Charleston is typically sunny and warm, but if it does rain while you’re here we’ve put together a few things and activities you can do on a rainy day.
1. Take a walking tour with Free Tours By Foot! We have several tours to choose from and we go out rain or shine and will even provide ponchos to keep our guests dry and happy.
2. Find out what animals like to call South Carolina and her waterways home at the South Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium displays wildlife from the upstate, the midlands, and the low country. Birds, snakes, and aquatic animals like sharks, fish, and rays are on display. As an added treat, buy a ticket to visit the turtle hospital. Wild sea turtles who have been found injured are brought to the hospital to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. You can tour the hospital daily at 12pm and 2pm.
3. If fish aren’t your thing, but ships and airplanes are – take a tour of theUSS Yorktown. The World War II aircraft carrier is open daily. Explore the huge maze that shipmates navigated daily on the high seas, walk into the hangar and view the planes and even try out a flight simulator. After that, step out onto the deck and admire the planes. Patriot’s Point, where the USS Yorktown is located, also offers a Cold War memorial, the Vietnam War support base, and the Medals of Honor museum. If you have car, just cruise over the Ravenel Bridge in the right lane and make your first light at the foot of the bridge. No car? No worries! You can take a water taxi from the downtown peninsula over the cooper river to the park.
4. Determined to get on the water for longer than the 10 minute water taxi ride? Catch the boat to Ft. Sumter! The tour toFort Sumter Tours will take you out to the fort on a boat that does offer covering in inclement weather. Of course, the harbor cruise includes admission onto the fort itself, so ponchos or umbrellas will still be necessary for that portion of the trip.
5. After a wet day, warm up with a belly laugh and maybe even try out your own improv comedy skills at Theatre99. Enjoy some beer or wine, sit back, and laugh your rainy day blues away! For as little as $5 to as much as a whopping $12 per person you can enjoy a bit of fun and rub elbows (and quips) with locals.
You’ve made it! You are ready to put a check on that bucket list: You’ve arrived in the top city in the U.S. to visit, according to Condé Nast Traveler, and you are ready to tour and hit the town, but how the heck do you get around? Here are your options:
Walk – Charleston has always been and will always be a very walkable city. Heck! That’s why we offer some of the best walking tours in town and why you’ve already penciled one in on your trip agenda.
If your tootsies need a rest, here are your other options:
FREE Trolley – why pay for a ride when you can catch the CARTA Trolley for free? The trolley will get you to all areas of interest in downtown Charleston. Check out the routes and stops here.
Pedi-Cab – Charleston has several pedi-cab (bicycle cab) companies with strong and friendly drivers who will whisk you to your next destination in an open-air loveseat. It’s a great way to enjoy the weather and rest your feet on your way to Liberty Square to catch your boat. The pedi-cabs run all day and night and you can catch them in the Market, on East Bay Street and on King Street. All you have to do is walk by one and ask for a ride. If you see a full one, call out to the driver and let them know you want a ride, too. They’ll radio to a coworker to come and get you.
Taxi Cab – Taxis are available in Charleston, but have some rules. We are a thriving city, but it isn’t New York. DO NOT FLAG them down. They will ignore you. You must call ahead for a taxi. Have the address or the name of the place where you need to be picked up and also the address of where you want to be dropped off. Ask how long it will be. Some cabs are speedy, some are not. As in all cities, you cannot over-stuff a cab. If you have more than 4 people in your party, tell the dispatcher you’ll need two cabs. Charleston Black Cab Co.,Green Cab, andYellow Cab are some places to call.
Bike – Some hotels, like The French Quarter Inn, have bicycles for guests to use. If your hotel does not offer bikes, check out The Bicycle Shoppe on Meeting Street. They’ll rent you one! Just beware – park your bike in designated bike racks. City Police have started cracking down and impounding bikes locked up to trees and signs.
