Charleston, also known by the name ‘Holy City’, is the friendliest city in the U.S. It is South Carolina’s largest city and has a long history but also has a conspicuously modern charm. It is a center for Southern history and a major port on the Atlantic Coast. The city is situated on a peninsula between the estuaries of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, facing a fine deep-water harbor.
Charleston is a very dynamic city and has managed to preserve all its culture, lavish architecture, historic importance, amiable locals, and nurturing its authenticity in modern times.
Charleston has a lot to offer – historical facts, local lore, notable landmarks, antebellum mansions, beautiful parks, old buildings, hidden gardens, serene beaches, the swaying of palmettos, the warm hospitality, the heavenly perfume of jasmine floating through the air. Charleston’s many old colonial homes and churches, picturesque streets, and courtyards, recall its days as the chief city of the royal province of Carolina, and the city and its surroundings attract large numbers of tourists.
1. The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum was the first public museum in the U.S. and was founded in 1773 under the Charleston Library Society. It was used as a storehouse for natural and local history collections. It now has vast collections of artifacts of historic importance such as the rare slave badges and early tools used in rice growing, collections of 19th-century world travelers, southern-made silver, collection of historic needlework, costumes, and textiles. All of these items are showcased in a series of permanent exhibits.
The rich and varied history of Charleston and South Carolina can be explored at the museum and its two National Historic Landmark houses namely – The Joseph Manigault and Heyward Washington Historic Houses.
2. Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is North America’s longest cable-stayed bridge that forever changes the skyline of Charleston’s harbour. It is an iconic symbol that commemorates the City of Charleston’s link to Mt. Pleasant. It has a sleek cable-stay design and is built to withstand excess winds of speeds 480 kilometres per hour and earthquakes of magnitude 7.4. Its height is enough to prevent any collision with the ships passing through the waterway.
It spans across the Cooper River and the beautiful waterway gives the drivers a scenic ride. The walking/riding path known as Wonders’ Day, provides a safe pathway for persons wishing to walk or ride their bicycle over the bridge too. This modern marvel became a landmark as soon as it was completed in 2005.
3. South Carolina Historical Society Museum
South Carolina Historical Society Museum is housed in a fireproof building that was built in 1822 to protect public records. The museum spanning six interactive galleries was founded in 1855 to preserve South Carolina’s rich historical legacy. Being the state’s largest and oldest repository, it has a collection of historical artifacts, handwritten letters, photos, architectural drawings, maps, and much more. This building, designed by Robert Mills, was the first fireproof building in the U.S., built specifically to protect documents.
The Fireproof Building is designed in Palladian style and is adorned with Doric porticoes facing north and south. Cantilevered stone stairs make an oval stairwell in the centre that lights up because of the skylights in the cupola. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973 and major renovations were completed in 2002 and 2016-2017.
4. Drayton Hall
The elegant Drayton Hall is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America Situated in Charleston’s “Low Country”. It is the sole surviving landmark of both – the American Revolution and the Civil War. It remains undisturbed, with its exquisite interiors, and ornamental details showcasing 18th-century craftsmanship. It gives us a glimpse of the past with personal touches – for instance, the children’s growth chart (300 years old).
It also has an African-American cemetery (circa 1790) which is one among the oldest.
The Architectural beauty of this hall is seen in its Palladian style design which was constructed in the early 1800s. The surrounding lush green landscapes add to its beauty, thus making it a well worth National Historic Landmark.
5. Old Slave Mart Museum and Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
Charleston has an unfortunate practice of the slave trade in its history. The Old Slave Mart Museum, which held slave auctions before the Civil War, is located in the heart of the French Quarter, near the French Huguenot Church. This museum is not very big but affects the minds of the visitors deeply and gives a sobering view of the history of slaves.
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (built in 1768) is a place where Pirates held a part of the fortification (protected the Walled city). This is where the Patriots were imprisoned and the Constitution ratified. It is one of the last formal structures built by Britain in Colonial America as an indication of the soaring importance of Charles Town’s(as it was known in colonial times) trade.
There was a trading floor, a floor for meetings and assemblies (ballroom). The dungeon in this structure was where the British tea was seized and stored during the Revolution. The authenticity of this place can be felt in every stone of the structure as it displays colonial history without any reconstruction.
6. Calhoun Mansion
The Williams Mansion was renamed the Calhoun Mansion but recently returned to its original and historical name. One of Charleston’s few intact architectural treasures, and its largest residence, boasting of Gilded Age splendour, including spectacular woodwork, moldings, and craftsmanship. Completed in 1878 (after more than 5 years of construction by charleston’s most talented craftsmen), the Williams Mansion, a marvel of Italianate Revival architectural splendor, was declared by the press as the “most handsome house in the south.”
It remains so today, filled with an extraordinary collection of period furniture and decorative and fine art rivaling any Gilded Age historic museum in the country. Carefully preserved and restored, and has won national and international acclaim, the Mansion (and its spectacular gardens) located at the southern foot of Meeting Street, in the very heart of Charleston’s most important and grand historic, residential areas Represent a different era from the Historic Charleston Foundation’s antebellum homes.
