Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Charleston! I’m the first to admit that one day is certainly not enough time to see this marvelous city. Charleston is rich with history, adorable accents, and more fine bars than you can shake a stick at. That’s why The Holy City 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 who needs to see the Eiffel Tower when I can just take you to Charleston’s giant pineapple.
But even though it would be great to have more time, we can still do plenty of damage in 24 hours in Charleston. We’ll tackle a plethora of delicious dishes and more history than you can shake a palmetto at. 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! You won’t regret spending your 24 hours in Charleston here, I promise!
If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. The Barksdale House Inn is so popular that it might be full up when you visit, so if you’re looking for great deals on almost 300 other hotels in Charleston, click here.
24 Hours in Charleston
- An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures all during your 24 hours in Charleston
- The best guidebook to the Carolinas, which Georgia thrown in as a bonus.
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by Johnny Reb during your one day in Charleston Itinerary.
24 Hours in Charleston
Morning: Fort Sumter
On any list of Important Places in US History, Fort Sumter has to be in the top five. It was here, on April 12, 1861, that Confederate General Pierre Gustave Tutant Beauregard led the attack on Fort Sumter, kicking off the Civil War. It is now a historic attraction run by the National Park Service. Because Fort Sumter is on an island, you need to take a ferry to get there. The only authorized company to take tours to Fort Sumter is the prosaically named Fort Sumter
I highly recommend buying your ticket to Fort Sumter in advance online here. The 10:30 tour is perfect for this 24 hours in Charleston itinerary. Then you’ll have a full hour on the island to learn at least…
Three Facts about Fort Sumter
1) who fought at fort sumter?
The Union and Confederate officers were closer to each other than you might think. After all, most of them had trained together at West Point. In fact, Robert Anderson, who was the Union Commander at Fort Sumter, had been the teacher of PGT Beauregard, the leader of the Confederate forces at Fort Sumter. (Monsieur Beauregard and his fabulous moustaches are pictured above.)
As tensions between North and South rose, Anderson had been sent to command the Union forces in Charleston because he was a Southerner himself, from Kentucky. In fact, Anderson had been a slaveowner himself. So when Americans say that the Civil War pitted brother against brother, we’re talking also about situations like Anderson facing off against his fellow Southerner and former pupil at Fort Sumter.
2) why was fort sumter attacked?
Some of my readers may not be familiar with the history of Fort Sumter, so here’s the short version. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Southern states believed he would attempt to abolish slavery. Lincoln was not even on the ballot in some Southern states.
So South Carolina took the occasion to secede from the United States. It was quickly followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These states joined together to become the Confederate States of America.
But since South Carolina had until recently been part of the United States, there were still Union troops stationed there at Fort Sumter. The Confederate Army, led by Beauregard, demanded that the Union Army leave the fort. When they refused, the Confederates attacked. This attack began the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history.
There is almost nothing that is funny about the Civil War, but I believe I’ve found one humorous tale in all the tragedy. Union Officer Abner Doubleday was the first person to fire a shot in defense of Fort Sumter. But apparently he used the occasion of the battle to fire a shot at a hotel in Charleston that he didn’t like. That is some chutzpah. It must be easier to run a hotel nowadays than it was during the Civil War. The worst hotel owners have to face now is a bad review on Tripadvisor.
3) anything else near fort sumter?
Fort Sumter isn’t the only important fort in the area. Fort Wagner, which no longer is possible to visit, is visible from Fort Sumter. This fort is where the famous assault by the Massachusetts 54th took place. The Massachussetts 54th was the first black regiment in the Union Army. They were led by white officer and abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw.
Shaw and many of his men were killed at the attack on Fort Wagner. However, the 54th was widely acknowledged for its courage, and African-American officer Sergeant Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in battle. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 54th, I highly recommend the film Glory and Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance.)
