Headed to South Carolina and looking for the perfect long weekend in Charleston itinerary?! I promise you, after spending 3 days in Charleston, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to make it down here!
Sherbert colored houses on Rainbow Row. Sweet tea and smothering hot biscuits. Charming cobblestone streets with quaint architecture. That glorious Southern hospitality and mild, pleasant weather. Oh, and you can’t forget about all that Lowcountry Cuisine with its distinctly southern flavors.
If that sounds like your kinda fun, you’ll wanna plan your 3-day Charleston weekend getaway right away!
As soon as I stepped foot in the city (and wiped the sweat off my forehead…), I just knew I was gonna love Charleston. It’s such a charming and walkable coastal city, with an eclectic art scene, tons of yummy southern food, and that iconic Pineapple Fountain.
It was my first time in South Carolina – a new state for me, and I’m itching to go back ASAP. There’s evening ghost tours, gorgeous coastal views, stunning antebellum architecture, and lush, tree-lined streets. My kinda place!
The epitome of good ole Southern charm and charisma, albeit with a pretty tumultuous past (the city was built by slaves after all).
My parents recently moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, so when I visited them, I extended my trip and we spent a wonderful long weekend in Charleston together! Anyone else love traveling with their parents?! I’m lucky that mine are down for almost anything (and don’t mind me stopping every 5 minutes for a photo, haha).
It took me quite a while to make it over to the Deep South, but my first weekend in Charleston definitely won’t be my last!
Weekend in Charleston Logistics
Where is Charleston and How to Get There
Charleston is a coastal city in South Carolina. And yes, that’s considered the Deep South. Not many know this, but the city actually sits on a peninsula (just like San Francisco). Meaning, views everywhere! It’s bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Ashley and Cooper Rivers to the west.
Also, it’s kinda smack dab between Savannah, Georgia and the ever-so-popular spring-break hangout Myrtle Beach.
Charleston County encompasses a whole bunch of different areas, barrier islands, and resorts, like Kiawah Island, Adams Run, Folly Beach, and Sullivan’s Island. Note that this 3 day Charleston itinerary covers only the city of Charleston. FYI – If you’d like to explore the greater Charleston area, I’d give yourself an extra few days.
Flying to Charleston
When you fly into Charleston, you’ll be heading to Charleston International Airport (airport code CHS), the largest and busiest airport in South Carolina.
Thankfully, there’s direct flights from over 30 cities, although mostly from the East Coast and in the Upper Midwest and Texas. Unfortunately, there’s no nonstop flights from California, so if you’re coming from the West Coast like I was, you’ll need to make a stop. Promise you it’s worth the extra flying time!
For reference, my flight from Charleston to SFO made a quick stop in Atlanta, Georgia.
Once you get to CHS, you’ll need to make the 12 mile trek to downtown Charleston. You can plan to rent a car (all the major car rental companies operate out of CHS), take a taxi or ride-share ($20-50 based on traffic), or use a shuttle bus (a cheaper alternative for solo travelers).
There’s also public transportation, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (known as CARTA), which offers bus service directly from the airport to downtown Charleston. You’ll hop on CARTA’s Route 11 – Dorchester/Airport, which connects CHS to the Meeting Street Visitors Center in downtown Charleston.
Driving to Charleston
Charleston is easily accessible by car via Interstate 26, which connects the city with Columbia and Asheville to the north, and Savannah and Jacksonville to the south. If you’re driving from further away, you can connect to I-26 via other major highways such as I-95 or I-77.
Since I was visiting from my parents house in Wilmington, North Carolina, we simply stayed on Highway 17 South for about 3 hours. Here’s driving distances from other major nearby-ish spots.
- From Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: 100 miles (2 hours)
- From Savannah, Georgia: ~110 miles (2 hours)
- From Wilmington, North Carolina: ~175 miles (3 ½ hours)
- From Charlotte, North Carolina: ~200 miles (3 ½ hours)
- From Jacksonville, Florida: ~245 miles (3 ½ hours)
- From Atlanta, Georgia: ~300 miles (5 hours)
- From Tampa, Florida: ~450 miles (7 hours)
Prefer to travel to Charleston by public transport? No worries! Charleston is well-connected to other major cities in the US by both bus and train.
Greyhound Lines connect Charleston to a whole slew of different cities in the US, including New York City, Atlanta, and Charlotte. Amtrak provides train service to Charleston via the Palmetto and Silver Meteor routes. Note that The Charleston Amtrak station is located in North Charleston, about 10 miles from downtown Charleston.
I’m not sure if everyone knows this, but Charleston is actually a popular port of call for several cruise lines. You may see Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and/or Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ships during your weekend in Charleston!
Not visiting by cruise? I’d recommend checking the cruise schedule first and attempt to visit on a different day, haha. Cruises bring thousands of people into the (relatively small) city, making it feel extra crowded and cramped. Stay away, haha.
Do note that Carnival cruise ships will no longer start from Charleston by the end of 2024, but the city will remain a port of call.
How to Get Around Charleston
By foot: Many of the popular attractions you’ll wanna see during your weekend in Charleston are easily accessible by foot, including the popular historic district. No really, downtown Charleston is super walkable! That’s one reason I just loved the small city so much – nothing was too far away.
Walking is a great way to explore the city’s charming streets and historic landmarks, and earn a few scoops from Off Track Ice Cream (my favorite ice cream spot in Charleston)! Be careful as some sidewalks could use a little lovin’, and plenty others are primarily cobblestone (primarily in the French Quarter and South of Broad).
Make sure to wear comfy shoes if you’re planning on walking a lot! But depending on when you visit, it may be just too hot and sticky to walk long distances, so plan on alternate means of transport (Uber or public transit).
Biking: Charleston is a great place to go for a long bike ride – it’s pretty flat, the pace is slow, and it’s pretty easy to navigate. You’ll see plenty of fat tire beach cruiser bikes here, meaning rides will be slow and casual. Everyone rides bikes here – no matter their age or income.
