Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this one day in Charleston itinerary! One perpetual topic of debate among travelers in the United States is, “Which Southern city has the most charm?” Some vote for Savannah, Georgia. There are those who plump for Louisville, Kentucky. I’m always ride or die for New Orleans, Louisiana.
But for many, a One Day in Charleston Itinerary is the cream of the crop. It’s got so much history. Fort Sumter! Fort Wagner! A historic preservation society that rules the city with an iron fist that would put Margaret Thatcher to shame!
It also has a food scene that grows more amazing by the day. Join me for a One Day in Charleston Itinerary and we will meet some Lego Sharks, get to know corn mush, and be terrified in a public restroom. Follow me!
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
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 One Day in Charleston Itinerary 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.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
- An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures all during your one day in Charleston itinerary
- 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.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Morning: South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in Charleston, so it’s a great place to start our one day in Charleston itinerary. Of course most of the visitors are families with children, but as a solo female traveler, I still thoroughly enjoyed my morning here.
Unlike basically everything else in Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium is relatively new. It was unveiled to the public only in the year 2000. I believe the next-youngest building in Charleston dates to 1833.
Now, even thought the SCA doesn’t have historic charm, what sets the South Carolina Aquarium apart from others is its location. This is because it is smack flush with the gorgeous Charleston River.
So even if you hate aquatic creatures, you’ll have something stunning to look at during your time here.
Also, I appreciate the aquarium’s attention to detail. They even have real starfish along the walkways.
On second thought, I’m not sure those are real. But we’re not here to meet metal starfish. We’re here to learn! Allow me to proudly present…
Three Fun Facts: South Carolina Aquarium
1) do they care for animals?
Like most aquariums I’ve encountered, the South Carolina Aquarium is involved in animal rescue and conservation. The Aquarium is home to a sea turtle hospital, aka the Sea Turtle Care Center. The veterinarians at the aquarium take in injured sea turtles. Then they nurture them and feed them chicken soup or whatever sick sea turtles like to eat. When they are well, they swim away into the wild.
I vote for a Finding Nemo movie about Crush the Sea Turtle. He could rest and rejuvenate at the South Carolina Aquarium! I imagine all the proper Southern sea turtles at the Aquarium would find Crush’s laid-back California attitude rather titillating.
But there’s one aquatic creature at the South Carolina Aquarium that no one wants to preserve, and that’s the lionfish. That’s because the lionfish is an invasive species that bullies all the other fish, so no one wants it around. It’s like the William Zabka of fish.
The aquarium’s solution to solving a problem like lionfish is to tell visitors to eat lionfish as much as possible. I’ve had lionfish, and it’s actually pretty tasty. But why doesn’t the aquarium serve lionfish in its cafeteria? Put your money where your mouth is, SCA!
2) what’s the scariest animal in the aquarium?
At first I thought it was this kraken, but then I realized that the kraken was made of plastic bottles. Too bad! I’ve always wanted to meet a real kraken.
I used to feel that the most disturbing creature at the South Carolina Aquarium was their albino alligator named Alabaster, but he is sadly dead. RIP, Alabaster! You are gone, but not forgotten!
So now I think the most dangerous creature in the aquarium might be this indigo snake. According to the aquarium notes about it, this snake eats other snakes, including venomous snakes. That is so hardcore! I’m going to start a heavy metal band and call it Indigo Snake. Then I will eat a venomous snake on stage during the concert. It’s going to RAWK!!
3) what was your favorite animal?
Before visiting the South Carolina Aquarium, I had no idea the turtle world contained such variety. My two favorites were the box turtle and the gopher turtle.
Now, the box turtle resembles a box in ways three. First, it is squarish. Second, it can get all up inside of itself, so its shell is kind of like a box. And finally, like the noble box, it is an endangered species. Please don’t take box turtles from the wild because it can make them sick from stress.
The gopher tortoise is native to the Southeastern United States. They can dig ferociously and spend most of their time underground. That is so cute! They’re like the hobbits of turtles.
