Let me start by saying, this itinerary could have gone in many, many different directions, all geared towards the history and the homes of historic Charleston, South Carolina. For this particular visit, I planned a 48 hour carless trip that would hit some of the highlights in the Holy City, but I know that I didn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to see. There are churches and markets and plantations, all of which I will save for another time.
CHARLESTON: AN ITINERARY FOR THE HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE BUFF
With the Francis Marion Hotel as our home base right on King Street, we spent two days exploring the centuries old homes and colorful, flowering streets of Charleston. It’s remarkable the restoration that has gone into buildings dating back as far as the 1600’s and, as a neighbor told a friend of mine when she moved to the area, “We take great pride in our windowboxes here in Charleston.” A thinly veiled request to get her act together, presumably. Which she did.
WHERE TO STAY
For a location that is right in the middle of everything and has a gorgeous, classic appeal, you cannot beat the Francis Marion Hotel. We were delighted to stay at the Francis Marion our second night in Charleston and were welcomed into a traditionally appointed and beautiful lobby that feels just as a historic hotel should. The room decorated in blue and gold had high ceilings that made it feel comfortable yet grand at the same time — which is exactly the ambiance you want when enjoying a glass of wine before heading out for the evening.
An added bonus, our king bedroom had two full bathrooms! Yes, the bathrooms are on the small side, but this is a historic hotel, that’s to be expected, and I’d take two bathrooms over one big bathroom any day.
Between the unbelievable location on King Street and the history of the Francis Marion, this is the perfect place to retreat to when you’re spending your days taking in the sights and soul of old Charleston.
WHERE TO STROLL
You could spend hours getting lost in the streets of Charleston. There’s not a turn you can take that doesn’t have history and charming homes around every corner. Of course, there are a few main drags you’ll want to start on.
If you end up staying at the Francis Marion as we did, start off on King Street. Once you pass by all of the shopping, continue walking south (maybe grab an iced mint tea from The Rise Coffee Bar at Wentworth and King to cool you down!). Eventually, you’ll come to the section of King Street that’s overflowing with art galleries. Spend an hour or so taking in all of the local artwork before veering off down a side street and becoming wrapped up in photographing all of the lovely windowboxes, as I did.
As you continue to walk south, you’ll eventually come across The Battery. This area of Charleston is not only historically significant because of its role in the Civil War, but it also is home to some of the most stunning mansions in Charleston and the park is filled with live oaks covered in Spanish moss — is there a site that’s more southern? From the Battery, you’ll want to walk up East Bay Street past the Charleston single homes to a pop of pink, purple, and blue called Rainbow Row. Of course you’ve seen Rainbow Row on every blogger’s feed, mine included. Once you’ve taken a picture or five for yourself, cross over to Meeting Street and stop in the Charleston City Market.
WHAT TO SEE
Our first stop in Charleston was the Charleston Visitors Center. While I typically explore on my own, I knew that trying to fit as much as possible into 48 hours and truly diving into the sites and history rather than just eating, drinking, and shopping, I would be best served by talking to someone who knows the city. I would also recommend checking out the Explore Charleston website and social accounts which are well designed with loads of helpful tips. With a pass to see many of the highlights of Charleston, we were able to explore aimlessly and then pop in whenever we came across a landmark on our map.
The three historic houses we toured were the Aiken-Rhett House, the Edmonston-Alston House, and the Nathaniel Russell House. Interestingly enough, Adam and I actually had completely reversed rankings of our favorite houses, my favorite being the impeccably restored Nathaniel Russell House and his being the preserved, but not restored whatsoever, Aiken-Rhett House.
The Edmonston-Alston House has amazing views from its veranda of the harbor, and its been restored to a large extent, but with pieces from various generations who called the mansion home. The Nathaniel Russell House is an amazing example of a Charleston mansion that has been restored to its original over the top glory. Its floating staircase is something to marvel, as are the massive windows on the second floor that served as doors to the second floor porch. The faux painting techniques, the antiques, the moldings, it’s just stunning. The Aiken-Rhett House is its polar opposite as it stands in a bit of Grey Gardens-esque disrepair. However, its appeal is that you see this home as it was, warts and all. The slave quarters are open to the public and its a striking feeling to realize how they lived in proximity and utter juxtaposition to their owners.
If we’d had time, we could have spent an entire day more exploring all of the homes in Charleston (I’m lucky I found a partner in crime that enjoys these tours, too!), and next time, we plan on renting a car so that we can trek out to the plantations that surround the city.
Thank you to the Francis Marion Hotel and the Charleston Visitors Bureau for hosting me on this fabulous trip to historic Charleston, South Carolina. All opinions are, of course, my own, and I cannot wait to make a return visit to the Holy City.