Charleston Weekend Getaway: Perfect Itinerary

Charleston, South Carolina, is absolutely one of our favorite places to visit. It’s stunningly beautiful and full of so many great things to do. This Charleston weekend getaway itinerary is all you need to have an amazing getaway in the Holy City. 

Charleston is a top travel destination in the American South and should not be missed by anyone who wants to explore more of this part of the United States.

Key takeaways

  • Charleston is a top travel destination in the American South with a rich history and beautiful architecture.
  • Aiken-Rhett House and Fort Sumter National Monument are significant historical sites to visit.
  • The Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park are popular spots for shopping, sightseeing, and enjoying the local scenery.
  • Outside the city center, I recommend trying a plantation tour, a beach trip, such as to Folly Beach, or visiting the Angel Oak.
  • The best times to visit Charleston are in the spring or later in the fall to avoid the extreme heat and hurricane season.
Beautiful houses along the Battery in Charleston
A Charleston weekend getaway itinerary isn’t complete without some time to marvel at the city’s amazing architecture. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

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Charleston weekend trip itinerary: Day 1 

On your first day in Charleston for the weekend, I recommend you grab a big breakfast and then spend the bulk of your day at two significant historical sites: Aiken-Rhett House and Fort Sumter National Monument. 

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Aiken Rhett house 

Address: 48 Elizabeth Street, Charleston, SC 29403 

Parking: The Visitor Center Parking Garage at 73 Mary Street is quite convenient. 

Aiken-Rhett House was once the home of Governor and Mrs. William Aiken Jr.

William Aiken Jr. was the 61st governor of South Carolina, from 1864 – 1866. While Nathaniel Russell House (nearer The Battery in lower Charleston) has been beautifully restored, if you’re looking for a historic Charleston home that’s been carefully preserved, I recommend you tour Aiken-Rhett House. 

Aiken-Rhett House has been called “the most intact townhouse complex showcasing urban life in antebellum Charleston” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

While the main house is quite a site, you also won’t want to miss the carefully preserved quarters in the back of the house where many enslaved people (including children) lived and died to maintain the Aiken-Rhett “way of life.” 

Old buildings on the grounds of Aiken Rhett house in Charleston, SC
Your Charleston weekend should include a visit to the historic Aiken-Rhett house. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Aiken-Rhett House is managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation which also looks after Nathaniel Russell House. 

To get the most out of your visit to Aiken-Rhett, download the free Historic Charleston Foundation app onto your iPhone so you can listen to the audio tour

You can purchase tickets in advance online or on-site. If you have time and are interested in seeing both Aiken-Rhett and Nathaniel Russell House on your visit to Charleston, you can purchase a combo ticket and get a discount

Fort Sumter 

Fort Sumter Visitor's Center
The Fort Sumter National Monument Visitor Center at Liberty Square in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

Visitor Center Address: 340 Concord Street, Charleston, SC 29401 

Parking: Use the Aquarium Parking Garage at 24 Calhoun Street 

Fort Sumter is probably best known as the starting place of the American Civil War when it was fired upon by Confederate forces on April 12, 1861. 

Fort Sumter sits on a man-made island in Charleston Harbor and is only accessible by boat. You’ll want to book your tickets ahead of time online through Fort Sumter Tours the National Park Service’s official vendor. 

Plan to arrive at the Visitor Center at least 30 minutes before the ferry leaves. If you have pre-booked your tickets, you can bypass the Visitor Center entirely and go around the side of the building to the back where the line for the ferry begins. 

There are restrooms available in the Visitor Center. And a gift shop! There’s also a gift shop at the fort, but don’t wait too long to stop in because it may close before the end of your visit if you’re in the last tour group of the day. 

Inside the fort, don’t miss the history talk from the National Park Service ranger. It’s really well done and provides some important historical context. 

Inside Fort Sumter
After your ferry ride to the island, you’ll have about 1 hour to explore the fort…and visit the gift shop. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

The ferry ride to and from the fort can be rather breezy. Even though it was a very warm day, I was glad I brought a jacket along. You can also choose to take the ferry to Fort Sumter from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. 

More things to do in Charleston 

Here are some other popular activities you might like to do on your first day in Charleston. They all include free 24-hour cancellation. 

Carriage rides like this one are a very popular thing to do in Charleston. 

You might also enjoy this very highly-rated historical walking tour

Or explore Charleston’s culinary scene with this small group food tour.  

