Traveling to most historical sites means one has to prioritize just what sites they are going to visit. I’ve tried to institute a one to two rule for myself when traveling. In other words, one to two sites per day and spend the rest of the time just wondering. Charleston was no exception. With that said, there are several things you can venture out to see and few musts. Here are four things to do in Charleston I highly recommend.
If you’re visiting Charleston between May and October then you must stop into the Farmers Market. It’s not your typical market where you purchase fruits and veggies. Yes, there is that but more than that local artists, vendors and musicians are out selling their goods. We hit the market for brunch on Saturday and I think it was one of the most amazing meals I had. Ok, every meal I had in Charleston was amazing so that may not really count. My point, it was well worth the walk and dealing with the crowds. While there were several vendors who’s booths emitted wonderful smells and delicious looking food we stuck with the creps. Oh, just thinking about them makes my mouth water!
Market Hall and Sheds
It’s no secret I love to shop, much to my husbands dislike. Give me an open-air market and I’m in heaven…. Needless to say Market Hall is fabulous. The history of the market itself is extremely interesting; it’s a National Historic Landmark and the only surviving market buildings in Charleston, and one of a small number of market complexes still extant in the United States. If it weren’t for the t-shirt and sunglasses booths, you could also be taken back into time when you step into the market. There are hundreds of booths set up with goods ranging from candles, to handmade jewelry to delicious, Southern treats. But the main draw seems to be sweet grass baskets. They are everywhere. While they are amazing and will last forever (my mom still has one she bought here 40 years ago) they are not cheap. Seriously not cheap. If you must have one be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars and that is just for a small one. Art is in the eye of the beholder and this gal did not see the point in spending that much on a basket. However, I did support the local art economy through purchases from a few other artists. We were not able to make it into the Old Slave Mart Museum that recently opened. I’ve been told it’s extremely interesting and really provides one (if not the first) historical points of views of the life of slaves in the South. If you have time I’d suggest adding it to your list of spots to visit.
A Carriage Ride Around TownThere are several local tours you can take of Charleston. I highly recommend you do one of the carriage rides around town during the first part of your stay so you can get a feel for the town and all it has to offer. With so many carriages going out every hour the city has set up eight different routes/tours the carriages can take. Meaning, you could do one each day and see something totally different. Essentially, each carriage (regardless of the company) must exit through one central location, at which time they are given what route/tour they must take. This helps the city to manage how many carriages are out on the roads and where as to avoid traffic and other issues. There are two main carriage tour companies both of which can be picked up at/around the Old Slave Market.By Horse & Carriage — Old South Carriage, offers narrated horse-drawn-carriage tours through the Historic District daily from 9am to dusk. A 1-hour carriage tour spans a distance of 2 1/2 miles, covering 30 blocks of the Historic District. The cost is $21 for adults and $13 for children 3 to 11.By Mule Team — Palmetto Carriage Tours uses mule teams instead of the usual horse and carriage for its guided tours of Old Charleston. Tours originate at the Big Red Barn behind the Rainbow Market. The cost is $20 for adults and seniors and $12 for children 4 to 11. It operates daily from 9am to 5pm.This was the tour we took and we really enjoyed our time. The guide was very informative and provided a lot of color to the city and its history. I learned a lot but a few interesting facts that stuck with me:
- Window Flower Boxes: Why did people have these ornate flower boxes outside EVERY window? To lessen the smell of the horses their poop that was left on the streets.
- Shotgun Homes: I just always thought shotgun homes were simply the fault of a bad architectural design but alas they had a reason. To fully leverage the breezes coming off the sea. By having one room connected to the next the air would easily flow through the entire home. Who knew…
- Cobblestone Roads: The English and other international ships that would dock in Charleston carried cobblestone to help weigh down the ship as it crossed the Atlantic. When they filled up the ships in Charleston with good to take back they did not need the stones. Charleston used these to make roads.
We visited Charleston during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War so visiting Fort Sumter was somewhat of a sobering experience for me. Having grown up with a history professor father and grandfather I had more than my fair share of history lessons. Although, visiting Fort Sumter and just being in Charleston during this time brought the Civil War into more light. In the movies it’s more romantic. More glorious. In history books it’s all about State’s rights. It wasn’t. It was dark. Deadly. Gruesome. And all about slavery.We were able to “speak” with civil war soldiers, see their living conditions and witness “fighting” take place in and around Ft. Sumter. That alone really helped bring much of my childhood history lessons back into light. Just being in the city and wondering through the streets there are still so many remnants of the war.With that said, if you visit Charleston you must visit Fort Sumter. As an American you need to better understand our history – both the good and bad. As an international tourist, it may make you think differently about the United States.
Though you can travel to the Fort via your own boat, most people take the tour of the Fort and harbor offered by Fort Sumter Tours. There are two locations from which you can depart: Liberty Square in downtown Charleston, or in Mt. Pleasant at the Patriots Point Maritime Museum, the world’s largest naval and maritime museum.
Fort Sumter Tour Rates:
Adults: $17.00; Seniors: $15.00; Children (6-11): $10.00; Infants (5 and Under): Free
Allow at least 25 minutes for Ticketing and Boarding.