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Beautiful, refined Charleston is one of the most charming cities in the United States. Now, as much as I love major cities, such as New York City, the huge skyscrapers, extensive metro systems, and bustling crowds overwhelm me.
Truthfully, in a lot of ways, smaller cities are a breath of fresh air. Because not only do they’ve wonderful culinary and cultural scenes, but these gems often require less strenuous research and planning on the traveler’s part.
For example, my solo trip to Charleston was an incredibly laid back experience complete with delicious meals, kind people, classically Southern architecture, and fascinating (and tumultuous and important) history.
Ultimately, Charleston is a walkable wonderland of cobbled streets, incredible resturants, fascinating museums, and so much more, which makes it the perfect place for a quick weekend escape.
Charleston SC Weekend Trip Essentials
In Charleston, you to bring a couple important items with you. Of course you can find everything you need in the city, but it’s better to bring these things with you, so you don’t have to waste your time shopping for them.
- Classy Yet Cosy Walking Shoes: Charleston’s cobblestone streets might look gorgeous in photos, but man, you wanna be gentle with your feel. Bring some cute wedge sandals to explore this gorgeous Southern city. Your feet will appreciate your kindness!
- Floppy Travel Hat: To be honest, I don’t wear many hats, but I think Charleston just has the right vibe for a floppy fun travel hat, you know? A floppy hat will add a bit of sophistication to your outfit.
- Portable Water Bottle: Charleston gets hot – particular in the summer – and you’ll want to do whatever possible to stay healthy and hydrated. A portable water bottle will quench your thirst as you explore Charleston’s historic district.
- Sunglasses: South Carolina’s sun is bright, bright, bright. Do yourself a kind service and bring a pair of sunglasses with you.
- Sunscreen: In addition to protecting your eyes, you will also want to protect your skin from the sun’s rays. Bring sunscreen to Charleston even if you’re visiting South Carolina in the winter months.
- Trendy Day Pack: You will be clocking a ton of steps in Charleston. My advice is to bring a lightweight day pack with you for your Charleston SC weekend trip. Tumi products are a little pricey, but I think they are worth the investment, because they last forever.
11 Things to Do on a Charleston SC Weekend Trip
Now it’s time for me to share the best things to do on a Charleston SC Weekend Trip! Honestly, it was so hard to come up with this list. Charleston is packed with so many attractions and restaurants that I feel like you have to travel back and forth for a lifetime to see and do everything.
As always, keep in mind that these ideas are just suggestions, and you’re always welcome to do additional research. I know that everyone is different.
Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter is well known as the place where the American Civil War began. The National Park Service manages this historic monument, so all NPS rules and mandates apply on this island and inside the buildings.
History buffs won’t want to miss out on visiting the Fort Sumter Education Center at Liberty Square. As a rule of thumb, always buy tickets ahead of time especially in Charleston’s busier seasons. Fort Sumter is extremely popular due to its importance in American history.
Furthermore, I highly recommend taking the boat ride to Fort Sumter since you only have a weekend in Charleston. The islands and beaches in Charleston Harbor are absolutely gorgeous and deserve a visit once you have more time, but at least by going to Fort Sumter, you’re able to admire wonderful water views from the ferry.
Historic Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market has been an establishment since 1807. The market is open daily, and also has some evening hours for a unique shopping experience.
Charleston’s entrepreneurs flock to the market to sell many unique trinkets, providing the perfect souvenirs. For example, Charleston City Market is one of the places where you can find sweetgrass baskets carefully crafted by talented Gullah artists.
And if you’re hungry, you won’t leave Charleston City Market with an empty stomach! One of my favorite eateries is Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit with their incredibly rich “grab and go” homemade biscuit sandwiches. Feel free to choose from selected sandwiches or build your very own with your favorite ingredients!
Without a doubt, you’ll leave Charleston City Market with heavy shopping bags and lighter wallets.
This splendid collection of thirteen pastel-colored homes is known as Rainbow Row. Sure, Rainbow Row may be the most photographed place in all of Charleston, but I think it’s the story behind these homes that make Rainbow Row super interesting.
For example, there are a lot of theories about why these homes are so brightly colored. One theory is that the pastels would help drunken sailors find their way home at night.
Furthermore, although Rainbow Row is a group of homes, I personally think it’s worth the time to read about each individual one, especially if you have a strong interest in US history. Take your time here. Don’t just snap a picture and leave! Charleston is about slowing down and enjoying the beauty that surrounds you.
In addition to Rainbow Row, The Battery is another splendid place to take a stroll and marvel at some beautiful stately homes. Trust me, you don’t want to skip The Battery on a Charleston SC weekend trip.
As a site, The Battery is an extensive sea wall that stretches along Charleston’s southern peninsula and offers plenty of fresh sea breezes, as well as space to comfortably walk and people watch at the same time. It never felt too crowded when I was in Charleston in February.
Last but not least, Fort Sumter is visible from The Battery — which is also really cool!
Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and Grits is a popular dish in Charleston. I talk a lot about Lowcountry Cuisine later in this post, but figured that shrimp and grits needed its own section, haha.
Honestly, the restaurant scene in Charleston is crazy in the sense that there are so many amazing places to go for Shrimp and Grits that there is absolutely not way you’ll be able to try them all unless you have fifteen stomachs.
