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. Aiken-Rhett House Museum

    Upper King | Historic Home

    A prime example of the wealth derived from chattel slavery, the Aiken-Rhett House is considered one of the best preserved town-house complexes...Read More

  • 2. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site

    Historic District/Site

    The town of Dorchester boomed during the 18th century before being abandoned at the onset of the Revolutionary War. All that remains of this...Read More

  • 3. McLeod Plantation Historic Site

    Historic District/Site

    Directly across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston, on James Island, this 37-acre site is the only former plantation in the area where...Read More

  • 4. Middleton Place

    West Ashley | Historic District/Site

    Established in the 1730s, Middleton Place was at the center of the Middleton family’s empire of rice plantations, where they enslaved 3,500...Read More

  • 5. Sullivan's Island


    The pristine Sullivan's Island beachfront is owned by the town, including 200 acres of walkable maritime forest overseen by the Lowcountry Open...Read More

  • 6. The Battery

    South of Broad | City Park

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

  • 7. Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens


    Celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively have publicly distanced themselves from their 2012 wedding here at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens...Read More

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  • 8. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site


    This remnant of Charles Pinckney's 715-acre birthplace was winnowed down by development, but today the National Park Service uses archaeological...Read More

  • 9. College of Charleston

    College of Charleston Campus | Educational Institution

    A majestic Greek revival portico, Randolph Hall—an 1828 building designed by Philadelphia architect William Strickland and built by the labor...Read More

  • 10. Colleton Museum & Farmers Market


    This museum chronicles the history of this small Southern town, displaying everything from butter churns to the country's first anesthesia machine...Read More

  • 11. Dock Street Theatre

    Downtown Historic District | Arts/Performance Venue

    The original Dock Street, built in 1736, was the first theater building in America. The current structure, reopened in 1935, incorporates the...Read More

  • 12. Drayton Hall

    West Ashley | Historic District/Site

    The only plantation house on the Ashley River to have survived the Civil War intact, Drayton Hall is considered the nation's finest example...Read More

  • 13. Edmondston-Alston House

    South of Broad | Historic Home

    In 1825, Charles Edmondston designed this house in the Federal style on Charleston's High Battery; it was built by the labor of enslaved people...Read More

  • 14. Joseph Manigault House

    Upper King | Historic Home

    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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  • 15. Magnolia Cemetery

    North Morrison | Cemetery

    Ancient oak trees drip Spanish moss over funerary sculptures and magnificent mausoleums in this cemetery on the Cooper River. It opened in 1850...Read More

  • 16. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

    West Ashley | Historic District/Site

    Beautiful Magnolia Plantation is home to the oldest public garden in the country, a sprawling estate created entirely by the labor of enslaved...Read More

  • 17. Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

    South of Broad | Museum/Gallery

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

  • 18. Old Village


    The historic center of Mount Pleasant, this neighborhood is distinguished by white picket fences, storybook cottages, traditional homes with...Read More

  • 19. Powder Magazine

    Downtown Historic District | Museum/Gallery

    Completed in 1713, the oldest public building in South Carolina is one of the few that remain from the time of the Lords Proprietors. The city...Read More

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