spanish moss. Yes, you'll find Southern staples (Rodney Scott's James Beard award-winning whole hog barbecue is a must) and the views Charleston is famous for (the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park), but it's also home to a variety of new sites and up-and-comers that have made names for themselves in the past few years. Stop by Babas on Cannon, just a block off King Street, for European-inspired dishes, espresso, and maybe an aperitif or two. If you've reached the point where you can't eat another bite—which isn't hard to do in a town like this—venture to Mount Pleasant, where Charleston Artist Collective houses art by a number of local talents across a range of price points.
If you're returning to Charleston after a few years away, make room in your itinerary to discover new favorites while revisiting those places you can't get enough of. If you're planning your first trip to Charleston, this T&L Charleston travel guide will help you get the most of your visit to the Holy City—whenever you choose to go.
Eastern Standard Time
Best Time to Go
With an international airport just a 20-minute drive from downtown Charleston, the Southern city attracts both international and domestic tourists all year round.
January and February, the coldest months in Charleston, offer relief from the summer heat and holiday crowds. The city is far from empty this time of year as oyster roasts, camellia blossoms, and Charleston Restaurant Week attract many visitors.
Come February, excitement builds as Charleston sets up for the Southeastern Wildlife Exhibition (SEWE), a weekend celebration of all things outdoors—including art, sporting exhibitions, and the can't-miss dock dog competition. Think Barbour jackets, camo hats, and the greatest appreciation of man's best friend.
The peak of wisteria season ("wisteria hysteria") falls in mid-March, right after the Charleston Food and Wine Festival, when the Lowcountry shows off its diverse, world-renowned culinary scene. April ushers in warmer weather and the intoxicating jasmine blooms as tourists and residents experience the magic of the fleeting Charleston spring—which includes the opening of the Saturday Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square and the Festival of Houses and Gardens. Spoleto, a 17-day performing arts festival runs from late May to early June. Summer in Charleston features outdoor concerts and performances at the historic Dock Street Theatre, with around 60,000 tickets sold each year.
The Holy City attracts millions of visitors each year to some of the best beaches on the east coast. For those who aren't intimidated by the Lowcountry heat and humidity (which peaks in July), the summer months are perfect for lazy days on the beach. Just a 15 to 30-minute drive from downtown, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, and Folly Beach bring their unique appeal for beach-goers. Add Kiawah Island to your summer beach bucket list if you're prepared to drive a little further. As the Charleston summer extends through September, tours of downtown's art galleries, brewery tastings, and all-you-can-eat barbecues offer respite from the sun and heat.
In early October, oyster season begins and house tours return. Social media listings are your best bet for oyster roasts, but you'll need to purchase tickets in advance for the Preservation Society of Charleston's Fall Tours. Choose from guided tours through private homes, self-guided strolls through Charleston's most beautiful gardens, or virtual tours that bring the Southern architecture and design inspiration directly to your phone or computer.
December is a magical time in Charleston. Historic homes lining lower King, Meeting, Legare, Church, Broad, and South Battery Streets are dressed to the nines in breathtaking magnolia garland, cheerful wreaths, and flickering candles in the windows. The annual Holiday Festival of Lights, a three-mile driving tour through James Island County Park, is a favorite family-friendly evening activity.
Things to Know
Pack your sunscreen, bug spray, and an umbrella.
If you plan to visit during August through November, be aware that "hurricane season" is a real thing.
A stroll on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge provides a stunning view of the city.
How to Get Around
CARTA is Charleston's bus service with a variety of routes throughout the city as well as several Park and Ride locations.
Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) offers three routes on the peninsula. (free)
Charleston is a walkable or bikeable city. If most of your excursions and explorations are downtown, bring walking shoes or keep an eye out for pedicabs—an enjoyable way to get back to your hotel after dinner or a round of drinks.
Renting a bike to explore the Charleston area is also possible. There are several Holy Spokes bike share locations around town with the option to pay as you go or purchase a day pass.