I had Shrimp and Grits at Slightly North of Broad and wasn’t at all disappointed! So, so, so good and worth the price. This Thrillist article also has tons of great suggestions for Shrimp and Grits on your weekend trip to Charleston SC.
But I don’t think you can go at all wrong with the restaurant options here.
Pounce Cat Cafe
Okay, I am an absolute sucker for cats. I foster cats in my spare time and love them to bits and pieces. So why not add some bonding time with cats on your Charleston SC weekend trip?
Pounce Cat Cafe is a magical place where you drink coffee and/or wine, and snuggle with adorable furry friends who are also up for adoption. Pounce Cat Cafe is partnered with Charleston Animal Society in order to find loving and compassionate homes for their cats. All paperwork is done right in the cafe.
As a traveler, you probably won’t be adopting a cat, but I still recommend taking an hour to play with them. Your fee supports all of Pounce’s wonderful work and helps the local community. What’s not to love?
The Charleston Museum
Charleston is quite important in American History. Like I said, this city was the starting point of the American Civil War, which changed the country’s entire future.
The Charleston Museum is home to a variety of fantastic exhibits that brings history to life. My personal favorite is Lowcountry History Hall. This exhibit doesn’t gloss over the horrors of slavery, which I appreciated and respected. The exhibit also goes into detail about local Native American history.
You can easily spend an hour or more in the Charleston Museum.
Lowcountry Fine Dining
Oh god. The food. The food in Charleston is to die for. You could seriously throw a stone on any street and walk to the closest restaurant, and still eat a positively delectable meal. Lowcountry cuisine is serious business. Shrimp and Grits is one of the most popular dishes, but don’t forget to sample she crab soup, okra, collard greens, country fried steak, boiled peanuts, and so much more.
Obviously you won’t have time to eat at every single good restaurant on a Charleston SC weekend trip. But all the more reason to come and visit again, right?
Here are some great places that I tried on my own trip to Charleston.
Restaurants I Loved
- 82 Queen: Mmmmm, the best she crab soup that I’ve ever eaten was at 82 Queen. I loved sitting at the bar and savoring every last bite of soup.
- FIG: This popular Charleston restaurant is all about local fresh ingredients. Personally, I loved the communal table at FIG — which is first come, first serve. Sharing a meal with new friends was a ton of fun.
- Husk: Without a doubt, Husk is one of the most popular restaurants in all of Charleston. As a solo diner, I loved the bar area where you’re able to feast on the Husk burger. The main dining room boosts incredible Southern delicacies for all to enjoy.
- Poogan’s Smokehouse: BBQ is another Charleston staple that you need to devour on your stay here. I loved Poogan’s Smokehouse so so so much, but there are plenty of other options for BBQ too! It’s literally everywhere.
- Slightly North of Broad: Like I said earlier, come here for the Shrimp and Grits, and your stomach will feel very happy indeed. No regrets.
Old Slave Mart Museum
Honestly, I feel like you cannot go to Charleston and acknowledge slavery. The city is stunning, but built on the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves. To ignore that reality is disingenuous and wrong.
The Old Slave Mart Museum is an African-American slave museum that shares this important history. For example, I had no idea that up to 40% of slaves unwillingly entered the United States through Charleston. You can easily spend up to an hour reading the information posted around the museum.
Please come with an open mind. The Old Slave Mart Museum should definitely be added to your itinerary for a Charleston SC weekend trip.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
Another site to learn about slavery is at McLeod Plantation. Initially, I was uncomfortable visiting a plantation, but I feel like this is one of the more informative and worthwhile ones to go and visit and learn.
McLeod is located a bit outside of Charleston, but easy to reach via rideshare. As a Gullah/Geechee heritage site, you will learn a lot about the enslaved people who lived here, as well as the racism and struggles after the Civil War in the Reformation Period and beyond. The tour guides are excellent and engaging, too.
Aiken-Rhett House Museum
Last but not least, I recommend checking out some historic homes in Charleston. My personal favorite was Aiken-Rhett House Museum because of its unique “preserve-as-found” approach. Meaning that the rooms have not been altered since the mid-1800s. You truly feel like you’re walking through the pages of a history book.
I feel like the audio guide added a lot of value to touring this property. I enjoyed learning about the main house, as well as the slave quarters to get a full picture of what life was once like in the city of Charleston.
Without a doubt, you should go to Aiken-Rhett House Museum on a Charleston SC weekend trip.
Where to Stay in Charleston for the Weekend
Honestly, although it’s more expensive, I recommend staying in or near the historic district. You want to take advantage of Charleston’s walkable charms and not drive in from near the airport if you’re able to avoid it.
- Governor’s House Inn: Right in the heart of Charleston, this historic inn will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. The Governor’s House Inn was once home to the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence — Edward Rutledge! Pretty amazing, huh? See prices on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com.
- Harbourview Inn: What’s extra special about this historic inn is that it’s the only property of its kind to have a waterfront view. I also recommend Harbourview Inn for those of you looking for a luxury boutique hotel. See prices on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com.
- Indigo Inn: Another comfort hotel in Charleston’s historic district. This highly rated three star hotel has reasonable prices and is close to all of Charleston’s best attractions. See TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com.
A Charleston SC weekend trip is a magical, classy, and delicious travel experience that I recommend to absolutely everyone. Happy planning! I pretty much promise that you will fall madly in love with Charleston.