First Time in Charleston? Getting In, Out and Around the Holy City
If you’re a first-time visitor to Charleston, you might be surprised how much there is to see and do here. From history, culture, food, festivals and architecture, the Holy City is one of the most picturesque cities in the U.S. Find out what to do, where to go and when to visit one of the U.S.’s most culturally diverse cities.
What Is Charleston Known For?
The answer depends on who you ask. Some will say it’s the food. Others, the history. Many visitors flock to Charleston for the beautiful architecture and stunning views — and decide to never leave. While you’re here, you can expect to enjoy some southern hospitality, interesting stories and award-winning food.
When to Visit Charleston
Charleston experiences mild winters, hot summers and gorgeous springs and autumns. It’s practically always a great time to visit the Holy City. The most popular times to visit are spring, autumn and during the winter holidays (late November and all through December). Summer is also popular for families (when kids are on summer break). February is also a popular time for couples — because, Valentine’s Day.
Depending on the time of year you want to visit, you might experience very different climates. Find out What to Pack Before Visiting Charleston to ensure your family has all the right clothing options for every season.
Getting In and Out of Charleston
Getting to Charleston is super easy. You can get here by plane, train, bus or car.
Charleston is served by the Charleston International airport in North Charleston. It’s operated by the county aviation authority and the military. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Downtown Charleston. Taxis to the city proper cost between $30 and $50 each way. Uber and Lyft charge between $20 and $35 each way.
If you’re heading to Charleston by train, you’ll find it’s just as easy to get to the city center from the local Amtrak station. Located in North Charleston (not far from the airport), you can easily catch a taxi or schedule an Uber or Lyft to get downtown. The taxi and rideshare cost is slightly lower than if you were coming in from the airport.
The Charleston bus station is also located in North Charleston — but slightly closer to the city center than both the airport and Amtrak station.
The easiest way to get to Charleston by car is by I-26 (from all points north) I-526 and Route 17 (points west and east). Most hotels offer parking. You’ll find more street parking in Mount Pleasant and on James Island than you will in Downtown Charleston.
Charleston is divided into just over 20 neighborhoods. If you’re visiting, you might not want to check out every single neighborhood. The most popular neighborhoods for tourism include:
- King Street Historic District
- Folly Beach
- Daniel Island
- French Quarter
- Island of Palms
- Sullivan’s Island
- West Ashley
- Old Village
- South of Broad
Getting Around Charleston
If you’re just planning on spending time in Charleston’s downtown area, you might not even need to rent a car. Downtown is very walkable, and there’s plenty to see and do. If you opt out of renting a car, you can always take a taxi, Uber or Lyft into the city center. And there is always the option of having Captain Bob, our licensed private driving guide to take you anywhere you want to go including to the many plantation that are located 20 to 30 minutes from Charleston.
Charleston also has a public bus system (CARTA) that makes getting around Downtown very easy — click here for a map of routes and stops in the downtown area.
Another popular way to get around Charleston (when the weather is nice) is to rent a bike. You can rent a bike from a bike share company, like Holy Spokes or a bike tour company.
If you’re planning on spending much time outside of the city center, you’ll possibly want to rent a car. Getting to and from both Mount Pleasant and James Island is easier with a vehicle.
Things to Do in Charleston
Charleston is a mecca of history and culture. You could spend weeks here and not see everything. Some of the most popular attractions that draw visitors include:
- Local historic activities
- Outdoor activities (hiking, biking and boating)
- Local history tours (we think ours are the best of course!)
- Beautiful beaches
- Churches and architecture
- Plantation tours
- Local cuisine
- Carriage rides
Charleston has a long and storied history. It played a major role in the Civil War. It was also pivotal in the Revolutionary War and has connections to the War of 1812. Aside from famous U.S. wars, Charleston’s history is also heavily rooted in the national economy. It’s known for its many beautiful plantations that once grew tea, sugarcane and other exports.
At Charleston’s many museums, you can learn about the families who built the city and how the city evolved over time.
There are some visitors who head to Charleston just to eat. Charleston has so many award-winning restaurants and iconic foods that it’s no wonder. Some of the must-try foods that you need to add to your eating bucket list include:
- Shrimp and grits
- Fried chicken and waffles
- She-crab soup
- Planters punch
- Boiled peanuts
- Pimento cheese
- Pickled okra
- Frogmore stew
- Fried green tomatoes
Yes, that is a long list. If we were you, we’d plan on working up an appetite before heading out to eat. Join us on one of our famous walking tours in the morning or afternoon. You’ll get a little food for the soul before filling your belly with delicious southern cuisine.