Charleston in 1 Day: all you need to know

Thinking about what to see and do in Charleston in a single day can feel like a real challenge, knowing the tourist potential that characterizes it. Don't think twice and stick to the itinerary I've prepared for you if you want to enjoy an exiting day for your next visit to this corner full of southern charm.

Keyvis Montilva

Keyvis Montilva

10 min read

Charleston in 1 Day: all you need to know

Charleston | ©Pedro de Carvalho Ponchio

Plans to see or do in Charleston don't take long to appear no matter how long your stay is. This is due to the fact that it is a city that perfectly captures the beauty that characterizes the old cities of the American South, but at the same time maintains a very particular essence.

I invite you to read all the information I have compiled for you so that you can make the most of the 24 hours you will spend in this beautiful corner of North America.

Start the day with an early morning tour of the Charleston Battery

In Charleston Battery| ©Kenneth Tucker
In Charleston Battery| ©Kenneth Tucker

Created as a defensive barrier to the surf that later became an artillery bastion during the American Civil War. This seawall today is known as the Charleston Battery.

It is an undisputed synonym for the architectural beauty that defines this important South Carolina city and this is largely due to the sequence of Antebellum homes that line this urban section.

Antebellum means antebellum, which refers to this type of mansion that abounded in slave towns such as Charleston. As well as on the major plantations that drove the southern economy during the days of slavery.

This is an activity that is part of the best plans to do with children in Charleston because of its proximity to the White Point Garden. Which is the southernmost point of the peninsula on which this city is built and is a park full of cannons that remained as a historical precedent of the Civil War. Also of flowers and the well-known oaks with moss of the American Deep South.

In fact, if you are interested, you can take a guided tour of some of these historic properties, but keep in mind that this is a paid service with changing rates in which sometimes minimum donations are set and in other times a price is established for tourist seasons.

Have breakfast at a cafe in North Charleston's French Quarter

Coffee Cup| ©Adam Goldberg
Coffee Cup| ©Adam Goldberg

Just as in New Orleans, Charleston has its own French Quarter. This neighborhood is located within the perimeter of what was the walled city during the post-colonial American era and although the French identity is much more diluted in this city, the architectural style of that historical period is still perceived.

A good part of the sites that are named in this list of activities are built within that neighborhood. Therefore, it is not unusual for the best guided tours of Charleston to focus with great care on this corner of the city.

The gastronomic offer abounds in the French Quarter of Charleston and therefore having breakfast in some of the cafes in the area will always be a good idea. Southern food is quite unique within the gastronomic universe of the United States, which should make you even more interested in sitting down for a bite to eat before continuing with your busy sightseeing itinerary.

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Visit the Old Mart Slave Museum

The Old Slave Mart Museum| ©BrineStans
The Old Slave Mart Museum| ©BrineStans

As one of the most important slave-era cities in the American South, it is logical to know that this particular part of the country was an epicenter for the trade of slaves who worked on the state's plantations. This particular attraction is in the heart of the French Quarter and is therefore a logical step on your tourist itinerary.

It consists of the last standing building that functioned for that purpose in the historic period prior to the American Civil War. It is part of the National Register of Historic Landmarks and is actually a small part of what was once an entire street dedicated to the inland slave trade. This was a change in the slave trade due to the enactment of a law prohibiting open auctions.

Today it has a museum that educates the public of tourists and locals about the atrocities that were committed with the African-American slave trade until the last moments of the repeal of slavery in the United States.

Such a stop is quite appropriate if you are interested in the history of the sites you visit on your travels. Even more, knowing that in the particular case of Charleston is the fact that it was a city in which they came to mobilize up to 40% of the processes of buying and selling slave labor in the eighteenth century.

Continue your stroll along Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row| ©Cathy nickname
Rainbow Row| ©Cathy nickname "Cat

One of the most interesting and beneficial aspects of the list of activities I have compiled for you is that they all take place in the historic heart of the city.

Therefore, a simple 15 or 20 minute walk from the Old Smart to the picturesque street known as Rainbow Row becomes a good plan within your tourist itinerary, just as it happens in other cities like New York or Miami Beach.

It is a collection of 13 historic Georgian-style townhouses that are painted in pastel tones and have great architectural significance due to their origins between 1748 and 1845.

It's really not an activity that's going to take too much time out of your day in Charleston, but it's certainly one of the prettiest corners of the city to photograph. Even more so if you are someone who really enjoys learning about the aesthetic identity of the places you see on your travels.

It is also a good plan to see and do in Charleston in January because it can give you the perfect combination of the sun that characterizes South Carolina and the moderate cold that can be felt at this time of the year.

Dine at a Prohibition-style restaurant

Blinds Tiger Pub| ©Irisheyes_777
Blinds Tiger Pub| ©Irisheyes_777

Blinds Tiger Pub is a bar that has been open to the public in Charleston since the 90's and takes its direct inspiration from the Spekeasy's that existed in these streets of the city as a social escape from the rigorous laws of alcoholic consumption. It is located two blocks from Rainbow Row and is therefore a convenient alternative for lunch before continuing with the rest of your day.

At the same time, this is an interesting plan because the era of prohibition of alcoholic beverages at the beginning of the last century was marked by the predictable appearance of speakeasies in all parts of the country.

In the case of Charleston there were some very famous ones called Blind Tigers and nowadays there are some establishments, like this restaurant that I recommend, that have taken direct inspiration from the nooks and crannies of that time.

That particular locale is usually at the top of the lists when it comes to alternatives for eating or drinking in outdoor patios. Another very interesting aspect of the establishment is that it is built in a building that dates back to 1803.

