Charleston, South Carolina downtown city King street in southern town evening with colorful buildings multicolored in blue and red pastel colors with windows, palm trees and nobody

Charleston Travel Guide

Discover the best restaurants, hotels, and things to do with this highly curated guide to the Holy City.

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Charleston, South Carolina, has been named Travel + Leisure readers’ favorite U.S. city in our “World's Best Awards” survey year after year for several convincing reasons. While the Southern port city is known for centuries-old cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, its dynamism and forward momentum are apparent across all facets of the city — from its top-tier culinary feats to its ever-evolving roster of shops, museums, and must-see attractions.  

Alongside abiding favorites and famous views — shopping on King Street, wandering down Rainbow Row, snagging a table at Fig or The Ordinary, venturing out to one of the nearby beaches — the city continuously boasts a variety of exciting openings and relative newcomers that quickly ingrain themselves in Charleston culture. Stop by Babas on Cannon for European-inspired dishes, an espresso, and maybe an aperitif or two. Classic southern Italian meets Lowcountry at Sorelle, an all-day restaurant, bar, and market spanning two stories of 88 Broad Street. Food tends to be a popular topic of conversation in Charleston, as the F&B scene is paramount for most visitors, but there’s plenty to do in between meals. When you’ve reached the point where you can't fathom eating another bite, venture to neighboring Mount Pleasant, where you’ll find a curation of local art at Charleston Artist Collective and a stellar sunset overlooking Charleston Harbor from Pitt Street Bridge.

Whether you’re planning your first trip to Charleston or you, understandably, keep coming back to the Holy City, this T+L Charleston travel guide will help you get the most out of your visit — whenever you choose to go.

Best Time To Visit

Charleston attracts international and domestic tourists all year round, but you’ll find different weather, events, and downtown decor depending on the month you choose to visit. 

Rain is relatively common in spring, but it's arguably one of the best times of the year in Charleston, with temperatures varying from 60 to 80 degrees and Southern blooms like wisteria, jasmine, and azaleas coming out in full force. The peak of wisteria season ("wisteria hysteria") falls in mid-March, right after the Charleston Food + Wine Festival, where the Lowcountry shows off its diverse, world-renowned food culture on a larger stage. Charleston Jazz Festival happens in April, a month that also marks the opening of Charleston Farmers Market’s regular season in Marion Square. The beloved Festival of Houses and Gardens concludes mid-month, followed by Spoleto, a 17-day performing arts festival that takes over the city from late May to early June. If you’re headed to Charleston in the spring, just be prepared for crowds, traffic, lines, and hard-to-find parking. 

Fall is also a popular time to visit Charleston, as the weather is defined by moderate days and crisp evenings. Oyster season begins in early October; and historic house tours return after a long, hot summer. Social media listings are your best tool for finding local 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 walking tours down the historic streets. 

Winters in the Southeast are typically mild and occasionally rainy; temperatures rarely drop low enough for snow flurries. That said, 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 activity in the evenings. February is the unofficial start of festival season, 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. 

Although coastal breezes provide some relief, summer’s heat — think high 80s and low 90s — thunderstorms, and humidity make it less than ideal for tourism, but there are still a few reasons to visit Charleston in June, July, and August. Namely, the city’s access to sand and salt water. Just a 15 to 30-minute drive from downtown, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, and Folly Beach bring their own unique appeal to beach-goers. Add Kiawah Island to your summer beach bucket list if you're prepared to drive a little further. 

How to Get There

Charleston International Airport (CHS) is about a 20-minute drive from most Charleston attractions. Renting a car is optional, as Ubers and Lyfts are readily available, and parking can be tricky — particularly if you’re headed to the beach or attempting to find a spot downtown. 

Best Hotels & Resorts

The Loutrel

Travel + Leisure readers named The Loutrel, which opened in November 2021, the best hotel in Charleston — a title earned thanks to its upscale Lowcountry style, rooftop cocktail service, amenities, and iconic downtown location. The boutique hotel’s front doors open to State Street, just a short walk from Charleston sights like The Battery, the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park, and Rainbow Row. 

The Pinch

If a boutique hotel with thoughtful touches at every turn is your favorite kind of accommodation, book a room at The Pinch in the Ansonborough neighborhood. More than just a 22-room property, the hotel also features three furnished residences — which can be reserved for stays of 30 days or longer — a spa, daily complimentary breakfast, and a 40-seat oyster bar, known as The Quinte. 

The Ryder Hotel

Billed as a “boutique escape-meets-experience hotel,” The Ryder Hotel may have already made an appearance or two on your Instagram feed. The bright, airy rooms and common spaces have a relaxed feel to them — the exact kind of atmosphere you’d expect when visiting a coastal city. 

The Dewberry

The Dewberry
Courtesy of The Dewberry

The Dewberry, which describes itself as "offering old-world charm with a distinctive modern edge," is right downtown, just a block from King Street. On the main floor, you'll find the cozy Living Room, where you can refresh with coffee or cocktails or grab a bite to eat. Its rooftop restaurant and bar, Citrus Club, offers unparalleled views of Charleston and equally-as-photogenic tropical drinks.


