Charleston, S.C., is a grande dame of Southern cities. Although the city has endured disastrous fires, hurricanes, an earthquake and two wars, it wears its more than 440 years of history with a dignified grace.
There is also a vivacious charm to this Southern belle, who also embraces new attractions such as the South Carolina Aquarium and celebrates updates to cherished historic sites such as the two-centuries-old City Market.
“I have been here 30-some years, and it still fascinates me,” said Erin Mellen, president of Charleston Convention and Group Services, which provides step-on and walking guides for groups. “It is amazing.”
And Charleston is becoming more cosmopolitan, especially on the culinary scene, with chic restaurants and national-award-winning chefs adding their flair to the city’s distinctive Southern cuisine.
“I would definitely recommend eating in one of our local restaurants,” said Mellen. “With the culinary revival, we have some of the finest restaurants in the country. Some will set up a cooking demonstration, and we have a walking tour about cuisine.”
Like its cuisine, Charleston is a city to be savored slowly.
“Park the motorcoach, and get out and walk,” said Jennifer Aiken, sales manager, tour and travel, for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is a walking city.”
“To really see it, you need to get off the coach for a while,” added Mellen. “The streetscapes are just gorgeous.”
Aiken noted that a great place to start is the historic City Market, which is across the street from the motorcoach parking lot.
“Once they park the coach, they can go to the Old Exchange and City Market, take a carriage ride, spend a whole day shopping on King Street and see the town houses,” said Aiken. “There are lots of restaurants around the area.”
Established in 1807, City Market features nearly 150 local vendors in a series of open-air buildings with brick columns and arched and rectangular openings that stretch for four blocks. In addition to the famous locally crafted sweetgrass baskets, you can find a wide range of items, including clothing, artwork and food.
The Greek Revival Market Hall, built in 1841, features an enclosed upper story above an open ground-level arcade and serves as the market’s main entrance.
A multiyear, $5.5 million revitalization project that was finished in June repaired several of the buildings and transformed a structure at the rear of the Market Hall into an air-conditioned Great Hall with a large skylight and new shops with exterior window displays.
“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Ida Becker, director of communications for the CVB. “People have been blown away. There is a night-and-day difference.
“Not only was it made architecturally sound, it is the new home to 20 boutiques, all locals. It is a real authentic Charleston experience ready to happen.”