7. Nathaniel Russell House
Nathaniel Russell House is a 200-year-old townhouse known for its architectural marvelousness. It was completed in 1808 by a merchant and was designed in neoclassical style. A National Historic Landmark, the Nathaniel Russell House Museum has a graceful, free-flying, three-storey staircase and elegant interiors with elaborate plasterwork, geometrically shaped rooms, formal gardens, and a collection of 18th-century decorative and fine art.
It also has ornamental cornices and detailed fireplace mantles, and beautiful gardens that speak of how rich and gracious Charleston’s elite were, in the early days of the American Republic. A lot of restoration and conservation work has brought back its original splendor.
8. The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
The Aiken-Rhett House is a townhouse complex in Charleston which includes the house and its outbuildings – the kitchen, quarters for slaves, carriage block, and backlot. It is well preserved and was vastly expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr. in the 1830s and again in the 1850s.
The Historic Charleston Foundation adopted a preserved-as-found preservation approach thus retaining the original paint, floors, and fixtures of the 1850s. This allows the visitors to grasp the everyday realities of the enslaved Africans who lived and labored in the House. It is the best example of antebellum life.
9. The Battery and White Point Garden
During the peak blooming season, the Historic Charleston Foundation organises the Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens specifically for architectural and gardening enthusiasts. It includes a chance to visit the city’s private homes and gardens – these include approximately 150 of America’s most distinctive historic houses, spread throughout 12 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. These southern-style mansions overlook the Charleston harbour and were regarded as the heart and soul of the city’s maritime activities.
The Battery, as the name suggests, was termed after a civil-war coastal defense artillery battery at the site. It stretches along the lower shores of the Charleston peninsula with the Ashley and Cooper Rivers at the borders, which meet to make Charleston harbour at the Battery.
The White Point garden and the promenade are an amazing part of the battery with lots of reverence paid to the military heroes, now acting as a place for socialising, recharging, and relaxing.
10. Middleton Place
Middleton Place, a stunning complex, was home to the Royals – Henry Middleton (President of the 1st Continental Congress) and Arthur Middleton (son). It is now a House Museum, a National Historic Landmark and a Plantation with heritage breeds.
It’s one of America’s oldest landscaped gardens, and showcases the unquestionable Southern beauty of the city.
11. Rainbow row
The longest Pre-Revolutionary structure in America is Charleston’s Rainbow Row – a series of Georgian houses. These 18th century’s iconic homes are painted in a variety of colors thus the name, “Rainbow Row.”
The bright colors of this sequence appeal to the eye and other senses. Compared to the single houses seen in Charleston today, it is remarkable that the old architectural style of Charleston was more like the coastal cities – simple and elegant row houses.
12. Chalmers Street and Pink House Gallery
Chalmers Street is a beautiful cobblestone street with one of the oldest structures in Charleston located on it…”The Pink House”.
The Pink House is a handmade, and asymmetrical house, built of Bermuda stone and resembles a charming man-sized dollhouse. Its tile gambrel roof is as old as the 18th century. It was built by John Breton and is known to be the oldest private building surviving in the French Quarter. It has been used for various purposes over the years – in the 1750s, as a tavern, in the 20th century as a studio, and today as a gallery.
13. Campbell’s covered bridge
Campbell’s Covered Bridge is the only surviving covered bridge in the State of South Carolina. It was constructed in 1909 and is 38-foot long and a 12 foot wide pine structure that spans Beaverdam Creek was built by Charles Irwin Willis.
The Bridge and surrounding area are now transformed into a park for visitors to enjoy picnics and explore the old mill foundations and home site. It is now owned by Greenville County visitors can learn about the area through interpretive signage, and wet their feet on a hot summer day in Beaverdam Creek.
14. Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Joe Riley Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina is a 12-acre park along a half-mile stretch of the Cooper River. It is a paradise for landscape architects as it has been awarded the Landmark Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2007.
This award “recognizes a distinguished landscape architecture project completed between 15 and 50 years ago that retains its original design integrity and contributes significantly to the public realm of the community in which it is located.”
This picturesque park has become more tourist-friendly since it was constructed. It was earlier a center of maritime traffic with several wharves and shipping terminals. It started to decline in the 1950s due to a fire at a steamship terminal. And by 1980, there were weeds all over the place and spoiled unused spaces. Work for this major park began in 1988 designed by Stuart O. Dawson.
The park includes a lot of different areas such as a large pineapple-shaped fountain, floating dock, wooden piers, a dense canopy of oak trees, and a 1,200-foot palmetto-lined esplanade that follows the natural waterline.
15. Churches of Charleston
Charleston is called the “Holy City” because of its skyline, which is largely formed by Church Steeples. The houses are mostly Single standing and hence low in height which makes the Churches stand out! Each of the Churches has a very distinct architectural style and its way of appealing to the visitors.
The variety of churches that can be seen in Charleston are – the very ornate Grace Episcopal Church, the modest St. Stephens Episcopal Church, the pretty pink French Huguenot Church, the Neo-gothic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the very high St. Matthews Lutheran Church, the Greek-inspired St. Johannes Lutheran Church, the Roman-inspired Circular Congregational Church, the Central Baptist Church, the Mt. Zion AME Church, the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and the St. John’s Lutheran Church.