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Downtown Charleston: Hotels, Activities & Food

a person riding a skateboard down a street next to tall buildings

Charleston is 156.6 square miles of southern charm. 

But when most visitors think of the Holy City, they think of Downtown Charleston. And who can blame them? Downtown is where some of the city’s most iconic sites are found.

If you’re planning a trip to Downtown Charleston, we’ve got a list of activities, hotels, and restaurants that cannot be missed.


Where is Downtown Charleston?

Downtown Charleston is the Holy City’s center. It’s the lower part of the peninsula, surrounded by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and the Charleston Harbor.

Only about five-square miles, Downtown Charleston is the heart of this city and the center of the city’s Historic District. You’ll find some of the most iconic sites, as well as both of Walks of Charleston’s public tours in this area of the city. 

Even if you only have three days in Charleston, you’ll be able to see most of Downtown.


Is Downtown Charleston walkable?

Yes! Downtown Charleston is very walkable. It takes only 30 minutes to walk from the Battery (the southern tip of the peninsula) to the Charleston Museum (located on the north side of Downtown).

If you’re only planning on spending time in Charleston’s downtown area, you could easily walk to all of the sites on your must-do list. 


Downtown Charleston Activities

While we love Charleston’s other neighborhoods, Downtown is home to many of our favorite activities in the Holy City. Just a few of the most iconic Downtown Charleston Activities include King Street, the French Quarter, Waterfront Park, Rainbow Row, and the Old Slave Mart Museum.


King Street

a close up of a busy city street

King Street is one of the most famous streets in Downtown Charleston — and dare we say in all of the Holy City.

It stretches about six miles from the northern edge of the city all the way down to the Battery. In Downtown Charleston, you’ll pass some of the most iconic sites in this neighborhood just wandering down King Street. 

It’s over 200 years old and was named for King Charles II of England.


French Quarter

a sign on the side of a building

When visitors think of Downtown Charleston, they’re often envisioning the city’s French Quarter. 

This small neighborhood has a European flair that is characterized by striking architecture — specifically the French Huguenot Church, completed in 1845. 

Other famous sites in the French Quarter include the Dock Street Theatre, City Hall, and the Pink House. 

The French Quarter is home to more Downtown Charleston tour stops than any other neighborhood, and it’s easy to see why: it’s full of stunning architecture and home to hundreds of years of Charleston history.


Waterfront Park/Pineapple Fountain

Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC

​​Joe Riley Waterfront Park is often simply called “Waterfront Park” and is home to Downtown Charleston’s famed pineapple fountain.

The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, something the Lowcountry is famous for. 

This park is the perfect spot for photos, as you’ll get sweeping views of the Cooper River and the Charleston Harbor.


Rainbow Row

Possibly one of the most iconic spots in Downtown Charleston is Rainbow Row.

The buildings between 99 and 101 East Bay Street were dubbed “Rainbow Row” after owners painted them pastel colors in the 1970s. 

Though there are many legends as to how and why these homes were painted such unique colors, the truth is simpler than fiction: the owners wanted to refresh their homes’ paint colors and chose pastel pink, green, blue, and cream candy-colored hues.


Old Slave Mart Museum

slavery history charleston mart

Charleston’s history will forever be linked to the history of slavery in the U.S. 

The Old Slave Mart Museum expertly tells the tale of the slave triangle and the journey of enslaved African Americans from Africa to Charleston. 

It’s estimated that 80% of black Americans have at least one relative that came through the Port of Charleston during times of slavery. 

Learn about the journey from Africa to Charleston to plantations and other areas of the U.S. on a 90-minute tour.


Charleston’s Prettiest Streets

a close up of a street in front of a house

Downtown Charleston is one of the city’s prettiest neighborhoods. Learn about some of Charleston’s prettiest streets on a public two-hour tour of Charleston’s Alleys and Passages

While you’ll still see most of the sites as you would on our Downtown Charleston tour, our Alleys and Passages tour takes you behind the scenes to learn the stories of some of the city’s most famous families and their staff.

Only in Charleston can you rub elbows with high society, politicians, and the working classes — all of who used these back alleys and passages. Many still do today, too.


Downtown Charleston Food & Restaurants

When it’s time to take a break, enjoy some iconic lowcountry fare at one of our favorite Downtown Charleston restaurants. Or, take a Charleston food tour to hear the stories of how some of the most famous food in the South was invented.


Downtown Charleston Market

The Downtown Charleston Market sells more than just food. Here you’ll find crafts, gifts, and souvenirs. 

But what we love most about the market is the food. Restaurants like Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, City Market Grocery, and Gita’s Gourmet all sell foods iconic to the South. 


Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is possibly one of the most iconic Charleston restaurants. 

Named after the owners’ dog, this restaurant serves some of the most sought-after dishes in the South, including fried green tomatoes, pickled okra, fried chicken, and pecan pie. 

The dining room is inside a historic home, build in 1891.


High Cotton

High Cotton is one of the most famous restaurants in Charleston. The menu is seafood-focused and features iconic lowcountry ingredients, like oysters, scallops, bouillabaisse, and shrimp.

If you’re dying to try shrimp and grits, this is the place to do it.


Downtown Charleston Hotels

If you’re planning on spending most of your time in Downtown Charleston, it makes sense to find a hotel in this neighborhood, too.

Some of the city’s most historic hotels are in Downtown, including the Wentworth Mansion, the Andrew Pickney Inn, and the Vendue

If you need to find a place to stay on a budget, check out our list of cheap hotels in Charleston, SC, that don’t feel cheap.

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