Charleston

Bounded by the Ashley River to the west, the Cooper River to the east, the Battery to the south, and Calhoun Street to the north, the city's historic heart is a fairly compact area of 800 acres that 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, the Market area, 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, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Isle of Palms, and Sullivan's Island. Each has its own appealing attractions, though Johns and Wadmalaw have farms instead of beaches. Everything that entails crossing the bridges is best explored by car or bus.

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  • 1. Fort Sumter National Monument

    Archaeological Site/Ruins

    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 of the...Read More

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  • 2. Nathaniel Russell House Museum

    South of Broad | House/Mansion/Villa

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

  • 3. South Carolina Aquarium

    Ansonborough | Zoo/Aquarium

    Get up close and personal with more than 5,000 creatures at this waterfront attraction, where exhibits invite you to journey through distinctive...Read More

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  • 4. Charleston Museum

    Upper King | Museum/Gallery

    Although housed in a modern-day brick complex, this institution was founded in 1773 and is the country's oldest museum. The collection is especially...Read More

  • 5. Charleston Visitor Center

    Upper King | Transportation Site (Airport, Bus, Ferry, Train)

    Exhibits about Lowcountry culture and a 36-minute film called Forever Charleston make a fine introduction to the city. The first 30 minutes...Read More

  • 6. Edmondston-Alston House

    South of Broad | House/Mansion/Villa

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

  • 7. Joseph Manigault House

    Upper King | House/Mansion/Villa

    An extraordinary example of Federal architecture, this 1803 residence and National Historic Landmark reflects the urban lifestyle of a well...Read More

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  • 8. Old Slave Mart Museum

    Market | Museum/Gallery

    This is thought to be the state's only extant building that was used for slave auctioning, a practice that ended here in 1863. It was once part...Read More

  • 9. St. Philip's Church

    Market | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Founded around 1680, St. Philip's didn't move to its current site until the 1720s, becoming one of the three churches that gave Church Street...Read More

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