Large hotel room with bed, hat, and leather duffel bag
Hotel Emeline/Lindsey Shorter

Emeline is set in the heart of historic Charleston and home to Frannie and The Fox, an Italian eatery that has hotel guests and locals alike flocking to the wood-fired pizza and outdoor dining options. After brunch or before dinner, take one of the custom Emeline bikes out for a spin around the neighborhood.

Post House Inn

Guests at the expertly curated boutique inn and tavern — born out of the creative minds behind Charleston firm Basic Projects — enjoy Southern hospitality in Old Village Mount Pleasant, a 10-minute drive from downtown. The Post House Inn is the definition of a bright, photogenic escape—and it’s only a block away from the waterfront.

Zero George Street

Three restored historic homes and two brick carriage homes house 16 luxurious rooms that exude rest and relaxation. After a long bike ride around the neighborhood (on complimentary beach cruisers, of course), begin your evening with a cocktail in the outdoor courtyard before tucking into the seasonal fare offered at the on-site Zero Restaurant.

Read More: The 15 Best Hotels in Charleston

Best Restaurants


A 2023 newcomer, Sorelle brings its extensive housemade bread and pasta program, antipasti counter, and wine room (among numerous other features) to Broad Street. Its Italian menu is spearheaded by Chefs Adam Sobel and Nick Dugan, but it falls under the umbrella of acclaimed Chef Michael Min’s award-winning Mina Group.


A 20-plus-year Charleston veteran, FIG continues to fill its tables with both regulars as well as those hoping to get their first taste of Chef Mike Lata’s fresh fish entrees and seasonal dishes. Reservations for the in-demand restaurant can be hard to come by, and count yourself lucky if you can sneak into a seat at the bar. 

Rodney Scott’s BBQ

Dining at Rodney Scott's BBQ in Charleston, a table full of food
Angie Mosier

The South Carolina-born pitmaster rose to barbecue fame after winning Best Chef Southeast at the 2018 James Beard Awards and appearing in the Netflix show, Chef's Table: Barbecue. Complete with a drive-through and bright blue picnic tables, Rodney Scott's BBQ is home to every Southern delicacy you could possibly imagine: collard greens, hush puppies, banana pudding, and crunchy pig skins.

167 Raw

They don't take reservations and you might see a line out the door, but don't let that keep you from the fresh seafood at local-favorite hotspot 167 Raw. The wait is worth it for the crispy oysters, scallop po'boys, and ever-changing menu of "frozie" cocktails. 

Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop

Charleston restaurateur and entrepreneur Brooks Reitz is the mastermind behind Leon's (as well as Little Jack's Tavern, Monza Pizza Bar, Melfi's, and Jack Rudy Cocktail Company). Set in a former body shop, Leon's features a relaxed atmosphere with top-of-the-line fried chicken, char-grilled oysters, cocktails, and soft-serve ice cream. A reservation for larger parties is advised, but last-minute diners and small groups can usually find space either inside or on the spacious outdoor patio.

Chez Nous

Reservations and outdoor dining options? Yes to both. A stagnant menu? Not at all. Chez Nou, found on Instagram @cheznouscharleston, posts its European-inspired lunch and dinner menu each day: two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts.

The Ordinary

Booking a table at The Ordinary is recommended as the raw bar and delicious libations are in high demand. The former bank building, which sits smack dab in the middle of King Street, can only be described as “buzzing,” with guests excitedly devouring local peel-and-eat shrimp, raw oysters, and other concoctions born from the sheer genius of The Ordinary’s chefs.

Best Things to Do

Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island, and Isle of Palms

Going to the beach when visiting Charleston is a no-brainer; the pristine South Carolina coast can't be beaten. Most locals prefer Sullivan's Island, with its access to a variety of restaurants and bars just a few blocks back from the beachfront, while the neighboring Isle of Palms is ideal for families). The crowds of Folly Beach can be intimidating, but just keep driving further down E. Arctic Ave; you'll find more parking and more room on the beach as you move away from the center of town.

Walk & Talk Charleston

You can explore downtown Charleston yourself, but you may miss out on some important facts, architectural tidbits, and historical insight, the kind you’ll find on a guided tour. Founder of Walk & Talk Charleston Tyler Page Wright Friedman and her team offer a variety of fascinating tours, including one exploring the LGBTQ+ history of Charleston, a walking tour focused on the role of horses throughout Charleston’s history, and a tour featuring Charleston and the Lowcountry’s natural history. 

Charleston Sailing Adventures

Take in the Charleston skyline from the water by booking a sunset sail around the harbor. Don't forget your phone or a camera—you won't get better views of the Battery or the majestic Ravenel Bridge anywhere else.

Coastal Expeditions

Across the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor lies Shem Creek, where you can rent kayaks or paddle boards to paddle alongside dolphins and explore the surrounding creek and marsh. Once you're done for the day, follow up your adventure with a drink or meal at one of the many restaurants in the area.