So remember, just because you know one turtle, doesn’t mean you know them all. #notallturtles
But I was also a big fan of the cownose ray, which you are actually allowed to pet. Just make sure to be very gentle and only use two fingers when you pet them. They’re super friendly and kind of act like fish puppies. I bet they’d be less messy than a puppy too because you don’t need to housebreak them.
24 Hour Treat
After all that jamming with turtles and running from indigo snakes, you’re going to be feeling peckish. That’s why we’re going to get some lunch! That’s why we’re heading to Breizh Pan Crepes for the finest and most authentic French crepes in Charleston. People always say that Charleston feels like a European city, so this seems like an appropriate choice.
I ordered the crepe du chef, which comes with tons of fresh veggies, an ultra light Breton crepe, French dressing, salty goat cheese, and salmon. It’s amazing how that light-as-a-lionfish buckwheat crepe can stand up to all those toppings. And if you’re in Charleston on a hot day, which is very likely, the snappy peppy salad will be most refreshing.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Afternoon: Explore Charleston
Now that the tour is over, it’s time to continue our one day in Charleston itinerary by braving 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 one day in Charleston itinerary is offending an elderly lady by wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Let’s get started with…
Approximately top 5: One Day in Charleston Itinerary
1) Aiken-Rhett House
When you visit the Aiken-Rhett House on your one day in Charleston itinerary, you’re going to have a one-of-a-kind house tour experience. Most historic homes have been restored to something like what they would have resembled during their heyday. But the Aiken-Rhett house has been preserved, but not restored. That means you won’t find any antebellum furniture replicas or elaborate curtains here.
Instead, this photo above shows what the interior of the Aiken-Rhett house looks like now. Kinda spooky and kinda gorgeous!
I haven’t seen any other house in Charleston that does as much to de-glamorize the Old South as the Aiken-Rhett house does. The tour goes through the quarters where the enslaved servants lived. According to the tour guide, some of the enslaved people in this house even died of malnutrition.
I can’t imagine being able to afford a place like this and still not giving the people who did all the work enough to eat.
2) Nathaniel Russell House
If you’d rather see a more traditional historic home restoration during your one day in Charleston itinerary, go over to the Nathaniel Russell House, which is within walking distance of the Aiken-Rhett House. (This makes sense because one ticket gets you admission to both houses, and you don’t need to visit the houses on the same day.)
The curving staircase that you see above is the most famous feature of this house. And there isn’t really molding at the top; it’s just a trompe l’oeil detail. Trompe l’oeil is French for “trick the eye”, and there’s plenty of it in this house.
Think you see mahogany in this house? Well, you’re wrong! It’s just pine painted to look like mahogany. That’s your eye playing tricks on you.
The most fun fact I learned on the tour of this house is that the molding of this room would have been “dated” by the time the Russell family was receiving guests in it. I can just hear Mr. Russell’s teenage children whining, “Ugh, DAAAAD! This room is so 1740s!!!”
3) 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 areas 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. They kept some signers of the Declaration of Independence here, like Mr. Rutledge, as well as the gentleman who created the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” sign with a snake on it.
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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Early Evening: Dinner at Husk
Charleston has one of the best food scenes in the country, so I promise you’ll thank me for managing to snag you a reservation at one of the most famous places: Husk. Make an early reservation because it will be easier to get and because we have one more thing to do on our one day in Charleston itinerary.
I sat at the bar as a solo diner and the bartender ending up talking me into pairing each course with a cocktail. So I tried the One Flew South cocktail you see above, which was sweet with peach and spicy with pepper all at the same time…
It also went perfectly with the most famous appetizer at Husk: pimento cheese on benne crackers with green tomato relish. Benne crackers are sesame crackers from Africa that you can find all over Charleston. You can’t leave the city without trying one!
Up next we have their classic Manhattan, which tasted like it just walked off the set of Mad Men…
And the main course, pork with field peas, butter beans, charred corn, chili vinaigrette, and peaches. The pork was so tender, I honestly felt like I could cut it with my mind’s eye, and the veggies tasted like they came straight off the farm of my beloved summer camp down in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Husk is all about taking Southern classics like this that you could see in Grandma’s kitchen and turning them into a fine dining experience, dahlink. In fact, that’s a theme of a lot of restaurants in Charleston, but it works!