Do note many of Charleston’s streets are not well lit at night, so you’ll need a front white light installed on your bike (which is legally required). Holy Spokes is Charleston’s most popular bike share, whereas Spinlister is kinda like the Airbnb of bikes.
By Public Bus and Free Shuttle: Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) offers bus service throughout the city, including the historic district. Fares start at $2 per person.
Yes, Charleston operates a (completely) free shuttle bus, called the DASH Downtown Area Shuttle. It makes stops around the Historic District and lower Charleston peninsula daily (minus Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day).
The free shuttles loop around the city on three separate routes; most visitors will primarily use the Green Line (Route 211) stopping within the historic district.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all major cities provided free transport to its visitors (oh how I wish San Francisco would do such a thing – our public transport is totally lacking)!
Since we were staying a bit outside of downtown, we decided to park at the Visitor’s Center one morning and take the DASH to our first stop. Much easier than moving the car around all day and worrying about parking!
By Car: If you’re just planning to explore downtown Charleston and its historic district, you honestly don’t need a car. I’d only really recommend it if you’re planning to explore areas outside the city itself. Most of the city is pretty walkable, and there’s also public transit and Uber within the downtown area. Plus, street parking can be pretty hard to find, and hotel parking can get rather expensive.
And don’t worry – if you wanna visit a plantation (which you totally should), plenty of plantation tours include round-trip transportation from downtown Charleston.
Horse Carriage Tours: After wandering around Charleston for 3 days, you’ll undoubtedly come across horse-drawn carriages on the streets. While these are a popular way to explore Charleston’s antebellum-era streets, I strongly urge you to skip these rides.
The poor animals pull over a dozen people at a time, sometimes in extreme heat and humidity. Plan to walk or bike instead.
When to Visit Charleston
Is there really a bad time to visit Charleston? Kinda, but not really! Charleston’s balmy southern subtropical climate consists of mild winters and humid, hot summers. The spring and fall seasons in Charleston are relatively short but pleasant – this is the best time to come!
Spring and Fall: Peak Tourist Seasons (March to May and September to November)
Spring and fall are by far the most popular times to visit Charleston. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the mid-80s (Fahrenheit). Thankfully the summer heat has either died down or not arrived yet, and kids are busy in school! Perfect.
Plus, all the flowers are blooming in spring (ohhh the azaleas), there’s tons of farmers’ markets in fall, and there’s plenty of festivals and events (like the ever-so-popular Charleston Wine + Food Festival and Charleston Fashion Week).
Summer: Shoulder Season (June to August)
It’s kinda weird, summer in Charleston is considered shoulder season, although I’d choose winter over summer anyday!
Whatever you do, I’d avoid spending your weekend in Charleston during the summer. Temps will be sweltering hot (with highs easily into the mid 90s), and it’ll be humid beyond belief. You’ll definitely wanna include some time at the beach (to cool off!) if you’re planning your long weekend in Charleston during the sticky and sweaty summer months.
If you’re not used to the heat, it’ll probably be too hot to walk around comfortably for an extended period of time. Keep that in mind and make sure you stay hydrated.
For reference, we visited Charleston at the very beginning of June, and almost melted from the heat and humidity. We were longing to get inside to the blasting AC every few minutes! Yes, I’m still glad we visited, but next time I’m definitely gonna avoid summer.
*Do note that hurricane season officially begins on June 1, and lasts until November. While hurricanes are not prone to hit the city directly, you’ll need to be flexible if you book during this time.
Winter: Low Season (December to February)
Charleston experiences a special charm come winter – the sticky summer is gone, the crowds thin out, and there’s fun holiday vibes and decorations around the city! You’ll also be able to find cheaper airfare and hotel rates during this time.
And honestly, Charleston hardly gets cold – with daytime temps hovering around 60°F, it’ll feel pretty warm compared to other parts of the country. Especially for those of you coming from the Northeast and Midwest!
Brief History of Charleston and its Tumultuous Past
We can’t talk about a fun weekend in Charleston without touching upon the city’s rich and fascinating history, and yes, that includes its tumultuous past.
The city was founded by English colonists in 1670 and quickly grew into a thriving port town thanks to its strategic location on the coast. Throughout the 18th century, Charleston became one of the wealthiest and most prosperous cities in the American colonies due to its trade in rice and indigo.
BUT, of course Charleston’s prosperity came at a cost. The city was built on the backs of enslaved Africans who were brought over to work on the plantations and in the city’s industries.
Charleston became the center of the South’s slave trade, and it’s estimated that over 40% of all enslaved Africans brought to the United States arrived through the port of Charleston.
If you want to learn more about this major slave trading port, I highly recommend you visit a nearby plantation.
During the American Revolution, Charleston played a significant role in the fight for independence. In the 19th century, Charleston continued to prosper, becoming a center for intellectual and cultural activity in the South. However, the city suffered significant damage during the American Civil War when it became a major target for Union forces.
Where to Stay in Charleston
Face it, if you’ve only got a weekend in Charleston (or at most 3 days), you wanna make sure you stay in a convenient location! The Charleston area is pretty large, and staying in downtown Charleston can be pretty pricey. Save some cash by visiting midweek, and during the winter off-season.
Historic District: If this is your first weekend in Charleston, I highly recommend staying in the Downtown Historic District. Why? It’s the heart of Charleston, and where you’ll find many of the city’s historic landmarks and attractions. The area offers tons of accommodation options, from cozy bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels in a variety of price points.
French Quarter: This is a charming neighborhood in one of the best parts of the historic district, known for its art galleries, boutiques, and delicious restaurants. And plus, many of the hotels and inns have great views of Charleston Harbor! In my opinion, it’s the most picturesque neighborhood in Charleston, only a few steps away from Rainbow Road and Tradd Street (two of my favorite streets in Charleston).
You won’t regret paying a bit more to stay where all the action is – plus you definitely won’t need a car at all as everything is easily within walking distance.
- The Spectator: Complimentary cocktails and top notch amenities. Get ready for a memorable weekend in the best possible space!
