Charleston, South Carolina, is officially one of my favorite cities in the world. There are so many incredible things to see and do. There are literally dozens of incredible fine dining options around town. Their art scene is one of the country’s most fascinating, and its rich history means there’s so much to learn from visiting the area. We spent an incredible week getting to know the ins and outs of Charleston, and after such a wonderful visit, I couldn’t be more excited to share my Charleston Luxury Travel Guide. I hope this helps you plan an amazing visit to The Holy City!
Originally published Jun 8th, 2021
Updated October 9th, 2023
Charleston is a port city located on the Atlantic Ocean founded in 1670, originally called Charles Town, to honor then King of England Charles II. Formerly the home of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Charleston was once a common place for pirates to attack and pillage since it was for centuries the United State’s wealthiest city. Also known as “The Holy City,” Charleston is one of America’s oldest and most interesting cities.
The city’s nickname, “The Holy City,” came from the fact that people from all over Europe and the rest of the world came to settle there. These settlers, along with traders and those brought over by force in the slave trade, brought with them unique religious traditions from all over the world. There was no official religion in the area, so churches of all denominations were allowed to flourish and grow freely by local authorities. Today, more than 400 churches dot the Charleston skyline, each with its own unique history. Religious tolerance, a wide spectrum of religious and spiritual beliefs that residents could practice freely, and the abundance of religious buildings around the city earned Charleston its moniker, The Holy City.
Famous for its fresh and delicious seafood and Lowcountry cuisine, Charleston is one of the best food destinations in the world. So much of Charleston’s cuisine was and still is influenced by the culture brought over from Western Africa and the Caribbean by enslaved people. Their culture, cooking methods, and crops like rice continue to shape the food scene hundreds of years later, which is part of what makes the delicious Lowcountry dishes like she-crab soup, gumbo, oyster roasts, crab cakes, shrimp and grits, and so much unique. Although Lowcountry food along Coastal South Carolina and Georgia sounds similar to Cajun and New Orleans cooking, their recipes are unique and delicious.
Lovers of fine dining, art, history, the great outdoors, shopping, and incredible landmarks will find endless things to do in Charleston, which is why it’s consistently voted not only one of the best places to visit in the United States but also one of the best places to live in the world.
How to Get To Charleston
We took a road trip to Charleston, first stopping in Washington D.C. and heading down to Charleston via Interstate 26. It was an easy and exciting drive, as we had never been to this area. Charleston also has its own airport, accessible from most major airports in the nation, called the Charleston International Airport. As you’ll see throughout this Charleston Luxury Travel Guide, Charleston is a very convenient city that’s extremely walkable and surrounded by other awesome points of interest.
Best Times to Visit Charleston
We planned our visit to Charleston for the end of April, which was ideal for everything we wanted to do. The weather wasn’t too hot yet, and was only in the mid-70s, with plenty of sunshine and very little rain during the week we spent there. There weren’t many vacationers and visitors yet. As such, there were never long lines or big crowds for anything we wanted to do, and reservations to some of the very best places in Charleston, like Zero George Restaurant + Bar and Tempest, were available with very short notice.
As a bonus, the flowers in Charleston, like wisteria, jasmine, and azaleas, were in full bloom, which meant there were lots of colors and lush botanicals all around town, making it even lovelier than we’d imagined. This Charleston Luxury Travel Guide will break down all of the wonderful things to eat, see, and do in Charleston this time of year.
Where to Stay
There are so many great hotels and inns in Charleston. Here are a few of my favorite places we’ve stayed, in alphabetical order.
Belmond Charleston Place it’s right downtown with an incredible view of the city. The in-house restaurants like Charleston Grill and Palmetto Café were delicious, and their spa was immaculate and such a wonderful way to unwind at the end of our stay. Our rooms were gorgeously decorated with everything we needed to feel right at home during our time in the city.
