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. Aiken-Rhett House Museum

    Upper King | House/Mansion/Villa

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

  • 2. Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

    Garden/Arboretum

    A drive through a ½-mile-long live-oak alley draped in Spanish moss introduces you to this still-functioning plantation, the oldest of its kind...Read More

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  • 3. Charles Towne Landing

    Park (National/State/Provincial)

    There's plenty to see and do in this park marking the original 1670 settlement of Charles Towne, the first permanent European settlement in...Read More

  • 4. 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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  • 5. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

    West Ashley | Garden/Arboretum

    Sprawling, beautiful Magnolia Plantation was established in the 1670s by Thomas Drayton after he moved from Barbados. The extensive garden—the...Read More

  • 6. Middleton Place

    West Ashley | Garden/Arboretum

    Established in the 1730s, Middleton Place was at the center of the Middleton family’s empire of rice plantations, which consisted of 63,000...Read More

  • 7. 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

  • 8. Sullivan's Island Beach

    Beach–Sight

    This is one of the most pristine beaches in the Charleston area. The beachfront is owned by the town, including 200 acres of walkable maritime...Read More

  • 9. The Battery

    South of Broad | Park/Playground

    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

  • 10. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

    Museum/Gallery

    This site includes the last 28 acres of the plantation owned by Charles Pinckney, a drafter and signer of the U.S. Constitution. You can tour...Read More

  • 11. 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—presides over the college...Read More

  • 12. Colleton Museum & Farmers Market

    Museum/Gallery

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

  • 13. Dock Street Theatre

    Broad Street | Arts/Performance Venue

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

  • 14. Drayton Hall

    West Ashley | House/Mansion/Villa

    Considered the nation's finest example of Palladian-inspired architecture, Drayton Hall is the only plantation house on the Ashley River to...Read More

  • 15. 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

  • 16. Fort Moultrie

    Museum/Gallery

    A part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, this is the site where Colonel William Moultrie's South Carolinians repelled a British assault...Read More

  • 17. French Protestant (Huguenot) Church

    Market | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The circa-1845 Gothic-style church is home to the nation's only practicing Huguenot congregation. English-language services are held Sunday...Read More

  • 18. Heyward-Washington House

    South of Broad | 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 city...Read More

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  • 19. 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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  • 20. 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

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