Disclaimer: This Charleston itinerary was originally published in April 2021 and was updated in January 2022 for relevancy.
Greetings from Charleston, South Carolina! I just got back from a wonderful 6-day trip to Charleston and Savannah and am so excited to write about it. I spent about 3 days exploring Charleston, 1 day road tripping, and 2 days in Savannah. Today’s post is going to cover the perfect 3 day Charleston itinerary, including where to stay, where to dine, and what to do!
Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by the Notso Hostel. The Notso was kind enough to host me throughout the duration of my trip in exchange for a feature on my blog and on my Instagram, @nicole.rosania. I had the most wonderful stay and am so excited to share more about the Notso later on in this post. If you plan on visiting Charleston, I highly recommend booking a room here. As always, all opinions are my own!
Getting To Charleston
Let’s start with getting there! Depending on where you’re coming from, the easiest way to get to Charleston is to fly! The airport is located right in North Charleston, only a few miles from the historic downtown. There are a multitude of direct flight options from several major cities across the US. My flight from Boston was about 2 hours long and cost only $98!
Once you’re in Charleston, you’ll be able to walk around the historic downtown, but you may want a car for a few sites outlined below. Charleston also has bikes for rent called Holy Spokes scattered throughout the city! I rented one for a full day for ~$20.
Staying In Charleston
There are SO many accommodation options located right downtown, which is perfect for those of you who want to avoid driving. You can find a wide range of luxury, boutique historic inns, chain hotels, and more affordable options. Most of the inns downtown are going to be more expensive because of their prime locations, but lucky for you – I have the perfect recommendation.
The Notso Hostel is located right in historic downtown Charleston on Spring Street, which runs adjacent to Charleston’s main street, King Street. This means all of Charleston’s best restaurants are walkable from the hostel. Don’t let the word “hostel” deter you from staying here! Although I personally love hostels, a lot of people associate hostels with being dirty and “cheap”. The Notso is far from this. Their private rooms are nicer than most hotel rooms I’ve stayed in and the staff was extremely accommodating. I actually showed up at the hostel 1.5 hours before check-in, and they prioritized cleaning my room so I could check-in sooner! Several of the Notso’s private bedrooms also have modern, clean, private bathrooms.
If you’d like to meet other travelers while in Charleston, I highly recommend booking one of their shared dorm rooms! All of the rooms at the Notso are named after different countries around the world and are very comfortable. The Notso also has several kitchens for their guests to enjoy, which offer free fruit, oatmeal, tea, and coffee. If you’re traveling on a budget, definitely add a stay at the Notso to your 3 day Charleston itinerary.
3 Day Charleston Itinerary: Day 1
After settling in at your accommodation and freshening up, hit the historic downtown! Your first stop should be King Street. Not only is this the main street in Charleston, it’s a great way to get a taste for the vibe of the city. King Street is quite long. Beginning at the top of “Upper King” on the corner of Spring Street like I did, it’s about a 2 mile walk down to “Lower King” and the Battery. I recommend walking the entire thing! I spent my first afternoon doing this and browsing shops along the way. Along King you’ll find small business boutiques, luxury brands like Kate Spade and Gucci, restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, bars, and even a candle-making lab (it’s called Candlefish – check it out!).
Fun fact: Charleston has the largest historical district in the United States. While it’s impossible to cover it all, central downtown is quite walkable.
Lunch At Beech
Aside from shopping, I recommend grabbing lunch on King. A highly-rated spot to grab something to eat is Beech, a trendy cafe known for its poke bowls and açaí bowls. They have indoor seating and takeout options.
Rise Coffee Bar
Need a pick-me-up? Head to the Rise Coffee Bar! This coffee shop is the most aesthically-pleasing in town. Trust me…I’m a blogger. It also happens to be located right off King at 77 Wentworth St. Rise is part of the Restoration Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel located downtown. Rise is known for its lavender and rosemary lattes, but I loved the vanilla almond latte!
Historic Charleston City Market
As you make your way down King, you’ll come to Market Street. Walk down this until you hit Meeting Street, where you’ll find the Historic Charleston City Market! This is a MUST! This place was once a massive food hall, but now has a bunch of local vendors selling artisan-made goods. I highly recommend spending an hour or so here. There are several building sections to walk through, all offering a wide variety of goods. This four-block market is over 200 years old!