Car services like Uber and Lyft are common and relatively affordable in Charleston;
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
Downtown Charleston: Otherwise known as the peninsula, downtown Charleston includes several distinct neighborhoods, each with its own history pick of restaurants, shops, and iconic Charleston landmarks. South of Broad, the area below Broad Street, is where you'll find The Battery; Harleston Village is mostly filled with locals and College of Charleston students who frequent Colonial Lake. Cannonborough/Elliotborough is alight with creativity and delicious treats; pick up a cupcake from Sugar Bakeshop while walking along Cannon Street. The French Quarter is a classic stop for Charleston first-timers; Charleston City Market, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and the South Carolina Historical Society are all in the area.
Mount Pleasant: Crossing the Ravenel Bridge leads you to Mount Pleasant. Equal parts suburb, shopping destinations, bars, restaurants, and outdoor activities, Mount Pleasant is the largest town in South Carolina. While there, head to Old Village Historic District to catch the unparalleled views from Pitt Street Bridge—which used to connect the town to the adjacent Sullivan's Island.
Sullivan's Island: A two and a half-mile long barrier island, Sullivan's Island is more than just a beach town. Besides the sandy shore, there are several popular restaurants (including Poe's Tavern, The Obstinate Daughter, and Home Team BBQ), bike paths, and some of the dreamiest beach houses you'll find in the Charleston area.
Daniel Island: Between the Cooper and Wando Rivers, Daniel Island is one of Charleston's best places for outdoor activities. Golf courses, parks, and trails are easily accessible and can be reached in just 20 minutes from downtown.
Johns Island: The largest island in South Carolina, Johns Island is flanked by James Island, Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, and Seabrook Island. Here you'll find the famous Angel Oak tree and several golf courses, both private and public.
James Island: Take in the marsh views and iconic trees on James Island, an area once used as mostly farmland. For travelers looking for slightly lower accommodation prices than what you'll find downtown, James Island features several more budget-friendly hotels and Airbnbs to choose from.
Folly Island: Beach bars, cafes, souvenir shops, seafood markets, taco shacks, and golf cart rentals—what else does a beach town need? Folly Island is one of the most popular South Carolina beach destinations due to its proximity to downtown Charleston and the sheer amount of entertainment for all ages of beach-goers.
Kiawah and Seabrook Islands: Privacy and quiet are two things you'll find upon venturing further out to the gated communities of Kiawah and Seabrook Islands. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Course, a five-star hotel with unbeatable ocean views, is pure luxury and relaxation—a must-stay for special occasions and celebrations. Remember, you can't get on either island without a pass, but Kiawah's Beachwalker Park is open to the public.
North Charleston: Many Charleston travel guides make the mistake of leaving out North Charleston—which is continuously adding new places to eat, drink, and stay. Restaurants like Jackrabbit Filly and EVO Pizza are worth the trek when the peninsula becomes overcrowded by the influx of summer tourists.
Rain is relatively common in spring, but it's one of the more pleasant times of the year in Charleston when Southern blooms like wisteria, jasmine, and azaleas come out in full force. During summer, thunderstorms and humidity accompany the heat, with temperatures reaching the low 80s and coastal breezes providing some relief.
Fall is slightly warmer than spring, with moderate days followed by crisp evenings. Hurricane season peaks in August and September, lasting through November. Winters in Charleston are typically mild and occasionally rainy. Temperatures rarely drop low enough for snow flurries.
The following are average Fahrenheit lows and highs by month.
January 39 - 60
February 41 - 63
March 47 - 70
April 54 - 77
May 63 - 84
June 71 - 89
July 74 - 91
August 73 - 90
September 69 - 85
October 57 - 77
November 48 - 70
December 41 - 63
Apps to Download
Historic Charleston Foundation: photos, oral histories, maps, and videos of Charleston
This Luxury Charleston Hotel's New $19,000 Package Comes With Butler Service, Daily Champagne and MoreThis $19,000 luxury suite package at Hotel Bennett comes with butler service, afternoon tea, and more VIP perks.