North America Travel

6 Things You Must Do in Charleston : Americas #1 Small City

If you live abroad and have never heard of Charleston, the second largest city of South Carolina, you are not alone. Most international tourists skip this small city all together and instead opt for visiting cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Miami. Though I still believe those cities are a most visit when you come to the States, I highly recommend you include Charleston, South Carolina in your itinerary. And if you live in the US, this might be the perfect family getaway not only to experience the southern charm of this city and European style architecture but also to learn more about the history of our nation. Plus lately there have been a ton of great flight deals to Charleston, so keep an eye for those.

If you have never even thought about visiting this city, I was just like you. In fact, though I have lived in the States for over 10 years including in its neighboring state North Carolina, if it weren’t for the fact that we traveled to visit family members, I don’t think I would have ever visited. Even as an avid traveler, due to the lack of knowledge about this destination, I would had never considered it. But I have to say, this little city left quite an impression on me. So much so that I would love to go back!

Voted as America’s #1 Small city for 5 years and counting, Charleston is full of southern charm and hospitality. Here I have pointed out what you must not miss when you visit this city.

1. Get Lost in the Streets

Its cobble stone streets and pastel colored houses make it seem like this city is suspended in time. Spending the days just getting lost is possibly the best way to explore the city. Yes, I did say getting lost, meaning just take your time and try to discover as many cute streets as possible. And don’t worry, it wont be hard as almost everywhere you look in downtown Charleston is filled with picture perfect houses.

2. Take Lots of Pictures at Rainbow Row

The most famous and photographed of them all is Rainbow Row which is a series of 13 colorful houses located in East Bay Street. These historic houses are the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the US. There are many myths as to why these houses where painted like this. One of them is that so drunk sailors that were arriving in the Port  could easily recognize which house they had to stay in. As these houses are said to be once stores, another version is that in order for illiterate slaves to know which store they had to go to, the shop owners resorted to paint each shop in different colors. Though we don’t know the exact reason, we now that these houses are full of history and are part of the Charleston roots.

3. Take a Walk Down Philadelphia Alley

Though its tough to pick favorites, one of our favorite alleys was Philadelphia Alley. This little alley is not very easy to find as its hidden between homes. What gives it its charm are the signature cobblestone floors, and bright red walls, brick surroundings, and that you can peak into cute little gardens. The locals call it “Duelers Alley” as its said that many duels took place here. In fact, this street is part of the Ghost Tours in Charleston.

4. Embrace History and Visit Plantations

A trip to the South is not complete without visiting at least one plantation especially in Charleston. Two of the most popular ones are Boone Hall Plantation and Magnolia Plantation. Each offers its own beauty and benefits, so if you can try to visit both. You can check out my detailed review about both of them here.

Boone Hall Plantation is one of Americas oldest working plantations offering over 330 through its original slave cabins, famed avenue of oaks, gardens etc. The famous Avenue of Oaks consists of over 90 live oak trees draped in Spanish moss for almost one mile long.

No wonder the movie The Notebook chose to film here.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was awarded by Travel and Leisure as “One of America’s Most Beautiful Gardens.”  What is unique and special about this garden is that they let nature run its natural course and didn’t try to arrange it in any specific manor. Though the most popular landmark in this property is the signature white bridge right next to the plantation house.

5. Chase the Ghosts with a Ghost Tour

This one you can skip if you are easy scared like me, but I have heard that if you are planning to do a Ghost tour, Charleston is the right place to do it. In fact here in this city is one of the most haunted locations in America – Magnolia Plantations! Ghost Hunters visited and the crew have all confessed of hearing or witnessing something supernatural.

6. Go For A Night Stroll

Though this is not a big and busy city, the downtown of Charleston does not loose its character at night. Bar hop from one small bar to another, try different restaurants, or just walk around at sunset enjoying the colorful skies.

Now do you see why we fell in love with Charleston? We didnt know such a cute and charming place even existed in the States. We cant wait to go back and next time maybe visit Savannah, Georgia as well.

Claudia Zeeba Life

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11 Comments
  • Lillie

      REPLY

    There is truly a magical aura that each of these photos exudes. I can see why Charlestown has been repeatedly named America's #1 small city! I was too young when I visited to really remember, so I'll need to go back soon, and will surely take a stroll on Rainbow Row.

  • Donna Meyer

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    This is perfect timing, since I plan to be in the Charleston area next month. You've mentioned several things I will definitely add to my time there. I might even take that Ghost Tour!

  • Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

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    Such a picturesque city! I love the colorful houses and all the greenery along the street and in the gardens. Any tree with Spanish Moss just looks so southern to me. I'd love to visit to explore more of the city's history...not to mention get some IG worthy shots like yours! :)

  • Kelly @ TastingPage

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    I've had Charleston on my list of travel spots for quite some time now. Your pictures have now moved the city up on my list. I'd love to get lost and wander those streets. The colors are beautiful!

  • Nancy

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    Excellent post! I have heard of Charleston, but haven't visited yet. It looks like a beautiful city. I love exploring hidden spots like Philadelphia Alley - cool find!

  • Christopher

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    What an absolutely beautiful city. The buildings with the window shutters are colourful. It reminds me of a small cozy cobblestone European city. I will have to add this place to my list of USA (Neighbours to the South) destinations...

  • Tami

      REPLY

    I'm a firm believer that everywhere you go, you will find hidden gems, or even not-so-hidden attractions. The best thing any of us can do is thoroughly explore our own hometowns first! I would absolutely love to explore the quaint streets and plantations in Charleston. Actually, my family visited once when I was in high school. I was so obsessed with an upcoming debate tournament, I stayed home to do research during spring break and missed out on the Charleston trip. Stupid me!

  • Melissa

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    Charleston is such a lovely place, I'll have to make it a stop when I'm travelling back to the states <3 the pastel coloured houses and beautiful trees are a travel bloggers instagram dream! I thought your photos looked familiar and then you mentioned the notebook and I was like, "oh course!" beautiful beautiful place and plenty of things to do for the whole family :)

  • Trisha Velarmino

      REPLY

    It's amazing how you can do so much in a little city! I'll certainly keep this in mind when I go to Charleston! Xx

  • Jas from My Suitcase Journeys

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    I'd only recently heard about Charleston. I definitely agree that most people skip the small cities - myself included. Charleston looks like such a cute place tho!! So much character and looks all your photos look like they're straight out of a fairytale book. Would for sure love to visit someday.

  • Lexi

      REPLY

    Walking a city is always a fantastic way to get out to see a place up close, PLUS keep yourself active and prevent falling asleep on the tour buses, haha. I'm supposed to hit up Charleston in the next few months, so thanks for the great tips! My Dog and I are definitely going to check Philadelphia Alley (that was my favorite feature here for sure!).

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Hi, I am Claudia! I am a wife and mommy who wishes to share our families journey and travel adventures around the world in hopes to inspire you to love and explore our planet and to become a more conscious world citizen. Join us in our journey of exploring new destinations, delicious plant based food and discovering conscious brands. LEARN MORE

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