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I recently returned from a solo trip to beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Although I’ve experienced solitary getaways within 100 miles from home and flown solo across the US to meet up with other people, this was my first big solo adventure. For the first time, I explored a city I’ve never visited before…on my own.
It was a wonderful experience and one I’ll never forget.
I have a wealth of information and photos to share from my trip. I’m starting this series with Fun Things to Do in Charleston.
Charleston South Carolina
Charleston is a port city in South Carolina, founded in 1670 as Charles Town. It soon became the fourth largest city in the colonies and the wealthiest.
Charleston is known for its cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, antebellum houses and a rich history that stretches back to the Revolutionary War. The downtown historical district includes the French Quarter, the South of Broad neighborhood, the Battery promenade and Waterfront Park that overlooks Charleston Harbor.
Why Charleston as a destination for my solo adventure?
I felt drawn to Charleston after reading a series of books by author Karen White. Her Tradd Street Series, set in the historic district, features an endearing cast of characters, ghosts and mysteries to solve. Karen writes so beautifully about Charleston that I felt compelled to see the city for myself and wander the streets South of Broad.
With the help of my travel agent Ken, from Galaxsea Cruises & Tours, my solo trip came together for September.
Fun Things to Do in Charleston
While in no way a complete list of fun things to do, these activities are a great way to get to know Charleston, especially for first time visitors.
Begin at the Charleston Visitor Center
A great first stop, after arriving in the city, is the Charleston Visitor Center. You can request a Visitor’s Guide online before your trip and find a wealth of information about the city, including itineraries, first time visitor guides and hotels and lodgings.
Located at 375 Meeting Street, the visitor center is housed in an old railroad building, constructed between 1840 and 1856. The center is open daily, from 8:30 – 5:00. Helpful staff offer city maps, the DASH Trolley map and suggestions, plus they can make reservations for tours and attractions. The tour buses depart and return to the center.
The DASH Trolley is a free transportation system for the downtown area. It is very similar to a hop on/hop off bus that makes numerous stops on its circuit around historic downtown. You can board the trolley at the Visitor Center and get off…and back on…at any of the stops around town. While I enjoy walking a city, the trolley was extremely helpful when I wanted to get across town quickly.
Currently, masks are required when riding the trolley.
Shop the Historic Charleston City Market
One of the stops on the trolley route is the Historic Charleston City Market.
Charleston’s number one most visited attraction is the City Market. Located at the corner of Meeting and Market Streets, this is the nation’s oldest public market and the cultural heart of Charleston.
Three hundred vendors sell their wares there, ranging from traditional sweetgrass baskets to clothing and jewelry to arts and crafts to food. The city market is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir from Charleston or to get a feel for the community.
The market stretches down Market Street, with three long open air sheds and an enclosed air conditioned Great Hall. There are public restrooms available on site. The city market is open daily from 9:30 – 5:30.
Currently, masks are required inside the city market.
Pineapple Fountain Photos
This iconic landmark in Charleston is located in Waterfront Park, next to the harbor.
Waterfront Park is a 12 acre park featuring walking paths beneath live oak trees, benches, wharfs and two fountains. One is attractive to children as a place to splash and play. The other, Pineapple Fountain, draws visitors with cameras ready to snap photos.
Pineapples are a common symbol in Charleston, representing hospitality. Children and adults are encouraged to wade in Pineapple Fountain. Because of its popularity with families, tourists and photographers, you may have to wait to get that perfect shot. Or visit early in the morning, before parents bring the kids to play.
I timed my photos carefully, snapping pictures when kids disappeared around the other side of the fountain!
Walk Along the Battery
After snapping photos at Pineapple Fountain, walk the Battery located alongside Charleston Harbor.
Gorgeous harbor views draw the eye on one side of the Battery while parks and pastel antebellum houses vie for attention on the other side.
The Battery is a defensive seawall and promenade, paralleling East Bay Street as it heads south to the end of the peninsula. Fort Sumter is visible out in the harbor, as is Pinckney Castle, the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, Fort Moultie and Sullivan’s Island.
The Battery is a refreshing place for a morning or evening stroll, with the breezes blowing in from the harbor.
Explore South of Broad
South of Broad is the neighborhood literally south of Broad Street in the historic district, at the tip of the peninsula. This neighborhood of tree lined streets features magnificent 18th and 19th century houses and churches.
South of Broad housed Charleston’s original residential area for wealthy planters. There are so many historic structures here, including the Heyward-Washington House where President Washington stayed for eight days while visiting the city.
Spend an afternoon strolling this neighborhood. There are pretty hidden alleyways to wander down, cobblestone streets to explore and impressive wrought iron gates to oooh and aaah over. It’s a beautiful area that includes Tradd Street, my inspiration to visit Charleston.
Photograph Rainbow Row
While in the South of Broad area, head back toward East Bay Street for one of Charleston’s most famous block of houses, Rainbow Row.
Located from 79 – 107 East Bay Street, these colorful houses have a unique history. Built in the 1740s, the 13 townhouses originally featured drab colors. Merchants ran their businesses on the ground floors and lived on the top floors.
After the Civil War, the area became run down and neglected. All that changed in 1931 when Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband Lionel Legge purchased a section of the houses. She restored the homes, painting them in pastel colors to brighten up the area. Owners of the other houses on the block followed Dorothy’s example and painted their houses pastel colors too.
