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Charleston is one of the South’s best preserved and most loved cities. Its charms have made it one of the top tourist destinations in the US, with sightseers coming to view its historic buildings and experience its famed southern hospitality.
The downtown area, with its beautifully restored houses and buildings, is perfect for exploring by foot. Some of the most sought-out edifices are the pseudo-classical Nathaniel Russell House, dating from 1808, and the Heyward-Washington House, which housed George Washington in 1791.
The best preserved 19th century interiors are at the Aiken-Rhet House and the renowned Edmondston-Alston House in Charleston’s refined High Battery neighbourhood. The Aiken-Rhet House retains the original slave quarters and work yard, showing conditions as they were during the Civil War.
On a cobbled street lies the Old Powder Magazine, built in 1713 and used during the Revolutionary War. It now contains a museum which details life in 18th century Charleston and contains weapons, clothes and belongings from the era. Additionally, the city is blessed with many parks, with one of the most popular being Waterfront Park, which boasts a fishing pier, interactive fountains and landscaped gardens.
The Mount Pleasant area is a must-see for military and history buffs. Patriot’s Point hosts the planet’s largest naval and maritime museum. Its floating attractions include: the aircraft carrier, Yorktown; a WWII submarine; a nuclear merchant ship; and a Coast Guard cutter. Tours are available on all vessels. Those interested in the US Civil War should pay a visit to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the war were fired.
Home to food specialties like sautéed shrimps, grits and pecan pie, Charleston has enough food options to satisfy most tastes. As well as these regional delights, there are international options ranging from Italian to Vietnamese to Israeli.
The major suburbs in Charleston are: Avondale, Hampton, Heathwood, Myers, The Crescent, Wappoo Heights and Windermire.
Popular excursions for those coming to Charleston are to the many magnificent plantation houses and estates which dot the surrounding countryside. These historic houses evoke days of refined Southern society, but they also stir memories of the slave-owning era.
One of the most famous is the 1743 Boone Hall Plantation and Grounds on Highway 17. The plantation’s setting amid an avenue of oaks is said to have provided inspiration for Tara in Gone with the Wind. The grounds, house and slave quarters can be explored, and lunch is served in the old cotton gin building.
Another estate is the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens which, as well as containing America’s oldest garden, has canoe trips. Built between 1738 and 1742, the plantation is unfurnished but contains opulent carvings and décor.
There are many popular islands close to Charleston. At the harbour entrance is Sullivan’s Island, which contains Fort Moultrie, where on June 28, 1776 the American Revolutionaries won their first victory over the British.
For a more extensive holiday experience, visit the Isle of Palms, which offers all the attractions of a secluded getaway, with pristine beaches, a wide variety of outdoor activities and top class facilities. Just over 35kms south of Charleston is Seabrook Island, which is more exclusive than the Isle of Palms.
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is a large group of barrier islands and salt marshes easily reached by car from Charleston. Considered one of the most outstanding refuges in the country, it is home to extensive bird and reptile life. The Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center offers information and exhibits about the refuge and also has ferry trips to the unspoilt wilderness of Bull Island.
Much farther afield is Myrtle Beach on South Carolina’s coast. This resort is the hub of the Grand Strand coastal strip and is famous for its long, clean beaches, temperate seas, raucous wildlife and family-oriented activities.
Charleston International Airport is in northern Charleston on I-26, about 19kms west of the city. Five major airlines provide daily service to major hubs all over the eastern US. There are also a few regional, transcontinental and international flights. If you're driving from the airport to town, follow the airport-access road to I-26 into the heart of Charleston.
The main north-south coastal route, US 17, passes through Charleston; I-26 runs northwest to southeast, ending in Charleston. Charleston is 192kms southeast of Columbia via I-26, and 157kms south of Myrtle Beach via US 17.
Amtrak's Silver Service provides rail service along the eastern seaboard between New York's Penn Station and Miami, Florida, with stops in South Carolina.
Greyhound services link Charleston to other major cities in the state and the rest of the US.
Boats arriving at Charleston Harbour via the Intracoastal Waterway may dock at City and Ashley marinas.