Charleston in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Three days in Charleston can be perfect to enjoy all that this beautiful South Carolina city has to offer. I invite you to read on to discover all the charm of this American gem.

Nicolas Reffray

Nicolas Reffray

10 min read

Charleston in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Pineapple Fountain, Charleston | ©Daniel Boudreau

The city of Charleston is one of the most beautiful and picturesque in the United States, with its colorful houses, carriages and a rich history behind it. Getting lost in its streets or enjoying its coastline will allow you to get to know a little more of the place.

You will see that there is a lot to see and do in Charleston, so this guide to enjoy the city in 3 days will be of great help to plan your stay. Are you ready? Here we go!

Day 1: Sightseeing bus and French Quarter

Charleston Sightseeing Bus| ©Viator
Charleston Sightseeing Bus| ©Viator

Charleston is one of the most interesting options to get to know all the charm of the southern United States. Its past as a hub of the slave trade makes it a key point to understand the history, not only of the region, but also of the country.

Here I suggest you start with a general overview and then dedicate the first full day to visit the French Quarter, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city.

Take a ride on a tourist bus

Start your first day in this beautiful city by taking a tour on a Charleston tour bus. This is an excellent way to get in touch with the place, and a very good opportunity to get a clearer idea of the different attractions to see. You can then visit them at your own pace, much more in detail.

Visit the waterfront, the Pineapple fountain, the French Quarter, the traditional market with its basket weaving crafts made in Sweetgrass, the beautiful Rainbow Row and so on.

With a short 2-hour tour you can enjoy this sample of Charleston.

In addition, specialized local guides will tell you all about this beautiful city, its history, its most emblematic corners, and the highlights that you can not miss. It is an excellent option if you only have 3 days to see everything.

Book your Charleston sightseeing bus tour

Visit the French Quarter

After the bus ride, I suggest you start your walking tour in one of the most emblematic places of the city, the French Quarter (or French Quarter).

With some reminiscences to its namesake in New Orleans, this picturesque set of alleys and small houses is one of the places you can not miss in Charleston.

Located mainly between Broad Street and South Market Street, this picturesque neighborhood will make you fall in love right away. Its streets and alleys, and the facades of its houses that seem to be frozen in time have a magic all their own.

Here, among other things, you can find part of the old city. In Chalmers Street you can visit the Old Slave Mart Museum.

In what was once the most important slave market in the United States today is this museum, the most important in the city, where you can discover all about the past and history of Charleston before the sale of slaves in public was banned in 1865.

This is undoubtedly one of **Charleston'**s most romantic neighborhoods. In addition, the area has the highest concentration of art galleries in the city. An ideal place to start your 3-day trip.

Tour the Waterfront Park

Pineapple fountain in the Park| ©charlee955
Pineapple fountain in the Park| ©charlee955

Also within the French Quarter, on the southernmost portion of the peninsula, you'll find beautiful Waterfront Park, one of Charleston's most picturesque parks.

Here, in addition to enjoying views of the Cooper River, you can see the cannons used in the American Civil War.

A place full of life, ideal if you are looking for what to visit with children in Charleston, especially on a warm day, as you will also be able to stroll through its gardens and trails, and see its fountains, one of them, the most famous in the city: the Pineapple Fountain.

Now a symbol of Charleston, the fountain is located at one end of the park and is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city.

Waterfront Park is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the scenery. From here you can see the beautiful Ravenel Bridge and the boats coming and going.

Book a guided tour of Charleston

Enjoy the night in Charleston

After a day outdoors, there's nothing better than going out for drinks and enjoying Charleston's nightlife. If you are not traveling with children you can visit some of the best bars and nightclubs in town.

Many of them are located in the King Street area, so you can take a stroll around here and discover the best of Charleston's nightlife.

With excellent places like Uptown Social or Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails, to enjoy a craft beer or a glass of good wine, in addition to the most exquisite dishes, in a pleasant and fresh atmosphere.

If you prefer to go out and move around a bit, you should visit some of the best discos and night clubs, places like Mynt or Share House. You can also find plenty of nightlife along Ann Street.

2. Day Visit the City Market, Rainbow Row and South of Broad

Charleston City Market| ©Historic Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market| ©Historic Charleston City Market

Start your second day in Charleston enjoying a good American breakfast at Millers. Although if you are not one of those who get up too early, an ideal place to enjoy a delicious mid-morning brunch is Another broken egg. Then it's time to explore some of the most traditional corners of the city.

Visit the traditional Charleston City Market

After having breakfast like a king, head to the historic Charleston City Market, a place full of charm, where in the early 1800's people traded different foods, such as meats and vegetables brought from the farms and plantations of the neighboring towns.

Today the place functions as a market basically focused on tourism. Its neoclassical façade will catch your attention for its great beauty.

Here you can find different types of handicrafts, although the most traditional are those made with Sweetgrass, a kind of reed with which baskets and baskets are made. An excellent option to buy a traditional southern gift.

Located on the border between the French Quarter and the beautiful South of Broad neighborhood, this market is a must on your 3-day visit to Charleston.

Visit one of the most photographable streets: Rainbow Row

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

About 15 minutes walk south you will find one of the most photographed places in the whole city. This is the famous Rainbow Row, a row of picturesque Georgian-style cottages painted in soft pastel colors.

In the early twentieth century these houses overlooked the Cooper River, and by the use and proximity to the coast had been deteriorating. For this reason and with the intention of turning it into a tourist attraction, they were restored and colored.

From that moment on, the image they form has become an obligatory destination for anyone visiting the city, in addition to the fact that the neighborhood is extremely attractive.