When you are visiting Charleston, you will surely pass Marion Square. Located on Meeting and Calhoun Streets, it occupies a central location in Charleston’s Downtown area. The famous Food and Wine Festival, as well as the Spoleto Arts Festival take place there every year. Marion Square is not only known for people coming to get tasty bites from world renowned chefs and to sip on vintage wines, or where Christmas trees are placed in December.
In fact, Marion Square is the old parade ground of The Citadel, the Military College in SC. The Embassy Suites hotel is actually the old school building of The Citadel. Marion Square will always be an open place for the citizens of Charleston and can never be built upon. Learn more about The Citadel by joining our Historic Charleston Tour and our Civil War Tour.
Marion Square and The Francis Marion Hotel are both named after Francis Marion, aka the Swamp Fox. He is the man in the 1770s who is credited and known for his guerrilla warfare tactics. Did you know he actually ended up out of a window of a home on Orange Street in downtown Charleston and came to land on the sidewalk outside and broke his ankle? The question of if he was drunk or just appalled at the drinking that was going on around him surrounds the mystery. It was said that Francis Marion took part of the Temperance Movement.
For those of you who have seen the movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character is loosely based on Francis Marion. In fact, some scenes of the movie were filmed right here in Charleston. Check out The Cistern at the College of Charleston – it should look familiar; it’s been used in a few movies, including The Patriot and Cold Mountain. They even covered parts of Church Street with fake ballast stones and straw for scenes from Cold Mountain (they also used The Cistern) starring Jude Law and Natalie Portman.
Another movie, The Notebook, was filmed a couple of blocks south of Marion Square. For that movie, business owners along Broad Street had to vacate their businesses for a few hours of each day so set designers could put up 1940’s facades and signs and make the love story come alive.
After the busy holiday season Charleston takes the whole month of January to relax and gear up for the year ahead. Then, BOOM!, the event season begins and Charleston comes alive and jams and jives all spring. We have compiled a list of Charleston festivals for Spring 2014 and we will update in time.
Kicking off the event season is the annual South Eastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE – pronounced See-Wee). This event featuring visual artists’ paintings and sculptures, as well as live animal demonstrations takes place February 14-16th. Check out the exhibition favorites -The Dock Dogs show and the FREE flight demonstrations in Marion Square by the Center for the Birds of Prey. Click here for more information on tickets, artists, and exhibit locations.
March & April
Charleston has become a mecca for foodies and the annual BB&T Wine & Food Festival brings out everyone from Food Network TV stars, to our local James Beard Award Winners, and everyone who can’t get enough of great food, delicious wine, and swanky parties. Tickets for some events are already sold out, but you can still get into the food tents and also get tickets to coveted intimate dinners and pairing events. The festival runs March 6-9th and you can find tickets and event information here.
Check out the video preview for last year’s event.
March 18-22nd are dates every fashionista should have marked on their calendars. The 7th annual Baker Motor Company Charleston Fashion Week takes place in the tents in Marion Square. Designers from all over the country and models plucked from obscurity strut their stuff on the runways and enjoy bubbly and schmoozing at the after parties. Click here for more information and/or check out the promotional video below.
Game, Set, Match! Watch the world’s top women tennis players duke it out at the annual Family Circle Cup. Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, and Sloane Stephens are just a few of the players getting their game on this year March 29 – April 6 at the WTA sponsored event. Get tickets here.
May & June
The world renown Spoleto Festival USA, an international performing arts showcase, takes over the city of Charleston for 17 days from May 23 – June 8. The city comes alive with the colors, sounds, and buzzing energy of dancers, acrobats, symphonies, jazz bands, and musical productions. Considered the best international performing arts showcase in the country, this is an opportunity to travel the world without crossing an ocean. Get information on show locations and ticket pricing here. The video below shows highlights from the 2011 festival.
Not to be outdone, Charleston’s local performers team up with regional artists to host their own smaller showcase called Piccolo Spoleto, which runs on the same dates – March 23 – June 8. Many events of Piccolo Spoleto are free and others are priced so that even those on a college student’s budget can get a good seat. Featuring emerging artists, hilarious comedians, choral groups, and children’s shows Piccolo Spoleto is worth checking out. Click here for the schedule and ticket information.