- Planters Inn: Historic hotel with 4-poster king size beds. Don’t leave without trying a slice of their famous coconut cake!
- Hotel Emeline: Upscale and chic, adorable and voyager-inspired. I low-key want to stay here next time – it looks so cute!
- French Quarter Inn: Champagne offered at check in. Meat & Cheese reception in the lobby each evening. Nighttime cookies and milk. Name a better hotel!
Marion Square: Not your first weekend in Charleston? Consider a stay in Marion Square – it’s still super close to all the best sites, and located on the main shopping street, King Street. Meaning there’s tons of great restaurants and shops to check out. Plus, it’s only a 20 minute walk or so to all the touristy spots.
- The Dewberry: Has such a gorgeous rooftop patio and you can even borrow an in-house car for a few hours. And those deep soaking tubs are reason enough to book!
- Hotel Bella Grace: With nearly 200 years of history and design forward guest rooms, this boutique hotel feels stylishly contemporary.
- Hotel Bennett: Refined elegance and gracious hospitality. This stunning hotel was named the No. 1 luxury hotel in the country. A great place for a special occasion, with the price tag to match.
Riverview Hotels: Looking to save some cash? Consider a stay across the Ashley River in the Riverview district. I really only recommend this area if you’re driving and will have access to a car for the duration of your stay. The Riverview District is only a 10 minute drive to downtown Charleston, and you’ll definitely pay less!
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Charleston Riverview: This is where we stayed and found it clean, safe, and with a great breakfast buffet every morning!
- Holiday Inn Charleston-Riverview, an IHG Hotel: The hotel has without a doubt one of the best views of Charleston! The rooftop Harborview Restaurant offers amazing views of the city, overlooking the Ashley River.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Charleston Riverview: Suites are equipped with full kitchens with room to eat, work, & dream. Plus, there’s a marina here, perfect for your morning walk.
You may see other Charleston blogs recommending a stay in Mount Pleasant (across the Cooper River), North Charleston (more modern and commercial), and Kiawah Island/Seabrook Island (great if you’re looking for a luxurious and secluded vacation).
While these would be great if you’re planning for more than 3 days in Charleston, I honestly wouldn’t recommend them if your main goal is to explore the city center. They’re too far in my opinion, and it’d be annoying to drive to downtown Charleston each and every day.
Is a long weekend in Charleston enough?
I think yes, a weekend in Charleston is the perfect amount of time!
Personally, I felt pretty satisfied with our 3 days in Charleston. It was the perfect amount of time to see the main attractions of the city, eat a bunch of biscuits and shrimp and grits, admire the colorful houses on Rainbow Row, watch sunset at The Battery, visit a nearby plantation, and even spend a few hours wandering down Tradd Street.
We hardly felt rushed – Charleston is a great spot for a quick weekend getaway.
If you wanna take a day trip or two (to maybe Fort Sumter, Beaufort, and/or even Savannah), plan 3 or 4 full days. Since it’s not a massive city, spending 5 days or longer is probably overkill if you’re not breaking up your trip with a relaxing stay on Kiawah Island or Folly Beach.
Other FAQs About Charleston
- Does Charleston have a beach? Downtown Charleston doesn’t have a beach per say, but due to the city’s location, there are plenty nearby! Check out Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms.
- Is Charleston an expensive city to visit? Kinda – staying downtown is definitely a pretty penny, especially if you wanna stay in a cute boutique hotel. It really varies depending on the time of year you visit. There’s plenty of high-end restaurants in the downtown area, but you’ll also find food trucks, casual restaurants, and local markets. Thankfully, many of the city’s best attractions are free – Rainbow Row, Tradd Street, Pineapple Fountain, Charleston City Market, and wandering around the French Quarter all cost nothing.
- What is considered the historic district of Charleston? I was a little confused about this, so thought you may be too! Technically, anything north of Broad Street is known as Charleston’s Historic District since it contains many of the attractions from the city’s antebellum days. This includes the French Quarter as well as everything else north of Broad.
- Southern Cuisine in Charleston: You’re in the deep south baby! Time to eat up! Charleston has some seriously delicious southern flavors, all rich and flavorful and downright scrumptious. The city’s culinary scene is world-renowned, with a mix of classic Southern dishes and innovative, modern cuisine. Think fried chicken, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, pralines, she-crab soup (the ultimate Charleston speciality), and biscuits and gravy. I’d also recommend trying a few Gullah dishes like okra soup, red rice, and sweet potato pie (from the Gullah people, descendants of enslaved Africans who lived in the Lowcountry region), which incorporates African, Caribbean, and Southern flavors.
- Do I need reservations at restaurants? Probably! Charleston has gotten increasingly popular over the years, so if there’s any restaurants you’ve got your eye on, it can’t hurt to make a reservation in advance (that goes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). There’s so many great foodie spots here! On one occasion we couldn’t figure out where to go for dinner because almost every single place was completely full. Don’t be us, haha.
- Charleston vs. Savannah? Honestly, I say visit both! Charleston is known for its picturesque streets, beautiful architecture, and rich history. Savannah is also a beautiful and historic city, with a charming historic district that features many 18th and 19th century buildings. I’m dying to visit Savannah to see the Spanish moss-draped oak trees!
Finally, what you came here for – the perfect long weekend in Charleston itinerary! Let’s get to it!
Psst: This Charleston itinerary assumes you have 2 or 3 full days in the city. Meaning you got here the night before and can start your first full day in the morning. You can probably squeeze everything in on Day 1 if you arrive in the AM, but depending on your travel style, you may feel kinda rushed.
Also, feel free to arrange the order of the days anyway you like. I strategically grouped together activities by location and such, but if you feel like rearranging, feel free! Nothing is too far away from each other, so if you’re feeling one thing over another, trust your intuition!
*Note: While many people visit Charleston for its pretty architecture and southern cuisine, I highly encourage you to visit a plantation during your 3 days in Charleston. It’s a great way to learn about Charleston’s tumultuous past and the Gullah people. It’s probably the best thing we did our entire stay.
