The epitome of Southern grace in an urban setting, Charleston captures out-of-towners’ hearts with its pastel Battery Park row houses, full-throttle history, lazy horse-drawn carriage rides, slow-talking tour guides, watery boundaries and serious foodie eateries. No wonder Condé Nast Traveler readers voted it 2012’s Top U.S. City.
“There’s no need to rent cars or vans to see Charleston,” said Lynn Lesesne, acting chair of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Travel Council. “Carriage rides, rickshaws and walking are the way to go.”
Charleston’s easy-to-stroll Museum Mile features six museums, five nationally important historic houses — the 1825 Edmonston Alston-House is a glimpse into “the Holy City’s” heritage of gracious living — four scenic parks, a Revolutionary War powder magazine, numerous historic houses of worship and public buildings such as the Old Market.
Built in 1841, the market is a gem for group tour free time, with stalls full of antiques, produce and artwork. Gullah ladies weave and sell the area’s signature sweetgrass baskets. Groups can savor Lowcountry fare — blue crab bisque and shellfish over grits — at nearby Magnolia’s.
Culinary walking tours of the city include stops at restaurant kitchens to see Charleston’s world-renowned chefs working their magic. Other tours focus on African-American, religious, ghost and garden themes.
Charleston holds a special significance for history buffs, too. In 1861, the Civil War’s first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, and a boat ride across Charleston Harbor affords a trip back in time by way of a well-interpreted tour of the fort.
Only a short drive away on Wadmalaw Island, Charleston Tea Plantation offers groups a narrated trolley tour around the grounds and a sip of tea in a comfy porch rocker.
“You can see tea being harvested and processed from tea leaves,” said Jane Knight, the plantation’s business manager.