Charleston Tours

Charleston During Different Seasons

Charleston is known for its beautiful gardens, and the city would probably only be half as charming if it wasn’t for its plants, flowers and trees that enhance the beauty of every mansion.  Visitors are often enchanted by the plant life here, so check out our guide to the flora by season in town.

 Charleston in Fall:

Tea Olive Trees
October brings the sweetest scent to Charleston’s streets. We are often asked, “What is that smell?”The answer is that the buds to the Tea Olive trees are bursting open and releasing this fabulously pleasing scent. It is not overpowering and, in fact, is quite fleeting. It perfumes the air to perfection and is a great reason to visit in October. Don’t worry! The small white flowers (teeny tiny flowers) bloom for several months, so if you want to experience the scent you have until Spring.

Oleander
Eke! Don’t accept a visit with someone offering you Oleander tea! Every single part of the oleander plant is highly toxic. The plant does not bloom in the fall and winter months, but its leaves stay green all year ‘round, so during this spooky time of year, a witch can still make you tea. Where will you find this poison plant? All along the battery wall, of course! That’s right, oleander lines the promenade of the battery; one of the most visited parts of the city. It is a tall plant with long, flowing stems and slender leaves and blooms in bright pink or white in the warmer months.

Lantana
Lantana is a ground cover plant that blooms with little tiny multicolored pink and yellow flowers, or just solid yellow.  It blooms like crazy in the fall and butterflies love it! They do not have a noticeable scent, but the butterflies are reason enough to stop and enjoy them for a bit.

 

Charleston in Winter:

Holly and live oak trees
Charleston is filled with many evergreen plants like varieties of holly, cast iron plants in shaded areas, and live oak trees.  The trees are indeed oaks, but they have small leaves. They are not technically evergreens, they are deciduous but new growth pushes out old growth all year long. Charlestonians always have their rake and brooms at the ready to sweep away the live oak leaves! Winter is still a great time to visit, there is a lot of greenery to enjoy!

Camellias
Join us on tour in mid-to-late February and you can enjoy the camellias. These evergreen plants burst into color in the late winter/early spring. Pink Perfections are all around, as well as a variety that blooms a deeper pink/red color, as well as shrubs with white flowers with yellow centers. A great place enjoy them is at Magnolia Plantation’s garden, but Charlestonians have them planted in their yards, too.

 

Charleston in Spring:

Yellow Jessamin
In early spring you will smell the sweetness of jasmine. Yellow Jessamin (yellow jasmine) is our state flower and it, along with confederate jasmine, can be found all around the city. Bursting with yellow or white flowers that exude a glorious scent, the two weeks or so that they are in bloom is a great time to come to Charleston.

 

Charleston in Summer:

Crepe Myrtle Trees
Summer brings out the flowers of the crepe myrtle trees that line the streets of Charleston. These smooth bark trees get filled with blooms in hot weather. The saying goes, “the hotter the day, the more blooms on a crepe myrtle.”The trees bloom from spring through summer and into early fall. The pale bark with have pink or purple flowers and the cinnamon colored bark trees have white flowers. Although they are not fragrant, they are beautiful.

+++Stop by and do a pay-what-you-like tour with us! The history is enhanced by the colors and scents of the gardens. See you soon!+++

 

Written by Diana Dupuis

Driving a car in Charleston

How’s the Weather in Charleston in October?

The weather in Charleston in October is ideal for visiting this historic city in South Carolina as temperatures remain warm but with less of the humidity than during the summer months.

Weather in Charleston in OctoberEarly in the month the afternoon temperatures are mostly in the low 80s f (27-28C) with early morning lows in the lower 60s f (16-17C).  On a couple of days early this month the afternoon temperature can briefly reach 90f (32C) or more. By the month’s end, however, afternoon temperatures are very comfortable, mostly in the mid-70s f (23-24C) with early morning lows in the lower 50s f (11-12C).

What to wear in Charleston during October?

Weather-wise, Charleston in October is more like summer but without the oppressive humidity. Summer clothes work well here, with perhaps a sweater or light jacket for the cooler evenings and early mornings, particularly towards the end of this month.