Weekend in Charleston Day 1
Stop 1: Pineapple Fountain and Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Start the first day of your Charleston itinerary at Joe Riley Waterfront Park, with a coffee in hand of course (Harken Cafe and Bitty and Beau’s Coffee are both super cute and only a few minutes walk away)!
Joe Riley Waterfront Park is a large public park located on the Charleston Harbor, with beautiful views of the water and the city skyline. We loved walking along the paths, stopping to relax on the benches to take in our surroundings. Definitely walk out towards the water – we loved it so much we came back one night after dinner!
Within the park you’ll find the Pineapple Fountain – right in the middle actually! It’s become an iconic symbol of the city. The pineapple is the true symbol of hospitality, friendship, and welcome in the city, so the shape makes perfect sense! If you find yourself back here at night, stop by the Pineapple Fountain again! It’s especially beautiful at night when it’s illuminated.
Psst – Come early if you wanna get picture-perfect photos at the Pineapple Fountain – it gets extremely busy, especially in the hot summer heat. By the time we made it there plenty of families were hanging out with their little kiddos splashing around in the fountain. This made photos kinda difficult, haha. Did the best I could!
Stop 2: Rainbow Row
One of my favorite stops during our entire weekend in Charleston! Rainbow Row refers to the iconic row of 13 pastel-colored historic homes on East Bay Street, and they are just gorgeous! I was so excited to finally make it to Charleston to see Rainbow Row, so of course I made sure to include it on the first day of our trip! Any instagrammers dream come true!
The shutters are oh so charming, the greenery is perfectly shaped, and the buildings are the perfect shades of muted pastel — quintessential Charleston architecture at its finest!
A little background, because I thought the history’s pretty interesting: The houses were built in the 18th-century and were originally used as commercial buildings, with the first floor being used for shops and the upper floors used as residences. However, naturally over time, the buildings became rundown. Thankfully, Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased them in the 1920s and 1930s, and decided to renovate and paint them. In PASTEL COLORS! Leave it to a woman to beautify the area!
Nowadays, Rainbow Row is the most photographed area of Charleston – I mean just look at them! Makes complete sense. Thankfully city ordinances are in place to keep their pastel colors intact. Visit in the AM in order to photograph the houses without hordes of people!
Note that the houses are privately owned and are not open to the public. While you can admire the beautiful architecture and take photos from the sidewalk, please be super respectful and remember that people live here (just like the houses on Lombard Street in San Francisco).
Stop 3: South of Broad Area and Tradd Street
Up next – wandering around the South of Broad area (to find all the pretty houses on Tradd Street of course)!
Tradd Street is one of the oldest and most historic streets in Charleston, full of beautiful architecture, well-preserved buildings, manicured gardens, and charming character. The street was originally named after Robert Tradd, a wealthy landowner who owned much of the land in the area during the 18th century.
The cobblestoned street was once home to some of Charleston’s most prominent families, and many of the historic homes and buildings that line the street today date back to the early 19th century. Whoa! Guess there’s a reason most of the houses are grand with beautiful gardens, ironwork, and other decorative details. Look out for the iconic pineapples that adorn some of them – we loved finding them!
Despite the fact that we were dripping with sweat from head to toe (it was brutally hot and humid out), we LOVED Tradd Street and all its charming architecture. I could have spent HOURS walking the historic street and side streets, finding colorful doors to photograph and admire. I honestly don’t remember all of the houses we saw/photographed, but luckily I saved a few addresses:
- 126 Tradd
- 58 Meeting Street
- 40 Tradd
- 75 E Bay Street
You can also use my secret method for figuring out exact addresses like I explained in my Palm Springs door tour post!
Regardless, you’ll find a whole bunch of photo worthy spots on your walk. I swear the entire area is absolutely gorgeous and leafy green. Putting my camera down was so hard!
Tradd Street is a little over a mile long, so if it’s ridiculously sweltering out, you can easily walk a few minutes and turn around. Many homes and buildings on Tradd Street (and actually all of the Historic District) have plaques with information about the year they were built and any notable people who lived in them/what the building was used for. Definitely keep an eye out while exploring. We found this so interesting!
South of Broad Street you’ll also find plenty of picturesque alleyways (like Stoll’s Alley), other charming streets (notably Church Street, S Adgers Wharf, and Elliot Street with even more charming Charleston homes), the impressive Shamrock Garden, an antique map store (Carolina Antique Maps and Prints), and the iconic Pineapple House (at 14 Legare St). I low key wanna move here – don’t tell my husband!
Stop 4: Afternoon Options!
It’s choice time! Depending on how long you spent exploring Tradd Street and how hungry you are, you may have time for two of these activities!
Option 1: Harbor Boat Tour
What better way to escape the city and admire Charleston from the water?! We took this exact 90 minute historic Charleston Harbor Tour on the historic “Carolina Belle”.
It was a great way to relax after a busy morning of wandering around in the heat. We saw Fort Sumter from afar, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, and looked for dolphins and pelicans splashing nearby.
Such a great hour and a half on the water, especially being on the old-fashioned 1920s-Bay-Steamer-replica yacht!
If you’re looking for something a bit more thrilling, consider signing up for a 2-hour speedboat adventure! You get to drive your own speedboat (I promise it’s not as difficult as it sounds), all while listening to a live narration from your tour guide. All you need is a valid driver’s license. Don’t worry, you’ll have two-way communication with a highly trained and professional guide. Juuuust in case anything happens!
You’ll speed past views of the Battery, USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, the downtown Charleston skyline, Waterfront Park, South Carolina Aquarium, and the cruise ship terminal.
Option 2: The Charleston Museum
We popped by The Charleston Museum one afternoon once we couldn’t stand the sweltering humidity anymore. While I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of general museums like this, I found it pretty fascinating and plenty of the exhibits intrigued me quite a bit. I learned so much about Charleston’s rich history, culture, and art, which helped me appreciate the city that much more.
