Eric Kelley / Zero George
From charming cobblestone streets to Southern hospitality, find out why Charleston, South Carolina consistently tops favorite city lists with our iconic guide.
Europe may have its holy city with the Vatican, but America has her own in Charleston, South Carolina. Dubbed “The Holy City” for the many churches that dot the skyline and a history rooted in religious tolerance, today this Southern charmer lets travelers pay homage to some of the best restaurants, architecture and history in the country.
Charleston often tops best city in the U.S.A., and best in the world lists making it an easy addition to our ICONIC cities. For an insiders look at the best places to stay, dine and play, check out our Charleston City Guide.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina
Charleston began as gift from King Charles II to his loyal followers who named the city after the king in 1670. With a strategic location on the water, Charleston quickly thrived, but it was also vulnerable to attack. In 1718 the notorious pirate Blackbeard blockaded the city and in the Revolutionary War the city fell under British rule from 1780 to 1782. By 1800, it was the fifth-largest city in the country.
The first shots of the Civil War occurred when Confederate forces fired on Charleston’s Fort Sumter.
In 1886 an earthquake devastated the city damaging more than 2,000 buildings, but by the 1900s the city was a thriving cultural center, and strong preservation efforts began in earnest in 1940 allowing the city to become an almost living museum today, making it a perfect location for ICONIC LIFE to explore with our Charleston City Guide.
WHERE TO STAY
The Charleston hotel scene is in a boutique boom. These unique hotels pay homage to the city’s southern hospitality welcoming discerning travelers with little details that make all the difference.
Located two blocks from the harbor this boutique gem delights guests from the start with its restored 1804 building, charming cobblestone courtyard and opulent touches throughout.
Corbin Gurkin / Zero George
Located two blocks from the harbor this boutique gem delights guests from the start with its restored 1804 building, charming cobblestone courtyard and opulent touches throughout. Take out one of the complimentary turquoise bikes, learn the art of Southern cuisine with a class at the cooking school, or simply relax on the veranda with a mint julep. The Zero George was named one of the top-five foodie hotels in the world by Conde Nast, so there’s no doubt it’s also one of the best restaurants in Charleston!
Housed in an elegant building that began life in 1851 as a grocery store, today Emeline feeds traveler’s hunger for luxurious accommodations in the heart of the city. Don’t miss the daily limoncello toasts or exploring the Keep Shop for the perfectly curated souvenir.
Sophisticated refinement awaits at The Spectator located in the historic French Quarter. The intimate 41-room boutique property delights with a design vibe evoking the 1920s Gatsby era and pampers guests with butler service, welcome cocktails and in-room breakfast.
French Quarter Inn
FRENCH QUARTER INN
For the past two years, the intimate French Quarter Inn has been TripAdvisor’s top hotel in the country. The luxurious inn is just a block off Market Street in downtown Charleston and delights with small touches like a welcome glass of bubbly, an extensive pillow menu and breakfast in bed included, making it one of our faves as well for our Charleston City Guide.
Housed in the former L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building, The Dewberry took eight years to convert to the luxury hotel it is today. The property blends its history with the modern, luxurious design aesthetic today’s discriminating traveler demands. Do not miss experiencing a treatment in the sumptuous spa.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina
THE BEACH CLUB AT CHARLESTON HARBOR RESORT & MARINA
If you want a waterfront retreat just six miles away from downtown Charleston, The Beach Club, is the perfect getaway. Enjoy airy, beach chic rooms, access to a private beach, or a Nirvana Stress Relief Massage at the Estuary Spa.
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WHERE TO EAT
Charleston is a foodie paradise. It’s not only one of the best culinary towns in the country, but arguably the world. Bring your appetite because you’re going to want to pack in as many Charleston restaurants into your itinerary as your stomach will allow.
If you’re looking for the best seafood in the city, our Charleston City Guide declares it’s at Tempest, run by Chef Jamie Lynch, of Top Chef fame. Opened in August, Tempest serves up fresh, sustainable seafood with a focus on specialties prepared in the Mibrasa charcoal oven. Tempest features a one-of-a-kind, 700-square-foot stained-glass mosaic that is suspended from the restaurant’s ceiling. Hand-crafted by local Charleston artist Honey McCrary, the panels are estimated to include more than 100,000 pieces of glass, designed and fitted together to tell the story of a tempest or violent storm.
