Charleston Sights

Everyone starts a tour of Charleston in downtown's famous Historic District. Roughly bounded by Lockwood Boulevard on the Ashley River to the west, Calhoun Street to the north, East Bay Street on the Cooper River to the east, and the Battery to the south, this fairly compact area of 800 acres contains nearly 2,000 historic homes and buildings. The peninsula is divided up into several neighborhoods,

starting from the south and moving north, including the Battery, South of Broad, Lower King Street, and Upper King Street ending near the "Crosstown," where U.S. 17 connects downtown to Mount Pleasant and West Ashley.

You'll see no skyscrapers in the downtown area, because building heights are strictly regulated to maintain the city's historic setting. In the 1970s, most department stores decamped for suburban malls, turning King Street buildings into rows of (architecturally significant) empty shells. Soon, preservation-conscious groups began to save these beauties, and by the mid-1980s the shopping district was revived with the addition of the Omni Hotel (now Belmond Charleston Place). Big-name retailers quickly saw the opportunity in this attractive city and settled in as well. Lower King thrives and Upper King is booming, with many new businesses—hip bars and restaurants in particular—targeting the city's young, socially active population. Look up at the old-timey tile work at the entrances; inevitably it will have the names of the original businesses.

Beyond downtown, the Ashley River hugs the west side of the peninsula; the region on the far shore is called West Ashley. The Cooper River runs along the east side of the peninsula, with Mount Pleasant on the opposite side and Charleston Harbor in between. Lastly, there are outlying sea islands: James Island with its Folly Beach, John's Island, Wadmalaw Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Isle of Palms, and Sullivan's Island. Each has its own appealing attractions, though John’s and Wadmalaw have farms instead of beaches. Everything that entails crossing the bridges is best explored by car or bus.

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Fodor's Choice

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North of Broad 22

Mount Pleasant and Vicinity 8

South of Broad 8

West of the Ashley River 5

Edisto Island 4

Moncks Corner 4

Walterboro 3

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Arts/ Performance Venue 1

Beach–Sight 8

Building/ Architectural Site 2

Cemetery 2

Educational Institution 1

Forest 1

Garden/ Arboretum 3

Government Building 1

Historic District/ Site 4

Hotel–Sight 1

House/ Mansion/ Villa 8

Information Center 2

Local Interest–Sight 1

Market/ Bazaar 1

Military Site 5

Museum/ Gallery 9

Nature Preserve/ Wildlife Refuge 1

Nautical Site/ Lighthouse 1

Neighborhood/ Street 1

Park (National/ State/ Provincial) 3

Park/ Playground 5

Promenade/ Boardwalk 1

Religious Building/ Site/ Shrine 5

Store/ Shop/ Mall 1

Winery/ Brewery/ Distillery 1

Zoo/ Aquarium 2

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Family 21

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Charleston Sights

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Aiken-Rhett House Museum

  • Museum/Gallery

One of Charleston's most stately mansions, built in 1820 and virtually unaltered since 1858, has been preserved rather than restored,...

Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

  • Museum/Gallery

Part of the College of Charleston, this museum and archive was once a school for African Americans, training students for professional...

Charleston Museum

  • Museum/Gallery

Although housed in a modern-day brick complex, this institution was founded in 1773 and is the country's oldest museum. To the delight...

Charleston Visitor Center

  • Information Center

A 20-minute film called Forever Charleston makes a fine introduction to the city. The first 30 minutes are free at the center's parking...

Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

  • Museum/Gallery

Hands-on interactive environments at this top-notch museum will keep kids—from babies on up to age 10—occupied for hours. They can...

Circular Congregational Church

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

The first church building erected on this site in the 1680s gave bustling Meeting Street its name. The present-day Romanesque structure,...

City Market

  • Market/Bazaar

Most of the buildings that make up this popular attraction were constructed between 1804 and the 1830s to serve as the city's meat, fish,...

College of Charleston

  • Educational Institution

With a majestic Greek revival portico, Randolph Hall—an 1828 building designed by Philadelphia architect William Strickland—presides...

Dock Street Theatre

  • Arts/Performance Venue

Incorporating the remains of the Old Planter's Hotel (circa 1809), this theater is hung with green velvet curtains and has wonderful...

Fort Sumter National Monument

  • Military Site

Set on a man-made island in Charleston's harbor, this is the hallowed spot where the Civil War began. On April 12, 1861, the first shot...

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