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10 must-see attractions in Charleston, South Carolina

streets of charleston in the sunshine

Charleston, the South Carolina port city, is known for its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and pastel coloured houses.

Here are my top 10 picks of things to see when taking a trip to this 1600s’, picturesque city…

1) Charleston Single House

A typical house in Charleston is known as the Charleston single house. Their design is iconic and hard to miss as you stroll the streets.

The large balconies on the side of the house, known as piazzas, face south or west to catch the breeze. Although the term piazza in Italian means a public square, when it migrated to the Deep South during the late seventeenth century it originally described arcaded spaces in major public buildings.

Single house fronts in Charleston

2) Mrs Whaley’s Garden

Gardens are well-known and celebrated in Charleston, with one of the most popular being Mrs Whaley’s Garden.

Described as ‘quintessential Charleston’, it is the most visited private garden in America.

Open during festivals and by appointment, this pretty, very English garden is charming. When it was first created by the renowned landscape architect, Loutrel Briggs, it reflected the Charlestonian tradition of creating garden rooms bordered by low hedges with a centre lawn.

The garden is open to the public most Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons for a donation of $10 per person.

3) Horse and Carriage Ride

If you want to rest your legs, taking a horse and carriage can give you the traditional feel of Charleston life. Old South Carriage offers guided tours of old Charleston. Visitors are welcome at the large barn where the horses have a hay break.

4) The Battery

The Battery is a long promenade around the southernmost tip of the Charleston peninsula.

It takes its name from the days when guns were lined up there to defend the city. Today, it’s a wonderful walk with mansions on one side and a vast expanse of water, the meeting of the Ashley and Cooper estuaries, on the other. Here, you can watch pelicans fishing. At the far end of The Battery the beautiful White Point Garden features memorials to the history of the town.

5) Charleston Museum

The Charleston Museum was founded in 1773 and is believed to be the first museum in North America.

Its important collections, including an historical herbarium and the complete skeleton of an Atlantic Right Whale are now housed in a large modern building. This museum has the most comprehensive collection relating to South Carolina in the country. It also includes the Joseph Manigault House next door, built by Joseph Manigault, a French Huguenot who escaped to America to avoid persecution in France. When the house was built it was common to build the kitchen and other utilitarian rooms outside the house, to avoid the fire risks.

6) Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art Gallery

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston offers its visitors a new perspective on art. It holds no permanent collections but presents its ideas through continuously changing its temporary exhibitions. It was set up to create interactions between adventurous artists and diverse communities.

Gallery exhibition hours: Monday-Saturday, 11am-4pm

7) The Churches

At the beginning of the seventeenth century the Constitution of Carolina guaranteed settlers religious liberty. This made the city a safe haven for anyone trying to escape religious persecution, particularly the Huguenots from France.

The French Huguenot Church, built in the mid-nineteenth century, is the only French Calvinist congregation in the world. This beautiful white church is built in the Greek Revival style. There are more than 800 churches in Charleston. My own favourite was Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Anson Street, which had a quiet, simplistic feel to it.

8) The Market

The Charleston City Market is open all day and features several hundred artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs in its large, low sheds.

Night markets take place here every Friday and Saturday night between April and December. The stalls of more than fifty sweet grass basket weavers in the market preserve this special Charleston tradition. These markets have been taking place since 1788, when a wealthy resident ceded the land to the City of Charleston to be used as a public market in perpetuity. The City Market was completely refurbished in 2011. Its centre piece is the historic Great Hall features a collection of boutiques.

9) Eating Out – Grits to Gourmet

My memories of eating out in Charleston involve large quantities of excellent Italian Prosecco and a brief encounter with grits. Grits have featured as a basic dish, usually eaten for breakfast, for centuries in South Carolina. Made into a porridge from coarsely ground corn, it was originally considered to be the food of the poor.

In recent years, there has been a new interest in grits and it’s well worth the try! Now, this traditional dish is being elevated to the menus of fine-dining restaurants and not just for breakfast.

10) Kiawah Island

The Kiawah Island Resort occupies the major part of Kiawah Island. This sea island, or barrier island, on the Atlantic coast of the United States, is twenty-five miles southwest of Charleston.

Primarily a private beach and golf resort, it’s also a renowned and award-winning wildlife habitat. Walking trails and cycle tracks weave their way along the extensive ten-mile beach and through the five immaculately groomed golf courses. Alligators laze in shallow waters fringing the many lakes, pelicans patrol the skies above and dolphins are a common sight in the waters around the island.

How to get to Charleston, South Carolina

Flights from the UK to Charleston airport are indirect with changes in Philadelphia being most common.

If you’re taking connecting flights, you’ll need to choose a travel insurance policy that has connecting flight cover. This level of cover isn’t generally included in a basic policy, and may come at an additional cost. So, it’s important to tell your travel insurance provider that you’ll be taking a connecting flight to the USA.

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