Over the past weekend, my husband and I traveled to nearby Charleston for a short weekend vacation (without the kids). Despite being a little bit nippy in January, we had a great time exploring the “Holy City”. With Charleston being one of the top vacation spots for weekend vacation or even day trip distance from Greenville, SC, I’ve put together a two-three day itinerary focusing on downtown historic sites.
Disclosures: I was provided with a complimentary pass into Charleston attractions by the Charleston CVB. This post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. All opinions and comments are my own.
This itinerary closely resembles our own schedule, and individual attractions and restaurants are linked to pages with additional information and photos. While I’m not an expert on visiting Charleston, this itinerary was put together from personal research, recommendations from the Charleston CVB, and favorite spots from the Kidding Around Greenville readers.
Day 1 – Arriving in Charleston around 9 am
We parked beside Charleston’s Visitor Center located at 375 Meeting Street in the heart of downtown Charleston. Parking was predictably steep at $1/half hour, capped at $16 a day, in Charleston’s city-wide lots. Another parking garage we saw capped the daily fee at $20 a day. On Saturday, we did find a private lot with fees at $6/half day and $10/full day.
Charleston does have a free trolley system with three routes that can transport you quickly across the city. The trolleys reach the stops every 15 minutes.
We used Groupon.com to find a discounted rate for Hyatt Place in North Charleston (staying outside the downtown area was much cheaper). I would highly recommend the North Charleston as a great family hotel. It was clean, affordable, and had an excellent hot complimentary breakfast. Our room would have easily slept a family of four with two small children, as the couch could be pulled out to make a bed.
Of course, Charleston features several amazing historic hotels and B&B’s inside the historic district for those looking for an unique place to stay. Some Kidding Around Greenville’s readers favorite spots to stay are: Harborview Inn, Wild Dunes Resort, Renaissance Charleston Historic Hotel, and Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
9:15 am – Charleston Visitor Center
375 Meeting Street
Start your visit of Charleston at the Charleston Visitor Center. Charleston Visitor Guides are available to answer any questions that you have. You can also purchase attraction bundle packages at the Visitor Center that will allow you to see much of the city at a cheaper rate. I was impressed by watching how the clerks at the Visitor Center took time to help every guest examine the different packages and find the correct fit for their family.
While at the Charleston Visitor Center, be sure to pick up the Official Visitors Guide Charleston South Carolina. Inside this guide, you will find restaurants, hotels, and attractions listed. You will also find several useful maps.
Also, pick up a copy of the three different trolley route brochures. You never know when you might end up farther away from your car than planned.
9:30 – 10:45 – The Charleston Museum
360 Meeting Street
We then walked across the street to The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the United States. While I would consider the museum to be better suited to adults and older kids who can read, The Charleston Museum did contain an excellent hands-on children’s exhibit: Kidstory.
11 am – The Joseph Manigault House
350 Meeting Street
We actually ran out of time to tour The Joseph Manigault House, but if I could do it over again I would plan extra time for this house. Located across the street from The Charleston Museum, this house is known as “Charleston’s Huguenot House” and features both elegant architectures and restored color schemes. The outdoor area includes a stable, kitchen, slave quarters, privy, and period garden.
Alternative Family Itinerary Ideas: If you have small children, consider checking out The Charleston Children’s Museum also located in the same general area. You could also start at the SC Aquarium, eat lunch in the general area, and visit Fort Sumter in the afternoon (ferry docking is right beside the aquarium).
Light Lunch – The Charleston Tea Company
24B Ann Street
Located across the street from The Charleston Visitor Center, The Charleston Tea Company was the perfect local spot for lunch (thank you to the museum clerk that pointed us to it). The menu included sandwiches, soups, and of course large selections of teas (plus a coffee bar).
12:10 pm – Grayline Bus Tour (leaves at 12:30 pm)
Originally, we chose the Grayline of Charleston minibus tour over Charleston’s other tours because it seemed like the warmest option on a very cold, windy January day. After enjoying the tour, I would recommend that all new tourists to Charleston consider a bus tour as a first introduction to the city. The Grayline bus tour is comfortable in all sorts of weather with both air conditioning and heating. The tour guide was amplified over the sound system and easy to hear. And, the tour covered a larger portion of the city (including The Citadel) than a walking tour or carriage tour would.
While the weather kept us from personally experiencing the other tours, I could see them nicely complimenting the bus tour by taking a slower, more comprehensive pace in the historic district.