The museum was founded in 1773, making it the oldest museum in the United States – how about that?! The total collection includes more than 35,000 artifacts – meaning you can really spend all afternoon here.
I especially loved the Lowcountry History Hall, which went through the history related to the Native Americans who first inhabited the South Carolina Lowcountry as well as the colonists and enslaved African Americans. The exhibit was done so well and I learned a ton about how the enslaved people transformed the region into an agricultural empire. The artifacts were mindblowing – including authentic copper slave badges (yes, actual badges that were worn by slaves working away from their masters), tools used in rice cultivation, and pottery handmade by the slaves.
Option 3: Aiken Rhett House Tour
No weekend in Charleston is complete without a historic house tour! If you’re interested in history, architecture, and interior design, don’t miss it. Or if you’re just nosy and wanna see what life was like for wealthy Charlestonians in the 19th century, this tour is for you, too, haha ← that’d be me!
The Aiken Rhett House was built in the early 19th century, and is considered one of the best-preserved antebellum townhouses in the city. On a house tour, you’ll see a whole bunch of rooms, including:
- Grand ballroom, featuring a stunning crystal chandelier and original gas lighting fixtures
- Dining room, the drawing room, and the family bedrooms, all of which have been carefully preserved and restored
- A visit to the slave quarters, which have been preserved to give visitors a sense of what life was like for the enslaved people who lived and worked on the property.
Regrettably we didn’t have time for a full house tour (we were getting hangry and had just been on a similar-ish house tour a few days earlier in Wilmington, North Carolina…), but we managed to sneak a quick peek at the exterior of the house.
Stop 5: Southern Country Dinner in the French Quarter
- SNOB: SNOB, or Slightly North of Broad, is a Charleston staple known for its upscale Southern cuisine and farm-to-table philosophy. We loved the menu – it featured tons of southern dishes like shrimp and grits to pork belly. Definitely make a reservation here – it’s crazy popular for a reason!
- Magnolias: Who’s up for some classic Lowcountry dishes?! Magnolia’s serves up contemporary Southern food like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits, as well as innovative dishes like duck confit egg rolls. Again, another Charleston foodie hotspot so plan to make a reservation ahead of time.
- Poogans Smokehouse: In the mood for some classic BBQ dishes like pulled pork and brisket, as well as Southern sides like collard greens and mac and cheese? Be sure to check out this casual barbecue joint.
- Pearlz Oyster Bar: This seafood restaurant specializes in fresh oysters from the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The menu features a variety of seafood dishes, from fried calamari to blackened catfish, as well as a wide selection of craft beers and cocktails, and of course southern fried oysters and tons of oyster shooters!
- Oak Steakhouse: Romantic date night anyone?! Oak Steakhouse is known for its high-quality cuts of beef and super elegant atmosphere. It’s a fine dining experience, so you’ll 100% need advance reservations.
- Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar: Right in the heart of the French Quarter you’ll find Fleet Landing, a seafood restaurant with stunning views of Charleston Harbor. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially for nights and weekends. Don’t leave without an order (or two!) of the deviled crab stuffed beignets and a slice of key lime pie – double yum! I wanna bring my husband here on my next weekend in Charleston!
Depending on when you’re visiting Charleston for the weekend, the sun might not set until after 9pm in the summer! Plan to eat dinner either before sunset or after, but don’t miss it! Strolling around The Battery at sunset was one of my favorite activities on our Charleston itinerary.
Stop 6: Sunset at The Battery
Near Charleston Harbor you’ll find the Battery, a public park located at the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula. And it’s absolutely stunning, especially as the sun begins to set. You get phenomenal views of the harbor, Fort Sumter, and the Ravenel Bridge.
As you’re walking, you’ll notice the water on one side, with elegant antebellum homes lining the other. Okay fine, they’re more like mansions, haha. Many of these homes have been preserved and restored to their original grandeur, including the Edmondston-Alston House, the Calhoun Mansion, and the William Ravenel House.
There’s even tours here! That’s how beautiful and significant these mansions overlooking the water are.
White Point Garden Park, intersecting with The Battery, features a seawall, a promenade, and several monuments and memorials. Including a row of cannon, which were used to defend the city during the Civil War.
Charleston Itinerary Day 2
Stop 1: Visit a Plantation
Hate to break it to you, but Charleston is a city that was mainly built by slaves. All those gorgeous historic homes you saw on the first day of your Charleston itinerary? Built by enslaved people.
Pay your respects by learning about their struggles first hand and understanding more about their lives – it’s the least we can do!
I highly recommend visiting a plantation (or two), but DO NOT VISIT SOLELY FOR THE PHOTO OP – yes, I’m screaming for a reason. This is just plain disrespectful. Visiting a plantation is a privilege; use your visit as a place to learn more about the tragedies that enslaved people suffered.
If you are planning to visit a plantation during your weekend in Charleston (which I really think you should!), here’s some tips to help make your trip more enjoyable:
- Respect the history and culture: Remember that the plantations you’re visiting have a rich and complicated history, and it’s important to be respectful of the people and events that shaped the region. Be mindful of any signs or markers indicating sensitive areas or events, and be respectful of any cultural or historical artifacts on display. I cannot stress this enough (my #1 tip!).
- Plan ahead: Research the plantations you want to visit and their opening hours, admission fees, and any special events or exhibits that may be happening during your visit. Some plantations require advance reservations or tickets, so it’s best to plan ahead and book in advance (plantations are one of the most popular things to do in Charleston, so I HIGHLY recommend you buy tickets beforehand so there’s no surprises).
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes: Plantations often have extensive grounds and gardens to explore, so comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended. Also, keep in mind that Charleston can be hot and humid during the summer months, so dress accordingly. And remember to be respectful – save your super-skimpy dress for another day.
- Wear sunscreen and insect repellent: The South can be buggy, especially where there’s lots of greenery (like at plantations!).