My last recommendation for day 1 is a must on your 3 day Charleston itinerary, and that’s to see the American Theater! The American Theater is an event venue located right on King Street. It was built in 1942 as Charleston’s premier movie theater and may be one of the *cutest* buildings in the city. Although you need tickets to a performance to enter, I recommend taking it all in from the outside! You may recognize this theater from the scene in The Notebook (which was filmed in Charleston btw) where Allie and Noah go on their first double date. The traffic light they lay under is right here too… *sighs*.
3 Day Charleston Itinerary: Day 2
Hustle Smoothie Bar
Remember how I mentioned above you may want a car to see some sites outside of downtown CHS? Well this is that day. If you don’t want to rent, Charleston does have both Uber and Lyft. I Ubered from the Notso to Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston located across the bridge about 20 minutes from downtown, to Hustle Smoothie Bar. There used to be a Hustle downtown, but it closed, so I had to go to this one. No regrets. The acai bowl was so good and the smoothies looked amazing. Not to mention this place had an awesome vibe and was surrounded by a ton of good shops and restaurants, so you could totally spend half a day exploring the Mount Pleasant Towne Centre.
Boone Hall Plantation
From here I journeyed about a mile down the street to Boone Hall Plantation, which is also located in Mount Pleasant. I highly recommend visiting a plantation during your stay in Charleston. There are a few in the surrounding area, although this one is probably the most well-known. I paid $26 for a General Admission ticket which not only gave me access to the property, but also included a carriage tour, a self-guided tour of the mansion, a visit to the stables, a Gullah cultural show, and more. So basically, the $26 was beyond worth it. There’s also a AAA discount.
Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 and was owned by a multitude of families before the McRae’s took it over in the mid-1900s and turned it into what it is today – a museum and cultural center. There are 14 original slave quarters on the property, which have been transformed into an interactive and educational exhibit about African American history in the US. The first quarters showcase what Gullah life was like during the mid-late 1600s and brings you through the Underground Railroad, Emancipation Proclamation, Civil Rights Movement, and ends with an informative, modern-day BLM exhibit. I learned A LOT by visiting this place, and highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about the subject.
Learn About Gullah Culture
My favorite part about the visit was the Gullah Cultural show, which takes place every Tuesday-Sunday when the plantation is open. The presentation is done by a Gullah woman who explains the history of the area and the formation of modern-day Gullah culture. To sum it up, the Gullah-Geechee Corridor runs from Jacksonville, FL up to Wilmington, NC, and is where millions of West Africans arrived as slaves back in the 1600s. The presentation walked through their faith, medicinal practices, wedding traditions, language, and more. The best way to describe this presentation is authentic. You will learn a ton.
Before leaving the plantation, be sure to take photos at the Avenue of the Oaks. This famous, tree-lined road is one of the most photographed places in South Carolina and is the backdrop of many weddings, including Blake Lively and Ryan Reyonlds’! The mansion here is also worth photographing, as it also played a role in The Notebook as Allie’s house.
Fort Sumter Ferry
Continuing along with a day of tours and US history, head to Fort Sumter next! You’ll want to buy tickets online and advance for this excursion. I chose to take the ferry from Liberty Square at 3 pm, which is probably the most popular option since it’s located right downtown. The ferry ride takes about 30 minutes to get to the island in the Charleston harbor, and is quite scenic! We even saw dolphins!
Once you get to the man-made island, you’ll have about an hour to explore. I listened to a US Park Ranger give a speech for awhile about Civil War history, which I recommend doing since this place is a US National Monument. Fort Sumter is where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, so there’s a lot to be learned about this place and the history of the Charleston harbor in general. This ticket cost about $30 and can be purchased here.
At this point you’re probably pretty hungry for dinner. To end day 2 of your 3 day Charleston itinerary, head to Lewis BBQ! This place is located a bit far from Lower King, but is still pretty walkable from downtown. Lewis BBQ has the best barbecue food in Charleston, which is a must for at least one meal when visiting the south. I got the pulled pork sandwich and let me tell you, it was to-die-for. They also had a super cute outdoor seating area here.
3 Day Charleston Itinerary: Day 3
Brown’s Court Bakery
If you stay at the Notso (which you should), this place is right around the corner. Brown’s Court Bakery has the BEST bagels and coffee in Charleston, and is such a hidden gem. I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for my local friend Darina (thanks Darina!). I highly recommend getting the rosemary and sea salt bagel here. To-go orders only.