Skies can be expected to be clear or partly sunny on about 19 days with 11 days seeing mostly cloudy conditions.  Rain normally occurs on about 6-7 days this month, however, significant rainfalls of 0.5 inch (about 13mm) or more occur, on average, only on about 2 days.

Things to do in Charleston in October

All-in-all the weather is great so join us on our Historic Charleston or our Civil War tours and explore Charleston’s rich history.

Fall is on its way! There are some great things going on in Charleston in October. Here is a short list.

One thing locals love to do and guests, too, is to stroll downtown during the Art Walk. It happens on Friday nights starting October 3rd. Walk from gallery to gallery along Church, Queen, Broad, and State Streets meeting artists and other art enthusiasts while sipping complementary wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres.

Also on October 3rd, the Greek Festival is a fun afternoon block party with great food, music, and fun for people of all ages. Each year signs are put up over Meeting Street and King Street announcing details.

The MOJA Arts Festival is also running from the last few days of September into the first few days of October. All over downtown Charleston you will hear the drums and experience the scents, sounds, and dancing of Charleston’s rich African and Caribbean roots. A block party is usually held on Concorde Street near the Market that is free to everyone.

Free Tours by Foot is an awesome option to learn about the city’s history, as well as architecture. To supplement your new found knowledge, you may want to check out the Fall Home & Gardens Tour put on by the Historic Charleston Foundation. These tours allow you to actually enter private residences to view their interiors and their private gardens.

If you’re looking for something fun and maybe a little scary to do to get you into the Halloween mood – head to Boone Hall Plantation for their Fright Nights! A large corn maze and a haunted hay ride are great ways to get the whole family into the spirit of the season.

If you want another fun Halloween spooky experience, take a drive and visit Legare Farms. Their halloween extravaganza has gotten bigger and bigger as the years have rolled on and they are now just as popular as Boone Hall for a night of frightening family fun – corn maze and all!

 

Charleston Ghost Tours – Haunted Circular Congretional Church

Under near the church grounds on Meeting Street may lay dozens of unmarked graves, the original residents of Charles Towne lost forever. The next stop on our Charleston Ghost Tours…

The current structure of the file_01Circular Congregational Church has grown in size from the original church and may be covering the remains the original churchgoers from the seventeenth century, whose cemetery dates back to 1681 but the oldest grave remaining is from fourteen years after.

The oldest grave in the cemetery and in Historic Charleston dates from 1695 and is that of the Simonds family. They donated the land to establish the church and their unmarked vault is thought to hold the remains of Henry, Frances and an unnamed son.

The original meeting house, which led to the name of the adjacent “Meeting Street”, was burned down in a fire, only to have that fate repeated for the next two structures. The current church built in 1891 stands strong today.

The historic cemetery has more than 150 graves from before the Revolutionary War. These historic markers made of slate still today feature the morbid carvings of ancient symbols of death. Some with the skull and crossbones and others “death’s head” but more continued to evolve into “soul effigies” to represent the departing spirit complete with wings.

The monuments and cenotaphs of this historic graveyard, covering the past three centuries, evoke a sense of eeriness as we walk past on to the next stop on our Charleston Ghost Tour

 

Haunted Sites in Charleston: Philadelphia Alley

No place in Charleston feels more as if you’ve been transported back to the nineteenth century than Philadelphia Alley, seen our our Charleston Ghost Tour, with it’s narrow cobblestone walkway lined with historic homes and the wall of St. Peter’s Church. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In it’s original incarnation, the alley was built in 1766 by landowner Francis Kinloch to access the tenements behind his house. It was called Kinloch Court until most of it was destroyed in a fire thirty years later. Left derelict and abandoned, the remaining structures succumbed to another fire in 1810 that destroyed much of the city.

To honor the city of Philadelphia, who sent aid to help rebuild, the area was rebuilt once again and renamed Philadelphia Street in 1811. Not much as changed since then. There is even an old stone with the outlines of a metal carriage wheel etched in it.

But the eerie haze and smoky glow around the now electric lampposts are not remnants of the long ago fires. Ask any local the direction to Philadelphia Street and you may be met with a few moments of silence as they try to recall. For a quicker answer, ask how to get to Dueler’s Alley.