- Take a guided tour: Visiting a plantation is great, but having someone in the know give you lots of insider information is GOLD. Guided tours can be a great way to learn about the history and architecture of the plantations. Many plantations offer guided tours with knowledgeable guides who can answer questions and provide insights into the history of the area.
- Take your time and enjoy the scenery: The plantations outside of Charleston are known for their beautiful gardens and landscapes, so take your time to explore and appreciate the scenery. Don’t rush through your visit, but instead, take your time to fully appreciate the beauty and history of the area.
The plantations are located outside the city center of Charleston, meaning you’ll either need to drive or take a guided tour that includes transportation.
Not renting a car – don’t worry, there’s plenty of options that include round trip transport! I don’t recommend using rideshares – getting to the plantations may be easy, but you’ll probably have a hard time getting back to Charleston. One couple on our wagon tour couldn’t get a ride back for over 45 minutes, ultimately missing their dinner reservation! Imagine how stressful that would be!
Choosing which plantation to visit is hard, as they’re all super interesting and have spectacular grounds and gardens. Here’s the most popular two:
Boone Hall Plantation: We chose to visit Boone Hall Plantation, and I have to say this was a definite highlight during our entire weekend in Charleston itinerary. The grounds were spectacular and green (and even featured in the movie The Notebook!), and we learned a ton about life in the past. Anyone remember those scenes of the exterior of Allie’s family’s summer house – that’s here at Boone!
Founded in 1681, it’s one of the oldest continuously working plantations in the country and has been owned by the same family for over 300 years.
Here’s what to see and do at Boone Hall Plantation:
- Avenue of the Oaks: You’ll arrive at Boone Hall by the mile-long driveway lined with 88 giant oak trees covered in Spanish moss. These trees were planted in the late 1700s and are one of the most photographed features of the plantation. So gorgeous and serene, and gets me so excited to visit Savannah in the future!
- Historic Slave Cabins: These 9 slave cabins, built between 1790 and 1810, have been restored and are now used to educate visitors like us about the lives of enslaved people on the plantation. Each cabin has a different theme, and we learned about how black Americans worked and lived, struggles that they faced, their emancipation and fight for freedom, and finally their struggle for civil rights. So powerful – I highly recommend touring the slave cabins.
- “Exploring The Gullah Culture”: Your admission to Boone Hall also includes a Gullah tour that explores the culture and traditions of the Gullah people (descendants of enslaved Africans) in more depth. The tour is led by a local Gullah herself who shares stories and insights about the Gullah culture, including their African roots, their language, and their spiritual beliefs. We also got to listen to a few Gullah stories, songs, and dances which were powerful beyond words – super moving and emotional. A definite highlight.
- Historic House Tour: The main house of Boone Hall was built in the early 1800s and has been restored to its original condition. We took a guided tour of the house and learned about the history of the plantation and its former inhabitants.
- Plantation Tractor Tour: I thought this was gonna be cheesy but it was so much fun! We toured the plantation’s grounds (all 738 acres!) and learned about the history of rice cultivation in the region. Plus, we were able to check out the butterfly pavilion and a vegetable garden afterwards.
How to Get to Boone Hall Plantation: Located in Mount Pleasant, Boone is about a 25-30 minute drive from downtown Charleston. We drove here since we had a car (as we drove to Charleston from my parents’ new house in Wilmington).
If you don’t have your own transportation, you can sign up for this Boone Hall tour that includes all admission fees as well as round trip transport from Charleston.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: Located just outside of Charleston, Magnolia Plantation is one of the best additions to this Charleston weekend itinerary. It’s one of the oldest plantations in the South (founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and owned by them for 12 generations), and home to beautiful gardens and a grand, historic house filled with original furniture and china.
You could easily spend a few hours here – strolling through the large-scale romantic gardens, looking out for wildlife in the Audubon Swamp Garden, and visiting important spots like the Drayton Home, Orientation Theater, and the Old African American Cabin. There’s also wetlands, lakes, forests, and marshes to explore.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the “from Slavery to Freedom” tour – learning about the enslaved people should be one of the main reasons you’re visiting a plantation after all! Before Magnolia was a public garden, it was a working rice plantation. This tour honors and remembers the men, women, and children who designed, planted, and worked in the gardens, built and maintained the bridges, and labored in the house and the rice fields.
If we had time to visit another plantation, I’d have totally picked Magnolia’s for the garden alone! There’s tons of camellias, azaleas, and magnolias (hence the name!) on its 60 acres. Plus you can sometimes see alligators, turtles, herons, and other wildlife on the included tram ride.
How to get there: Magnolia Plantation is about a 35 minute drive northwest of Charleston, and there’s plenty of parking. If you don’t have access to a car, this half-day tour of Magnolia Plantation includes a 45-minute guided house tour, nature tour by tram, and transportation to and from downtown Charleston (from the visitor center).
Stop 2: French Quarter District
Next up on this 2 or 3 day Charleston itinerary – the French Quarter! We spent around 3-4 hours exploring the French Quarter, and absolutely loved it. The entire area feels so incredibly charming, with its cobblestone leafy streets, historic Georgian-style façades, and enchanting secret alleyways.
The district gets its name from the high concentration of French Huguenots that immigrated and lived in this area in the past.
The French Quarter is known to be the most romantic of all the districts in Charleston, and I can totally see why! I’d love to go for a stroll around here with Noah – it’s all so charming and just overall lovely.
If you’d like, you can either wander the historic district yourself, or take a historical walking tour (skip the horse and carriage ride). There’s even history and hops walking tours if you’re feeling a bit thirsty! And this combo tour includes a historic walking tour and entrance to a southern mansion. Basically, you’ve got lots to choose from!
If it’s bound to be exceptionally hot during your stay in Charleston, I’d seriously think about booking yourself on a bus tour instead. Heat stroke is no joke! This 90-minute Charleston bus tour gives you a great overview of the city and visits all the highlights. Plus, you’ll get to sit comfortably in AC! Score.
