I must say I’ve been wanting to visit Charleston for quite some time now. After I got back from studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college, I started frantically researching cities in the US that are considered most similar to European cities. I knew it’d be unrealistic to make weekend trips to Europe, so I wanted to see where I could go in the US to still experience a city filled with history and quaint cobblestone streets. In my research – there were 3 cities described as having a European-feel (one not quite in the US, but close enough) – they were Montreal, Boston and Charleston! I now can say that so far I have gotten to 2 out of the 3. I visited Montreal the summer after I got home from studying abroad (it’s a must!!) and this weekend I finally made my trip to Charleston happen… and I will say, I’ll definitely be back because just one weekend wasn’t enough.
When I first proposed the idea of taking a 3-hour drive from Charlotte, NC to Charleston, SC – both my mom and my sister thought I was insane. You’re going alone?! What are you going to do there?! Is that even safe?! These were just a few of the questions that they had. I told them I’m a strong, independent woman and they don’t need to worry about me. I also reminded them that I took weekend excursions to cities all of the time during my time abroad. But that’s besides the point, I thought I would make it clear that travelling alone is not something to look down upon. In a world where we are glued to our phones and craving attention and approval from others – it’s nice to sit back and be reminded that it is totally fine to have time for yourself. Yes, I know I was updating my insta story and sharing it with all of you – but I also had plenty of moments to put my phone away and just enjoy the present moments. Over the course of my weekend, I ate whatever I felt, shopped until I dropped, became friends with strangers (and no they weren’t creepy or weird, just good, genuine, down-to-earth people)… and when I wasn’t doing any of those things, I simply enjoyed my own company.
So now I will share with you where to stay, what to see & do, and what & where to eat in Charleston.
Where to Stay
First things first, picking a place to stay in Charleston will hugely impact your trip. My advice is to pick something that is a short walk from King Street. Prior to booking my room at the Barksdale Inn, I searched for the best rates. It could be just the weekend I was searching, however it seemed like most of the hotels are priced about the same as bed & breakfasts. I would highly recommend staying at a bed & breakfast. I was a little hesitant before choosing the place because I didn’t know if the bed would be comfy or if the place would smell like my grandmother’s attic – but I’m so glad I went for it. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, I would strongly recommend the Barksdale Inn. The inn was absolutely adorable. It had a vintage style making the experience feel very authentic like I truly was travelling back in time to this charming port city. The staff was friendly and helpful, and made me feel welcome from the moment I arrived. Not to mention, my bed was comfy, it didn’t smell like an attic and they provided both afternoon tea and breakfast in the morning. Food included? I’m in! See pictures below for my room and common area:
What to See & Do
I had originally planned to do a free walking tour, however all of the tours booked up before I could schedule. Instead, I did some quick research and planned out my own walking tour. From the Barksdale Inn, I headed to King Street – which is a long strip of high-end boutiques and stores. It is the main shopping district of Charleston. There were some more affordable boutiques scattered in between the more expensive places like Louis Vuitton – I loved the Impeccable Pig and LouLou. I also stopped in the Savannah Bee Company and they offer free tastings of their honeys! I ended up buying a small jar of the Tupelo honey because it was so yummy! Also, the Sunday I visited was what they called “2nd Sunday on King Street”, which means the whole street is blocked off allowing you to freely walk in the street. They also have several vendors set up and a few food trucks.
From King Street, I headed to Market & Meeting which is the location of The Charleston City Market. Here you will find several vendors selling artwork, jewelry, clothing, baked goods, and more. I loved leisurely walking through and looking at all of the handmade products. After the market, I headed down to the Waterfront Park and visited the well-known Pineapple Fountain. Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality and are widespread in Charleston – which just goes to show they take their southern hospitality pretty seriously.
From the Waterfront Park, I took a stroll down E. Bay Street and ended up at the ever-popular Rainbow Row. This is a section of adorable pastel-colored historic row-homes. There are several explanations as to why they’re painted this way – some say it so drunken sailors could identify the houses on land, others say the summers were hot so painting the houses a lighter color helped reduce heat – but there is no consensus on the true reason. It is such a quaint and charming area of the city that reminded me of cities in Europe. It reminded me especially of one of my favorite cities in southern Spain – Seville.
Just to note, if you’re going to do a tour yourself and have more than an afternoon, I would highly suggest incorporating some other major landmarks like The Old Slave Mart, Calhoun Mansion, Nathanial Russell House… those are just a few.
What & Where to Eat
Food – the most important part. Seafood is a must in Charleston – you will find that restaurants refer to the Charleston cuisine as lowcountry. This lowcountry term came from the distinction between coastal South Carolina and the inland South Carolina. Since Charleston is a port city, lowcountry cuisine consists of plenty of seafood like oysters, crabs, and shrimp. There are several restaurants on E. Bay Street that serve up some of the best lowcountry food. I went to Magnolias for happy hour and got their mango sangria and baked almond-crusted brie with jam. After happy hour, I headed over to Pearlz for dinner and got their crab-cake sandwich! I myself am not a huge fan of oysters, however – I saw them shucking the oysters at Pearlz and I was tempted to give them a try! My sister visited Charleston a few months ago and said the oysters were phenomenal – so just a thought, if you like oysters, definitely try them in Charleston! Another popular spot is The Hominy Grill. The location is a bit further – from Barksdale Inn, it was about a 20 minute walk (and I walk pretty quick). It felt a bit out of the way for me, but I know that people rave about their brunch so I wanted to give it a try. I tried their shrimp and grits and the dish was so savory and delicious. The only thing I will say is that I was surprised that their biscuits don’t come on the table – you have to order them individually for $2.50 a piece. They were fluffy and buttery, however I wish they either came on the table or offered the opportunity to order a basket full. Overall, their food was amazing and I enjoyed the atmosphere – it felt like I was having my breakfast at someone’s farmhouse which made for a very family-friendly, homey experience. Something in Charleston I didn’t get the chance to try but several restaurants had it on their menu (both Magnolias and The Hominy Grill did!) was she-crab soup. I can't wait to try this the next time I visit.
Overall, Charleston stole my heart and I can’t wait to plan a trip to go back… and next time hopefully it will be for more than just 2 days.
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