Follow this itinerary to have a great Charleston getaway
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 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.
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How many days do you need in Charleston?
How many do you have?
Though not really because there are so many great things to do in Charleston that you could easily spend several days there are not run out of things to do in the historic center of Charleston.
Plus, Charleston has a lot of great day trip options for exploring outside the city as well.
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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.
Charleston weekend trip itinerary: Day 1
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.
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 an 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.”
Aiken-Rhett House is managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation that 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 popular particularly with Instagrammers. If you really want to see it, then by all means you should take a few minutes out of your day to do it.
I personally 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.
Featured tours in Charleston
Spend the afternoon of your second day in Charleston exploring some of the other many amazing activities to do.
You could spend your afternoon piloting your own speedboat around Charleston Harbor with a professional guide.
Or slow down a bit and try a narrated harbor boat tour like this one.
Fun things to do outside the center of Charleston
While the Charleston historic district is really 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. Both offer free 24-hour cancellation for their tours.
This tour of Magnolia Plantation includes transportation from the Charleston Visitor’s Center, a 45-minute guided tour of the house and a 45-minute nature tour by tram.
Or you might enjoy paying a visit to Boone Hall Plantation. This activity includes transportation from Charleston. Expert storytellers will take you on a journey through the lives of enslaved people who once lived there.
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.
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 few top rated options:
The Dewberry—luxurious accommodations bordering Marion Square, near fine dining and shopping on King Street. Use one of the Dewberry Volvo guests cars or try one of the complimentary bicycles. Check out their rates today.
Need more help planning your Charleston weekend getaway? Check out our list of the 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.
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 together 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.
Charleston tours mentioned in this article
Final thoughts on your weekend trip to Charleston, SC
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? Let us know in the comments!
More articles to help you plan a Charleston, SC, weekend trip
- The complete weekend packing list
- How to pack a day bag for travel
- Southeast road trip itinerary
- Charleston vs. Savannah: Which to visit?
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