Greetings Internet Stranger! 24 hours in Charleston is certainly not enough time to see this marvelous city. It is rich with history, adorable accents, and more fine bars than you can shake a stick at. It keeps winning awards for being just so darn appealing. Travel and Leisure even recently voted it the Best City in the World, and that’s saying something because New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Scranton are all out there to compete with it.
But we can still do plenty of damage in 24 hours in Charleston. We’ll tackle ten delicious dishes, six kinds of booze, five depressing/uplifting historical monuments, and a drink that literally has my name on it. Let’s get going, y’all!
24 Hours in Charleston
Where to Stay?
If you can only stay in an adorable bed and breakfast in one city in America, let it be Charleston. (If you get a second city, add Savannah. And if there’s a third city, try Durham, North Carolina. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Charleston is definitely a city that knows how to treat a guest right.
And at the Barksdale House Inn, they treat you the rightest. Sleeping in a restored carriage house! Eating a delicious Southern breakfast every morning! Smelling warm cookies outside your door every evening! You won’t regret spending your 24 hours in Charleston here, I promise!
24 Hours in Charleston
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Charleston is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Charleston
Morning: Self Guided Food Tour
I am a big fan of food tours. They help introduce you to the history of a city while also giving you enough food to take up your lunch and dinner. What’s not to love? I believe it should be mandatory for every city to have a food tour. And a good food tour will help your maximize your 24 hours in Charleston.
When I was in Charleston, I took a food tour with the alliterative Chow Down Charleston company. This company has since closed, but I still remember the tour and so I can teach you to take it on your own. Please join me, your humble guide, on the…
The approximately top 5: Charleston Food Edition
1) Brown Dog Deli
Our first stop on the tour was the adorable Brown Dog Deli. Our bite here was the flawlessly named Pig and Fig. Like many other trendy restaurants in the South, the Brown Dog updates Southern classics. This is a twist on the pulled pork sammich, except this time the pork is served with fig-rosemary preserves, bacon jam, Granny Smith apples, and cheddar cheese.
There seems something perverse about putting bacon on pork. But then I suppose from the pig’s point of view, the whole thing is perverse. I loved all the different flavors in this sandwich. I never would have thought of combining fig and rosemary, but the rosemary helps cut some of the fig’s sweetness in a very interesting way.
Also melted cheese and bacon make everything taste better. That’s just science.
2) Fast and French
Fast and French is not really Fast and French. I mean, the service is fast and the food is French, but that is not really what the place is called. Its official name is Gaulart and Maliclet, but when it opened, the locals couldn’t really pronounce the name. So Fast and French became its moniker. It’s even in the website URL.
Our snack here was the soup of the day with a side of very traditional baguette and saucisson. This was washed down with some fresh, tart French lemonade. I don’t think of gazpacho as being a French soup, but seasonality is crucial in French cuisine, and nothing is better on a sweltering Charleston afternoon than a bit of cold tomato soup, n’est-ce pas?
3) Queen Street Grocery
We continued the French theme with a gooey cheese and apple crepe at the Queen Street Grocery. This establishment has been around since 1922, which makes in a modern building in Charlestonian terms. It feels like a hidden neighborhood establishment I would never have been able to find on my own. I only wish I had found it on my own, instead of with a tour guide to help me. Then I really would have been able to lord it over you, Internet Stranger!
Anyway, you don’t have to order a crepe here, but I suggest you do. The place is so famous for their crepes, they have an entire crepe section on the menu!
4) Lowcountry Olive Oil
These days no food tour is complete without a shop stop, and this tour was no exception. We got a sampling at the appropriately named Lowcountry Olive Oil. (Lowcountry is another name for the southern coast of South Carolina.) I enjoyed this stop because it taught me how to bedazzle some vanilla ice cream by topping it with a sweet balsamic vinegar.
My favorite flavor was the Lowcountry Olive Oil. It’s made with rosemary, basil, and oregano, which are apparently found in most traditional Lowcountry herb gardens. (And also the entire country of Italy.) They ship their delicious oil anywhere in the United States so I can get my herb on any time I was. (It’s not an affiliate link. I just like their oil.)
5) Christophe artisan chocolatier
Of course any good food tour needs to end with a dessert. I never say no to chocolate, so I was stoked we were taking in the Christophe Artisan Chocolatier. That makes three French/French-inspired stops on this tour. I did my research and it turns out French food is indeed a big culinary trend in Charleston. It makes sense given how traditional the city is. I do so love being right!
