Charleston is a city of seduction, of color and scent. Brilliant pink, red and white azaleas, glorious multi-colored camellias, thick, creamy blossomed magnolias, and brilliant crepe myrtles abound. The air is perfumed with the enchanting fragrance of gardenias, confederate jasmine and wisteria, all mingled with the subtle tang of the ocean breeze.
Live oaks drip bright green Spanish moss, window boxes burst with alluring blooms framing enchanting pastel painted homes. The clip clop of horse drawn carriages echoes on the cobblestone streets that meander throughout the city and lush gardens, and parks are everywhere. As is history.
Founded in 1670 as Charles Town, on the west bank of the Ashley River by English colonists from Bermuda, Charleston was designated to be a great port town. But by 1681 the settlement had expanded, adopted its modern name and was moved to its current peninsular location, where the Ashley River and Cooper River meet at the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as the “Holy City” for its religious tolerance and historic churches, its magnificent steeples dot the skyline. The melodic bells of Saint Michaels Episcopal Church, over 250 years old, still chime every 15 minutes, reverberating across the city.
The 5.7-acre public park, White Point Garden, also known as the Battery, on the very tip of Charleston’s peninsula, offers a sweeping promenade, lined with historic antebellum homes and grand views of Fort Sumter where the Civil War began, Castle Pinckney, and the third largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere, the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, where the country’s third largest 10K race is held the first Saturday of every April.
Waterfront Park, that spans one-half mile of the Cooper River is a great place to jump in the grand pineapple splash fountain, or laze on a bench swing on its long pier.
Head down to King Street for some of the best shopping in the country. US News and World Report named it one of the 10 Best Shopping Streets in America. Wander over to the City Market, where over 300 entrepreneurs continue to sell an eclectic array of unique souvenirs, local culinary treats, and works of art, like the traditional sweetgrass baskets. It’s hard to wander down any narrow, charming side street in Charleston without finding a tiny bistro, boutique or specialty shop.
This is a city not only for shopping, architectural grandeur, culture and remarkable history, but a city of recognized culinary fame with world-class restaurants, eclectic bistros and traditional Gullah cooking.
Music is everywhere, the nightlife eclectic and diverse. From rooftop bars, captivating nightclubs and tiny, local taverns, Charleston’s nightlife is rich and exciting.
Enticing white sand beaches splatter the coastline. You can sail, charter a boat tour, take a water taxi or sunset cruise or just enjoy the miles of meandering inlets, creeks and rivers.
It’s no surprise that Travel and Leisure magazine voted Charleston the World’s Best City in 2016 and Conde Nast named Charleston the #1 Small City in the U.S.
Charleston is a great place to visit year round. The winters are mild, but January can be rainy. Summer is hot! Hot! Hot! But there’s plenty of air-conditioning and oh those beaches. The best time is spring when the zzaleas and dogwoods are in bloom or fall when the weather is perfect plus.
How much time you spend really depends on how much time you have. This is a great city for a quick overnight trip, a long weekend or a week or more to really explore. No matter how long you stay, it’s guaranteed you’ll be back.
Charleston’s low season is late fall through March, but the holidays will often see higher hotel rates in this charming city. April to November, you can expect to pay more and please book ahead. This city books fast.
Charleston is subtropical. The winters are mild and summers are oh so hot and humid. Spring and fall are almost climate perfect, but Charleston is lovely to visit year round. Just check the weather before you arrive. This city sees 230 day of sunshine a year.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
November (11th): Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Charleston is in the Eastern time zone and does adhere to daylight savings time.
To check the local time in Charleston click here.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of springing forward and falling back.
Charleston is a walking city, so bring something comfortable to wear. Definitely pack lightly in the summer and layer in the spring and fall. Don’t forget your sunglasses, bug spray and sunscreen. Remember this lovely city is surrounded by water. Charleston is a casual city in the day, but evenings are a bit dressier. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your camera. This is a picture perfect city.
Charleston can fit into any budget, but city center hotel prices are often much more than the surrounding area. There are so many restaurants, you will always have a great meal no matter what your budget.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to follow them or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework; check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.
Most everywhere in Charleston accepts credit cards. ATM machine are all over the city, so if you want or need cash you won’t ever have a problem getting access.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if it is lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration.
Everything else in Charleston is standard. A good tip always equals good service. Keep in mind this is a college town, and a lot of the service workers are students paying their way through school.
General guidelines include:
Depending on the restaurant in Charleston tipping is up to the customer. For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes, but of course it’s up to you. Some restaurants include the tip, but this is usually for parties of 6 or more. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees
In South Carolina, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.
Lodging tax also varies by location in South Carolina. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.
Charleston has it all. Pedi cabs, water taxies, car rentals, taxies, carriages, trolleys, and buses.
Getting around couldn’t be easier. Hop on and hop off a free DASH trolley that runs throughout the peninsula, take a charming carriage ride, try a Charleston rickshaw or one of Charleston’s new bike shares stationed at 25 spots around the peninsula.
It’s never hard to find transportation in Charleston. The visitors center is a great place to find buses and taxi’s, but just about every street corner in Charleston will find you a taxi. The Market area is full of carriages and the Marina is where you can get a water taxi.