Charleston is a charming city. That is the adjective most often used to describe this seaport town. The charm of the city comes alive in the friendliness of the locals, the bright pastel colors of the homes, the overflowing window boxes and tended gardens and the wrought iron gates and fences that allow visitors and locals alike to get a peek into these beautiful private green spaces.
Photographers and other artists flock here to photograph and paint the city’s gates. There are a few gates that pre-date the Revolutionary War and a couple from before the Civil War, but most of the gates from these times were melted down during the conflicts or succumbed to other tragedies like fires, storms and floods. The question then: Just how does Charleston have so many gates, window grates, and fences? The answer lies mainly in the smiling face of one man.
That’s right – One man is responsible for over 500 masterful pieces of wrought iron in the city. His name is Philip Simmons.
Philip Simmons became an apprentice blacksmith at the age of twelve and learned the trade from his supervisor, who happened to the be the grandson of slaves and had learned the skill from traditions passed on in his family. Simmons built on what he learned to become one of the most skilled craftsmen in the country.
Awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given by the United States to a traditional artist, Philip Simmons’ work is renown for its intricate, tight scroll-work and at the same time its long, delicate lines. He was even able to put wildlife in his designs. Some of his work can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, but the best place to see it is just by taking a walk around Charleston.
Philip Simmons was loved by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him. He was a master craftsman and a generous teacher and mentor; he was still teaching people how to be blacksmiths up until he passed away in 2009 – at the age of 97. The city honored him by placing white ribbons on all of his known works.
In this post, we share everything you need to know about visiting the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, and it is also the home of one of the most well preserved mansions that Charleston has to offer, making it all the more appealing.
One of the most popular events to take place in Charleston every year, the Festival of Houses and Gardens invites the public to tour more than 150 private houses and gardens in the historic district of the city. Each property dates back to anywhere from the Georgian and Antebellum periods into the early 20th century, and ‘showcases Charleston’s distinctive architecture, history, gardens, and culture.’ Tickets are available from November and tend to sell out quick, so be sure to get yours as soon as possible. All proceeds benefit Historic Charleston Foundation.
Described as a celebration of antiques and design. Collectors and enthusiasts gather together to 7th to mid–century modern English, European, and American period furnishings, decorative arts & fine art, architectural elements, garden furniture, vintage jewelry, silver and more.
According to National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the Aiken-Rhett House “exemplifies the changes which occurred in architectural design during the first half of the 19th Century. The upper floors reflect the refined qualities (in both woodwork and proportion) of the late Federal period. The main floor exemplifies the height of the Greek Revival design, while the art gallery (added in 1858) indicates a movement into the Victorian era.”
48 Elizabeth Street
This property was built on 48 Elizabeth Street, by John Robinson, a merchant of the area. In 1827, Robinson lost a number of his ships in his fleet and he had to sell the property. It was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Aiken, who were extremely wealthy citizens of Charleston during that time. The property wasn’t the primary residence of the Aiken’s, however, since they used it as a rental unit.
Aiken was an immigrant from Ireland and he had managed to amass a large fortune during his time as a merchant in the city. He died very suddenly in a carriage accident, however, and so the house was then passed on to his son, Aiken Jr. who continued to renovate and build onto the property. Many of the pieces that were collected from their travels can still be seen in the house today. In fact, many of the pieces are in precisely the same rooms they were initially placed by Aiken his wife.
The Second Expansion
One of the things that makes the Aiken-Rhett House truly remarkable is that it was kept in such good condition. During the 1850s, an expansion was conducted on the property and this only added to the allure of the place. Aiken Jr. was a very successful rice planter and politician. Gov. Aiken made the decision to enlist Joseph Daniel Aiken, his cousin, to not only design but also to oversee the construction of the art gallery within the home, which happens to be one of a kind.