On a lighter note, creeptastic poet extraordinaire Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at nearby Fort Moultrie as a young man. Apparently if you go there, there is a recording of “The Raven” playing constantly in the men’s bathroom. That’s so weird! How do they expect anyone to pee while they’re constantly listening to someone intone “Nevermore!” over a PA system?
24 Hours in Charleston
Afternoon: Food Tour
There’s nothing better than a food tour if you really want to get to know a city. And Charleston Culinary Tours has one of the best and most popular tours in the city. You’ll start at their home base and get a welcome snack in lovely air conditioning. Then your guide will take you out for some fabulous treats and snacks in one of America’s most bootylicious cities. (That means beautiful and delicious at the same time, right?)
You can book this tour easily by clicking here. Then all you need to do is join me for…
Approximately Top 5: 24 Hours in Charleston Food Tour
1) Church and Union
Our first stop is at Church and Union, which is indeed located in an old church building. The chef is Jamie Lynch, a former Top Chef contestant, which means this restaurant is always packed. That’s what you get when your chef is a TV celebrity! The walls of Church and Union are covered with quotes from Sun Tzu, but I shan’t tell you why. You’ll have to take the tour to find out.
We tried two different bites at Church and Union. The first was their funky lamb burger, which was a big hit with everybody…
And the second was this beautiful Japanese fried chicken. In my opinion, Japanese fried chicken is some of the most delicious bird there is because the panko crumbs make it light as a feather in zero gravity. These dishes made me think of the Sun Tzu quote, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Because in the midst of the chaos of a food tour, you can sometimes snag an extra lamb burger.
2) Charleston Crab House
OK, we went a little upscale and modern Charleston with that last stop, so let’s get traditional with a stop at Charleston Crab House. Here we are getting a frogmore boil, which has exactly zero frogs in it. Instead, it has potatoes, shrimp with Old Bay seasoning, andouille sausage, and corn on the cob. Is anything more fun to eat than fresh corn on the cob during the summer?
This dish is not gorgeous, but it is so satisfying, especially when you are sharing it with a group. You just pick up some tongs, jab into the frogmore boiling pot, and take out what you want! (Again, I want to promise you that there is not even one little teeny frog in the frogmore pot! Do not think of frogs!)
3) Poogan’s Smokehouse
And now we come to perhaps the most delicious type of Carolina cooking: the mighty barbecue. The most famous pitmaster in Charleston is Rodney Scott, who’s won just about every kind of barbecue award that there is. But you’ll have to visit him on your own time! On this tour, we’re hitting up Poogan’s Smokehouse.
This delectable pulled pork had just the perfect amount of smoke on it. The kind that makes you think of cigars and bourbon, not the kind that makes you think of a strange man exhaling a bunch of stale cigarette smoke in your face. It was served with greens that were also coated in lashings of pork juice. Southerners know the way to make any vegetable tasty is to dump a whole bunch of fat on it.
4) Dessert Time
Our final stop was at the historic Charleston City Market. This was perfect because after that big lunch, we won’t need too much of a dessert. After all, we still have big dinner plans ahead of us! So all we needed at this point on our 24 hours in Charleston was a little snappy praline.
Pralines are famously associated with New Orleans, but they are just as appropriate for Charleston. After all, South Carolina is famous for its numerous pecan trees and what is a praline but a whole bunch of pecans and sugar.
That’s all for the food tour! If you want to experience these tasty treats for yourself, you’ll just have to book the tour here!
24 Hours in Charleston
Late Afternoon: Explore Waterfront Park
We’ve already eaten, and it will be a few hours before we will eat again. So work off that lunchtime food tour and get ready for dinner by wandering around and seeing the most beautiful parts of this most beautiful city. But one of my favorite parts of Charleston from which to take in the sunset is Waterfront Park
24 Hour Treasure: Waterfront park
It’s a federal offense to spend 24 hours in Charleston and not 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.
24 Hours in Charleston
Evening: Dinner at Circa 1886
Even a casual glance at Charleston will tell you that the city is obsessed with antiques, history, ancestry, and basically anything to do with anything archaic and arcane. So what better place to have dinner on our 24 hours in Charleston than in an actual historic home?
