What to Do During a Weekend Getaway in Charleston, SC

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What to Do During a Weekend Getaway in Charleston, SC

One of the country’s prettiest cities, Charleston is a cobblestoned, brick-walled, willow-draped gem. Ideal for lovers of history and food, the city offers countless themed tours, antebellum mansions, historic forts, an award-winning botanical garden, a bustling city market and world-class museums. Tour it all on foot or in a horse-drawn carriage with a friendly local expert at your side who is delighted to share the secrets of the Holy City. Here are our top picks for things to do during a weekend in Charleston.
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1. Tour the Battery
Get your bearings with a walk along the Battery at Charleston’s southern tip. The gorgeous Southern-style mansions lining the harbor evoke imaginings of yesteryear when this area was the heart of the city’s maritime heritage. Start at the 12-acre Waterfront Park, snapping the obligatory photo of the city’s iconic pineapple fountain. From here, wander the waterfront for about a mile, ending at White Point Garden, where you’ll find a number of Civil War relics and memorials.
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2. Take a Boat Tour
For a more immersive harbor experience, sign up for a boat tour – most of which are captained by history experts. See the city’s top landmark all in one go – from The Battery and Waterfront Park to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Fort Sumter. There are many boat tour operators to choose from in the city, including private charters and sailboat outings. You might even glimpse a dolphin or two while you’re on the water!
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3. Or, Take a Walking Tour
Lace up a sturdy pair of walking shoes to prepare for the cobblestone streets you’ll encounter during your two-hour, expert-led Charleson walking. Choose from general-interest tours, ghost tours, walks through the historic district, foodie-focused wanderings (more on that in a moment), art gallery roundups and more.
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4. Eat Your Way Through the City
Known as a foodie favorite, Charleston boasts trendy dining spots and casual eateries – and plenty of delicious low-country cuisine. Take a food-centric tour, which might range from the city’s best desserts to pub tours to history-focused supper clubs. Get to know the historic Upper King Street area, one of the country’s top food neighborhoods, or the French Quarter, where not only will the food be great, but you’ll get to walk on some of the oldest streets in the city. Just don’t eat too much before the start of your tour!
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5. Visit the Aiken-Rhett House Museum
See what antebellum life was like at the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, which dates back to the early 1800s. The house was then expanded by Governor William Aiken Jr. and his wife, preserving much of the house’s original style. Visitors can access the slave quarters, the stable and the kitchens, as well as much of the home, with its original wallpaper, antique furnishings and gorgeous bronze chandeliers.
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6. Visit the Charleston City Market
What Pike Place Market is to Seattle, Charleston City Market is to the Holy City. Sure, it can be a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s authentic and charming enough to help you see past that. At one of the oldest public markets in the nation, locals and visitors browse more than 300 stalls with handwoven sweetgrass baskets and other handicrafts, leather goods, clothes and toys. You can grab a quick bite here, too, with offerings like shrimp and grits, bourbon-glazed shrimp and lobster hushpuppies. The surrounding neighborhood offers plenty of great places to eat, specialty shops and upscale hotels.
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7. Ferry to Fort Sumter
Take the ferry to historic Fort Sumter National Monument on an island in Charleston Harbor. You may know it from history lessons as the site of the first shot of the Civil War, in 1861. As you walk about the grounds, you’ll see stone caverns, Civil War-era cannons and a small history museum. Ranger talks are held daily. Ferries depart from Liberty Square Visitor Education Center and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
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8. Explore the Charleston Museum
Dating back to 1773, it is said that the Charleston Museum is the country’s first. Insightful exhibits focus on the South Carolina low country, giving you background on the area, its natural history, its Civil War significance, its silver mining and more. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer heat and see artifacts from as far back as the Revolutionary War. Consider purchasing a combo ticket with admission to the Joseph Manigault House. The home, which was built in 1803, is now a museum dedicated to the lives of the wealthy family and enslaved African-Americans who lived there. You can also visit the Heyward-Washington House, home to Thomas Heyward Jr., who was one of the four South Carolinian signers of the Declaration of Independence.
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9. Marvel at The Nathaniel Russell House Museum
Architecture and history buffs won’t want to miss The Nathaniel Russell House Museum, conveniently located near The Battery. Russell was a wealthy Southern merchant, who built the home at the turn of the 19th century. You’ll be impressed by the huge spiral staircase, detailed and impeccably restored furnishings and beautifully landscaped gardens. This is a peek into the genteel side of Southern comfort.
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10. Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
A romantic and fun way to experience more than 300 years of history, a guided carriage ride of Charleston takes you past mansions, churches and gardens. You’ll be led by Belgian and Percheron draft horses and guided by a Charleston history expert, who will regale you with tales as you cover approximately 30 blocks of historic Charleston.
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11. Visit one of America’s Most Beautiful Gardens
The award-winning Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a must for green thumbs and garden lovers. The plantation was founded in 1676 and has survived the centuries, through the American Revolution to the Civil War and into today. It’s the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public gardens in the country. View thousands of flowers and plants, tour the Drayton family home, ride the nature tram through the plantation’s wetlands, lakes, forests and marshes and walk along the boardwalks of the unique Audubon Swamp Garden.

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