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

Area

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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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Battery

  • Promenade/Boardwalk

During the Civil War, the Confederate army mounted cannons in the Battery, at the southernmost point of Charleston's peninsula, to fortify...

City Hall

  • Government Building

The intersection of Meeting and Broad streets is known as the Four Corners of Law, representing the laws of nation, state, city, and...

Edmondston-Alston House

  • Museum/Gallery

In 1825, Charles Edmondston built this house in the Federal style on Charleston's High Battery. About 13 years later, second owner Charles...

Heyward-Washington House

  • House/Mansion/Villa

This Georgian-style double house was the town home of Thomas Heyward, patriot leader and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The...

Magnolia Cemetery

  • Cemetery

Ancient oak trees drip Spanish moss over funerary sculptures and magnificent mausoleums in this cemetery on the Cooper River. It opened...

Nathaniel Russell House Museum

  • House/Mansion/Villa

One of the nation's finest examples of Federal-style architecture, the Nathaniel Russell House was built in 1808 and is restored to a...

Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon

  • Historic District/Site

Built as a customs house in 1771, this building once served as the commercial and social center of Charleston. It was the site of many...

St. Michael's Church

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Topped by a 186-foot steeple, St. Michael's is the city's oldest surviving church. The first cornerstone was set in place in 1752 and,...

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