As if that wasn’t enough, their concierge could set up just about any rare experience in Charleston that guests could dream up. From custom-crafted picnic baskets stuffed with everything from wine, fruit, cheese, and full meals along with a custom charted biking route for a full day of sightseeing to private sailing expeditions along the Charleston coast to see landmarks from a new perspective or educational and unique oyster collecting experiences, if guests can dream it up, Belmond Charleston Place can make it a reality.
There wasn’t a single thing we would have changed about our stay at Belmond Charleston Place. To read the full review of our unforgettable stay, please click here.
Our stay at John Rutledge House Inn was fantastic. Annually, the property garners local, nationwide, and international accolades for hospitality, and its central location made it the perfect spot for us to journey downtown and soak up all the beauty of Charleston on foot. If you’re looking for an inn rooted in local history that doesn’t neglect to pamper its guests, you’ve found it.
Out of Charleston‘s 170 or so hotels, only five are 5-star hotels. Wentworth Mansion is one of them, and for good reason. This stunning 21-room home turned opulent hotel is a delightful nod to southern hospitality that’s famous worldwide. With everything from on-site fine dining, electric vehicle charging, turn-down service, a holistic spa, and so many more unexpectedly luxurious touches, it’s easy to see why Wentworth Mansion is one of the finest luxury hotels in the South.
If I had to summarize Charleston by sharing a single place, it would be Zero George Hotel. We dined at Zero George Restaurant on our last visit to Charleston and were floored by the incredible food. It’s easily in the top five places we’ve ever eaten, so we knew we needed to return this trip. The landscaping around Zero George Hotel and the attached restaurant was lush and stunning, and the cloistered, tranquil atmosphere made it the perfect place to rest and relax during our visit. We had a great stay – here’s why!
Where to Eat
As I mentioned, Charleston ranks right up alongside Tokyo, New York City, London, and Los Angeles as some of the best places to eat I’ve ever visited. Every restaurant we ate at was spectacular and fresh and put its own unique twist on local Lowcountry cuisine, and I don’t say that lightly. My Charleston Luxury Travel Guide lists out a few of my favorite places we dined at during our visit in alphabetical order. I’m excited to visit again someday soon and try even more Lowcountry delicacies!
Basic Kitchen has plenty of plant-based options, and everything is locally sourced in the Charleston Area. Their respect for the environment shines through in everything they do, including decorating with elements from nature, using reusable napkins, offering plant-based, vegan, or gluten-free options for nearly everything on the menu, and using organic products whenever possible. Our meal here was delightful, and I invite you to read all about it in my full restaurant review.
We visited again during our most recent trip and had an exceptional visit. Everything was delicious, as always! Read the new review here.
Charleston Grill, inside Belmond Charleston Place, is equal parts jazz club and refined dining haven. Guided by Executive Chef Michelle Weaver, often called “Charleston’s Slow Food Maestro,” diners at Charleston Grill savor one Lowcountry delight after another. Dining here felt as though we had slipped back in time to a more elegant and sophisticated time when things moved at a more relaxed pace. Read the full post about Charleston Grill here.
We visited again in 2023 and had another excellent meal here. Everything was just as delicious as our last visit. Read the new review here.
Church and Union
Built in an old church and handpainted with the entirety of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, this restaurant has fresh seafood, delicious, inventive meals, and fantastic cocktails or mocktails. This is a great place to dine. Read the full review here.
Located inside an old carriage house beside Wentworth Mansion, this delightful restaurant is a great spot for date nights, romantic evenings out, and for anyone who loves wine tasting, as they have one of Charleston’s best wine selections. Read the full review here.
Félix Cocktails et Cuisine
I wish we had French-inspired cafés like this in Connecticut because it was the perfect way to travel abroad without really going overseas. The café is situated inside a bright and airy, French-inspired space that was very charming, and the food was wonderful. Read here to see what we ate and why we loved our meal here so much!
Miller’s All Day
Our first breakfast in Charleston was at Miller’s All Day, and it was so delicious. I had a bright, colorful salad, and my husband had their homemade cinnamon roll and a frittata for breakfast. It was the perfect way to kick off our culinary adventures in Charleston.
