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Charleston (South Carolina)
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Charleston is located nearly at the midpoint of South Carolina's Atlantic coastline. It can be easily reached by car using Interstate 26, or U.S. Highway 17.
Charleston is served by the Charleston International Airport, located northwest of the city itself.
Like most people in the United States, the residents of Charleston speak English nearly exclusively. Like all cities, Charleston is of course home to people of many different backgrounds and native languages. However, it is unlikely that a traveller will find a resident who understands his or her particular language, unless that language is English.
Charleston is in general a laid-back city. Most people in Charleston are helpful when approached in a polite manner. If a traveller speaks little English, Charlestonians are still generally willing to help as best they can. It is advisable, however, to at least learn a few key English phrases, and perhaps carry a traveler's phrasebook.
Charleston is a city that is best explored by car or on foot. Several rental car services are available at the Charleston International Airport. Some area hotels also provide transportation to and from the airport.
The public transportation system in Charleston consists primarily of a fleet of city-run busses and privately run Taxi services. The bus system is not widely used by the residents of the city, and it would be rated as "poor" by the standards of most larger urban areas. Taxis are generally safe and inexpensive in Charleston, but they can be difficult to find unless they are prearranged by calling one of the Taxi services in advance. The best way to tour the city is by horse drawn carriage (many vendors available at the Market in downtown Charleston).
Luckily for the visitor to Charleston's peninsula, the historic district is easily accessible on foot. If staying in one of the many hotels on the peninsula of Charleston, a visitor could easily explore most of the city's major historical sites without benefit of a car. Unfortunately, the plantations -- a significant part of Charleston's history -- are not located within walking distance of the peninsula.
Charleston's primary attraction to visitors is its historical setting and landmarks. A list of some sites to visit includes:
The Battery - a park located at the tip of the Charleston peninsula
A good place to start a tour of Charleston is the Visitor Reception and Transportation Center (tel: +1 800-774-0006), located at 375 Meeting Street, not far from the entrance of I-26 into the city. Here, a visitor can receive maps and guides, book tours, and tour a small museum dedicated to the history of Charleston.
Soccer fans may want to take in a Charleston Battery match at Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island. It's a 5,000 seat stadium with a nice little English-styled pub.
Baseball can be seen at Riley Park where the Charleston Riverdogs, an affiliate of the New York Yankees, play ball.
When in Charleston, consider taking a carriage tour of the city. Several groups operate horse-drawn carriage tours of the historical sites in the city. Most of these tours leave from stands on Market street, next to the Market itself. While reservations are not required for these tours, they are run on a first-come-first-served basis, so plan to wait during peak tourist season. Luckily, most of the tour services assign a departure time, rather than making customers wait in line, so tourists waiting for a carriage can take the opportunity to visit the Market shops.
There are also some ghost tours that are very scary.
The Market and the shops lining Market street are a popular shopping destination for tourists. The Market itself is a large gathering of small vendors that sell everything from blankets to candy. More traditional shops line Market street, and most of these sell merchandise that is aimed at tourists.
Upscale shopping in downtown Charleston can be found at the shops lining King street. These shops are known for selling quality merchandise, but are not known for bargain prices.
A popular restaurant in downtown Charleston is Slightly North of Broad, located on East Bay street (slightly north of Broad Street). The restaurant serves traditional southern cuisine, and its menu selection varies with the seasons.
Also consider having a meal at the Wild Wing Cafe. There are three Wild Wing Cafes in the Charleston area (In North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and on Market Street). These restaurants are part of a chain of Wild Wing Cafes that began in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I am black and let me tell you that Wild Wings is not friendly to people of color. Even though they are not African-American friendly, it is worth all you have to endure because the wings are great!
For dessert try benne wafers, which can be bought in the walk-through market.
Bars are not difficult to find in Charleston. For a college-age crowd and fruity, daiquiri-style drinks, try Wet Willies, located on East Bay street. For a more sedate atmosphere and a microbrewed beer with dinner, try the South End Brewery, also located on East Bay Street.
Open-pour bottles have recently been legalized in bars and restaurants, but many establishments will continue to use mini-bottles. This is important to remember, since your drinks will have an entire mini-bottle of each liquor in the recepie. Be careful when ordering.
Charleston is serviced by virtually all of the major U.S. hotel chains. Expect to pay a premium for a room on Charleston's peninsula.
If you have a car handy, you may consider lodging across the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant. There are numerous discount chain hotels on Rt. 17 just across the bridge.
When departing Charleston, here are a few things to remember:
If a taxi to the airport is required, it must generally be arranged in advance. Expect at least a half-hour wait for a taxi to arrive. The hotel staff can help arrange for a taxi. Another option is to take a shuttle van from the airport - this may be cheaper.
In the U.S., it is important to arrive at the airport at least one hour before the flight is scheduled to leave. This allows time for security screening. Arrive two hours early for international flights.
Charleston is a hitchhiker friendly city.