The library is another impressive facet of the building. It contains over 2000 books that were published during the 1800s and many of them can be seen in the Charleston Library Society archives today. It is interesting to note that many of the volumes were actually signed by members of the family.
Slavery and the Aiken-Rhett House Museum
Before the Civil War, the Aiken-Rhett House was home to African American slaves who maintained the home and waited on the family. Some of the positions that these slaves held included cook, laundress, footmen, seamstress and gardener, among others. There is documentation that was found that showed the names of about 14 of the slaves that lived and worked at Aiken-Rhett House. These names included; Victoria, Charles, Elizabeth, Rachel, Sambo and Dorcas Richardson, Ann, Tom and Henry Greggs and Julia, among others. The documentation shows that some of the slaves remained in the house after they were emancipated.
The slaves resided in the slave quarters that were situated at the back of the house. They would eat in a communal kitchen. Studies of the grounds have shown that many rooms within these quarters contained fireplaces, and the rooms were painted very vibrant colors.
The Death Of William Aiken Jr.
William Aiken Jr. died in North Carolina in 1887 and the property was passed on to his wife and daughter. His wife lived on the property until she died in 1892 and it then became the residence of her daughter and son-in-law. When her daughter, Henrietta died, it was passed on to her children, and then again on to their heirs.
Due to the care and consideration that went into maintaining the property, it was only in the 1870s that the property left the ownership of William’s family. After it left the hands of William’s family, it was donated to the Charleston Museum, although it was purchased by the Charleston Foundation in the 1990s.
Anyone who is planning on visiting Charleston should take some time to pay a visit to the Aiken-Rhett House. This property is not only a landmark in this town but it also gives visitors a unique view of the history of this area and this makes it more than worth a visit.
Is The Aiken-Rhett Mansion Haunted?
Many people still think that the Aiken-Rhett House is haunted, with some people even claiming to see a woman roaming the halls of the house. Others claim to hear footsteps when no one else is around.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a fan of architecture or not – a visit to the Calhoun Mansion is sure to take your breath away. This mansion is the largest residence in the area of Charleston and it boasts of having 35 rooms. The main design of the building is Italianate, giving it an elegant and almost regal feel. During a tour of this mansion, visitors will find themselves on a whirlwind journey through Japanese water gardens, a grand ballroom, high ceiling staircases, private elevators, piazzas and even Koi ponds. The house is built on over 24,000 square feet of ground, which means that there is a lot more to this property than most people would believe.
Those who do appreciate architecture will be happy to know that the Calhoun Mansion is a testament to the architecture within this area. It has not only been featured in the Architectural Digest, but it has also been shown in Forbes, American Castles and the Wall Street Journal.
The moment you walk into the mansion, expect to be taken aback by the decor, since it is anything but simplistic. No expense was spared in creating a scene of elegance and luxury, so it is home to an enormous number of antiques. Each piece has a long, rich history, making every corner of the mansion something to be explored and discovered. It is not only the interior of the mansion that makes this “American castle” so unique, but also the gardens, which have been perfectly restored. The best thing about taking one of the longer tours of this mansion is that you get to take your time to really take everything in, and this is important in a property that is so jam packed with history.
A Short History Of The Calhoun Mansion
The grounds on which the Calhoun Mansion are built are interesting enough without the mansion. Before the property was constructed, the plot was originally the grounds on which the Lowndes House stood. This home belonged to Governor Charles Pinckney, and it was in this house that George Washington visited Gov. Pinckney not once, but three times during 1791.
George W. Williams
The Calhoun Mansion was built as a private residence by George W. Williams back in 1876 for around $200,000, which was most definitely a tidy sum back in those days. The lot, on the other hand, was purchased for a further $40,000. It was the architect William P. Russel who designed and constructed the building and it was quickly labeled one of the greatest homes to be built in the post Civil War era on the Eastern Seaboard.
