All those romantic notions of the South—stately homes, courtly manners, gracious hospitality, and, above all, sumptuous food—are facts of everyday life in Charleston. This elegant city of ironwork balconies, colorful stucco, lush palmetto palms, and graceful mansions is a magnificent spectacle, truly magical on an early spring evening, when church bells chime, horse carriages trundle through the streets, and folks gather along the harbor. Jasmine and wisteria fragrances fill the air, and the aroma of she-crab soup (a local favorite) wafts from sidewalk cafes. Though it can get very touristy, it is surprisingly easy to lose the crowds. Indeed, the best way to enjoy Charleston is to simply stroll the enchanting streets, soaking up the antebellum architecture and languid atmosphere.
Notwithstanding a history dotted with earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and Yankee bombardments, Charleston remains one of the best-preserved cities in America’s Old South. Founded by English colonists in 1670, today it boasts 73 Colonial buildings, 136 from the late 18th century and more than 600 built before the 1840s.
Does this city have a modern side? Yes, but it’s well hidden. Chic shops abound, as do a few supermodern hotels, but Charleston has no skyscrapers. You don’t come to Charleston for anything cutting-edge—you come to glimpse an earlier, almost-forgotten era.
You’ll gain a sense of this history touring some of its great houses such as Calhoun Mansion, one of its historic churches such St. Michael’s Episcopal, or by visiting the Charleston Museum or exploring the College of Charleston, set on a truly beautiful campus. But take time to simply wander the back streets, where you will encounter a real, living, breathing city, where many houses have been owned by the same families for generations, and even small cafes and taverns drip with historic charm.