Our snacks were perfectly bite-sized. We had a Stella drink, which is chocolate and coffee. This was my favorite because Stella is my name and I’m very egocentric. The desserts were one perfectly hand-rolled white chocolate and an airy raspberry macaron. Normally white chocolate is not my jam, but this one was totally minus that chalky undertaste white chocolate sometimes has. Well played, Christophe!
24 Hours in Charleston
Afternoon: Explore Charleston
Now that the tour is over, it’s time to brave the wilds of Charleston and get to know the city on your own! Downtown Charleston is safe and well-traveled so the most you have to worry about during your 24 hours in Charleston is offending an elderly lady by wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Let’s get started with…
Approximately top 5: 24 hours in charleston
1) Provost Dungeon
The Provost Dungeon is really only one half of a museum. You buy one ticket for admission to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and you can get into both. That’s because the Provost Dungeon is just the basement of the Old Exchange. But the two attractions are very different, which is why I’m separating them here. During the American Revolution, the British used Provost Dungeon as a prison for US patriots.
But its most famous prisoner was Stede Bonnet the pirate. He was actually kept here until he was publicly hanged by the British in Charleston. Of course, this was back when South Carolina was a British colony. The British had such a flexible attitude towards pirates. If you were one of their pirates, like Sir Walter Raleigh, you were fine. But pirate against them, and it was off with your head.
2) Old Exchange
The Old Exchange is less gruesome than the Provost Dungeon. It also has fewer dummies of pirates. But you do learn a lot about the economy of Charleston in its early history. The main cash crops were Carolina Gold rice and indigo plants, which were used for dye. Of course, none of these businesses would have been profitable without the pervasive use of slave labor.
George Washington also stayed here when he came to Charleston. One of the docents told me that he was so popular in Charleston that women literally painted his face on their hands in anticipation of his visit. I guess that’s because their hands were the only part of their body they were allowed to show? Also, I hope there are no people out there painting our current president on parts of their body. If there are, please never tell me about it.
3) Old Slave Mart Museum
The Old Slave Mart Museum is an essential stop during your 24 hours in Charleston Charleston. It is the first African-American museum in the country. Charleston is such a lovely city that it’s easy to forget the brutality of its history. Around 40 percent of enslaved people brought to the United States came through the port of Charleston. In fact, 80 percent of African-Americans today have at least one ancestor who were forced into the United States at Charleston.
The focus of the Old Slave Mart Museum is telling the stories of the many enslaved people who came through Charleston. A constant theme is how these people survived through courage and resilience. Photography is not allowed and for obvious reasons it’s not a recommended destination for children.
4) Rutledge Houses
Another reminder of the history of slavery in Charleston can be found in the Rutledge houses. Edward and John Rutledge (brothers) were some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the musical 1776, Edward was the leader of the pro-slavery representatives who refused to allow any condemnation of slavery in the Declaration of Independence. (He sings the number “Molasses to Rum to Slaves”, which always scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid.)
In real life, there’s no evidence that Rutledge in particular spoke against this clause. However, it is certainly true that he owned many enslaved people, and South Carolina and Georgia were the two colonies that refused to allow an anti-slavery clause in the Declaration. So I don’t feel too sorry for him.
Now the Edward Rutledge House and the John Rutledge House are bed and breakfasts, so you can’t take a historic tour. But Charleston has many plaques and historical markers giving important information. This way it’s pretty easy to do a self-guided historical tour of Downtown Charleston.
5) Waterfront park
Before our evening’s activity, it is mandatory to take in the views at the Charleston Waterfront Park. Its most remarkable feature is this giant pineapple fountain. The pineapple is one of the symbols of hospitality, so you can find it in any Southern city like Charleston or Savannah that considers itself known for its Southern hospitality.
The coolest historical fact I know about this area is that an enslaved man named Robert Smalls managed to steal a Confederate ship that was stationed around here. He and his small crew managed to sail it past Confederate-occupied Fort Sumter and deliver it to the Union Army. He later represented South Carolina in the US House of Representatives. There is talk about erecting a statue of him in the South Carolina State House and to that, I say yes, please.
6) Charleston Night Market
On weekends, Charleston operates a can’t-miss night market. Unlike many trashy tourist markets, this place only sells local goods. Regular readers of this blog will be able to guess what I purchased…
That’s right! My obsession with buying earrings in each city knows no bounds. These are perfect for Charleston because palm trees are one of the symbols of the city. They’re even on the state flag.
24 Hours in Charleston
Evening: Charleston Original Pub Tour
Because we ate so much this morning, I wanted to conclude my 24 hours in Charleston with drinking instead of a big dinner. So practical that way. I’m not a big fan of pub crawls always. They can get a little sketchy with gentlemen looking to meet a lady companion of questionable standards for a brief period of time. Also as a solo female traveler, I don’t like getting drunk because it’s harder to get myself home safely.