That’s why I recommend Circa 1886 for dinner. It actually has a historic date in the name, so you know it’s damn old. You have to go through the historic Wentworth House to get to the restaurant, which is actually located in the Wentworth House Carriage House. I guess rich people’s horses in Charleston lived better than most people back then.
Like many upscale restaurants nowadays, you can choose to order à la carte or the chef’s tasting menu. I always choose a tasting menu because I love eating and I hate making decisions. I regret nothing!
Kick off your 24 hours in Charleston dinner with a cocktail like this Briar Patch, made with sophisticated bourbon and blackberry…
And of course, there’ll be an amuse bouche like this rich duck sausage…
Then let the tasting menu begin!
24 hour treat: grits
This dainty little shrimp and grits, is another example of taking a Southern country classic and kicking it up that extra notch of class. Shrimp and grits are a Lowcountry–the region where Charleston is located–classic, but the creamy use of goat cheese and chiffonade of cabbage leaves lets you know you’re in a fancy restaurant.
For non-Southerners, grits are nothing to be scared of. They’re basically just boiled corn. If you’re American you basically already eat corn syrup in everything, so there shouldn’t be any problem here.
Speaking of fancy Southern classics, this is a “Southern fried cheese”. But while they use the greatest of all Southern cheeses, pimento, they come close to gilded the lily by adding a dollop of caviar on top. But honestly, pimento cheese sandwiches with ham are so delicious that they deserve to be treated to caviar, fine leather goods, etc.
24 hour treat: MORE GRITS!!
Thought you could only eat grits one way? Think again! These scallops are paired with blue corn grits, a thing I hadn’t previously realized was possible. This jumbo scallop was just the perfect amount of seafood at this point in the meal because we still have our meat course coming up.
And the combination of carrots and Brussels sprouts added the right combination of bitter-sweet to compliment the scallop. Plus they make a fabulous combination. I think I’d like a dress in the color of the carrots but shoes in the color of the Brussels.
Ah! The piece de resistance! Our striploin steak with horseradish espuma, cheddar mornay sauce, and melting potatoes. Nothing’s more classic than steak and potatoes, but serving it with horseradish foam and mornay make it an affair to remember. The foam is more than just a gimmick because it does add a delightful variety in texture to the plate.
What would a tasting menu be without dessert? And nothing gives a Fancy Lady finish to the evening like a chocolate souffle. Even after five courses, I still found time to polish off this delicate treat, smothered in warm chocolate truffle sauce. I left Circa 1886 feeling as pampered and well-treated as a wealthy Charlestonian’s horse!
Now feast your eyes on this baby! This dessert was the main reason I was glad that I got the tasting menu because it wasn’t available on the menu otherwise. It’s a red velvet cheesecake with a chocolate cherry and vanilla sorbet.
It’s a great dessert for people who don’t want something too sweet and the vanilla sorbet is more refreshing than a traditional scoop of ice cream. But the chocolate cherry is pure decadence, so it all balances out. I actually ended up preferring this cheesecake to a normal red velvet cake because we all know that the icing is the greatest part of any red velvet.
And there you have it! If that cheesecake isn’t the perfect end to our 24 hours in Charleston, I don’t know what would be!
24 Hours in Charleston
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to your 24 hours in Charleston, if you are coming from somewhere else on the southern East Coast in the United States. You can drive here easily from Charlotte, North Carolina, Savannah, or even Jacksonville
However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in Charleston. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.
By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in Charleston! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was the easiest way to get to our one day in Charleston itinerary. There’s a convenient shuttle bus from the airport to most downtown hotels too, for a fee. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)
By Train: You can use the Amtrak train to get to Charleston. There’s one train that heads to Charleston on the East Coast, and it’s called the Palmetto. It will take much longer than the plane if you are going a long distance, but if you live nearby or just love train travel, it might be the best option for you.
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 email me at [email protected] and let me know!
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!