These are the best times to visit Charleston (and what to do there)
- Where to Wine and Dine in Charleston
- Getting to and around Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1670, making it one of the oldest cities in the United States. It is also one of the best preserved; visitors will feel like they have stepped back in time as they wander the quaint cobbled streets and admire the colorful pre-war houses.
A perennial winner of “Best City in America” and even “Best City in the World” titles, Charleston packs a punch for such a small city. A delicate balance has been struck between maintaining its historic identity while establishing a modern reputation for its culinary, arts and entertainment scene. Oh, and don’t forget the beautiful surrounding beaches just a few miles away!
When to visit Charleston
There really isn’t a bad time of year to visit Charleston, but there are a few things to consider when choosing travel dates. The most ideal time to go will mostly be a matter of personal preference, depending on how travelers feel about the heat and the specific activities on the to-do list.
spring and autumn
From a strictly climatic point of view, these are perhaps the best seasons to visit Charleston. The weather is warm, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and only a sweater or light jacket is needed at night. Even the ocean is a nice temperature to jump in and enjoy in spring and fall, but with much thinner crowds on the beach (and much less time sitting in traffic to get there).
Summer is lively and fun in Charleston, but beware: it gets very hot during the day. Temperatures are consistently in the 90s and above, with an even higher heat index due to the humidity. Those planning to explore the city on foot should consider setting out early in the morning or in the evening once the sun sets. Fortunately, Charleston is literally surrounded by water, and there are plenty of places to cool off!
Winter temperatures tend to stay quite mild and pleasant until around December. January and February are usually the coldest months of the year, but temperatures rarely drop below the 40s at night, and daytime highs are between the 50s and 60s. Crowds are light and many discounts off season are available on accommodation and attractions. Winter is also the perfect time to rent a vacation rental for an extended stay in one of the surrounding seaside communities. Monthly offers can often be concluded with landlords or property managers at a very favorable price.
Avoid College of Charleston Graduation Weekend (May) or Cooper River Bridge Run Weekend (April) unless you actively participate in either. Traffic is heavily impeded and accommodation prices are high.
What to do in Charleston
Strolling through historic downtown Charleston is an attraction in itself. Visitors can shop till they drop with the endless rows of art galleries and boutiques that line Lower King Street and the surrounding side streets. Here are some other noteworthy shopping suggestions:
- Charleston City Market: Stretching over several city blocks, the historic market dates back centuries and is one of the main local attractions. Open daily from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Charleston Night Market: On Friday and Saturday evenings from March to December, more than 100 talented artists selected through the application process present their creations. All items are local and handcrafted.
- Charleston Farmer’s Market: Located in Marion Square in the middle of downtown Charleston, the Farmer’s Market offers fresh local produce, prepared meals, arts, textiles, and more. Operates every Saturday from April to November, plus the first three weekends of December as a holiday market.
Charleston is also known for its thriving music and arts scene. There are several venues that host both emerging local artists and well-known headliners. Check online and be sure to buy tickets in advance, as the sites are small and often full.
- musical farm: located in the city center, an intimate place that often attracts big names in many genres.
- Charleston For Home: Laid-back local favorite located on James Island.
- Charleston Music Hall: a historic downtown building that hosts concerts, theater and dancing in a formal setting.
- Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina at Patriot’s Point: a fun sand bar at the water’s edge; check out the happy hour concert series every Friday from May to July.
Revise some history
The first shot of the Civil War was fired from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, so the city is brimming with history. There are tons of informative walking tours (be sure to pick a licensed guide), or you can choose to hear their history lesson perched atop a horse-drawn carriage. Visitors should also consider visiting at least one of the historic plantations to tour the homes and gardens while learning about African American history and slavery.
Take advantage of Charleston’s beautiful weather
With its mild climate and proximity to water, Charleston is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors year-round.
- Get on a boat: With so much water surrounding the city, exploring by boat is a great option. Charleston Sailing School offers hourly and daily yacht charters and powerboat rentals; admire the colorful historic homes as you cruise through the harbor or head to Shem Creek and drop anchor at one of the many waterfront bars.
- Watch a baseball game: Charleston is home to its own highly regarded minor league baseball team, the Charleston Riverdogs. Offering cheap beers and tons of fun, the season runs from April to September. Bill Murray is a co-owner of the team and often appears at home games.
- go to the beach: There are three main beaches in Charleston, each with its own vibe and personality. Explore the barrier islands of Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island and Folly Beach, and decide which is your favorite!
Where to Wine and Dine in Charleston
This entire article could easily be devoted to Charleston’s incredible food scene, as the city has long been a foodie’s paradise. Food and drink is a staple of any Charleston vacation. While there are far too many to begin scratching the surface, below are some top picks for different tastes and budgets that have stood the test of time. Oh, and be sure to go to a local oyster roast if you visit during oyster season (September – April)!
Premium Classic Staples
- Hall’s Chophouse: a local institution known for its excellent steaks.
- FIG: Southern cuisine revisited in an upscale setting by a James Beard Award-winning chef.
- Muse: cozy Italian restaurant and wine bar in a historic Charleston home.
- Shell: rotating menu of Upscale southern cuisine in a restored Victorian home.
- the ordinary: a former bank forms a spectacular backdrop for this upscale seafood establishment
hip and trendy
- Biscuit Xiao Bau: Asian fusion cuisine in a converted gas station.
- Fine poultry and Léon oysters: award-winning, affordable kitchen in converted garage.
- 167 Gross: New England-style oyster bar in the historic district.
- Barca: Spanish tapas in an elegant lounge setting.
- Warehouse: industrial-chic cocktail bar offering a rotating menu based on fresh and local products.
Favorite local dives
- Recovery room: dive par excellence bearing the unusual title of world’s best seller of PBR beer.
- Moe’s Crosstown Tavern: Located downtown but north of the “crosstown”, Moe’s is a local favorite, especially on 1/2 price burger night (Tuesdays).
- AC: cheap drinks and cheap food served late and early for brunch too.
- The Griffin: English pub style dive located in the French Quarter. Loved by locals and tourists.
- Salty Mike’s: Located on the waterfront at Charleston City Marina, this dive bar has a view!
Getting to and around Charleston
Charleston International Airport (CHS) is located about 20 minutes from downtown, so flying is a convenient option. The city is also served by Amtrak, with trains arriving in North Charleston. Passengers can easily get to downtown Charleston by carpool, taxi or local bus.
For those driving to Charleston, be sure to check with the vacation rental or hotel in advance for parking. Space is not always provided and, as in any city, parking downtown can be a problem. Charleston is full of one-way streets, so be sure to read the signs carefully before making any turns. Rickshaws and bicycle taxis are a cheap and efficient way to get around the city. The guys (and girls) who ride them are also a great source of local information!
Finally, be aware of flooding at high tide. Because Charleston is a peninsula and sits barely above sea level, city streets are often flooded at high tide, even on sunny days. If it rains, it can be even more serious. Locals are used to this scenario – follow their lead and don’t stress, and definitely don’t drive. The water will recede pretty quickly, so grab a drink and relax!