Charleston getaway itinerary: Day 2 

Stroll along The Battery 

Parking: Look for street parking near the water, which will be easier to find early in the morning if you can. 

Start day two of your Charleston weekend trip down at The Battery. It’s called The Battery because there was a coastal defense artillery battery there at one time. 

You’ll find The Battery along the lower Charleston peninsula. The seawall promenade here makes a nice place to walk. The lovely White Point Garden adjacent is also a nice place to take a stroll or enjoy some shade on a hot day.

There are also some really beautiful homes around the battery that show off the stunning Charleston architecture. Have fun walking around and enjoying your beautiful surroundings. 

Visit the historic Charleston City Market 

Address: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401 

Parking: There are a few convenient garages nearby including one at 85 Hassell Street 

The four-city-block-long Charleston City Market is considered by many to be a “must-do” in Charleston. 

The market is full of fun stalls to look through. You’ll find beautiful art and decorative works from local artisans as well as traditional items like sweetgrass baskets that have been made in Charleston for centuries. 

It’s a wonderful place to explore and find some great souvenirs to take away with you to remember your visit to Charleston. 

Waterfront Park 

Fountain with a large pineapple on top in waterfront park in Charleston, South Carolina.
Waterfront Park’s Pineapple Fountain is one of the most photographed sites in Charleston. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

Location: Vendue Range and Concord Street 

Parking: Concord Cumberland Parking Garage (1 Cumberland St.) or Prioleau Street Parking Garage (25 Prioleau St.) 

In this beautiful stretch of waterfront is where you’ll find Charleston’s iconic Pineapple Fountain, a top photo spot in the city. 

This is an ideal place to slow down for a few minutes and just enjoy being in Charleston. It’s also conveniently located near Fleet Landing, one of our top food picks in Charleston. 

If you have time, take a few minutes to walk out on the pier for great views of the harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. There are some nice bench swings out there if you’re looking for a nice place to sit down and catch a nice breeze on a warm day. 

Tree shaded path in Waterfront Park

Unpopular opinion: Rainbow Row is overhyped   

About a six-minute walk from the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park, you’ll find a row of houses on East Bay Street in Charleston known as “Rainbow Row” because the houses have been painted in bright and pastel colors. 

It’s a spot that is popular, particularly with Instagrammers. If you want to see it, then by all means you should take a few minutes out of your day to do it.  I found it overhyped and underwhelming. 

Enjoy dessert and coffee at Carmella’s Dessert Bar  

Address: 198 E Bay St #100, Charleston, SC 29401  

Parking: Keep your car at the Concord Cumberland Garage since Carmella’s is very close to Waterfront Park.  

When you’re ready for some dessert or coffee or if you just need a break on a trip to Charleston, I highly recommend stopping in at Carmella’s.  The café is beautiful, the coffee and gelatos are excellent and they have a variety of other desserts to choose from.  

And their beautiful cakes are large enough to share…or get it to go and keep it to yourself in your hotel room. I’m just saying.  Carmella’s also offers a variety of sandwiches if you’re looking for a quick bite. 

Interior of Carmella's Dessert Bar in Charleston, South Carolina
Carmella’s deserves a visit during your Charleston weekend trip. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

Other great things to do during your Charleston weekend getaway if you have time

Taking a long weekend in Charleston? Here are a few more ideas for things you could add to your Charleston vacation and get to know this Southern city better.

Old Slave Mart Museum

The Old Slave Mart Museum in downtown Charleston shines a light on the city’s past role in the domestic inter-state slave trade from 1856 to 1863. The museum is housed in probably the only known building that was once used as a slave mart that is still in existence.

The Old Slave Mart Museum is an important part of American history, and it provides visitors with important information on the most painful parts of American history. If you have time in your Charleston itinerary, visit this museum in the historic district.

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is a Charleston and national historic landmark. For the past 250 years, this historic building has been used as a commercial exchange, custom house, post office, city hall, military headquarters, and museum.

The Provost Dungeon on the bottom floor was used as a prison during the American Revolution, and it contains exhibits that tell the story of this important period in U.S. history.

Fun things to do outside the center of Charleston 

While the Charleston historic district is crammed with awesome things to do, one of the great things about a trip to Charleston is that there are also a lot of wonderful places to explore outside of the city as well. 

Tour an old plantation 

One of the most popular day trips from Charleston is to tour an old plantation. There are several in the area.  

Two of the most popular are Boone Hall and Magnolia Plantation. 

