People gravitate to Charleston for a lot of reasons: its buzzing restaurants and bars, eclectic art and style scenes, its utter curb appeal, proximity to the water, its rich history, its southern charm. We’ve combined them all to compile our list of the top activities and spots to hit when you’re there. Info source: cntraveler.com.
Spanning old, new, buzzing, and surprising, we’ve got all the essential steps that will ensure you remember your trip to the Lowcountry and have plenty to bring home from it as well. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Nathaniel Russell House
It was the kitchen house investigation, and the artifacts discovered in the walls relating to the enslaved, that made the most profound impact on our tour – not the free-flying cantilevered staircase, elaborate trompe l’oeil decorative details, or lavish furnishings and textiles in the main house (although they are indeed stunning).
Though our guide mentioned Russell’s involvement in the slave trade, the African-American story is less tangible in the main house. It isn’t until the end of the tour when you are led into a small chamber above the kitchen house when it really hits home: the people who lived cheek-by-jowl in this tiny room were the reason any of the rest of this could exist.
The ceilings are low and suffocating, and the room is bare except for original plaster walls discovered behind 20th-century drywall. Our guide explained that this room, unlike the main house, retains its original finishes. The limewash is original – likely mixed and applied by hands of the same people who slept here. It is a sobering and powerful conclusion to the tour, and not something easy to forget. This place is ground zero for preservation and craftsmanship nerds (and I mean that as a compliment) – no time, expense, or energy has been spared in returning the interiors of this Adamesque townhouse to its 1808 appearance.
Charleston Farmers Market
Every Saturday, from April through December, Marion Square springs to life with little tents lining its northern and western pathways. As the name suggests, this is a real farmer’s market: In-the-know locals head here for the freshest in produce.
That said, we know you didn’t come to Charleston to cook for yourself, so chances are, you’ll walk straight by the bundles of asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, turmeric roots, and turnips in search of keepsakes that will fit into your suitcase. If that’s the case, you’re in luck.
Charleston Music Hall
Give us the big picture: What’s the vibe of the place, what’s it like? Originally built as a passenger train depot in the decade before the Civil War, this Gothic Revival building now lives on as one of the most eclectic, and hyper-local entertainment venues in the Lowcountry. It’s not shiny and new with lots of slick glass and acoustic panels, but has a feel of being “well-loved” and well-attended, as crowds swell on its John Street steps almost every night waiting to get checked in for the evening show.
High Wire Distilling
Charleston has its fair share of distilleries, but High Wire stands out for a few reasons: (1) it is the first distillery in downtown Charleston since Prohibition; (2) it sources distinctive southern-grown grains, fresh herbs, heirloom corns, and other custom crops for signature spirits; (3) everything is small-batched and experimental, yielding many different types of liquor; and (4) husband-and-wife co-owners Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall have a background in the baking business, so their approach is culinary. They place emphasis on terroir and agriculture and have been twice nominated for James Beard Awards. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet Sophie, the couple’s sweet lab.
The Charleston Museum
As museums go, there’s nothing stuffy or old-school about this one. The formidable modern structure encircles a restful inner courtyard and a great retreat from summer’s heat. In the two-story lobby, a suspended whale who swam into the harbor in 1880 hangs from the ceiling. This museum has been building its collection, with few interruptions, since 1773. Tourists often wander in and swing through it, and amazingly enough, some locals are just discovering it.