However, it is not essential that you eat at this restaurant to be guaranteed that you will receive a good ambient experience. For all of downtown Charleston is full of restaurants that address all types of gastronomic approaches, leaving you with approximately 3 or 4 alternatives on the same street.

Shop at the Charleston Historic Market

Charleston Historic Market| ©Brian Stansberry
Charleston Historic Market| ©Brian Stansberry

As you may have noticed with the other items on the list, Charleston is a city distinguished by the fullness of its rich history and the role it played in the cultural formation of the American Deep South.

In this context appears the Charleston Historic Market, which is a market that stretches along four streets inside buildings that are more than 200 years old.

There you will find a great diversity of products such as fine arts, antiques, handicrafts and locally produced and handmade food. Clothing, jewelry, leather goods and other clothing are also some of the attractions in the type of shopping you can do when visiting this public market.

During the weekends , up to 300 local vendors are usually grouped together with a commercial diversity that is usually found in this type of traditional community markets. The best part of the whole thing is that it's an activity that doesn't usually take that much time out of your day, giving you plenty of free time to continue exploring Charleston on your one-day visit.

Spend the first half of your afternoon at Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter| ©Bubba73
Fort Sumter| ©Bubba73

The relevance that Charleston had for the Confederate forces in the South during the Civil War caused the city to develop all kinds of defense fortifications along its bay. Fort Sumter is one of the most important of all, as it is an island that could regulate the entry of all vessels due to its privileged position in the geography of the area.

In fact, the first battle of the Confederate Civil War took place there, so it is a national monument that can be just as interesting for the tourist agenda of your visit as the other afternoon activities that I have offered in the previous points.

The trip usually takes two hours, with half an hour there and half an hour back. When you get off the boat on the island you are offered a guided tour of about an hour to learn about the conditions under which the soldiers lived in the fortress that was there.

The starting point is the docks located right next to the South Carolina Aquarium. Which is logical knowing that many of the best boat rides in Charleston are along its extensive river and sea coast. To get there I advise you to take a cab for the simple fact that it is the only activity of the day that leaves the streets of Charleston's French Quarter.

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All the churches in Downtown are not to be missed as dusk approaches

St. John the Baptist Cathedral| ©Jules & Jenny
St. John the Baptist Cathedral| ©Jules & Jenny

Charleston is popularly known in the United States as The Holy City and this is due to the large concentration of Episcopal, Baptist and Catholic churches in the historic area of the city. Which is curious considering that it is not as large as the centers of other American urban communities.

You can continue your afternoon visiting them after returning from Fort Sumter. Especially if you want to continue exploring the French Quarter and its surroundings.

This is an activity that has little to do with religious motivation, as it is a plan that can occur either in the morning or in the afternoon just to marvel at the beautiful architectural style of these historic buildings.

St Michaels Episcopal Church with its tall white steeple, St Phillip's Church and the French Huegenot Church are the most important of the city. But there are others such as Unitarian Church that are undoubtedly also relevant to your tour.

All 4 have old cemeteries that can be visited with a guide who will explain the history of the most famous deceased with an eternal rest in that plot of land. Although the most interesting thing about these churches would be the carols that are sung during the Christmas festivities, thus becoming one of the things to see or do in Charleston at Christmas.

Join a ghost tour in the evening

Charleston Ghost Tour| ©Viator
Charleston Ghost Tour| ©Viator

Charleston's antiquity as an influential territory in the formation of the United States as an independent federation, its importance in the Civil War and in the slave economy made it one of the cities with the most ghost stories in all of North America.

For these reasons, the best ghost tours in Charleston are a good alternative to entertain your evening if this type of theme catches your attention or at least you find it amusing.

Stories of intrigue, heartbreak and military betrayals are some of the stories that are usually explained by guides who are specialists in this historical aspect of the city. They accompany you for about 90 minutes in alleys, roads and cemeteries of the historical heart of the country.

It is a relatively inexpensive activity , as some of the most prestigious tours of the city usually do not exceed 35 euros per person.

Buy the best ghost tours in Charleston

A sunset carriage ride is another great plan

Night Carriage| ©Ryan Johnson
Night Carriage| ©Ryan Johnson

An alternative plan that may be more to your liking than a scary ghost tour is a carriage ride through the streets of the city. Charleston's early 18th-century post-colonial charm makes it another Deep South scene where it's common to enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the most touristy streets of the oldest section of the peninsula.

They commonly last an hour on average and the best Charleston horse-drawn carriage tours always feature free cancellation of the reservation. Which is very convenient when it comes to a one-day visit where the timing of the sightseeing itinerary can take an unexpected turn at any time.

Many of the iconic sites that I have mentioned in this series of recommendations are usually part of the route of this type of service. Therefore it is always preferable that you find out your online booking alternatives in advance so that you don't end up choosing one that repeats the same sites you already did on foot during the morning of your day.

Take into consideration that the capacity of these equestrian vehicles are usually for two people and that the rates are per passenger, not per trip. This can raise the cost of the activity to approximately 100 euros, but they are well worth it, especially if it is a sunset ride.

Party in the bars of the Historic District

Charleston by Night| ©Pedro de Carvalho Ponchio
Charleston by Night| ©Pedro de Carvalho Ponchio

Although Charleston is not an epicenter when it comes to nightlife, it is still a place with a vibrant gastronomic and cocktail scene with the presence of all kinds of establishments in the neighborhoods of the southern part of the peninsula. That's why partying at a southern bar, with a traditional or modern atmosphere, is one of the best things to see or do in Charleston at night.

Arranging a transfer to the Charleston airport before starting your evening activities is also an excellent idea if you want to celebrate with peace of mind, knowing that all the planning for your departure from the city is ready the day before.