Here’s what not to miss in the French Quarter:
Charleston City Market: You’re probably pretty hungry by now, so it’s the perfect time for a visit to the market. This historic marketplace has dozens of vendors selling a variety of goods such as souvenirs, clothing, artwork, jewelry, and of course local items like sweetgrass baskets, benne wafers, and roasted pecans. Outside the market there’s tons of southern foodie specialties to try!
Inside the market there’s also Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits (try a few, they’re delicious) and Clerks Coffee Company. We enjoyed the market but found it pretty touristy and a lot of the vendors had very similar items. Plus it was beyond crowded, probably because everyone was trying to escape the heat!
Philadelphia Alley: This is a small cobblestone pedestrian street, and although it’s shorter than I realized, the alleyway is rich in history and has a unique character. We loved admiring the beautiful brick homes and lush greenery that lined the street.
The alley was named after the city of Philadelphia since many wealthy Charlestonians had connections to it in the 18th century. Even Edgar Allan Poe was said to have walked down this alleyway a whole bunch of times! Totally a hidden gem in the heart of the city, and a must during your weekend in Charleston!
Dock Street Theatre: This is one of the oldest theaters in the entire US, first built in 1736! It’s since been rebuilt and renovated several times over the centuries, and is now home to the Charleston Stage Company.
We went inside and the staff was so friendly – inviting us to go upstairs and look around the historic theater. It’s designed to replicate the style of an 18th-century theater with a beautiful Georgian-style façade. We especially loved the ornate interior, with its large chandelier, intricate moldings and plasterwork, and velvet curtains.
French Huguenot Church: Have you ever seen a pastel pink Gothic Revival church before?! It was built back in the 1800s, and it’s super beautiful – couples even take wedding photos here!
Probably the most gorgeous church I’ve ever seen. A great spot for some photos for sure, and right across the street from the Dock Street Theatre!
Old Slave Mart Museum: Yup, this museum is exactly what it sounds like – featuring exhibits and displays that explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade, the domestic slave trade in the United States, and the experiences of enslaved people in Charleston.
You’ll also learn about the harsh conditions of the slave market and how it impacted African Americans and their families. I found it super interesting that the museum is housed in an actual building that was once used as a slave market/auction in the mid-19th century.
I heard mixed reviews about the small museum (especially for the kinda steep price). Since we had already learned so much at Boone Hall and The Charleston Museum, we took a quick look inside then decided to move on. If you’re not visiting a plantation, I highly urge you to check out the Old Slave Mart Museum to get some context and important info on the city’s cultural history.
The Pink House Gallery on Chalmers Street: The Pink House Gallery was founded in 1944 by a group of local artists who wanted to promote the arts in Charleston. Today, it’s home to a diverse collection of art, including paintings, sculptures, pottery, and jewelry.
I have to be completely honest – I wanted to visit The Pink House because the exterior of the house is a charming pink color! I later learned the house dates back to the late 17th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Charleston! Pretty cool!
Stop 3: Dinner, Drinks, and Dessert on King Street
Phew – after all that exploring it’s finally time for a good, hearty meal! Head on over to King Street, the iconic shopping district in Charleston with tons of shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries. It’s divided into three sections: Upper King Street, Middle King Street, and Lower King Street.
We enjoyed strolling down Upper and Middle King, and found plenty of trendy boutiques, high-end restaurants, and chic bars. Here’s a few restaurants I had on my list!
- Husk: This restaurant is CRAZY popular, and it’s even located in a restored 19th-century mansion! The menus’ got a contemporary take on Southern cuisine, and they aim to use local, seasonal ingredients to create innovative dishes.
- FIG: FIG (Food is Good) is a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that offers a daily changing menu featuring fresh seafood and local produce. The restaurant has won several awards, so you know it’s gonna be good.
- The Ordinary: A seafood-focused restaurant located in a beautifully restored bank building. The menu features a variety of fresh seafood dishes, including oysters, crudo, and ceviche.
- Maya: We decided to eat at Maya on a whim after realizing we totally needed a reservation at most of the other restaurants. Thankfully, we got lucky and Maya was absolutely delicious! Chic yet cozy feel. Definitely order a marg or two – they’re great here!
And here’s a few dessert spots to check out on/near King (either before or after dinner…):
- Off Track Ice Cream: Small-batched high-quality ice cream using locally sourced ingredients! We loved this spot so much we came two nights in a row! And it’s super quirky, actually located in a former gas station, which has been recently renovated into a happy and colorful space.
- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: Ice cream at its finest! I’ve had Jeni’s before in Nashville, so I knew it was gonna be good. With flavors like salted peanut butter chocolate flecks, brambleberry crisp, and skillet cinnamon roll, I had the hardest time choosing what flavor to get!
- Sugar Bakeshop: We LOVED this quaint little bakery right off King. All the desserts are homemade from scratch daily, and there’s a whole bunch to pick from. Our cupcakes were divine and the outdoor patio is just too cute. We admittedly indulged before dinner, haha.
Stop 4: Charleston Nightlife!
If you’re up for more exploring, why not check out some unique Charleston nightlife activities?! There’s secret speakeasies to find, ghost stories to hear, and graveyards and tombstones to inspect.
Here’s a few recommended options for those not ready to head to sleep just yet… (which all got great reviews by the way!):
Speakeasy Pub Crawl: If you’re up for a combination history tour and bar crawl, sign up for this Speakeasy Sagas Prohibition Pub Crawl! You’ll hear interesting and wacky, outlandish stories from the 1920s – all while visiting some of the best bars and cocktail lounges and tasting some of the best cocktails in town. Plus discover the fascinating history of Charleston during the Prohibition era.
Dark Side of Charleston: Charleston has long been a place where high society life is shadowed by scandals, temptations, and unruly behavior. Listen as your guide shares the side of the city that is not talked about often. Take a walk on the dark side of Charleston on an exclusive and uncensored 1.5-hour walking tour through the streets of the Holy City. Learn about its complicated history of brothels, prostitutes, corruption, crime, scandal, and sordid affairs. Probably not the best tour for kiddos… just saying! Read reviews and sign up here.