Charleston was (and in many ways still is) a Old World city of honor. Following the Irish Code Duello from the end of the eighteenth century, a man who accepted a duel was willing to risk death to defend his honor. One who was not was considered a coward.

The tragic story of Dr. Joseph Ladd, a well-regarded newcomer to the town hoping to establish himself in order to marry his love, takes place here … a carefree young man of 22 who whistled while he walked, and may still whistle down this street.

Visitors often feel a cool air as they enter the alley, ducking out of the way of imaginary gunshots they hear ringing out as they turn the corner. The long lost souls of men defending their reputation have not far to go – a small cutout of the alley leads directly to St. Philips’s Church graveyard, the next stop on our Charleston Ghost tour.

 

Rainbow Row in Charleston

What is Rainbow Row?

An iconic site in Charleston and visited on our Historic Charleston tour, is Rainbow Row.  A series of row houses near the historic water front painted bright pastel colors, Rainbow Row is rightly named.

The Colors Of The Rainbow In Architectural Form In Charleston

There is a place in Charleston where you will see tourists gathering to take photographs by the droves. This is a unique and historic area that is best known for the 14 houses that are painted in the colors of the rainbow and aptly named Rainbow Row. Not only is this one of the top 10 things to see in Charleston, but the homes are prime examples of the architecture that has made Charleston such an appealing destination for residents and tourists alike.

Rainbow Row in Charleston SC

The Origins Of Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row dates back to about 1740 and it used to be situated in the waterfront district of the city back in the 18th century. The homes run from 83 to 107 East Bay Street and they used to belong to merchants who would run the stores on the ground floor and live above them. This not only saved them money, since they owned the entire property, but it also cut down their commute time to nil.

Falling Into Disrepair

After the breakout of the Civil War, the area fell into disrepair, and for a while, this area was little more than a slum. This all changed, however, when a woman called Dorothy Porcher Legge went ahead and invested in some of the homes on this row and painted them a light shade of pastel pink. Over time, people started snapping up the other homes within the same row and they too began renovating and painting their homes, often in various shades of the pastel color range.

The Reasoning Behind The Colors Of The Rainbow

These days, people can’t seem to come to an agreement as to why the homes are all painted different colors. There are some people who believe that the hues were used to capture the attention of drunk sailors who might not have otherwise been able to find their way home. Others believe that the colors had something to do with the merchants advertising their wares with the assistance of the hues. On the other hand, this could have been the result of a more practical concern. Due to the heat that is often so invasive in Charleston, it is thought that people might have turned to pastel colors to try and lower the temperatures within the properties.

79 to 107 East Bay Street

A look at each of the properties on East Bay Street is enough to tell you that these houses are steeped in rich history. The two-part building on 79 to 81 East Bay Street is situated at the Southern tip of the row and it dates back to around 1845. It happens to be the most modern building on the row. Number 83 is known as the William Stone House, and it was constructed in 1784 by one of the merchants who left for England during the American Revolutionary War. This property was later restored. Number 87 was constructed back in 1778 and it was eventually destroyed by a fire. It was James Gordon who purchased the building in 1792 and went on to restore it before it was bought over by Susan Pringle Frost in the 1920s.

Number 89 was called the Deas-Tunno House and it was constructed to be used as a commercial building in 1770. This property is slightly unique from the other homes on the row because it actually has a side yard that separates it from the adjoining home on the south. Number 91 was purchased by William Greenwood and Peter Leger in 1774 and was destroyed 4 years later. A merchant called Nathaniel Russell purchased the building in 1973, although it was passed on to Susan Pringle Frost in 1920.

Number 93 is called the James Cook House and it was constructed in 1778 for commercial purposes. Today, it is the yellow house that stands proudly three houses from the left. Number 95 is one of the mysteries in the row because no one is quite sure who built it. It was purchased by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1779 and was restored by John McGowan, the playwright, in 1938. Today, visitors will notice it as the green house.

The houses that stand proudly on Rainbow Row aren’t just unique because of their colors; each one has a rich history and can tell visitors a lot about Charleston through the ages. No tour of this area is complete without a visit to the row and perhaps a picture to commemorate a visit to one of the most historic sites in this area of the world.