Angel Oak

Angel Oak Tree On Johns Island, South Carolina
Martina Birnbaum/EyeEm/Getty Images

The surrounding Lowcountry, filled with live oak trees and Spanish moss, is just as picturesque as the historic homes downtown. Twenty minutes from downtown is Angel Oak, a several-hundred-year-old live oak that shades over 17,200 square feet. The best part? You can leave your wallet at home; it's free for all guests.

Palmetto Carriage Works

Call it touristy, but taking in Charleston's history from a horse carriage is one of the most popular tours in the area. Choose from a personal ride with just your party or join in the larger tours as your guide takes you around the quaint Charleston streets.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie

Canons From Fort Moultrie Near Charleston, South Carolina
Getty Images

History buffs flock to Charleston, which played a key role in both the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. Fort Sumter can only be accessed by boat, but Fort Moultrie is a quick visit after a day exploring Sullivan's Island.

Read More: 28 Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Neighborhoods to Visit

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.

Shelves at Charleston Artists Collective
Charlotte Elizabeth/Courtesy of Charleston Artists Collective

Mount Pleasant: Crossing the Ravenel Bridge leads you to Mount Pleasant. Equal parts suburb, shopping destinations, bars, restaurants, and outdoor activities, Mount Pleasant is one of the largest towns 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.

Isle of Palms (IOP): Alternating houses of residents and renters can be found along the main road on Isle of Palms, Palm Boulevard. Connected to both Sullivan's Island and Mount Pleasant, IOP is also home to Wild Dunes Resort and Golf Course.

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 rentals 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 beach-goers of all ages.

Kiawah and Seabrook Islands: Privacy and quiet are two things you'll find upon venturing further out into 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. 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.

Best Shopping 

King Street is known as the shopping Mecca of Charleston—with stores ranging from local companies like Old Whaling Company, Berlin’s, and Beau & Ro to name brands like YETI, J.Crew, and Brooks Brothers. 

Croghan's Jewel Box

Gold lockets from Croghan's Jewel Box in Charleston
Courtesy of Croghan's Jewel Box

Family-owned jewelry store Croghan's appears on just about every Charleston list you'll read, and for good reason. Entering the King Street store is like entering another world—diamond rings, antique lockets, and pewter keepsakes are just some of the treasures you'll find around the shop.

Lake Pajamas

If you forget your pajamas, or you desperately want to add another striped set to your closet, the Southern brand’s store is open on Lower King. Cozy robes, breezy dressers, and even options for kids are available inside the two-story shop. 

Preservation Society of Charleston

The Preservation Society of Charleston brings you the best from local artisans and brands, including Brackish Bow Ties, Smithey Ironware, and J. Stark. They can be found alongside books from Charleston authors and other unique items that make memorable gifts for loved ones or tokens for yourself.

Hampden Clothing

Designer names run rampant at Hampden Clothing, a luxury store flanked by its sister shops, James and Small, on King Street. Go in with an open wallet and you'll leave feeling seriously stylish; Carolina Herrera, Mansur Gavriel, and Golden Goose are just some of the familiar brands stocked at Hampden.

Shopping Outside of King Street

Cigar Factory

The Cigar Factory, which is on the National Historic Register, features a number of shops along East Bay Street, including textiles at Fritz Porter, non-toxic nail salon The Water Room, and gourmet food emporium Mercantile & Mash. One of the best parts? Unlike King Street, parking at the Cigar Factory is painless and free.

Burbage’s Grocery

Located on Broad Street, right below Colonial Lake, is Burbage's Grocery, a family-run specialty grocery store locals return to again and again. You can pop in for lunch— there's a fully functioning deli in the back—or stop for locally brewed beer, hot sauce, and freshly baked goods.


Charleston establishments may not stay as open as late as larger cities like New York or Los Angeles, but King Street is far from sleepy. Throngs of College of Charleston students and bachelor and bachelorette parties frequent establishments like Uptown Social, Prohibition, and The Cocktail Club

If you’re looking for something more lowkey, though, a cocktail, a glass of wine, or a quick nightcap are best enjoyed at a variety of local favorites, including Bar Rollins, Babas on Cannon, Bin 152, Graft Wine Shop, and The Bar & Patio at Husk.

Other Resources

Getting Around

Car services like Uber and Lyft are common and relatively affordable in Charleston, but it’s also a walkable and 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. If you like to explore on two wheels, rent a beach cruiser from Bilda Bike on King Street, which offers daily, weekly, and monthly options. 

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).

Packing Tips 

A mix of beach gear, walking-appropriate clothing and shoes, and a few elevated pieces should make it in your suitcase before heading to Charleston. Breathable fabrics, like linen and cotton, help make the heat and humidity a bit more tolerable. No matter the season, you’ll want sunscreen, bug spray, and an umbrella.

Read More: The Ultimate Charleston Packing List

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