Charleston Ghost Tour: Charleston is well-known for its rich history and charming architecture. However, it’s also known for its ghostly past – why not listen to spooky stories and hear about paranormal activity?! There are a whole bunch of ghost tours in Charleston that you can take to learn about the city’s haunted history. Whether you’re a believer in the paranormal or just enjoy a good ghost story, you’ll find these ghost tours entertaining and quite spooky. Fun for adults but may be a bit too scary for young kids. Here’s a few popular ones:
- Ghost and Dungeon Tour: Walk through the dark and eerie tunnels beneath the historic Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. During the tour, you’ll learn about the dungeon’s grisly past (it’s where prisoners were kept!) and the ghosts that are said to linger there. You’ll also visit a local graveyard and snap pictures hoping to catch an apparition. Spooky stuff!
- Supernatural 90-Minute Ghost Tour: Discover the heart of Charleston’s darker history and documented hauntings. The tour’s even led by a best-selling local Charleston paranormal author Geordie Buxton! Get thoroughly spooked as he tells of a series of mysterious hauntings – from orphan poltergeists to a lost cadet inside the old citadel to an angelic reverend, and many more!
- 90-Minute Ghost & Graveyard Walking Tour: Learn about the history of Charleston’s graveyards and hear the stories of the famous individuals who found their final resting place in the Holy City. Explore the dark corners of these graveyards and closely inspect the headstones to see what you might learn. Hint – it’s not what you expect!
Charleston Weekend Getaway Day 3
Have an extra day on your Charleston itinerary?! Lucky you! There’s plenty more to see! I’m giving you a bunch of activities, which you can mix and match to create your perfect last day in Charleston!
Interested in American history? You’ve got to visit Fort Sumter – it’s a historic site that played a significant role in the American Civil War. The fort is actually where America’s deadliest war began – kinda crazy to think about.
Since it’s situated on an island in Charleston Harbor, it can only be reached by boat of course (book here)! This means you get to enjoy a scenic boat ride to and from the island – with tons of stunning views of the Charleston Harbor and the city skyline. It’s kinda like two tours in one!
Once you make it to Fort Sumter, you can opt for a ranger-led tour or a self-guided tour. The National Park Rangers tell stories about the Civil War’s first battle, lead you through the actual fort, and give you insights into the events that occurred there. Lots of interesting info!
The self-guided tours allow visitors to explore the fort at their own pace, with informational signs and exhibits throughout the site. The audio tours provide a more immersive experience, with audio recordings providing historical information and stories as visitors explore the fort.
Read (raving) reviews and book your tour and boat ride to Fort Sumter here!
Folly Island is a sweet little barrier island located just south of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s super close to Charleston, only about a 12-mile drive down Folly Road.
Longing for a beach day?! Head on over to Folly Island! The main attraction of Folly Island is its gorgeous beaches afterall! They stretch out for miles along the Atlantic Ocean, and are perfect for surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or just lounging around in the sun.
Aside from the beaches, there are plenty of other fun things to do on Folly Island. You can explore the local shops, bars, and restaurants, or check out the Morris Island Lighthouse, which is a pretty cool landmark that you can see from the beach. You can even search for wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins by boat!
When it comes to food, Folly Island is all about its seafood. You’ll find tons of places to grab a delicious fish or shrimp dish, like Jack of Cups Saloon or the Crab Shack. Don’t miss the pineapple whip (served in a pineapple!) from the Pineapple Hut – perfect on a hot day!
Charleston Food Tour
Charlestonians are extremely passionate about their local food, city, and its history. Why not combine all three and go on a food tour? I love taking food tours whenever I travel – I always discover new dishes I never even heard of, and always get great insight into the local way of life.
Some of the foods you might get to try on a Charleston food tour include mouth-watering shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, crispy fried green tomatoes, lowcountry barbecue, artisanal charcuterie, craft beer, delectable chocolates, Charleston benne wafers, southern pralines, and more.
This tour stays near The Historic District, while this food tour explores a lesser-known neighborhood. Both great options!
Luxury Dinner Boat Cruise
How’s a relaxing dinner cruise on Charleston Harbor sound?!
The boat looks so super chic and romantic – perfect for a night out on the town, err… water!, with your loved one. You’ll feast on a 3-course Southern meal, all while cruising through the beautiful Charleston Harbor, past Fort Sumter, along the Battery and beneath the Ravenel Bridge. My kinda night!
Angel Oak Tree
The Angel Oak Tree is a famous landmark located on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston.
This gnarly oak has been around for at least four centuries, making it one of the oldest living trees in the world. Add it to your Charleston itinerary if you wanna gawk at this natural wonder, take selfies, and soak up the tree’s tranquil energy.
The Angel Oak Tree is basically the Mick Jagger of trees – old, famous, and still standing strong! It’s super impressive, standing at over 60 feet tall and with a canopy that stretches over 17,000 square feet. Its trunk measures over 28 feet in circumference, and its branches span outwards in all directions, perfect for wild photos! Great for an afternoon stroll through the shaded canopy.
Cypress Gardens is a gorgeous botanical garden in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, about 45 minutes northwest of Charleston. And yes, this is where The Notebook was filmed!
The gardens were created back in 1927 by a guy named Benjamin Kittredge, and opened to the public a few years later. It’s located on an old rice plantation and is full of cypress trees, azaleas, and other native plants.
One of the coolest things about Cypress Gardens is the swamp area. You can stroll along boardwalks over dark waters and see all kinds of critters like alligators, turtles, and lots of Spanish moss. You can even take a little boat ride through the swamp to get a closer look.
If I had another day on my Charleston itinerary this is the spot I totally would’ve added. The whole area looks so incredibly charming and peaceful! Perfect when you wanna get out of the busy city for a morning!
Hope this helps you plan the best 3 day weekend in Charleston itinerary! What are you most excited to see, and more importantly eat?!
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