Sometimes referred to as “The Holy City” for its steeple-rich downtown skyline, Charleston is home to more than 180 historic churches. One of the most famous is St. Philip’s, which dates back to 1680; the original building succumbed to fire in 1835 and was rebuilt in its current late-Georgian style three years later. Though the building was a prime target for shelling during the Civil War, visitors strolling Charleston’s downtown streets today are greeted by the sound of the Westminster chimes resonating from St. Philip’s three times an hour.
Five miles to the east is Fort Sumter, famously known as the site of the Civil War’s first exchanges of gunfire. Though construction of the island fort started in 1829, it was still unfinished when the war broke out in 1861, with Union forces having only half their designated cannons in place. Historic accounts note that residents along Charleston’s Battery watched from the balconies of their stately homes as these first shots, which continued for 34 hours, were fired. Today Fort Sumter is one of the top attractions in Charleston, drawing over 300,000 visitors in 2011, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Charleston rests on a peninsula with a historic downtown spanning more than 800 acres. Close to 2,000 historic homes and buildings line narrow streets that are perfect for evening strolls. Rainbow Row on East Bay Street is among the top attractions in Charleston with its colorful block of pastel-painted homes. On the southernmost end of the peninsula, visitors venture to Charleston’s Battery where children can pose for photographs alongside the replica cannon and pile of cannon balls. One of the best things to do with kids in Charleston, the seawall gives the little ones plenty of room to roam. Bordered by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and lined with antebellum mansions, the Battery also offers an excellent view of Fort Sumter from the Cooper River side.
Other fun things to do with kids in Charleston: Sharks, stingrays and moray eels are all on display in the 38,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank at the South Carolina Aquarium. During Charleston’s hot and humid summer months, kids love playing in the Pineapple and Vendue Fountains at Waterfront Park, and at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, children can even board a pirate ship and drive an antique fire engine.
For many, shopping is at the top of the agenda. Begin at Charleston’s City Market where artisans sell crafts like sweetgrass baskets, and boutiques like Intermode Fashion & Jewelry specialize in sarongs and sundresses. During its 2011 renovation, the City Market added an enclosed, air-conditioned section for relief from the summer’s hot sun. For art enthusiasts, Charleston has over 25 art galleries. Gallery Chuma and artist Jonathan Green exhibit Gullah art from South Carolina’s traditionally African-American Lowcountry while the Wells Gallery, a mile south, showcases paintings, photographs and glass-blown works by many regional fine artists. A tasty complement to Charleston’s shopping scene is downtown’s Husk, named best new restaurant of 2011 by Bon Appétit. Strictly serving Southern staples like deviled eggs, South Carolina shrimp and Choppee okra stew, Husk is one of the top restaurants in Charleston.