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. Gibbes Museum of Art

    Market | Museum/Gallery

    Housed in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building, this museum boasts a collection of 10,000 works, principally American with a local connection. An...Read More

  • 4. 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

  • 5. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    Climb aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier—which contains the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum—as well as the destroyer USS Laffey...Read More

  • 6. Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

    College of Charleston Campus | Museum/Gallery

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

  • 7. 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

  • 8. 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

  • 9. Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

    Upper King | Museum/Gallery

    Hands-on interactive exhibits at this top-notch museum will keep kids—from infants to 10-year-old children—occupied for hours. They can climb...Read More

  • 10. City Hall

    North of Broad | 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 church...Read More

  • 11. 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

  • 12. 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

  • 13. 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

  • 14. 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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  • 15. Market Hall

    Market | Building/Architectural Site

    Built in 1841, this imposing landmark was modeled after the Temple of Wingless Victory in Athens. While City Market vendors occupy the ground...Read More

  • 16. Old Exchange Building 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. It was the site of many historic...Read More

  • 17. 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

  • 18. Powder Magazine

    Market | Museum/Gallery

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

  • 19. South Carolina Artisans Center

    Store/Shop/Mall

    This lovely center is a showcase for more than 250 South Carolina artists. Look for jewelry, sculptures, glass, woodwork, and more. The loomed...Read More

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