Charleston is by far South Carolina’s most famous city, and one of the oldest and most historical cities in the United States. Charleston is truly one of the gems of the American South and has played an important part in the history of the United States.
But what else is Charleston famous for, besides its place in history? What is Charleston known for?
Charleston is famous for Rainbow Row, pineapples, and Lowcountry cuisine. Charleston is known as the Holy City and is one of the most historical cities in the United States. Charleston is known for plantations, slavery, Southern hospitality, and Fort Sumter.
Charleston is an incredible, unique destination that everyone should experience for themselves. Go for the history and architecture, and stay for the food and hospitality. Here are 18 things Charleston is known for and famous for.
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1. Rainbow Row
One of Charleston’s most famous (and most Instagrammable) sites is Rainbow Row.
Rainbow Row is a line of pastel-hued houses located on East Bay Street. The houses, once merchant storefronts, and homes from the 1740s, were revitalized in the 1930s and painted bright colors.
Charleston was formerly the largest slave port in the United States, so slavery is inextricably tied to Charleston’s history. The plantations around Charleston, and the location of the harbor, made it the richest city in the original 13 Colonies.
South Carolina’s dependence on slaves also had SC being the first state to secede from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.
The placement of many plantations, however, enabled the formation of the Gullah-Geechee culture, as many of the coastal plantations were left to their own devices for much of the year.
Combining West African, Caribbean, and Southern influences, the Gullah-Geechee culture is still very alive and well today, with its own distinct language, art, food, and music.
3. Southern hospitality
Charleston is famous for its Southern hospitality. Yep, Southern hospitality is not just a stereotype—it is palpable in the very air of Charleston!
Although Charleston certainly gets its fair share (and more) of tourists and visitors, that doesn’t seem to have impacted the locals, who are known for their politeness and warmth. In fact, Charleston is routinely voted one of America’s friendliest cities!
4. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie
The entrance of Charleston Harbor is guarded by two historically significant forts: Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter.
Fort Moultrie was where patriots defeated the Royal Navy in 1776, securing their independence. In 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.
Currently, both forts can be visited via ferry tours from Charleston.
5. Angel Oak Tree
Just outside of Charleston on Johns Island, you can find the Angel Oak Tree. One of the largest and oldest oaks in the United States, Angel Oak is, in some estimates, nearly 1,500 years old.
Angel Oak is beautiful—and massive! The total area with its stretching branches covers around 17,000 square feet, with the circumference of the trunk being over 25 feet wide and the total height measuring over 60 feet tall.
6. Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market, which first opened its doors in the 1790s, is one of the oldest public markets in the country.
At the market, you can watch a sweetgrass basket-making demonstration, buy a souvenir from one of the hundreds of local vendors, or taste some iconic Lowcountry flavors.
As you can imagine, Charleston is surrounded by some seriously incredible beaches! You can find world-class sun and sand within an hour of the city.
Some of the best are the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, and Morris Island.
8. Pineapple Fountain
Pineapples have become a symbol of hospitality in Charleston and the Carolinas.
Placed in front of a house, on a dinner table, or even carved into bedposts, pineapples are a sign of welcome to all. Traditionally, pineapples were also hung in doorways to symbolize the safe return of a sailor.
The Pineapple Fountain in Charleston’s Waterfront Park has been a symbol of welcome to all visitors to Charleston since 1990.
9. Holy City
Charleston is known as the “Holy City” for two main reasons: the many churches that have always been present (currently around 400 steeples dot the Charleston skyline) and also because of its history of religious tolerance.
Historically people from all over flocked to Charleston to practice their preferred religion in peace, and as such, there are many different types of churches and synagogues to this day.
10. Lowcountry cuisine
If you decide to visit Charleston just because of the food, well, who could blame you? It’s really that good! Charleston food, generally made up of Southern cuisine, Lowcountry cuisine, and South Carolina barbeque, shines bright in Charleston.
Try some truly iconic (and delicious!) dishes such as biscuits, cornbread, hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, okra soup, brisket, boiled peanuts, she-crab soup, or shrimp and grits.
As you would imagine, Charleston’s location on the water provides some killer fresh seafood!
Charleston food is full of delectable seafood dishes. In addition to more local dishes like the aforementioned she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and a Lowcountry boil (jumbo shrimp + corn + sausage), Charleston is one of the best places in the world for fresh oysters, crab cakes, fried calamari, fish stew, and so much more.
12. Sweetgrass baskets
A generational art passed down since the 1700s, the sweetgrass basket weaving tradition is unique to Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry. A long tradition of the Gullah people, these baskets are made with local bulrush, a strong marsh grass that grows throughout the sandy Lowcountry.
You can purchase these intricate, beautiful baskets from the Gullah creators throughout Charleston, especially in the Charleston City Market. Make sure you also catch a basket weaving demonstration, as the artisans are very skilled!
13. Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
One of the most historical buildings in Charleston (which is saying something, because Charleston is nearly all historical buildings) is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Originally built in 1771 as a customs house, this landmark building has had many uses over the years, including as a dungeon, used by British forces in the Revolutionary War.
Nowadays, this beautiful old building is home to a museum that hosts many tours (with guides in historically accurate costumes).
14. The Battery
For some of the best views in Charleston, head to the Battery promenade on the harbor. Lined with historic mansions, the Battery runs along the waterfront and is a popular spot for both tourists and locals.
The rice, indigo, sugar cane, cotton, and tobacco plantations throughout South Carolina made it the wealthiest of the original 13 colonies (as did the slave labor that grew these cash crops).
You can still visit some of these stately plantations today, however, I would recommend only visiting plantations that center on Black voices and experiences. After all, enslaved Africans are the people that built and ran these historic plantations!
The best plantation to visit near Charleston is the McLeod Plantation, located on nearby James Island.
16. Silicon Harbor
Charleston’s newest nickname, Silicon Harbor, reflects its position as the Silicon Valley of the Southeast.
In recent years, it’s become something of a haven for startups and tech workers from more expensive cities like New York and Boston. Will it truly become the next Silicon Valley? Only time will tell!
Most of Charleston’s inner city is historical architecture, and much of it is Charleston-style, which is unique to the peninsula.
Most commonly you’ll see Charleston single houses, which are one-room wide, flanked by a porch, and several stories tall. These Charleston-style homes were said to be built so narrowly because traditional taxes were figured by the front width of the house (and the city lots were notoriously small).
18. Haint blue
The porches of Charleston are iconic—and if you’ve been there, you’ll notice that many of these have painted blue ceilings. You’ll spot this pale blue all over the city, and not just because it’s pretty (although it is)—but this shade, “haint blue,” is historically significant.
Haint blue ceilings originated with the Gullah culture, as evil spirits, or “haints,” are thought to be unable to cross water. The blue-green paint color of haint blue is thought to mimic water, dissuading these haints from entering homes.
As you can see, Charleston is truly an icon of the American South (and the United States in general). As an integral figure in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, its history is unmatched.
In addition to its history, the culture of Charleston is rich and unique. The incredible food, amazing architecture, and generous Southern hospitality are also unmatched.
Have you been to Charleston? What was your favorite meal? If you haven’t been, which site would you be most interested in seeing?