Looking for the best brunch in Charleston? Come worship at the altar of 5Church. Housed in a historic church in downtown Charleston with an eclectic design centered around the original stained glass windows, 5Church is known for it’s “Holy Shi* Breakfast” that includes fried chicken, eggs, bacon, house-made donuts, biscuits, house-made jam and choice of mimosa or Bloody Mary.
The newest fine dining game in town according to this Charleston City Guide is Bistronomy, led by Chef Nico Romo. Born in Lyon, France, Chef Romo is the youngest chef to have membership in the French Culinary Academy and is one of only 66 Master Chefs of France. The new restaurant offers playful interpretations of French classics like Escargot Dumplings or Duck Confit steamed buns.
Locals love this ICONIC bar adjacent to the more touristy Husk Restaurant. Housed in an 18th Century carriage house, the food comes from Husk Restaurant and drinks like the Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch made from a 1792 recipe or an old fashioned made from local bourbon and rye whiskey.
Callie's Hot little Biscuits
CALLIE’S HOT LITTLE BISCUITS
Nothing says Southern like biting into a piping hot, buttery, flakey biscuit and Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits are the best in the business according to Saveur, Oprah and the New York Times. Stop by their shop in the City Market or while shopping on King Street. And now a fave of this Charleston City Guide.
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WHAT TO DO
If you can tear yourself away from the table, Charleston has many delights outside of the epicurean. One of the best things about Charleston is its walkability. Stroll the cobblestone streets and take in the Southern architecture, delve into the history of the city or find a local souvenir to take home.
f11photo / Shutterstock
One of the best ways to tour LowCountry, as it’s called, is to retrace the steps of patriots, pirates, early settlers or even the dearly departed on a walking tour. Check out Charleston Sole walking tours, where owner Brian Simms is a 10th generation Charlestonian and will guide you on a memorable two-hour walking tour that includes some of our most celebrated landmarks and hidden gems of Charleston, including St. Michael’s Church, Antebellum Mansions, preserved homes and buildings and local history. Or meet the ghosts of Charleston with the tour at Buxton Books.
Experience the charm of Historic Charleston in a two-hour walking tour with native Charlestonian sisters, Mary Helen Dantzler and Therese Smythe, whose family dates from 1793, as you stroll through downtown Charleston’s historic district along its most beautiful streets and scenic alleyways, the most fave tour in town, exploring back streets and alleyways, gardens and local legends.
Laura Novak / Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION AND GARDENS
See more of the South’s history at the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Dating to 1676, the house was the home of three centuries of the Drayton Family and gives a glimpse into what life was like in early America—the lifestyle and the oppression. The gardens, the oldest public garden in America, is considered one of America’s most beautiful.
CHARLESTON TEA PARTY TOUR
Natives Laura Wichmann Hipp and June McKnight invite you on a tour to their friends’ private homes and gardens to get a glimpse into how the locals live, or join them on the Shop ‘Til You Drop Antique tour of the city. Both tours naturally include afternoon tea.
Charles Curtis / Shutterstock
A visit to Rainbow Row on East Bay Street is an ICONIC must according to our Charleston City Guide. The 13 colorful historic homes represent the largest row of Georgian style homes in the United States. The renovated pastel homes offer an ideal backdrop for an insta-worthy moment.
Courtesy French Quarter Inn
JOE RILEY WATERFRONT PARK
Take out your hotel bikes and cycle the eight-mile Joe Riley Waterfront Park that abut the Charleston Harbor. Procure picnic supplies from Goat. Sheep. Cow. before setting out and stop on one of the many old-fashioned park benches for an al fresco lunch.
KING STREET SHOPPING
King Street is the historic shopping street in Charleston and while high rents have pushed many independent shops out, some remain. Check out Croghans Jewel Box, Berlin’s Clothing Store, Ibu Movement, and Hampden Clothing.
Travel with our ICONIC Charleston City Guide and let us know what you loved from your trip.
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