Rainbow Row is another spot frequently visited in the city. Because the houses are occupied, with cars parked along the front sidewalk, it can be difficult to get a clean photo. I found that snapping one from the corner, down the row of houses, worked best for me.
Shop and Dine on King Street
If shopping is your thing, take a walk up and down King Street, located one block over from Meeting Street.
King Street offers hotels, shopping, dining, nightlife, fashions, arts and antique stores in the historic district. At more than 300 years old, King Street is the second most historically and architecturally significant street in Charleston, after Meeting Street.
King Street features some of the city’s trendiest restaurants plus art galleries, flourishing businesses, exceptional shops and a robust nightlife. The street is divided into three districts: Lower King is the antiques district, Middle King is the fashion district and Upper King offers dining.
The free trolley makes several stops along King Street. I dined there several times, at different vegan cafes, riding the trolley to my destination and then walking back to my accommodations.
Learn About Charleston with a Historic Tour
There are many, many tour options available in Charleston. You can take a horse drawn carriage ride, take a city tour bus or participate in a walking tour.
Personally, I prefer a walking tour as it seems to me the best way to really get to know a city. How interesting it is to walk the city with a knowledgeable guide who can tell the stories that make up the history of Charleston.
I highly recommend Two Sisters Tours. Join sisters Therese and/or Mary Helen, seventh generation Charlestonians, on a two hour walking tour of the city. These ladies, both retired attorneys, know their city intimately.
I enjoyed this tour on my second day in Charleston, with Therese as the guide.
Therese is energetic, personable and extremely knowledgeable about Charleston. She didn’t recite a memorized list of facts about Charleston. Therese knows Charleston and tells the old city’s stories with humor and a heart for her community. I learned so much about Charleston from Therese and appreciate her passion and enthusiasm.
Click link for more info about Two Sisters Tours.
Scare Yourself with a Ghost Tour
For a journey into Charleston’s darker side, schedule a nighttime ghost tour through the city. Again, many such tours exists, from horse drawn carriage rides to tour buses to walking tours. You just can’t beat walking next to those graveyards and spooky old houses at night though.
I joined tour guide John, with Ghost City Tours, after my first full day in Charleston. Due to its long history, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, pirates, fires and hurricanes, Charleston is considered one of America’s most haunted cities. Ghost City Tours offers two tours, one for adults only, with more macabre themes and stories, and one for families with slightly more tame stories suitable for all ages.
I chose the family ghost tour simply because it began earlier, at 7:00 PM rather than 10:00.
John guided us expertly through Charleston’s more tragic sites, with intriguing stories of the restless undead. He told us at the beginning of the tour that his job wasn’t to convince us that ghosts exist. His job was to share the stories and let us make up our own minds. John didn’t need to convince me. I already believe in ghosts! I highly recommend this tour. Click link for more info.
Educate Yourself at the Old Slave Mart Museum
There is no denying that slavery and Charleston are intricately entwined. It’s a part of Charleston’s history that is difficult. I appreciate that the city does not gloss over this dark past or attempt to downplay its significance.
Rather, Charleston seeks to expand the stories of the enslaved people who helped to make the city what it was in the past…and what it is today.
On Chalmers Street is the Slave Mart Museum, the place where traders brought people to sell and trade them from 1856 – 1863. The Old Slave Mart is the only known such building still in existence in South Carolina. Auctions of the enslaved ended November 1863. The property changed hands many times until 1938 when Miriam Wilson bought it and opened a museum featuring African and African American arts and crafts. The city acquired the building in 1988 and opened it as a historic site and museum in 2007.
The museum features displays that chronicle Charleston’s role in the international slave trade and the domestic trade within the south. It is often staffed by individuals who can trace their history to Charleston slaves. While it is a painful history to learn more about, I believe it is so essential that we do so. I spent a solemn hour there, studying the displays, pondering the significance and feeling all of the emotions.
The Old Slave Mart Museum at 6 Chalmers Street is open Monday – Saturday, 9:00 – 5:00. Currently a mask is required while inside.
Visit a Plantation
There are several plantations in the Charleston area, accessible by car or by tour bus. The good people at the Charleston Visitor Center can help set up the tour of choice.
I originally wanted to visit the tea plantation, owned and operated by the Bigelow family, because that’s the brand of tea I drink. Alas, this plantation is far enough away from Charleston that it’s difficult to get there…and get back…without a car.
So with the help of a staff member at the Visitor Center, I chose a Magnolia Plantation and Garden tour, primarily because of the acres and acres of wild gardens there. As destiny would have it, it was the right plantation for me to visit. I’ll share in a separate upcoming post about Magnolia Plantation and what makes it so very special.
I enjoyed wandering the extensive gardens, riding a tram through marshes, swamps and woodlands and taking a guided tour inside the plantation house.
Over the next few months, I’ll share more posts about Charleston…the city’s historical tales, ghost stories, the inn I called home for five days, vegan eats and more.
This was an important trip for me and perfectly timed during my Year of the Wild Woman. I proved to myself that I enjoy solo travel, that I can handle all the details involved in traveling this way and that in general, people are good hearted and kind.
It was fun to experience “going beyond” and “following curiosity” in such new to me ways. I left Charleston a few days ago, grateful for all that this trip taught me and grateful as well for the warm welcome I received in this beautiful city.
I’m ready to plan another adventure…
Have you visited Charleston, South Carolina? What was your favorite thing to do there?
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