Known for its quintessential Southern charm and history, colonial architecture, and mansions, Charleston is a romantic, alluring city that honors the past and present. Waltz down lantern-lit cobblestone streets lined by oak trees draped in Spanish moss, dine in historic carriage houses, or relax by its beautiful harbor. For our history buffs, we’ve curated the perfect weekend guide to the best of historic Charleston.
The Best Hotel in Charleston
John Rutledge House Inn
Built in 1763 by John Rutledge, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, John Rutledge House Inn was one of Charleston’s most historic homes before being transformed into a grand old dame of a hotel. The cozy guest rooms and suites, each named after prominent figures in American history like George Washington, are located either in the main house or two charming carriage houses that evoke classic colonial Charleston through 1700s antiques and furnishings. We’re talking floral drapes, bed skirts, matching tablecloths, and decadent Italian marble fireplaces.
Eat + Drink: The Inn doesn’t have an onsite restaurant, but breakfast is delivered right to your room or served in the courtyard. As for local dining options, Basic Kitchen offers fresh, healthy menu items created from local produce that satisfies. Try the Basic Bowl with roasted sweet potato, broccoli with herbs, citrus-y kale, curried chickpeas, and grains (add chicken or salmon if you need a little wild-caught seafood or sustainably raised meat in your life).
Back at the inn after a day of immersing Charleston’s beauty and history, and you’ll be greeted with a complimentary port, sherry, or brandy to sip on the piazza overlooking Broad Street.
More Historic Charleston Hotels
These gorgeous old hotels also promise to elevate your trip to Charleston.
The Vendue, Charleston’s Art Hotel
Located in Charleston’s historic district, this boutique hotel is the only dedicated art hotel showcasing exhibits that blend contemporary global art with historic charm. The rooms are cozy and unique, some with exposed brick walls and abstract paintings, and others with upholstered furniture and eye-catching wallpaper. In the evenings, spend your time on the top-rated rooftop bar with a Sunset Spritz cocktail in hand, overlooking the Charleston Harbor and Waterfront Park.
Closest to the city’s best restaurants, shops, City Market, and the myriad of stately mansions, Planters Inn has been holding court in the center of Charleston’s stunning Historic District since 1884. A member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel collection, this 64-room grande dame was meticulously renovated to feel like a South of Broad private mansion. The property quickly envelops guests in old-fashioned luxury with elegant rooms and suites outfitted with working fireplaces, 10-foot ceilings, silk window dressings, heart pine floors, custom moldings, antiques, four-poster beds, and private terraces. Other highlights include a hidden garden created by landscape architect Sheila Wertimer and the Peninsula Grill, one of Charleston’s most romantic restaurants. Make sure you order their world-famous Ultimate Coconut Cake.
Zero George Hotel
Named after its location at 0 George Street, the Zero George Hotel is comprised of three restored historic homes and two brick carriage houses, all surrounded by a quaint and secret courtyard. The rooms are large and contemporary, but overall the vibe is quaint, charming and luxurious. The original 1804 carriage house plays host to an enchanting lobby and open kitchen, where you can watch award-winning Executive Chef Vinson Petrillo host cooking classes and enjoy small-bite happy hour, a fan favorite of guests.
The Best Restaurant in Charleston
Zero Restaurant + Bar
A fine-dining contemporary American experience in an 1804 carriage house awaits at Zero Restaurant and Bar. The culinary gem located at Zero George Street Hotel is helmed by Chef Vinson Petrillo, whose focus is on hyper-seasonal fare; herbs and vegetables from the hotel’s garden; fresh-caught seafood from local fisherman, and meat and produce from nearby farms. The restaurant has a large open kitchen so guests can watch their dishes being prepared or try a class at the cooking school.
Eat + Drink: The menu changes daily, and the Chef’s Tasting Menu is a must–as is heading here for craft cocktails, wine and beer over happy hour. If you’re a beer lover, we recommend the Freehouse Lager. Or get your cocktail hour on with The Red Scare, made of Espolon tequila, pomegranate, habanera, and cilantro to spice up your night.
More Best Restaurants and Bars in Charleston
The Blind Tiger
Coined in the late 1800s, the term “Blind Tiger” was used to describe the illicit drinking and gambling spots in the Holy City. Chow down on upscale bar food (like a Parmesan Truffle Frites & Pub Burger) in this historical alehouse, which features a grotto-style brick-walled courtyard, outdoor fire pit, and picnic tables. Catch a game, drink a pint, and don’t forget to finish with the Bourbon Bread Pudding.
A beautifully restored Victorian house located on Queen Street, Poogan’s Porch serves Lowcountry cuisine in a Southern atmosphere. Opening in 1976, this restaurant has nailed their buttermilk biscuit and sausage gravy to the bone, not to mention their signature buttermilk fried chicken. This is what Southern culinary dreams are made of.
After a Whiskey Sour at Husk Bar, head to dinner in the neighboring historic house, Husk. The hearty menu is designed by Executive Chef Travis Grimes, who has transformed traditional Southern food with ingredient-driven cuisine and the rediscovery of heirloom products to redefine what it means to cook and eat in the Lowcountry. Go for the glazed pig’s ears wrapped in crunchy bibb lettuce with sweet vinegar cucumber and red onion.
The Best Things to do in Charleston
In 1788, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney made it known that the land given to the city of Charleston had to be used as a market. Today, the market stands as a beacon of history renovated to include a Market Hall where you’ll find a treasure trove of goodies including jewelry, home decor, baked goods, gourmet coffee beans, and more. Be sure to pick up a sweetgrass basket woven using locally-harvested bulrush, a tradition dating back 300 years.
Joe Riley Waterfront Park
A 10-minute walk from the City Market is Joe Riley Waterfront Park, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the Charleston Harbor. Stroll the walkway, have a coffee on old-fashion park benches, pull up a blanket on the large rectangular lawn for a picnic, or hang out and cool off by the two large fountains.
Fort Sumter National Monument
A trip through history isn’t complete without a visit to a national monument like Fort Sumter. This site marks the first battle of the Civil War, where war was waged between Union and Confederate forces. Your tour includes exploring preserved fort ruins, learning about the events leading to the war, and hearing stories of those that fought in battle from National Park Rangers.
Walking Tour South of Broad
Charleston is the ultimate walking city and you can cover a lot of ground in a day. The best neighborhood to stroll through is the residential section known as South of Broad to peek at quaint carriage houses, lush gardens, and breathtaking Antebellum estates. Don’t miss Zig Zag Alley and Rainbow Row—a pretty stretch of pastel homes that dates back to the 18th-century and is the most #Instagrammable spot in the city.
Charleston: 90-Minute Historic City Highlights Tour
For an extensive historical tour of the city, visiting over 100 different locations, Get Your Guide offers travel by shuttle throughout Charleston to attractions such as the Old Market Area and Rainbow Row. As you ride along, the guide will tell stories about some of the most famous moments in the city’s history.