Although today Rainbow Row no longer faces the river, it is located just a few meters from Charleston Bay, where you can walk and enjoy the scenery.

Walk through the South of Broad neighborhood

The neighborhood where you are located is one of the most traditional and beautiful in the city. It overlooks Charleston's two rivers, the Cooper and the Ashley. Here you can enjoy walking freely and appreciating the imposing mansions of the nineteenth century.

Some of them have been converted into museums, as is the case of the beautiful Edmonston-Alston House, where you can see the period furniture, and get an idea of the lifestyle of a wealthy family in South Carolina in 1825.

Continuing along the coast you will find another of Charleston's most recommended spots, the Battery, a charming promenade, ideal for enjoying what's left of the afternoon outdoors. From here, at the junction of its two rivers you can enjoy a walk and views that have no comparison.

Finish your second day trying some of the traditional southern food at the delicious Poogan's Porch. One of the most characteristic details of the place is its Lowcountry and Creole gastronomy, so you can't leave without trying these flavors, you won't regret it!

Book a sunset cruise on Charleston Harbor

3. Day Take a historic carriage ride, see the Old City Jail, Liberty Square and Fort Sumter.

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

Third and last day in this incredible American city. I suggest you have a light breakfast because a day full of emotions awaits you, from carriages and a ferry ride, to a visit to an authentic prison where some old pirates were locked up.

Ride as if you were in the 1800's in a historic carriage

If you want to ride around the city in style, hire one of Charleston's carriage tours. Experience the feeling of being part of the city's history.

Many tours are offered, you can visit the points of greatest historical interest, walk its cobblestone streets, its beautiful neighborhoods with houses of the nineteenth century, or for the more daring, a night tour of ghosts, in which you will learn from the hand of a local guide specialized in the subject, all the stories of apparitions that have made this city famous.

Carriage tours have become a Charleston classic, and one of the best ways to tour South of Board and the French Quarter. Remember that along these same streets, carriages were the most common means of transportation for the inhabitants of this and other southern cities of the United States.

The experience is ideal for the whole family, even with small children, since they will enjoy the ride and will be enthusiastic about everything related to horses. An excellent option not to be missed.

Book a carriage ride through Charleston

Visit the Old City Jail

After getting off the carriage at Bay Street, you will have to walk about half a mile down Beaufain Street to Wilson Street. There, a few meters from the famous Broad Street, in the Charleston Village neighborhood is the old prison, which according to the locals is one of the most haunted places in the city.

If you take a guided tour of Charleston, it will surely include a visit to the traditional Old City Jail.

This is one of the most important prisons in the region, both for its beautiful old architecture and for the famous inmates it housed.

Active from 1802 to 1939, famous pirates, high-ranking officers during the American Civil War and even the famous serial killer of the early twentieth century, Lavinia Fisher, were found behind its bars.

There are many stories that are told about this prison, the truth is that you can not miss it for its great historical attraction and for being a beautiful building.

Although if you are one of those who enjoy the paranormal, a visit to the old prison when the sun goes down is a very good idea. Included in the best ghost tours of Charleston, your specialized local guide will tell you all about the ghosts that still haunt its corridors and cells.

Tour Charleston's past at Liberty Square and Fort Sumter

Entrance to Liberty Square| ©jpellgen
Entrance to Liberty Square| ©jpellgen

Whether you're interested in American history or enjoy an outdoor venue full of charm, these two spaces are ideal for ending your third day in Charleston.

From the prison you can stroll down the waterfront to Liberty Square, or walk to the intersection of Saint Philip Street and Calhoun Street, where you can hop on the 210 bus, which will take you to the aquarium for free.

From there you will only have to walk 2 minutes to Liberty Square, a place full of green spaces, ideal to enjoy with the family. From here ferries depart to Fort Sumter. Located in front of the Cooper River, Liberty Square is a place to relax and enjoy those last hours of your last day in Charleston.

After boarding the ferry, and after enjoying a brief stroll along the waters of the Cooper, you will arrive at your destination. Located within a National Park, Fort Sumter is the site where the famous American Civil War, the story of the North versus the South, began.

With the election of President Lincoln, the Confederates took Fort Sumter as a refuge and base of operations.

The place was reused by the American armed forces during World War II, and finally in 1948 was established as the national monument that can be visited today, where you can see its imposing cannons.

End your trip with an all-American dinner

If you are a lover of grilled meats, you can't leave Charleston without stopping by Queology Restaurant, the best service and the best southern flavors in a fun atmosphere.

If you prefer vegetarian or vegan food, then I recommend Neon Tiger Restaurant, an excellent place with very original options for those who do not eat any type of meat or meat derivatives.

Here ends this guide for your 3-day trip to the city of Charleston, South Carolina, I hope you have found it useful, and that you enjoy your trip to the fullest.

A few extra tips for your 3-day trip to Charleston

Getting to know Charleston| ©robynfreaks
Getting to know Charleston| ©robynfreaks

Touring a city in a few days can be a very good way to get in touch with it. Maybe later you will decide to come back and get to know it in more detail, but those first encounters with the city can remain engraved in your memory forever. That is why I leave you with the following recommendations.

Always wear comfortable shoes

Especially if you are one of those who like to walk from one end of the city to the other, you need to have comfortable shoes. While distances in Charleston are really close between points of interest, any walk can become a nightmare without the right footwear.

Best way to get around the city

The distances in Charleston invite you to explore the city on foot. It is not really worth getting on a means of transportation, except if you want to visit the famous plantations on the outskirts of the city.

Otherwise you can stroll along the waterfront, see the best of the French Quarter, downtown and the South of Broad, enjoying the southern hospitality and friendliness of everyone in Charleston, South Carolina's most valuable jewel.