This tour of Magnolia Plantation includes transportation from downtown Charleston, a tour of the house, and a tour of the gardens and grounds by tram. 

Or you might enjoy paying a visit to Boone Hall PlantationThis activity includes transportation from Charleston. Expert storytellers will take you on a journey through the lives of enslaved people who once lived there.    

Folly Beach 

If you’re looking for something beach-y to do outside of Charleston, then I recommend a visit to Folly Beach on Folly Island, south of Charleston. 

Not sure what to take with you to Folly Beach? Check out our beach essentials packing list post. 

Angel Oak 

Very large and old oak tree
If you have time, I recommend adding a visit to Angel Oak Tree to your Charleston trip itinerary. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

Supposedly the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River, Angel Oak can be found about 20 minutes outside of Charleston at 3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455. 

The park is free to enter and take as many photos as you like. And touching the Angel Oak is okay, but please don’t climb on it. 

Where to stay in Charleston 

Charleston has no shortage of wonderful hotels to stay in. Here are a few top-rated options: 

Andrew Pinckney Inn—boutique hotel with 41 rooms located just a couple of blocks from the Charleston City Market. Book your stay today.  

The Dewberry—luxurious accommodations bordering Marion Square, near fine dining and shopping on King Street. Use one of the Dewberry Volvo guest cars or try one of the complimentary bicycles. Check out their rates today. 

Budget-friendly Option: Doubletree Mount Pleasant—we enjoyed our stay at this lovely and budget-friendly hotel just a few minutes outside Charleston. Look at room options here. 

Need more help planning your Charleston weekend getaway? Check out our list of essential travel planning resources. 

Where to eat in Charleston 

Our top pick for lunch in Charleston is Fleet Landing. Reservations are strongly recommended. If the weather is good ask for a table outside if you can get one. Great food good service. Highly recommend. Order the hush puppies. 

Fleet Landing also helpfully offers gluten-free and vegetarian menus. 

Hyman’s Seafood has developed a bit of a reputation as a tourist trap, but we think it’s still a fun place to eat. It’s family-owned, the food is good and you just might have the chance to chat with the owner. They’ll happily help if you have any dietary restrictions. 

Our top pick (as mentioned above) for dessert and/or coffee is Carmella’s dessert bar. It’s a perfect place to take a break. 

We stayed at the Doubletree in Mount Pleasant outside Charleston and enjoyed some great local breakfast spots before heading into Charleston for sightseeing for the day. 

  • Vicious Biscuit: amazing biscuits (including gluten-free biscuits!) and good coffee too. Expect long lines on the weekends, so you might want to arrive before they open. 
  • Page’s Okra Grill: elevated classic diner fare (like steak and eggs, French toast, etc.). Also, expect long lines if you arrive after opening on the weekend. 
Inside Vicious Biscuit restaurant in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

When to visit Charleston 

Our recommendation is to enjoy a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, in either the spring or later in the fall

Summer can get unbearably hot. Aaaand…the hottest months in Charleston are typically also the wettest. So plan for rain. 

And while temperatures in the early to middle of fall can be more pleasant…it can also bring the possibility of hurricanes. So, keep that in mind. 

How to get around in Charleston 

If you’re staying in the historic center of Charleston (see our hotel recommendations above) or it’s not too hot, then walking is a great way to get around Charleston

However, you may find that some of the sites you want to see are a greater distance apart than you prefer to walk. Try grouping sites and activities geographically when you can to minimize walking. 

Or if you want to drive, you can also minimize the number of parking garages you’ll be in and out of on your trip, saving you a little money. 

Why you should not miss Charleston, SC 

Once known as Charles Town, Charleston is the largest city in South Carolina as well as the state’s top travel destination. It oozes Old South history and charm as well as being a great food travel destination. 

And while a lot of that history is unpleasant, Charleston has come a long way toward making sure that the stories of enslaved people are being told.  

A great example of this is at Aiken-Rhett house, which coincidentally is the first stop on our Charleston weekend itinerary. 

You might even consider making your Charleston weekend getaway part of a long road trip through the Southeast USA. 

Also, thinking about a trip to Savannah, but not sure which to visit? Our Savannah vs Charleston post will help you decide. 

Final thoughts on your Charleston weekend getaway

Whether you enjoy beautiful architecture, foodie travel, or exploring amazing historical sites there’s definitely plenty for you to do on your weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

What would you add to this Charleston weekend itinerary? 

More articles to help you plan a Charleston, SC, weekend trip 

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