You’ve seen the many lists with Charleston rated as one of the country’s top destinations. You’ve read articles and heard friends rave about the restaurant scene, the historic houses and plantations, and the immaculately restored inns and new boutique hotels. And now you’ve decided it is long past time that you experience the city yourself. The extensive list of things that make Charleston such a popular destination, however, can also make it a little intimidating. Where to begin?
Josh Alexander, a luxury travel advisor at ProTravel and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, knows Charleston intimately from many visits and he is ready to help. He has created a four-day introduction that combines must-see sights with some of his own personal favorites. Don’t worry about trying to see it all, however. We’re confident that you’ll be back for more once you fall for Charleston’s charms.
Among Josh’s top choices of places to stay are one that embraces the city’s long history and one of the hottest newcomers. The building that houses the 64-room Planters Inn, at the corner of Meeting and North Market, was built in 1844 and has been meticulously restored to reflect that moment in Charleston history. Antiques fill the common areas, rooms have four-poster beds, and carriage lanterns illuminate the popular Peninsula Grill’s courtyard at night.
As soon as you walk into the glass-walled lobby of the Dewberry, which opened in 2016, you’ll realize that this is a decidedly different, and contemporary, Charleston hotel. Guest rooms are elegantly understated, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. Even with the hotel’s modern edge when it comes to its decor, you can expect an old-fashioned warm Southern welcome.
After checking in at the property of your choice, get the lay of the land with a bike ride, a walking tour, or a horse-drawn carriage ride through Charleston’s historic district. You’ll pass the colorful Rainbow Row, the Battery at the tip of the peninsula, and the stately homes south of Broad Street, among other sites. Have dinner tonight at 82 Queen, a restaurant that helped lead the renewed interest in Lowcountry cuisine when it opened in 1982. Ever since then it’s been serving signature Charleston dishes—Carolina crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, and she-crab soup. It’s located in three restored buildings, with 11 different dining rooms, all around a courtyard, where you can dine al fresco if you prefer.
Start your day with a hearty breakfast of shrimp and grits or the famous Charleston Nasty biscuit at Hominy Grill, a longtime local favorite that’s won national acclaim.
Next, head to one of the city’s prominent historic houses, the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, which was built around 1820 and meticulously restored to its 1840s condition. From its grand reception rooms to the kitchen and slave quarters, a visit to the house provides a look at the everyday lives of all of Charleston’s residents in the 19th century.
For lunch, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop announces its specialties in its name, but the menu also includes salads, catfish sandwiches, and avocado toasts. You’ll want to leave room for some soft-serve ice cream after your meal.
In the afternoon, set sail to see the Charleston skyline from the water. The SpiritLine Cruises excursion includes sights from Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861, to the soaring Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which opened in 2005 and connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant, on the opposite side of the Cooper River.
Once you are back on dry land, prepare for an elegant night out with dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants, the Charleston Grill at the Belmond Charleston Place. Chef Michelle Weaver has been at the helm of the restaurant for five years, preparing updated versions of classic Southern dishes, as well as international choices on a “Cosmopolitan” menu—ahi tuna in an aguachile sauce, Iberico ham with piquillo peppers, and sturgeon salad with cornmeal blinis.