Owned and operated by Relais & Château luxury association. The head chef at Peninsula Grill, Executive Chef Graham Dailey, trained under the late famed Chef Anthony Bourdain for two years, has a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, and has years of experience harvesting fish and shrimp on the Gulf of Mexico. Executive Chef Graham Dailey knows how to cook excellent food.
Affiliated with Basic Kitchen, Post House, located in nearby Mount Pleasant, Post House was an exquisite meal. Every single dish we ate here was phenomenal, and we loved it. The service was excellent, too. Read the full review here.
Tempest exclusively uses hyper-local, sustainably & seasonably captured fish and seafood to minimize their environmental impact while maximizing flavor and impact on diner’s palates. Everything we ate, from the umami tuna bombs to the clam risotto, everything was perfectly flavorful and truly unique. If you haven’t visited this new Charleston restaurant yet, you’re going to fall in love with it after you read my full review in my Fine Dining Vertical and our repeat visit here.
Located inside Belmond Charleston Place, this is the perfect brunch spot before a long day of sightseeing. We had their delicious Açai Bowls, as well as a salmon benedict, and everything was just incredible. Plus, the restaurant itself is beautiful, bright, and airy, filled with water fountains and houseplants, making it quite literally a cool place to escape the heat of the summer. Read my full review here.
This Italian-themed market was a great place for a light lunch. Offering soups, salads, pizzas, hot, cold, and alcoholic beverages, and an assortment of pastries, this Italian-inspired bistro offers really great locally-made food. Read the full review here.
We visited again during our most recent visit and had an even better meal than the last time! Read all about it here.
What to Do In and Around Charleston
I’m fully convinced that there’s something for everyone in Charleston, which is why I’ve listed so many fun activities in my Charleston Luxury Travel Guide. Whether you want to explore the city’s history and learn more about pirates, oyster harvesting, the incredible swamplands around Charleston & their ecology, how slavery and enslaved people shaped the area’s food, music, art, and general culture, or something else entirely, there is a plethora of tour options available around Charleston.
We went on a harbor tour and saw at least a dozen dolphins, along with historical landmarks like Fort Sumter, plus celebrity houses (did you know Bill Murray lives in the Charleston area?), as well as Charleston from a fresh perspective. I highly recommend this harbor tour or this private tour if you’re interested in learning more about Charleston’s history, piracy, the rise and fall of plantations, and just general information about the area.
The Gibbes Museum of Art is an excellent place to learn about the history and culture of Charleston through artistic expression. The ground floor is free and open to the public and their resident artist studios, and the upper floors require a ticket.
We visited the South Carolina Aquarium which exclusively houses sea creatures that can’t survive in the wild, and their Sea Turtle Care Clinic. They treat, rehabilitate, and release hundreds of wild sea turtles each year. This was not only the most beautiful, clean, and happiest-looking aquarium I’ve ever been to. It was also the most ethical, and all ticket profits went to help their rehabilitation efforts.
Walking downtown along King Street is another fun activity and a wonderful way to get acquainted with the city. This is the oldest and most architecturally diverse street in town, so if you’re a fan of historic buildings, graveyards, gardens, and courtyards, and excellent shopping, you’ll love walking along King Street and exploring its gorgeous side streets.
Speaking of walking around town, we spent one afternoon just walking around town, admiring the gorgeous houses and their incredible flower boxes. You may remember me mentioning in my Venice & Rome travel guides that I love seeing unique and inspiring combinations of doors, gardens, flower boxes, and cool house number signs, and Charleston is one of the best places in the world to see these. Each house is uniquely gorgeous and well worth seeing for other fans of home and garden design.
Enjoy an incredible meal at some of the world’s best restaurants. As I mentioned, Charleston has some of the very best fine dining in the world, and there’s no shortage of incredible places to eat in town, like Zero George Restaurant + Bar, Circa 1886 Restaurant, Charleston Grill, Peninsula Grill, The Ordinary, Chez Nous, High Cotton Charleston Restuarant, and dozens more.
