Things to Do in Charleston
This street of brightly colored homes in Charleston is easily the most photographed spot in the city. With one look at the architecture, beauty and Southern style that these houses represent, it’s easy to see why. There are 14 different buildings on the row, each with its own piece of Charleston culture and history.
There are many rumors as to why the houses are painted with pastel colors, from identification for sailors returning home to indicating what the shops once contained. Others claim the houses are influenced by traditional Caribbean style.
The Rainbow Row buildings were contructed in the 18th century. Historically, they were once at the heart of Charleston’s commercial area, with shops on the first floor and the owners living above. After a period of neglect, they were renovated by a local woman in the early 19th century and have been restored and revered ever since.
The Old Exchange is considered to be one of the most historically significant buildings in the United States. The structure was completed in 1771 and quickly became a prominent commercial and cultural center with the expansion of Charleston’s port and import/export trade. It is the former site of banquets held by George Washington, and where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to South Carolinians. It was here that the Constitution of South Carolina was ratified. Today it’s a living museum where Charleston colonial and Revolutionary history comes to life, with costumed docents on each of the three floors.
Charleston is known for being a haunted city, and underneath its most prominent public building is the Provost Dungeon—rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of its former prisoners. The dungeon predates the Old Exchange building by nearly a century, and visitors can still see what’s left of the original city wall of “Charles Town.”
This federal fort at Charleston Harbor is now a national park known as “the place the American Civil War began.” On April 12, 1861, tensions were high between the North and the South when Confederate forces fired upon the troops stationed in the fort. Fort Sumter was surrendered only 34 hours later, signaling the start of the war.
Fort Sumter was built following the War of 1812 to fortify and protect the harbor. Construction began in 1829 and continued up to the Battle at Fort Sumter in 1861. Its foundation is a manmade island of 70,000 tons of granite and rock. It is named for American Revolutionary War General Thomas Sumter.
The National Monument includes the original Fort Sumter, the Visitor Education Center on the banks of the Cooper River and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. The museum at the education center delves into the history of the fort’s construction and provides in depth information about its role in the Civil War.
This historic museum is known for being one of the best examples of Southern antebellum architecture in Charleston. It was originally built as a private home—owned in 1820 by local merchant John Robinson and later bought in 1858 by Gov. William Aiken, whose family is responsible for the lavish interior decoration. With antique furnishings and original wallpaper, much of the period style remains intact. Many of the family’s objects and fine art, acquired for the home while touring Europe, can still be found in the rooms they were purchased for.
Walk through the grounds’ historic double side porch, stables, a carriage house, a kitchen and slave quarters. You’ll learn about the house staff, which included footmen, cooks, gardeners and seamstresses, as well as life in the pre-Civil War era. Then step inside and view the collection of sculptures, paintings and chandeliers as you tour the home and learn about the history of the home and the family.
More Things to Do in Charleston
For an evocative glimpse into antebellum plantation life in South Carolina, visit the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston. The only surviving urban plantation, the 1818 townhouse complex has changed little since it was expanded in 1858. The rooms are decorated with the fine art and furnishings purchased by the owners more than 150 years ago.
A tour of the mansion takes you through the home's very own art gallery, dining room and parlors. The carriage house and kitchen at the rear of the mansion were slave quarters, and are amongst the best preserved examples in the region.
Located in the beautiful Charleston Harbor, just at the mouth of the Cooper River, is Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Home to the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier), the USS Laffey (a destroyer), and the USS Clamagore (a submarine), Patriots Point is the premier historical site for anyone interested in Naval history and watercraft, as well as a place built for interactive exploration by those little and large who like hands-on learning.
Seeing action in World War II and the Vietnam War, the USS Yorktown is arguably the Patriots Point highlight, as it was this highly decorated aircraft carrier which first marked the museum center’s opening back in 1976 and today houses the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum. With its angled back deck and impressive armament, the Yorktown is also home to 25 naval aircraft, including an F-14 Tomcat and A-7 Corsair, all available for viewing.
This historic Charleston home, now part of the Charleston Museum, is a well-preserved example of Federal architecture of great historical and cultural significance to the city. It was built in 1803 by architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, a rice baron and a figurehead of Charleston society at that time. The three-story townhouse is now a National Historic Landmark, showcasing the wealthy family’s 19th century urban lifestyle.
Walking into the home’s central hall, the towering spiral staircase and crystal chandelier make an immediate impression. The rooms maintain their period style and elegance, decorated in a combination of English, French and American styles with brightly colored walls and antique furnishings throughout. From the outside, one can admire the home’s brick facade and Gate Temple, with a well-tended period garden. Beside the house, the historical foundations of the estate’s former kitchen, slave quarters and privy are waiting to be explored.
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