When Mr. Williams made the decision to purchase the grounds, he wanted to use his fortune to build a testament to the city that had once again begun to flourish at the end of the Civil War. It took about 5 years for the construction of the house to be completed and Mr. Williams hired many local craftsmen and workers to do the work, creating jobs in the process. When Mr. Williams died in 1903, the house was passed from person to person, until eventually, it was condemned in 1972.
It was not until the house was purchased about a quarter of a century later by a local resident of Charleston that it was restored. This resident had to put in more than $5 million in order to complete the restorations.
Touring the Calhoun Mansion
These days, the home can be seen hosting thousands of tourists each year, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes for people to fall in love with it. It should be noted that the tours take place from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and each tour will last about 35 minutes. The cost for the tour is $15 and can be paid for in cash or credit card on the day of the tour from the gift shop around the back. The contact number is 843.722.8205. There has recently been added a New Grand Tour that costs about $50 and lasts around an hour and a half. Those who are looking to purchase tickets for this tour can do so at the rear entrance located by the Museum Shop.
Visiting Charleston just isn’t the same without taking a tour of the Calhoun Mansion. This stately home is not only a landmark in the city, but it also gives visitors a real glimpse into a time where people wore tuxedos to dinner and always watched their P’s and Q’s. Anyone who is looking at getting a full view of the city, including the architecture within it, simply can’t miss out on this top class tour.
Calhoun Mansion Visitor Tips
Not everyone who visits the house is impressed. A common critique is that you do not get to see the whole house. As always, do your homework. Check our the reviews of the Calhoun Mansion on TripAdvisor and other review sites.
Don’t go in thinking that John C. Calhoun lived in the Calhoun Mansion. He didn’t. The house was built for his grandson, who married the owner’s daughter and lived there.
If you love antiques, then the Calhoun Mansion tour will not disappoint.
Many people who explore the Charleston love to stroll along the famous Charleston Battery, the area that used to house a battery of canons along the seawall to protect the city and the mansions just beyond the wall, but is now a beautiful slate promenade with terrific views of the harbor, do not realize just how big many of the homes are and once they find out they cannot believe that most of the homes are single family residences.
Can you believe that the largest of the Charleston Battery homes is at least 10 times the size of the average American home? The largest home along the battery is 20,000 square feet, or 1,858 square meters! The homes are humongous works of art and we are lucky to have them to admire today.
The Civil War started in the harbor and the families who lived in the homes along the battery used to watch the early battles from their piazzas and roof terraces. Residents soon fled the city as Charleston endured over 18 months of continuous shelling. The effects of the war were hard to miss. The confederates fled in 1865 and intentionally blew up a large gun along the battery, which caused a 500lbs piece of cannon to get lodged into an attic beam at the William Roper House at 9 East Battery; it’s still there today.
Perhaps even more amazing than the survival of these homes and their sheer size (largest home in the city is the Calhoun Mansion and is 24,000sf) is that many of them were built to be nothing other than summer homes. Many of the wealthy residents of Charleston had large plantation homes in the country and came into the city for the summers or for special occasions. Today, most of the homes along the battery and within the historic district at large are lived in all year.
To learn more about the homes and architecture of Charleston, take a stroll with us on our Architecture Tour, which also includes a discounted ticket to tour the Nathaniel Russell House; a beautiful home that shows off the opulent tastes of one of Charleston’s wealthy families in the early 1800s.
Foodies love Charleston. Our town is literally chock full of James Beard Award winning chefs, but how did they all come to gather here and what are some dishes indicative of the region?
Johnson & Wales University, the well-known and respected culinary school based in Providence, Rhode Island, had a branch in Charleston for many years. The doors to the Charleston campus shut after the final class graduated in 2010, but the school turned out world-class chefs for years and opened their eyes to the easy going lifestyle and the abundance of fresh proteins and vegetables available here in the Lowcountry. Many of the graduates stayed to work in long standing and established restaurants or to try their hand at starting their own.