But the Charleston Original Pub Tour was the best I’ve ever taken! That’s because they provide a snack at most stops so you don’t get too drunk! (The drinks are on you.) I can’t share all the secrets from the tour, but I’m happy to clue you in on…
The approximately top 5: Charleston Pub Edition
1) Irish Pub: Tommy Condon’s
This tour was also neat because we got to sample many different types of bars. And what pub tour would be complete without an Irish bar? I tried a local wheat beer at my guide’s suggestion. (I do not remember his name, but he kind of looked like a pirate, so I shall call him Stede.)
The snack at this stop was Irish nachos, which are nachos made with potatoes. It made me proud to be Irish-American because these were so tasty. (I’m only 1/4 Irish-American, but what I lack in authenticity, I make up for in familial pride in our roots! Nachos Go Bragh!)
Our next stop was Henry’s, which was a Blind Tiger during Prohibition. Stede explained that some people tried to get around Prohibition laws by claiming that they were charging admission to see a show. The attraction would usually be something strange like a blind tiger. People would pay money to “see the blind tiger”, but there would be no tiger. There would only be cheap booze. The moral of this story is that Prohibition was a stupid idea.
My drink here was a South Carolina beer called a White Thai, which is a white beer flavored with ginger and lemongrass. I liked it, especially because it was about as strange as viewing a blind tiger.
3) Oyster House
We got a little more upscale with our next stop, the Oyster House. Curiously enough, our snack here was not oysters but cheese fries with sausage sauce.
This might be the perfect snack for soaking up six different types of booze. You can order raw oysters here too, but that’s on you. Want to guess what I chose?
I could have eaten a million of these babies, even though this was August and you are only supposed to eat oysters in months with R in them. But I didn’t die, so I’m pretty sure I made the right call. I kind of regretted getting a Dark and Stormy instead of champagne to go with the oysters. But Dark and Stormys come from the Caribbean, so I’m sure rum + ginger beer + oysters is a combination that many a pirate has tried and loved.
4) Cane Rhum Bar
Speaking of pirates (and I seem to be doing that a lot in this post) our next stop was at Cane Rhum Bar. (Not a typo.) This is the most educational bar I’ve ever visited because of all the murals on the walls informing guests about the violent and fascinating history of the sugar and rum trades. My cocktail, the Instant Vacation, was made with Barbadian Mount Gay rum, lemongrass and ginger, and ginger beer. It was perhaps the most easy to drink concoction I have ever consumed. I took the drink down in about three seconds flat.
Our snack here was the helpfully carb-tastic yucca fries with curry powder. At this point, all the guests on the tour and I were seriously feeling the need to soak up the alcohol in our bellies, so these didn’t last long either.
5) Whiskey Bar
Rum then whiskey, you’ll be feeling frisky, I believe the saying goes. After our next stop, I can’t say I was feeling especially frisky, but I was certainly feeling no pain. Whiskey is my favorite choice of hard liquor, and I usually get an Old Fashioned so I can feel like Don Draper. But here I was excited to see that the Sazerac was on the menu. This is a very New Orleans cocktail made with absinthe, so you can drive yourself slowly mad as you drink it.
Our snack here was pork rinds, which are yet another amazing drunk food. I definitely managed to eat enough of these to prevent myself from falling off my stool. However, I am afraid I was too drunk at this point to remember to write down the name of the bar.
6) Griffon Pub
Fortunately I was not so drunk I forgot to take a picture of our last stop, the Griffon. As you can probably tell from my photo, this is a dive bar. The only thing you’re going to order here is a beer. I had a Palmetto Pilsner, which is actually brewed in Charleston proper. (One of South Carolina’s nicknames is the Palmetto State.)
The thing to do at the Griffon is write a message on a dollar bill and stick it to the wall. Why do people do this? I do not know. But when you’re drunk, anything seems like a good idea.
After this, Stede got a friend of his who works for a car service to drive us closer to our hotels. I believe at one point we were all yelling out the window of the car? This is literally the only time in my life I have ever done this. If you try that action back home in New York City people will throw things at you. But Charlestonians are a friendlier folk. This wasn’t really the ending to my 24 hours in Charleston that I had imagined. But it was the ending that Charleston gave me.
And That’s A Perfect 24 Hours in Charleston!
What would you do with 24 hours in Charleston? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Charleston right now? Have you ever been tempted to live the life of a pirate? And what’s the most educational bar you have ever visited? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Charleston. If you have another 24 hours in Charleston, add this itinerary!