Founded in 1670 as Charles Town in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston, South Carolina, has seen a lot of American history. From the colonial era and the Revolutionary War to the antebellum period leading to the Civil War, the city has survived it all. It also has survived (if just barely) countless fires, though you wouldn't know it to look at the city today.
Today, Charleston is known for its history, old-world architecture, and southern hospitality – in fact, its residents have been voted the most polite, hospitable, and friendly in America by magazines like Travel + Leisure and Southern Living, and in 2013 Conde Nast Traveler even named the city “America's Most Friendly.”
If you're headed to the American South anytime soon, this is one city you don't want to skip and these are the experiences you must do while there.
Charleston's most popular area is its Historic District, full of old, attractive southern homes complete with towering palm trees and privacy porches. The district has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1960 and is one of the most popular parts of the city for first-time visitors.
Located on East Bay Street between Elliot and Tradd, Charleston's “Rainbow Row” consists of 13 historic houses painted in pastel colors. These iconic buildings were all once shops serving the town, but today they have retired and are instead the subject of millions of photographs every year.
Charleston City Market
Don't skip the historic city market downtown, which has been operating for more than 200 years. Here you can find vendors selling everything from artwork to pottery and jewelry. There's also a special local product sold here: hand-made sweetgrass baskets. This traditional art of basket weaving was brought over to the American South by slaves from West Africa and this delicate art form has been passed down from generation to generation.
How to see these: Hop on a carriage tour. These one-hour tours around Charleston are extremely popular with tourists, and are a great way to get an overview of the city and its history. Afterwards, you can walk to any part of the city you'd like to explore further.
Things to see beyond downtown:
Located in Charleston Harbor, it was here at Fort Sumter that the first shots of the American Civil War were traded between Union and Confederate forces back in April of 1861. The sea fort today is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, run by the National Park Service.
Isle of Palms
If you're looking for a beach or perhaps just a nice vacation rental to relax in, head to the Isle of Palms, a barrier island off the coast of Charleston. The island is quite well known for its love of beach volleyball, and also has a resort located on the northern tip of the island.
Boone Hall Plantation
Visiting a former plantation in the area is a great way to learn more about local history and I recommend a visit to Boone Hall, located in nearby Mount Pleasant. This is one of the most popular antebellum plantations to visit from Charleston, thanks to its beautiful Avenue of Oaks, gardens, and its historic plantation house that you can tour. The best news? Everything is included here for a ticket price of $20.
How to see these: For these attractions located outside of Charleston, renting a car is the best option although tours are available throughout the high season.
What would you add to this Charleston to-do list?