Where Is the Rainbow Row Located?

map of Charleston

Along the west side of East Bay Street, between Tradd Street and Elliot Street, you will find these colorful houses. It’s the area known as South of Broad Street and not far from the Waterfront Park. From the Charleston Visitor Center in historic Charleston on Meeting Street, it is a 25 minute walk to Rainbow Row. Head South on Meeting Street for 11 blocks, left on Broad Street for 3 blocks to East Bay Street and you’ll be at the north end of Rainbow Row. From the Waterfront Park, you’ll find Concord Street running north-south along the park and you can turn west on Adgers Wharf, Boyce Whart, Elliot Street  or Exchange Street to dead end on East Bay Street with Rainbow Row direct in front! If you’ll be driving through the city, East Bay Street is also highway 52 headed south to water, you’ll see Rainbow Row on your right once you pass Elliot Street.

Visit the Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon

Built in the 1760s, the Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon was and still is a public building – first as a customs house, then a exchange, barracks and prison – it now offers a guided tour through the building discussing Charleston’s history. Essential for anyone interested in the development of this historical port town and it’s role in the Revolutionary War and Civil War is to visit the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon.

But this architectural highlight in Historic Charleston is not Visit the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeononly a glimpse into the city’s past, but also it’s grim and sordid past. The tortured souls of slaves sold at the market and the prisoners left chained to its dungeons walls through disease, famine and floods have left a presence here. From the outside on our Ghosts of Charleston tour, the sounds of moans and cries can be heard through the thick stone walls, or dungeon chains pulled taunt as if the lifeless body of a prisoner hangs there unseen.

As you visit inside the Old Exchange Building & Provost building, the docents lead you through the tales dressed in period clothing, but be careful… some visitors have approached a docent only to have him disappear into thin air!

Entrance to the building includes a self-guided visit to the museum on two floors and a docent-led tour on one floor. The docent tour is about 30 minutes long.

ADMISSION:

Adults: $9.00
Children (Ages 7-12) $5.00
Students w/ ID $5.00
Children ages six and under are Free

HOURS:

The Old Exchange is open every day of the week 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. After hours? Take our Ghost of Charleston tour to hear the ghoulish takes of its history.

GETTING HERE:

122 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401

It’s just outside Waterfront Park, near where we end our Historic Charleston tours!

 

Airport departures arrivals

How to avoid Jet Lag

What is jet lag? Many of our tour guests who travel from afar or from overseas have trouble to adjust to the new time difference in their destination city. Here are some tips on how to avoid jet lag. When you travel to another time zone, your internal clock is off – that’s what you call jet lag. Usually getting over jet lag should take 3-4 days depending on how far you have traveled from. Flying eastwards will make it a bit harder to adjust to the new time zone, then when you are flying westwards. That is because our body accepts it better if you are staying up a little later, then having to go to bed much earlier than usual. In addition, if you are used to getting up rather early, flying eastwards is a little bit easier than for people who generally stay up late. And vice versa, if you are a night owl, you will have less trouble adjusting, if you were traveling westwards. How can I avoid or minimize the jet lag?

  • Start to adjust your internal clock several days before you fly, by staying up later (if traveling westwards) or getting to bed earlier (if travelling eastwards).
  • Once you are in the plane, act like you are in your destination time zone already e.g. change your clock, take a nap, eat moderately or skip a meal and avoid alcohol.
  • Be healthy and well rested. The more you rest before your big travel, the easier it will be to adjust to your new time zone.
  • If you are travelling overseas, on the day of your flight, try to sleep in or sleep as long as you can. This goes for either direction, as you will likely skip a night travelling eastwards, or you will have to stay up much longer when you arrive travelling westwards.
  • Bring a neck pillow and nap on the plane. Even if you don’t fall asleep into a deep slumber, your body will thank you later for each little 20 minute nap you do on the plane.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s best to purchase a bottle of water at the airport (after you are through security), so you don’t have to get the stewardess attention every time.
  • Once you arrive, don’t nap more than 30 minutes or go to bed immediately if it’s not bedtime yet. Stay up till at least 9 pm. This discipline on your first day of arrival, will get you over jetlag much faster.

