As soon as you step out of your cab and onto Charleston’s streets, you’ll be struck by its laidback pace, pretty pastel shades and good old southern charm. Plus, a new direct flight from London to South Carolina’s oldest and largest city sends a clear message: Charleston is firmly on the tourist map and is ready to welcome you with open arms.
When to go?
As you might expect, being so far south and right on the Atlantic coast, the climate in Charleston is tropical, muggy and humid. The best times to visit are between March and May and September and November when the weather is still warm but not unbearably so. Whatever time of year you choose to go, sunscreen and bug spray are an absolute must
What to eat?
Fast becoming one of the US’s most beloved foodie hotspots, Charleston has developed a formidable culinary reputation. Southern barbecue-style food, oysters, Mexican dishes and bourbon dive bars all form part of its salt-of-the-earth appeal and make for a truly exciting gastronomical experience. For homemade tortillas and devilishly good margaritas, book into Mexican restaurant Minero. Locally produced and freshly caught ingredients can be sampled from the exquisitely simple menu at Magnolias, which celebrates local cuisine by putting a spin on it (think fried green tomatoes, spiced crab cakes and sticky fried chicken). Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop does exactly what it says on the tin - a former body shop (that’s American lingo for garage) serving up charred oysters and fried chicken, it’s a great pitstop for a quick but satisfying lunch with a rugged, industrial vibe.
And as for that nightcap? Look no further than The Bar at Husk – a brick-walled, low-lit gem serving up the best bourbon for miles around.
Where to stay?
With large sash windows, bright shutters and simple stucco, the architecture in Charleston is like a film set from the 1920s. The city itself isn’t too large, so it’s easy to walk around and is well worth exploring on foot to get some pretty pictures for the ‘gram.
Of course, being southern, the place is packed with cute and welcoming inns as well as sleek, luxury hotels, so there’s something to suit every taste and budget. Décor is generally traditional, with each property priding itself on its historic origins. For boutique, beachy charm, check into the seafront Beach Club. If it’s a traditional inn with wood shutters, screen doors and a wraparound porch you’re after, look no further than Zero George, which sits in the heart of Charleston’s historic central neighborhood, Ansonborough, or check into The Dewberry for something more mid-century modern but equally sophisticated. Need a rooftop pool to soak up all those rays? Market Pavilion Hotel has your back.
What to do?
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Charleston without mentioning its dark past, much of which can be explored at the Old Slave Mart Museum – the first African-American museum housed inside an original slave auction house. As many of the staff have ancestors who were forced into slavery, this is an emotional but necessary experience that you’ll need to mentally prepare yourself for.
Get hold of a bike (many of the hotels offer them as part of their guest service) and cycle down to The Battery – a stretch of land lined with southern-style mansions that makes up the city’s tip – as the sun is setting.
If you’ve got enough time, take the 20-mile trip out to the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens which opened to visitors in 1870, making it the oldest public gardens in the US. Hop on the tram and ride through the swamps and forest, keeping your eyes peeled for alligators and turtles along the way. If the heavens open up (as they are wont to do on occasion) take cover in the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, which hosts temporary exhibitions from some of the world’s most exciting artists.
The best spot for a bit of retail therapy is without a doubt King Street – a palm-tree lined vista that’s home to a range of boutique clothing, home and gift stores.