Tips for Exploring Charleston, South Carolina In One Day

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America’s friendliest city, Charleston, South Carolina, is full of charm and history. I had half a day to explore the Holy City in the Carolinas and want to share with you some tips for making the most out of a limited amount of time.

Pineapple fountain in Charleston.

If you drove to Chucktown, start by ditching your car. Find a parking deck ($16 per day) and remember where you parked. The Visitor’s Center parking deck at 63 Mary Street is conveniently located near a shuttle stop.

Tree lined street view from inside a bus.
View from inside the free shuttle

Then hop aboard the free shuttle (click here to learn more) and make your way to Charleston’s French Quarter. Speaking of which, did you know that Charleston’s French Quarter pre-dates New Orlean’s by 40 years?

Street in Charleston with colorfully painted buildings.

Get off on King Street and explore some of the shops and along the way take note of the palm trees. Those are palmettos and are South Carolina’s state tree.

Palm trees along the street in Charleston.

Make your way to the Confederate Museum located at 188 Meeting Street in the historic section. The museum is located up the stairs of the Market Hall building which was designed after the Temple of the Wingless Victory in Athens, Greece and built in 1841.

Confederate Museum in Charleston.

The Confederate Museum opened in 1899 and is only open from 11 am until 3:30 pm Tuesday – Saturday.

The Confederate Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.

Underneath the museum is the Charleston City Market and one of the places that you have to go to when in Charleston.

Inside the Charleston City Market.

The market is the perfect spot for purchasing a sweetgrass basket that was handmade in Charleston. Basketweaving was originally brought to this area from Africa during slavery and it has been passed down for more than 300 years.

Did you know that it’s against the law to sell instruments and jewelry on Sundays in South Carolina? This may seem strange but there are some weird state laws around the country.

Corey Alston weaving a basket.

Corey Alston, Artisan Basketweaver

Nearby the city market, you will see signs for carriage tours. Book one – it’s the best way to see Charleston and to learn about its rich history. The tour that I took was through Palmetto Carriage Tours and I HIGHLY recommend it. (You’ll get to see plenty of pictures later in this post that were taken on the tour.)

Palmetto Carriage Tours sign.

If you have time to kill before your carriage tour, take some time to explore Charleston on foot. Odds are good that you will pass by one of the more than 400 places to worship, some with quite a bit of history such as the Circular Congregational Church. (The earliest unmarked grave there dates back to 1695.)

Circular church in Charleston.

Take time to pause and remember the slaves whose precious lives were traded and sold in Charleston at the Old Slave Mart. There is a small admission fee to the museum which is open Monday-Saturday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

The Slave Mart in Charleston.

Back to that carriage ride. Palmetto Carriage tours meet at the big red barn at 8 Guinard Street.

Red barn with large tree in front.

I took the One-Hour Carriage Tour, which allows you to:

  • Experience 25-30 blocks of Charleston’s historic downtown district
  • See houses, gardens, mansions, churches & parks
  • Learn about buildings, history, architecture, flora & the people that make up the “Holy City”
  • Learn everything that Charleston has to offer on a Palmetto Carriage tour.
Horse and carriage on a street.

And we did just that. And by we, I mean my friend Jennifer from and about a dozen other people. We learned about the architecture of different buildings, such as The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist shown below.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street
Pink French Huguenot church in Charleston.
French Huguenot Church, 136 Church Street

On our tour, we learned about The Great Fire that ravaged Charleston on December 11, 1861. Over 540 acres, 575 homes, numerous businesses, and five churches burned during the disaster. (That’s a fire watchtower below.)

Fire tower next to a building.

Our tour guide pointed out earthquake bolts on a few of the buildings that we passed. He told us about the devastating earthquake of 1866 that probably would have registered near 7 on today’s Richter scale.

Charming house in Charleston.

We passed by gorgeous homes and half homes. What’s a half house? Well, back in the day kitchens were not located inside the main house due to potential fire hazards. Therefore the kitchens were built as a stand-alone units. Today, those units still stand but have been renovated into full homes.

Large house with American flag and tree.

We passed by homes with beautiful wrought iron gates and heard stories about the need for iron during the Civil War. Some gates were melted for the cause. We also learned a bit about oleander, a beautiful yet poisonous garden shrub. (There’s oleander behind the fence below.)

Courtyard surrounded by wrought iron gate.

Palmetto Tours took us along Charleston’s Battery, a public park that runs along the waterfront and was once the site where pirates were publicly hung.

Trees at the Charleston Battery.

We also heard about the country’s first female serial killer who made her home near Charleston. Her name was Lavinia Fisher and legend has it that she would serve (oleander?) tea to wealthy male guests at her inn. Long story short, she and her husband would murder the poor guys if the tea didn’t do the job and they would take all their possessions.

Lavinia and her husband got caught and were sentenced. On her way to the gallows, it was reported that Lavinia’s lasts words went something like, “If any of you have a message to give the devil, give it to me quick — I’m about to meet him!”

View from the front of a horse carriage along the water way in Charleston.

My view of the waterfront along the battery – I sat on the second row of the carriage on the left-hand side. (Charleston is a great place to take pictures. Be sure to tag your pictures with #ExploreCharleston.)

Large white house on a tree lined street.

When in Charleston, you need to make sure that you eat some good Southern food. For dining in the historic section, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the Cru Cafe is pretty kewl. (Bad joke, I know. It really was pretty cool.)  It’s practically a stone’s throw away from Palmetto Tour’s big red barn.

Cru Cafe on Motley Lane.

The sign above is a joke, do you get it? It’s a play on Mötley Crüe. All jokes aside, this place had AMAZING fried green tomatoes. You should go there even if it is only for that dish. The Fried Green Tomatoes come with Pork Belly Croutons, Sheep’s Milk Feta, Smoked Tomato Caramel and cost $12.25. I would go back there again just for it.

