In this one day in Charleston guide we’re sharing a detailed Charleston itinerary with everything you need to know before you visit including where to stay, what to eat, the best things to do in Charleston, and more! Ready to plan your own Charleston adventure? Keep on reading!
After visiting the beautiful city of Savannah, we headed two hours up the coast to the equally as beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is a city we had both wanted to visit for years. We had seen photos of colorful and historic buildings, palmetto trees, and southern food, and knew we’d love it. And we did!
Nicknamed the Holy City, Charleston is the oldest and largest city in South Carolina and has been named America’s #1 Small City for 9 years! The city has played a huge role in US history, including the Civil War, and has a charming, coastal vibe.
We spent one day in Charleston wandering around the city and eating way too much food (biscuits, BBQ, and fried things, anyone?!), which is one of our favorite ways to experience a new place for the first time. While we’d recommend spending a full weekend in Charleston, we were still able to get a good taste of the city (literally) in one day.
Based on our experience, we’re excited to share a one day in Charleston itinerary and guide, filled with tons of tips about where to stay, what to eat, top sights, and extra ideas of things to do in Charleston if you have more time than we did.
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When to visit Charleston
Charleston is a city that is pleasant to visit mostly year round. The winters are very mild, the spring and fall are beautiful, but the summers can be a bit hot and humid (better beach weather though!). Because of its coastal location, Charleston can also be at risk for hurricanes, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a trip between June-November.
We visited Charleston on March 1 and it was gorgeous! The temperature was around 60 degrees and there was tons of sunshine, which made the day pretty dang perfect. We hung around the surrounding area for a few days afterwards though and experienced many torrential downpours, so we might have gotten lucky!
But between the shops and restaurants, there are lots of indoor places to explore regardless of the weather!
Getting to Charleston
Charleston is home to Charleston International Airport (CHS), which is 20 minutes northwest of the historic downtown area. Many popular airlines, like American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska, fly into CHS, making it a super convenient airport to fly into regardless of which airline you’re loyal to.
Charleston is also close to another incredible Southern city, Savannah, Georgia, which is 2 hours south of Charleston. We highly recommend visiting both cities since they are so close. While we thought they’d be identical, they were pretty different (and equally amazing!).
Getting around Charleston
While many of the top areas to visit in Charleston, like the French Quarter, are walkable, there are some areas that are a bit of a long walk, or a super short car ride away.
If you need a break from walking, a great (and free!) option to get around downtown is the DASH, which is a free shuttle that runs through downtown. This shuttle has three routes which go by the majority of the spots on this guide!
Where to Stay in Charleston
If you want to experience the charm and walkability of Charleston, we highly recommend staying near the historic downtown area! You’ll be just steps from many of the best sights, food, and history that the city has to offer.
While we’d typically suggest staying in an Airbnb to get a true local feel, there are some strict Airbnb laws in Charleston that prohibit short term rentals in some of the popular areas of town. There are still some great Airbnbs close to the historic downtown area (which we will share below), but the choices are not as plentiful as some other cities.
If you want to stay right in the historic district, there are plenty of charming inns and nice hotels right in the action! Below are some of our top recommendations of places to stay.
- Option #1: A 1 bed, 1 bath southern home
- Option #2: A super cute 1 bed, 1 bath house
- Option #3: A 1 bed, 1.5 bath cottage with a heated pool
- Option #4: An adorable 2 bed, 2 bath house that is great for four people
- Option #5: A 1 bed, 1.5 bath house with a courtyard and bikes
- Andrew Pinckney Inn
- The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel
- Hyatt Place Charleston Historic District
- The Vendue
- Hyatt House Charleston Historic District
One Day in Charleston itinerary
This Charleston itinerary includes some of our favorite spots from our one day in Charleston, plus some places we can’t wait to check out next time. We really enjoyed just wandering around the city and eating a ton of food, so our Charleston itinerary is focused on the best spots to walk around, different activity options, and lots of food recommendations!
Looking for more ideas of places to eat and things to do in Charleston? Make sure to check out our “if you have extra time” section!
- Have coffee at Second State Coffee, a local roaster located close to King Street.
- After getting caffeinated, have breakfast at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits! This biscuit shop is sooo dang good (they even have gluten free biscuits, but warning, they take 30 minutes to make). Adam loved the sausage, egg, and pimiento cheese. The lines here get very long, so arrive early. There is also no seating (minus a few counter spots), so plan to take it to-go.
If you want more options than biscuits, head to Millers All Day!
- Wander around the French Quarter! This area is absolutely beautiful! We couldn’t stop talking about how charming the buildings were. It’s fun to just get lost in the streets, but a couple spots to check out:
- Visit the colorful houses on Rainbow Row. This street is filled with pastel colored, historic homes and is a fun area to walk around (and snap photos!).
- Walk around The Battery, which is a defensive seawall famous for its Antebellum homes and water views. You can even see Fort Sumter from here!
- For lunch, we highly recommend going to Lewis Barbecue! This Texas style BBQ joint was started by John Lewis, who worked at Franklin BBQ and La Barbecue in Austin (two amazing spots!). We had some of the best brisket and definitely the best ribs of our lives here! Note: This is a short drive from the downtown area.
If you’re not a BBQ fan, check out 167 Raw for seafood or Xiao Bao Biscuit for Asian fusion!
- For the rest of the afternoon, you have a few options depending on your interests and how much time you have left. If you like shopping, we suggest checking out King Street, one of the main streets of Charleston with lots of shops.
If shopping isn’t your thing and you’d rather spend time outdoors or relaxing, visit Folly Beach, a beach 20 minutes from downtown.
If you love history, visit Fort Sumter National Monument, which is the site of the first battle of the American Civil War. To visit Fort Sumter, there are a couple things to know:
- You have to take a boat tour over to Fort Sumter, since it’s an island
- It costs $24/adult, $22/senior, $16/children (4-11) for the boat ride
- The entire experience is a little over 2 hours, with 1 hour at the fort
- The tours have a different schedule depending on the time of year, but the earliest tour is usually 9:30 AM and the latest tour is either 2:30 PM or 4 PM (March 15-Aug 20 and Labor Day Weekend)
- We suggest buying tickets in advance!
- For dinner, there are so many good options to choose from (Charleston has a great culinary scene)!
- If you’re still hungry, grab dessert at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (one of our favorite ice cream spots ever!), Off Track Ice Cream (a local spot!), or Peace Pie (ice cream sandwich with a layer of pie filling!)
If you have extra time…
Looking for more things to do in Charleston? Here are some additional restaurants, coffee shops, and sights to check out!
- Boxcar Betty’s
- Persimmon Cafe
- Poogan’s Porch
- Bon Bahn Mi
- Butcher & Bee
- Tattooed Moose
- Swig & Swine
- Cru Cafe
- Taco Boy
- Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
- Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
- City Lights Coffee
- The Daily
- The Harbinger Cafe and Coffee Bakery
- The Rise Coffee Bar
- Broom Wagon Coffee
- Find a walking tour! These range from culinary, ghosts, pirates, historical, Civil War, and more
- Visit Fort Moultrie, which is accessible by car, unlike Fort Sumter, and only 20 minutes from downtown
- Tour Middleton Place, an 18th century rice plantation with 65 acres of America’s oldest landscaped gardens
- Walk or jog across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
- Visit the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, which is where pirates were once held
- See America’s first museum—The Charleston Museum
- Explore the battleship and museum at Patriots Point
- Take a tour of the Charleston Tea Plantation
- Check out the Angel Oak, which is a tree that is 65 feet high, has a circumference of 25.5 feet, and shades an area of 17,000 square feet
Ready to explore Charleston?
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