Stroll Rainbow Row along the water, a series of 13 historic homes painted in bright, beautiful colors. There are tours available of this street, which give a more in-depth history of the homes, who has lived in them, and why they are important to the city. When walking along Charleston Harbor, keep an eye out for other gorgeous homes like the ones below. If you need home design inspiration, come to Charleston!
Should you feel like shopping, head over to the luxury shops at the Shops at Belmond Charleston Place. This mall inside Belmond Charleston Place and the street behind the Louis Vuitton store offer shoppers a world-class luxury shopping experience from Gucci to Louis Vuitton and beyond.
The Spa at Hotel Bennett was a great place to have a couple’s massage. We loved our visit and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon here and left feeling completely rejuvenated. Read the full review here.
Day Trips from Charleston
Charleston is just one of the incredible cities to visit in the area. I also think it’s the best “base camp” for exploring the surrounding area. So pick a hotel, explore Charleston with my Charleston Luxury Travel Guide, and then head out into the surrounding area to see more of this beautiful area, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful regions in the United States.
Congaree National Park
1 Hour 50 Minute Drive from Charleston
If you love kayaking, canoeing, the great outdoors, and learning about biodiversity, this sometimes overlooked National Park is the perfect spot to get out into nature and enjoy a day outdoors. Just don’t forget mosquito repellent!
Isle of Palms, SC
37 Minute Drive from Charleston
If you’re looking for a lovely beach to swim, lounge upon, or walk along, the Isle of Palms is a great place to go. We went here for an afternoon during the middle of the day, and there was hardly anyone around, so it’s a perfect, peaceful place to read a good book, listen to the waves crash against the shores, or collect seashells.
Mount Pleasant, SC
20 Minute Drive from Charleston
Fans of massive Live Oak trees, stately manor homes, and anyone looking for a nice place to ride bicycles will love Mount Pleasant and all it has to offer visitors.
2 Hour Drive from Charleston
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Savannah, but it’s on my list! We had originally planned to tack on a day trip to Savannah to visit Forsyth Park, check out their historical sites and nearby lighthouses, and, of course, enjoy the great food and natural beauty Savannah is famous for. Once we arrived in Charleston, however, we decided to maximize our time in the CHS area and plan a separate trip to Savannah to give it our full attention. However, if you’re not a travel writer, a day trip from Charleston is the perfect way to mix things up!
Sullivan’s Island, SC
24 Minute Drive from Charleston
Perhaps one of the most romantic beach towns we’ve ever visited, we loved our excursion here. There weren’t many people here during our visit, the town and its beaches were pristine, and there were lots of great food options around, like the Obstinate Daughter, which means you can easily hang out for an afternoon without having to go back into town for lunch (unless you want to, of course!). Sullivan’s Island also has excellent views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the historic lighthouse.
We never once felt unsafe in Charleston, not even when we walked alone through back streets after midnight. Like any other city, don’t flash valuables or go anywhere you are unfamiliar with or feel you might get lost. The two biggest safety concerns we had when walking around the Charleston area were how warm it could get, particularly in the summer, and the occasional alligator. Be aware if you visit during the summer of the temperatures, drink plenty of water, and wear sunscreen to stay safe, hydrated, and protected.
If you encounter an alligator lounging along the waterways of Charleston, give it a wide birth, and don’t attempt to get close to it. We saw a young guy get within 2 feet of an alligator to take a selfie with it; he turned his back to it and started clicking away photos of him and the gator. Luckily, an older gentleman yelled at him to move away because he could get hurt. Thankfully, nothing bad happened, but alligators aren’t kittens, so stay away from them, and you’ll be just fine.
Much of Charleston Harbor is off-limits when it comes to swimming because of boating activity and swift currents. There are plenty of beaches, some of which I listed under the “what to do” section, all of which are beautiful swimming spots. When in doubt, ask your hotel concierge for recommendations!
I hope that my Charleston Luxury Travel Guide helps you have an incredible time in one of my favorite cities on Earth!
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