Other things to consider when travelling to different time zones and jet lag: When flying westwards, e.g. from Europe to New York, or from Washington DC to San Francisco: Don’t make any late evening plans the first couple of nights.  You might think you are up to it, but your body will tell you otherwise. If you are booking our walking tours, stick to the morning and daytime tours, and avoid the evening tours. When flying eastwards, e.g. from California to New York, or from Boston to London: Don’t make any morning plans the first couple of days.  Instead plan more things to do in the afternoon and evenings. If you are booking our walking tours, avoid the early 10 am tours, and go for the afternoon or evening tours. +++We hope you have safe and enjoyable travels without much jet lag and we look forward to having you on our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours soon.+++

Rainbow Row in Charleston

Tiffany Glass in Charleston

Charleston’s beauty exemplified by the beautiful pastel color homes, like those seen along Rainbow Row, the overflowing window boxes and sculpted gardens, and the skyline of church steeples, but Charleston is just as beautiful in its indoor spaces as it is outside. Many of Charleston’s interiors bring the sunshine in through Tiffany glass windows. Yes, Louis Comfort Tiffany himself made several pieces in Charleston homes and buildings. Tiffany was an American interior designer of the late 19th century who took special interest in the creation of stained glass. While he did not live in town he visited often and presented his friends with gifts of his work.

Tiffany Glass locations in Charleston:

Charleston Tiffany glass

Some of our guides bring guests into St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on the Historic Charleston Tour, but if your guide does not bring you inside go back after your tour and take a peek!  Every stained glass window in the church is Tiffany.

The Two Meeting Street Inn is a favorite of honeymooners. The house was built with the $75,000 wedding gift given to the bride and groom on their wedding day by the bride’s father who happened to be a good friend of Louise Comfort Tiffany. If you stay there you’ll find some Tiffany inside, but even if you don’t get the privilege to lay your head down in the “wedding cake house,” just walk by – the side lights of one of the front windows were done by Tiffany himself for the couple.

Charleston Calhoun MansionThe Calhoun Mansion is the largest private home in Charleston, measuring 24,000 square feet.  Nope, your eyes are not playing tricks on you! The home is 24,000 square feet. At one time, the military had cadets staying the house and they created a false ceiling in one of the rooms. When work was being done on the home years later the false ceiling was noticed and taken down. Behind the panels they found a huge, gorgeous ceiling hand-stenciled by Tiffany himself!!  Check it out! Sorry, the home is so big, we couldn’t take a picture that did it justice. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Charleston Wentworth MansionThere is yet another mansion in which you can lay your head, experience a quieter part of town, and enjoy Tiffany glass all at the same time. The Wentworth Mansion is a gorgeous place to stay and sparkles with the handiwork of a glass master.

 

++Learn more on Charleston’s true colors on our pay-what-you-like walking tours!++

Brown Deli Charleston

Dogs on Tour in Charleston

One of the top questions Free Tours By Foot Charleston receives is, “Can we bring our dog on tour?” Charleston is a super friendly dog town and Free Tours By Foot Charleston is a Dog Friendly tour company. So the answer is YES!  You can bring your dog(s). Also, you might be coming to Charleston for the Annual Charleston Dog Show, why not go for a walk with Fido and do one of our walking tours at the same time. It’s good be mindful of the following:

  • Charleston couple with dogFriendly dogs ONLY are allowed on tour
  • Be respectful – Fellow tour-goers may be fearful of dogs or have severe allergies. If this is the case, stay toward the back of the group.
  • If your dog is a talker and prone to bark, please leave him/her at daycare or in the hotel.
  • We have horses and mules. If your dog has never seen a large animal and may become anxious and noisy and/or aggressive please DO NOT bring the dog on tour. Several people could be injured if animals pulling carriages get spooked.
  • All dogs should be vaccinated, have tags, and MUST be leashed.
  • Some tours may go inside buildings and dogs are not allowed in – either take turns taking a look inside or tie your dog up outside, chances are you’ll find someone petting your dog and watching over him/her until you come back.