You can purchase tickets inside the Visitor Center for the Grayline Bus tour and enter your bus directly outside the Visitor Center. We chose the 12:30 pm time in order to bundle our ride with a Sumter Fort visit, basically ensuring a quick ride to the ferry and a more streamlined tour experience. The bundled tour time is subject to change, so be sure to check with Grayline Bus Tours ahead of your visit to plan.
Try to sit in the 2nd or 3rd rows of the bus for the best visibility.
2:10 pm – Fort Sumter Tour (ferry leaves at 2:30 pm)
Fort Sumter would definitely be on my “must-see” Charleston list. Known for being the center point of the first shots of the Civil War, the fort is steeped in history. Even small children though will be impressed with the massive size of the walls and cannons. You are allowed to freely explore the fort and surrounding island at your own pace, making Fort Sumter a perfect historic site for the entire family.
Don’t stay inside for the entire ferry trip. We saw dolphins and had an amazing view of Fort Sumter from the front of the ship. The ferry does have restrooms and concessions as well.
Tour groups are allowed one hour to visit the fort before the ferry trip home. The entire trip (including the ferry ride) takes around 2 hours.
Confession: When we visited Fort Sumter, the weather was extremely cold so we actually spent a good bit of our visit to the Fort huddled in the museum (with all the other tourists from the South). But, despite the cold weather, the fort was worth every bit of discomfort to see. Remember that in the summer, a visit to Fort Sumter can be very hot so bring your sunscreen and water.
Early Dinner (around 5 pm) – Fleet Landing Restaurant
Ride the trolley back to your car, and head to Fleet Landing for a delicious seafood meal. (The trolley does run near Fleet Landing Company as well if that is a better option for you. The parking at Fleet Landing does fill up quickly, and it involves some tight maneuvering to get out of the parking lot. Our meal was amazing and we highly recommend. Be sure to call in advance for reservations.
Day 2 – See Charleston’s Museum Mile
Park in one of the many parking options along Cumberland Drive. We found an inexpensive private lot in this general area (well, inexpensive relatively speaking).
9 am – Breakfast at Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
62 State Street
We weren’t able to make it to this small cafe, but the Charleston CVB recommends this cafe as a great place to enjoy southern foods at an affordable price. We had hoped to stop by for dinner one night, but we ended up getting lost and tired.
10 am – Take a carriage or walking tour.
We did not take personally take one of these tours due to the cold weather, but Charleston’s tours are known for their quality and interesting content. Here are some established choices, most of which are located nearby:
After the tour – Explore the Old City Market at your own pace.
Market Street, between Meeting and East Bay Sts.
The Charleston City Market is a great place to find unique souvenirs, such as hand-crafted items and artwork.
Lunch near the Old City Market
We ate our lunch at Hyman’s Seafood (215 Meeting St), a popular seafood spot with locals. Here are some additional nearby restaurants recommended by Kidding Around Greenville readers:
After lunch – Explore Charleston’s historic sites at your own pace.
After lunch, take time to revisit and go inside several of Charleston’s historic sites. Below, are several sites that my husband and I enjoyed. These are just a couple of the many historic sites downtown though, use the Charleston Visitor’s Guide for a more complete list. See the links for information and photos of these places.
Heyward-Washington House (87 Church St.)
Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St)
Nathaniel Russell House (51 Meeting Street)
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (120 Broad Street)
Circular Congregation Church (150 Meeting Street)
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (Meeting Street)
We didn’t get a chance to visit, but many of the Kidding Around Greenville readers highly recommend Calhoun Mansion (16 Meeting St) as a favorite place to visit in Charleston.
Dinner – Check out one of our readers’ favorite places to eat in Charleston.
This list of restaurants covers quite a bit of Charleston, including ones outside the downtown area. See the complete of recommended restaurants list on Facebook.
Day 3 – Explore one of Charleston’s Plantations
I don’t feel like my itinerary is complete though without including a visit to one of Charleston’s plantations. My husband and I have visited the Boone Hall Plantation in the past and really enjoyed it. Middleton Place Plantation is recommended on the itinerary that I received from Charleston CVB. Both Plantations also have restaurants on-site where you could grab lunch.
For more ideas, see this thread on the Kidding Around Greenville Facebook page, where our readers share their favorite spots to visit. You will find a lot more family-friendly attractions and also attractions more suited to the summer months.
Do you love to travel? Be sure to check out our travel page which has more guides to nearby destinations such as Pigeon Forge, Atlanta, and Western North Carolina.