There was only one real option for a dessert cocktail and that was the Refresher Course made with vodka, coffee, and cocoa. It was so sweet and fizzy that I couldn’t even taste the vodka! That’s probably just as well because I shouldn’t think too much about having had three cocktails in one dinner.
Then the coffee and cocoa in the cocktail made best friends with the chocolate and peanut butter in this bee-yoo-ti-ful tart. I was worried it would be too rich after that pork, but after three cocktails, my stomach was strong enough to take this on.
Everyone I spoke to who goes to Husk said this was their favorite dessert on the menu, and I wholeheartedly agree. Just be aware, choco-holics, the peanut butter taste is more prevalent than the chocolate.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
Later Evening: Ghost Tour!
There’s one thing Charleston absolutely doesn’t lack, and that’s ghost tours. In fact, I believe that Charleston has the third-most ghost tours of any city in the United States. (Number one rhymes with Schmew Schmorleans.) So we will definitely hit one up during our one day in Charleston itinerary.
I wish I could say that I’d visited every single ghost tour in Charleston for your pleasure, but that would be rather expensive and very, very strange. So instead, I’m going to recommend the one ghost tour I DID take in Charleston with the Ghosts of the South tour company. The tour normally leaves at 8 or 9:30, so make your reservation accordingly, depending on how early you want to grab dinner at Husk.
You can book this tour for yourself easily by clicking here. I don’t want to spoil all the scariness, but I will give you a hint about what to expect with…
Three SPOOKY Facts: Charleston Ghost Tours
1) Why Have You Taken Me to An Alley?
This alley, known as Dueling Alley, is featured on pretty much every ghost tour of Charleston. As you can imagine, it was once famous for being a popular dueling ground, where the posh young men of Charleston could settle their disputes. (And we all learned from the musical Hamilton that duels are just the absolute worst.)
Our guide told us about one duelist who tried to signal that he wasn’t going to attack his opponent by firing in the air. (Apparently this was a rather common thing to do.) But his opponent didn’t get the message and shot him dead instead. Now the deal duelist wanders around angry and supposedly tries to follow ghost tour guests home. You’ve been warned! But no gentlemen followed me home after this tour, including dead ones.
2) Why Have You Taken Me To These Woods?
We’ve come here to learn about my favorite villain on the tour, Lavinia Fisher. Some people call her America’s First Female Serial Killer, and I call her Why Has No One Made a Movie About Her Yet? She and her husband owned an inn called the Six Mile Wayfarer House, but I don’t think they got very good reviews on Yelp.
That’s because she and her hubby would poison some of their guests with tea and then steal all their stuff. That seems like a terrible business plan to me. Eventually people are going to notice that all your guests are dying. Sure enough, the Fishers were eventually hanged for their crimes.
But the biggest crime of all is that there’s no movie of this story! I suggest calling it Lavinia Fisher: The Hannibal Lecter of Ladies Minus the Cannibalism. We can work on shortening the title later.
3) Why Have You Taken Me To This Painting?
This painting is located in the historic Mills House Hotel, which was where Robert E. Lee stayed in Charleston during the Civil War. A terrible fire broke out while he was here, which apparently created a connection of some sort between Lee and this hotel because people say that he haunts it. I feel like Lee would rather haunt a place a little closer to his home in Virginia and not a hotel in Charleston where he stayed once? But maybe this is why I don’t lead ghost tours.
Apparently the hotel is so historic and haunted that the woman you see in the painting above sometimes haunts people who rest their heads at the Mills House. In fact, maybe now that I’ve shared this painting with my readers, she might go ahead and haunt you! My apologies if so.
If you want to hear the rest of the stories on the ghost tour, you’ll have to book a spot for yourself by clicking here. And our one day in Charleston itinerary finally comes to an end.
One Day in Charleston Itinerary
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to your one day in Charleston itinerary, 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.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Charleston Itinerary!
What would you do with a One Day in Charleston Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Charleston right now? Which type of turtle is your soulmate? Have you ever fired a cannon at a hotel that displeased you? 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 have a one day in Charleston itinerary.