As you walk around Charleston with your pup you will not be able to believe how many dog-lovers are in the city. You will find water bowls and treat bins outside everything from clothing boutiques like Calypso St. Barth and Affordables to restaurants such as Brown Dog Deli and galleries like Dog & Horse Fine Art. You can even find bowls inside stores and galleries if you look! Play some “I spy with my little eye” games for dog-loving businesses in the city.

Charleston dog friendly storesIf you’re wondering about dog friendly hotels downtown, here are a few found on www.bringfido.com:

  • Charleston Place Hotel
  • King’s Courtyard Inn
  • Day’s Inn Historic Charleston
  • Wentworth Mansion
  • John Rutledge House Inn 

 

Charleston Dog on tourThere are two places to let Fido run around and have some fun off-leash downtown near the tour area:

  • S. Adger’s Wharf (yes, that’s a road) near where East Bay Street becomes East Battery has a small, fenced in dog park. Occasionally, people have their dogs run in the adjacent field but technically that is not allowed and you may get in trouble.
  • White Points Park at the foot of the battery is a wide open, off-leash area. People, dogs, and squirrels like running around the park. There are no fences and the road circles the park, so be mindful.

Our tours go out rain or shine. Take a look at the calendar here.

Driving a car in Charleston

Getting Around Charleston by Car

Getting around Charleston can seem a little daunting at first, but really it is a piece of cake! Just be aware of the following things and you’ll be cruising the city like a local.

BASICS:

Don’t Look Up – Always Look Down or to the Side!!Driving car Charleston

  • Turn Only signs are rarely above you – they are all painted on the street itself.
  • Traffic Lights in the historic area are never above the street – they are on the side of the street.

 Don’t Honk!

  • Charlestonians only honk if an accident is imminent.

Go Around

  • If you get behind a horse and carriage, feel free to drive around it.
  • If a car in front of you is turning left at a light and you wish to go straight, simply go around them (provided the light is green and there is no traffic). Swing into the Right Turn lane to get around the left turning car and proceed straight through the intersection. We all do it, even the cops.

Charleston is a peninsula and is laid out in a grid system – which is great for you! It is not very big and once you’re aware of the following main streets there’s no way you can get lost.

The main North-South thoroughfares are:

MEETING STREET – Meeting Street is the main road that cruises through the middle of the peninsula. It will take you right from Interstate 26 all the way down to the southern tip of the peninsula and is two-way the whole way. Hint: Hang out in the left lane – it is a straight and left turn only lane. The right lane will turn into a Right Turn Only lane every other light or so.

KING STREET – King Street also goes the whole length of the peninsula and is one block west of Meeting Street. It is two-way part of the way and then turns into One-Way at Calhoun Street, where you can only continue going south. Look down for the turn lanes!

EAST BAY STREET – East Bay is one block east of Meeting Street and follows the Cooper River. It is two-way its entire length.

The main East-West Thoroughfares are:

CALHOUN STREET – Calhoun Street is the main cross street of the northern portion of the historic district. It will take you from the Ashley River to the Cooper River. Be aware of the frequent Turn-Only lanes (look down for the symbols). You’ll have to switch lanes a few times if you want to head in a straight line. If you take it all the way to the Cooper River, you’ll find yourself at the Aquarium and the launch site for Fort Sumter Tours.

BROAD STREET – Broad Street will take you straight across the lower portion of the historic district and is two-way from one river to the other. Hint: All of the lights on Broad Street are located on the corners, not above you!

We have one-way streets – Have no Fear! 

Our one-way streets, generally, are side streets. If you find yourself going down one unintentionally you’re only two turns from getting back in your intended direction.  Just turn at the first cross street. The next intersection will more than likely bring you to a one-way street going in the direction you want to travel.

PARKING

  • There are numerous garages throughout the city.
  • When taking a walking tour with Free Tours By Foot the best place to park is the parking garage at the corner of Cumberland Street and Church Street – plug in 90 Cumberland Street, 29401 into your GPS to find it.
  • The rates are: $1.00/every half hour; $20 daily maximum.
  • Alternately, right across Cumberland Street from the garage is a small lot. The charge is a flat fee of $10 and you can park all day.
  • Both of these parking areas will bring you basically across the street from the tour start point.

Happy Travels and Drive Safely! We’ll see you soon!