Plate of fried green tomatoes with bacon lardons and crumbled cheese.

Go on a ghost walk. With all of her history, Charleston is full of tales from beyond the grave. Bulldog Tours offers history, food, and ghost tours that depart from their location at 18 Anson Street (which happens to be really close to Palmetto Carriage Tours).

Yellow building with balcony.

Keep in mind that these are walking tours and you need to wear comfortable shoes. You’ll go down old cobblestone streets and hear about old fashioned duels that once took place and may have left the loser’s soul to wander.

Cobblestone street with woman walking a dog.
Narrow alley in Charleston.

You’ll hear stories of our country’s first president and how he was such a ladies’ man. He once danced at the “Exchange” or “Customs House” house (pictured below) with a full dance card.

The Old Exchange building.

Beneath the Old Exchange is the Provost Dungeon that once held many a pirate. On the Bulldog Tours, you can enter the dark, damp dungeon and imagine what it was like to be held prisoner there. You might even catch a specter on your camera.

Dungeon inside the Old Exchange.

If you have additional time, consider exploring Charleston’s harbor from the deck of one of SpiritLine Cruise’s vessels.

White river boat in the water.

SpiritLine offers harbor tours, dinner cruises, private dining events, and sightseeing. What’s really cool is cruising at night and seeing the battery at twilight. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge, is really awesome lit up at night.

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge.

If you have been to Charleston, what are some places that you would recommend to visitors?

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  1. The Segway tour in the old village of Mt Pleasant was the best tour we had during our visit to Charleston. Cliff was our guide and the best we had all week!!

    1. So tickled to hear that there is a Segway Tour. I took one in Pittsburgh and it was amazing. Will definitely need to do take one in Charleston. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you so very much for this incredibly detailed and helpful guide to one day in Charleston, which is exactly what we had. It was our first time there. The details you provided from the address of the parking deck to the best carriage company, Palmetto, (and it was!!) allowed us to maximize our time. After an initial quick walk through City Market, we went directly to the carriage ride. By getting a bit of a sense of the historic (isn’t it all!?!) area from the *incredibly” knowledgeable guide, we walked. For us one-dayers, I would add a walk to Waterfront Park, Rainbow Row, the Battery, and White Point Garden (did you know it’s a Night Heron Rookery where herons nest and raise their young in the beautiful old trees?!?). Take a right turn on King Street and walk by block after block of gorgeous historic Chatleston homes.
    We must recommend Hyman’s Seafood. The 15-20 minute wait was well worth the service and quality of the food.
    I wish we had time for a Bulldog Tour. Our carriage guide said over and over “take the tour!!!” That’s first on our list for next time. And, based on how much we loved Charleston, there definitely will be a next time!
    Another quick note: It had been years since I put my feet in the sand and salt water of the Atlantic. Since we were coming from a day in Savannah, we took a detour to Folly Beach. We drove just a few blocks north of the pier to a public access area and it was perfect. It was about 5 pm, it was not *at all* crowded and perfect for a beach walk and barefooting in the surf.
    Thanks to your guidance, we had the ~best~ one day in Charleston!!

    1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for your kind message! I am glad that it was helpful and that you had the best (one) day in Charleston. Next time I am in the area, I think I will have to make a slight detour to Folly Beach and put my feet in the sand.

  3. Hello,
    I usually don’t leave comments on blogs, but consider my feelings toward some of your content, I decided to express my thoughts. This sentence, “Basketweaving was originally brought to this area from Africa when the slaves were brought here and it has been passed down for more than 300 years,” was informative, but offensive. Great information, but it would be better if it were rephrased. This sentence implies that the title of slave is the term for the Africans who were taken from their country unwillingly. This sentence speaks down on them as if they were not people or human just as you and I. In being a black woman that was enjoying your post, I feel that it would be wise to think about your audience and how certain words may be offensive. A better version of this sentence would have been to replace the word slaves with the work Africans, or either say it was brought here during slavery to refer to the period in time instead of the classless term towards a group of people. If you are not catering to an audience that would be offended by this then I understand, but I hope that you will consider my thoughts. Even though I am only one viewer out of all that you service, I am sure others reading with my views may have also been offended, but didn’t care enough to respond. Thanks for listening.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for writing that you were enjoying it. The last thing I wish to do is to offend anyone and I appreciate your suggestion. I have changed the wording to, “Basketweaving was originally brought to this area from Africa during slavery and it has been passed down for more than 300 years.”

      I appreciate readers letting me know when something needs to be corrected.

      Take care!

  4. I’m a native Charlestonian and I’m always curious about sites visitors recommend. The Slave Mart on Chalmers Street is a historic site I frequently recommend to guests. My husband and I are employed at the College of Charleston and I recommend exploring the campus. I’m happy you enjoyed your time in the holy city.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Charleston was a very unique and beautiful city. I wish that I had more time to explore it. Thank you for your recommendation about the College of Charleston – it’s not a place that I would have thought of, but I will definitely keep it in mind for my next trip. 🙂

    1. This was a fabulous guide to Charleston. I was not offended at all by the use of the word slave in any context. History is history and is we continue to tear monuments down and change accurate descriptive words to make things soft and fuzzy we obliterate their true meaning and lessen the severity of the time and events. We need to remind people of how far we have evolved and how far we have to go. If we make it seem less than it was it degrades those who endured the atrocities. We all need to learn and move on. I loved your guide and realism.

    2. I replied to an earlier comment. It was honest and factual. I’m wondering why it was removed almost immediately other than it might have been a little too honest.

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