This 3 day Charleston itinerary suggests getting a general overview of the city on day 1, learning some local history on day 2, and spending day 3 doing a lot of sightseeing! Begin the day at Rainbow Row, Charleston’s most Instagrammable site! Rainbow Row is a collection of pastel-colored, historical homes located right downtown. The “row” is actually the longest cluster of intact Georgian row homes in the United States and was built in the late 1600s. I recommend doing this first to avoid the crowds.
Waterfront / Pineapple Fountain / Battery
I grouped these sites together because they’re all located right next to one another. From Rainbow Row, walk a few blocks east until you hit the water. This is Charleston’s waterfront, which is also known as the Battery. The Battery is a pedestrian-only walkway that runs along the water and leads to a big park. This park is full of Civil-War era statues, cannons, and memorials, and is also a nice place to hangout. Also along the waterfront is Charleston’s Pineapple Fountain! Pineapples are a symbol of welcoming in the south, and this fountain is one of the most visited sites in the city.
A Back Story On Pineapples…
During the 1600-1700s, husbands would go off to war and leave their wives at home. During this time, it was common for men to visit places in the Caribbean, home to a wide variety of tropical fruit. While men were gone, it was illegal for the women to host guests at their homes (ugh why?!). When the men returned home, they would bring exotic fruit with them (cue the pineapples) and position the fruit outside of their homes with pride. It symbolized not only their safe return home from war, but also meant that guests were welcome again since the men were home. Hence, pineapples became a symbol of welcoming and are depicted on statues in front of most homes today!
Lunch & Dessert At Carmella’s
It’s probably lunchtime now, which means it’s time to pay a visit to Carmella’s on East Bay Street. Carmella’s is actually a dessert bar, meaning they specialize in cocktails and desserts, but they also sell delicious sandwiches here for lunch. I do recommend trying a sweet however. You won’t regret it.
Explore College Of Charleston
After lunch I recommend exploring the College of Charleston! CofC is one of the most beautiful college campuses I’ve ever seen and is definitely worth seeing if you like architecture. It’s not hard to find – CofC is located right downtown off King Street. The Cistern Yard is the main part of campus and is a great place to hangout and soak up the sun.
Starbucks On Lower King
Need another pick-me-up to get through the rest of the afternoon? Head to the Starbucks located at 239 King Street (Lower King) for a coffee. I normally wouldn’t recommend a Starbucks, but this one has two floors and actually used to be a bank, so it’s pretty cool. There’s a giant vault here!
Historic Carriage Tour
Time for the last big event on this 3 day Charleston itinerary – a historic carriage tour! You don’t need to save this for last, a lot of people would probably do this first, but I liked doing it at the end of my trip to learn about everything that I missed! My tour cost $35 and I booked it online. It lasted for 75 minutes and gave a great overview of the city, plus offered information I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For example, I learned that anything older than 75 years in Charleston can’t be touched to preserve the charm of the city! I also learned that porticos in front of homes have privacy doors because people used to sleep outside on them before there was A/C.
I always like to make sure the tours I book involving animals are ethical, so I did my research. These horses work 3 weeks on, 3 weeks off, 3 weeks on, then 6 weeks off, so the animals are given plenty of rest. I encourage you to research any excursion involving animals before participating to ensure it’s ethical, including elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, for example.
Dinner At Xiao Bao Biscuit
For your last meal of the trip, I recommend heading to Xiao Bao Biscuit on Spring Street, also located right near the Notso Hostel! This place is an award-winning Asian fusion restaurant known for its Japanese cabbage pancake. It sounds weird, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever had.
3 Day Charleston Itinerary: Bonus
Angel Oak Tree
With this 3 day Charleston itinerary, you’ll hit every major site in the area, plus some awesome restaurants. There’s only one other major site not included and that’s the Angel Oak Tree. The reason why I didn’t include this in the three days is because it’s about 30 minutes outside of the city on John’s Island, and isn’t really near anything. Some people Uber here and back, but that wasn’t worth it to me since you only need like 15-2o minutes here. Instead I hit this on my 4th day with my rental car, on my way to Savannah! It’s a 400 year old historic tree, and is quite a sight! I think it would take 10 people to wrap fully around the trunk of the tree, it’s that big! It’s free to visit, so check it out if you’d like.
That brings us to the end of the guide! I hope this 3 day Charleston itinerary helps you plan your upcoming trip. Charleston is definitely one of my favorite cities in the US, and I could totally see myself living there, I loved it so much. If anyone has any questions feel free to drop them below or DM me on Instagram @nicole.rosania. Enjoy your trip!
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