Plan Your Visit
“One of America’s most delightful cities.” – Condé Nast Traveler
Best City in the US, Travel + Leisure (since 2013)
Best Small City in the US, Condé Nast Traveler (since 2011)
The South’s Best City, Southern Living (since 2017)
In the 1970s, early organizers of Spoleto Festival USA were looking for a home for the American counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. They wanted a place that hadn’t yet developed a renowned arts scene of its own, but they also needed somewhere with the right balance of performance spaces, history, and beauty to attract audiences and artists every spring. They found their ideal in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the years since—and due in part to Spoleto’s influence—Charleston has transformed into a dynamic, globally-connected city, without sacrificing its small-city charm. The 17 days of Spoleto, kicking off the Friday of Memorial Day weekend each year, find Charleston at its most vibrant, with flowers blooming, sidewalks bustling, and garden parties in full swing. It’s the perfect time of year to showcase “one of the most culturally and artistically rich cities in the South” (Southern Living).
Things to Do
For 350 years, Charleston’s streets and landmarks have witnessed every era of American history, and Charleston has been the center of impactful events from before the American Revolution through the Civil War era and into the 21st Century. First on any visitor’s itinerary should be a tour of the historic sites and museums documenting Charleston’s story including The Charleston Museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum, McLeod Plantation Historic Site, South Carolina Historical Society Museum, the Aiken-Rhett House, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, and Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter.
Forthcoming is the International African American Museum (slated to open in 2022), currently being constructed on the site of Gadsden's Wharf—a port of entry for tens of thousands of enslaved Africans in the early 19th century. While Charleston consistently makes national headlines as a top travel destination for its beauty, beaches, and renowned culinary scene, it is important to recognize that the city "was built on slave labor, and for nearly 200 years, thrived under a slave economy" (The Post and Courier). Today, about 60 percent of African Americans can trace their roots to Charleston.
Visitors might also consider making stops at the Gibbes Museum of Art, the South Carolina Aquarium, the Charleston Library Society, and the picturesque campus of the College of Charleston, home to several Spoleto performance venues and the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture.
Charleston’s outlying areas offer a wealth of sightseeing and recreational opportunities. Three local beaches—Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and the Isle of Palms—are a short drive from downtown. Golfers have a variety of courses to choose from, including Kiawah Island’s famed Ocean Course, which will host the PGA Championship in 2021. The surrounding towns, barrier islands, and coastal communities offer a wide array of activities such as fishing, cycling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Charleston is served by Charleston International Airport (CHS), with non-stop flights to 30+ destinations on 9 airlines. Intercity train and bus services are available from Amtrak and Southeastern Stages, with service to the North Charleston Intermodal Transportation Center. Each terminal is a short, 10-15 minute trip from the city center. Visitors driving their own vehicles can choose from more than a dozen public parking garages in the downtown core.
Downtown Charleston is a compact, walkable city with short distances between performance venues and notable attractions including some of the most beautiful homes, gardens, neighborhoods, and waterfront promenades found in the US. The best way to experience it is to get out and explore on your own two feet.
“Now, more than ever, a stroll around Charleston is an invitation to discovery.” – Southern Living
If you wear out your walking shoes, other transport options abound. The local transit agency, CARTA, offers a free downtown area shuttle (DASH) that connects major sites including the South Carolina Aquarium, Waterfront Park, the City Market, Marion Square, College of Charleston campus, and the Charleston Visitor Center. The local bikeshare program, Holy Spokes, has more than 25 bicycle corrals available throughout the peninsula, with hourly, daily, and monthly rental options.
Ridesharing vehicles from Uber and Lyft are abundant in Charleston, while taxi services and pedicabs are available, too. And as a maritime city, water taxi services are available as well, linking the downtown waterfront to attractions in Mount Pleasant’s Patriots Point directly across Charleston Harbor.