Tips for Visiting Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston consistently ranks as one of the top destinations in the US by major travel publications. Its history dates to 1670 and the town is especially famous for its beautifully preserved French Quarter, a lovely harbor and one of the largest collections of antebellum houses in the US (pre US civil war architecture). On our recent visit to Charleston in January, 2018, we enjoyed touring this historic city and eating some fantastic southern food. Here are some recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink and what to see!

Colorful buildings along Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina.
Colorful buildings along Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina.

Hotels in Charleston, South Carolina

We stayed at the Charleston Marriot during Bell’s statistics conference, where the event was hosted. When the conference ended, we used Hilton Honors points from previous business travel to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront.

We enjoyed our stay at the Charleston Marriot more. Both hotels are over a mile walk to the historic center, but both also offer shuttle services. Modern rooms at the Charleston Marriott feature stylish décor and feature cable TV, a work desk, coffee maker and a sitting area. Spacious bathrooms include THANN toiletries. The Saffire Restaurant & Bar serves eclectic cuisine in chic surroundings. The Aqua Terrace Roof-Top Bar serves American dishes and inventive cocktails.

Charleston has several grand historic hotels. The French Quarter Inn has been ranked among the world’s best hotels by Travel + Leisure. The historic French Quarter Inn overlooks Charleston City Market. It welcomes guests with champagne at check-in. A complimentary gourmet continental breakfast is served daily. All vintage-inspired rooms have free WiFi, a 40-inch flat-screen TV, Blu-Ray and DVD player, and a small refrigerator. Guests can also expect evening turndown service with a local treat.

Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row features the longest collection of Georgian row houses in the United States. There are thirteen colorful houses side by side near the waterfront beginning at the end of East Bay Street. This is one of the most photographed areas of the city.

The Charleston City Market dates back to 1804 and stretches for four city blocks. The market begins with beautiful Market Hall at Meeting St, and the entire complex is a designated National Historic Landmark. This is a great place to pick up everything from a well-priced leather wallet to delicious candied pecans.

Fort Sumter is where the US Civil War began. On April 12th, 1861, a Confederate militia fired the first shots on the federal fort in Charleston Harbor. 34 hours later the fort fell and it took the Union armies four years to reclaim it. Today, you can catch a ferry to Fort Sumter from Liberty Square and Patriots Place. Fort Sumter Tours last around 2 hours and 15 minutes and costs $22 for adults and $14 for children.

French Quarter

Charleston is one of the best US cities to walk around. And one of the best neighborhoods is the French Quarter. The cobblestone streets and antebellum homes are like a Hollywood movie set (and they often become that). The French Quarter encompasses the area from the historic market to Broad Street, and the Waterfront Park.

Slave Mart Museum

For a reminder of the tragic history of the south, visit the Old Slave Mart Museum in the French Quarter. This is the last slave market building remaining in South Carolina. It is haunting to visit a place where human beings were once auctioned off like cattle. If you visit one of the pretty plantations outside Charleston, be sure to also visit the Slave Mart as well.

Waterfront Park

The Waterfront Park is a beautiful 8-acre park between the French Quarter and Cooper River. The park has received many design awards and offers great views of Charleston Harbour, Fort Sumter, Ravenel Bridge and Patriots Point. Especially when the weather is good, it makes for a nice stroll, combining the historic market and the French Quarter.

Great Restaurants in Charleston, SC

Charleston is one of the best cities for fine dining in the US. There is some 100 class A restaurants in a town just the size of 135,000. Our guide, “Captain Bob,” described it as a “cross between Manhattan and Mayberry,” because while the tastes are refined, everyone knows each other. There’s a wealth of great places to eat, but here are a few places we personally really enjoyed.

Stella’s (mid-range prices with a fun, high end feel)

Stella’s is one of the funnest Greek restaurants we’ve dined at in the USA. The Greek dishes with a southern twist and fun atmosphere are both fantastic. Try their grilled octopus, which is perfectly cooked with lemon, olive oil and spices. Or go for a traditional baked dish like moussaka or pasticio, basically Greek style lasagna. To drink, try a Greek wine or a local craft beer on draft.

We enjoyed Stella’s so much we even returned for brunch. The crab omelet had a generous portion of crab meat, accompanied by a side of roasted Greek style potatoes. Their winding bar is stylishly designed and a great place to grab a drink! Stella’s is actually one of two locations and the original is located in Richmond, Virginia.

grilled octopus, Greek salad, and fried eggs over potatoes for brunch at Stella's in Charleston, South Carolina
Delicious grilled octopus and other fantastic Greek food at Stella’s in Charleston, South Carolina.

Church and Union (mid-range – upscale)

Housed in a former church, dining at Church and Union is a unique experience. The restaurant’s stylish design & sophisticated ambiance make it the perfect setting for a date night. They have an excellent menu featuring delicious meats, seafood, and fresh pastas. It is an ideal setting to enjoy dinner over a tasty cocktail, glass of wine or a nice local brew.

Tommy Condon’s (budget, friendly and fun)

It’s good to indulge in some southern favorites like shrimp n’ grits and fried green tomatoes. This is easy to find in Charleston. Surprisingly, the kitchen of Tommy Condon’s whips up an excellent shrimp n’ grits, which pairs interestingly with live Irish music! This place brought back memories of living in Ireland, with a southern US twist.

Private Tours in Charleston, South Carolina

If you’re looking for a private tour of Charleston, we recommend “Captain Bob.” Captain Bob has comfortable vehicles, like his Town & Country, and is licensed to tour groups around Charleston, Savannah and nearby plantations. Captain Bob has toured celebrities like news anchor Solidad O’Brien of CNN and is knowledgeable about the local history. If you want to take a tour with this friendly guide, email me at [email protected] and I can coordinate that. I can also assist with more tips on Charleston and travel in the American south too!

Thinking About a Road trip in the Southeast of the United States? 

As we previously lived in Orlando and Tampa, we know the southeast of the United States well. Check out some of our other articles on the south like:

A Mini-Guide to Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Great Day Trips from Tampa, Florida

Alternative Orlando Gems You Don’t Read About

Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s Favorite Drive

Cedar Key, Florida: An Authentic Getaway

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links. If you book your hotel via those links, we receive a small commission. It costs you nothing extra, and it helps support this website. If you book through them, thank you. 


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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