As for Lowcountry foods of Charleston, one has to understand what the term Lowcountry means. You will see the term spelled as one word and as two, there really is no rhyme or reason to the variance in spellings and locals are used to seeing it both ways and using it whenever possible to name businesses. In any event, Charleston is at sea level and the land along the coast of South Carolina is very flat. The coastal region is called the “Low” country because of the lack of the hills and mountains found in the “Upstate,” or where the mountains and land poke upward toward the sky.
Lowcountry cuisine uses the foods that grow locally in the low, flat, wet environment as its focal point. Seafood is abundant and used in every dish from breakfast and lunch to dinner.
Shrimp and Grits is a delicious dish which is acceptable to eat at any time of day. You will find it on Sunday Brunch menus as both a breakfast and lunch item and it shows up on pretty much every nice dinner restaurant menu, as well. It is a delicious dish with shrimp and andouille sausage nested on a bed of freshly ground grits (finely ground corn meal) and swirled with a delicious gravy.
She Crab Soup is another Charleston staple. The restaurant 82 Queen gained its fame from it’s delicious recipe for the this soup, but you will find it at almost every restaurant in town. Traditionally, the soup used the meat and the row from gravid crabs, but now the soup is made with just the crab meat cooked in a tomato and cream base and should always be topped with a drizzle of sherry upon serving.
Oysters are in season during every month whose name contains an “R,” however most of the local oyster roasts kick off in September or October and go through January to February. One of the largest and most well known oyster roasts takes place in January at Boone Hall Plantation. This year, it will be on January 26. Pearlz, a restaurant and bar on East Bay Street, is a great place to enjoy an oyster shooter, raw oysters, and steamed oysters and it turns into a fun place for a nightcap.
Fresh Fish from flounder to mahi mahi and redfish to many other varieties will always have a feature spot on every Charleston restaurant menu. The ocean is just 3 miles from our inner harbor and the fishing is good!
One of the first things visitors to Charleston notice is the number of long and narrow homes that display beautiful covered porches. The Charleston Single house is an icon of Charleston Architecture. The construction of Charleston single houses dates back to near the origins of the City of Charles Town in the 1680s. The single house is identified by the long verandas, or porches, that run the length of the structures and serve as exterior spaces and effectively exterior hallways. The interiors of Charleston single houses are consistent, usually one room wide and several rooms long. It’s the exteriors of the houses that come in many shapes and styles, including Georgian, Federal, Italianate and many many more. Another feature of the single house is the ‘front door’, which actually leads to the ground level porch or patio and to the actual front door. These doors provided added privacy and security for residents.
There are several reasons why Charleston has so many single house structures, but most definitely it is not due to how the city taxed real estate based on the amount of street frontage the building had, a belief certain tour guides and residents often perpetuate. The two main reasons pertain to limited space available in the old walled city and climate. Early Charleston, like many port cities on the east coast of the United States of America developed on peninsulas or islands between two major rivers, locations that critical for maritime trade. To protect these fledgling colonies, the area of city development was very limited and restricted by defensive walls. By laying out the lots long ways, you could maximize the number of lots with street frontage. The single house also effectively combats heat and humidity by allowing air to flow both through the house, which were designed to allow the breezes to flow through the house unencumbered, and through the porches. Due to the grid system of Charleston, homes can be laid out east-west or north-south. You will notice that the porches are always on the south or west sides to protect from late afternoon sun, when Charleston is at it hottest.
Other issues that have influenced the usage of single houses are fire protection (notice how the walls opposite the porches tend to have few openings?), and privacy. It’s quite obvious the level of privacy such design affords those who live in these buildings. It also seems logical that by placing the main entryway into the house adjacent to the side yard as opposed to the street would limit exposure to dust from the unpaved dirt streets of yesteryear. For more information on the history and characteristics of the Charleston single house, check out the post from the Charleston County Public Library.
On our Charleston Architecture Tour, we will show you many examples of the Charleston single house and many other features of these wonderful structures