Your Guide to Charleston

Visitors to Charleston often remark on the historic district’s walkability yet many are surprised by the depth and breadth of the area’s offerings. One of the best ways to dive deeper in to the architecture, history and folklore of the region is with the help of a guide. From walking tours to carriage rides to sunset sails, our Concierge team recommends guests who are interested in experiencing the Holy City get up close and personal with the help of our favorite tour guides.

1670 Tours
A walking tour of Charleston’s residential district with 1670 Tours allows you to cover about 10-12 blocks with frequent stops at a casual pace. Tailored exclusively to the group, topics may include history, culture, architecture, wars and disasters. The licensed guides will lead you through private homes, public buildings, churches, gardens and graveyards, experiencing the ambiance of the various neighborhoods along the way. The tour features plenty of photo opportunities as well, and the guides know all the best Instagram-worthy spots.

1670 Tours

Schooner Pride
See Charleston from a different point of view on the Schooner Pride, a classic 84′ three mast wooden tall ship. Tour Charleston Harbor for an exhilarating day sail or set out at sunset for a romantic cruise around the peninsula. More of a leisurely sail than a tour, take in the peaceful waters of the Cooper River as it meets the Atlantic and mingle with dolphins, pelicans and gulls on the relaxing two-hour sail.

Schooner Pride

Carolina Polo and Carriage Company
Family owned and operated by Charlestonians whose families have been here since the 1600s, Carolina Polo and Carriage Company offers an authentic tour experience. The one-hour fully-narrated group carriage tour takes guests through the quaint and charming streets of downtown. The passionate and engaging guides will regale riders with history lessons, pirate’s tales and architectural highlights. Beautiful gardens and parks, stately mansions, historic churches and buildings are all included.

Carolina Polo and Carriage Company

For those hoping to mix learning with leisure on their upcoming Charleston visit, these tour guides offer a thorough glimpse into life in the historic district. Take some extra time to delve into a different view of the Holy City.

 

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Hidden Treasures in Charleston

From Rainbow Row to the Pineapple Fountain, Charleston is full of charming scenes that are postcard ready. As iconic as these sites are, there remains many hidden treasures that may go unnoticed in the city. Explore the unique and secret gems embedded within this historic mecca to showcase a peek other may not have seen before. Tread lightly off the beaten path and discover these delightful hidden sights in Charleston.

Philadelphia Alley

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Journey back in time as you stroll along Philadelphia Alley. Nestled in-between Cumberland and Queen Streets, the 1766 narrow cobblestone passageway is known not only for its Colonial history, but has made its way into pop culture. Watch closely and you will catch a glimpse of the alley in Charlestonian Darius Rucker’s “Comeback Song” music video. 

 

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Throughout Charleston, ivy can be seen spreading her bounty not only on trees, but also climbing brick walls for endless feet. The lush foliage makes the perfect backdrop for a summer photo perfect for Instagram.

 

Gates

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Detailed and ornate wrought iron gates are the entryway to the classic Charlestonian lifestyle. From balconies to stair railings, vents and decorative panels, finely crafted ironwork has been an architectural treasure since the early 1900s. Daniel Island native and blacksmith, Philip Simmons, turned iron gates into an artform, incorporating delicate nature inspired patterns into his designs. These special gates can be found on display at the Smithsonian, as well as museums in China and Paris.

 

Doors

Snap, crackle, pop – Charleston treasure can be found in the simplest forms. Snap a photo of a cracked open door that’s coated in a pop of color, and you’re sure to capture a memorable view. Take a walk along the Battery and along the way, take in the array of gorgeous doors lining the streets.

 

Window Boxes

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Outside Charleston’s antebellum dwellings sit windows overflowing with a blooming surprise of colorful flowers. In a historic district where front yards are few and far, these window boxes are the perfect gardening eye candy to welcome visitors.

 

Cobblestone

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Small treasures can be found anywhere in Charleston, even right beneath your toes. Steps away from Rainbow Row, you’ll find South Adgers Wharf. While many streets were modified with flatter, rectangle bricks, this street’s beautifully preserved authentic cobblestone adds charm and texture to the city’s history.

 

Randolph Hall

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Located in the heart of the College of Charleston campus, Randolph Hall has seen students and faculty serving in the Confederacy during the Civil War. The iconic Charleston building is a National Historic Landmark and is an often overlooked grand building in the heart of the city.

 

Charleston is a treasure trove of charm and beauty. From a simple flower to an ornate gate, surround yourself in the wonders of the city.

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Architectural Styles in Charleston

Designated as the first historic district in the United States by the Board of Architectural Review, Charleston has become the #1 City in the World, partly because of its unique, visual appeal. People travel far and wide; some come for the delectable, savory food, while others come in search of Southern culture. Particular features spotted are earthquake bolts, copper lanterns and hitching posts that hint at a bygone era. In the historic district, picturesque buildings and elegant houses have always added charm to the architectural composition of this city.

Here is a guide to the popular architectural styles found around Charleston.

Georgian
Beginning in 1774 to approximately 1820, the Gregorian style featured rough-faced limestone trim, stone arches and granite pedestals flanking the front door. This elite style is symmetrically designed with decorative molding and cornice embellishing the entry and commonly has two story porches. Drayton Hall, located at 3380 Ashley River Road, was heavily influenced by a range of pattern books, which is often only seen when wealthy individuals wanted to direct construction of their estates. Drayton Hall has never been restored, making it a great opportunity to see original materials and architecture from the 18th century.

Drayton Hall

Federal
Growing out Italian Renaissance trends, Federal-style architecture became popular throughout colonies after the American Revolution, and was dominant until about 1820. These buildings are typically designed around a central floor plan, with heavy classical elements detailing the exterior. The elaborate, delicate and elongated details of elliptical fanlights above grand palladian windows and oval shaped rooms give Federal structures its distinctly classic look. Explore the Nathaniel Russell house, located at 51 Meeting, to take a peek inside a prime example of this antebellum trove filled with antiques, artifacts and historical heirlooms.

Nathaniel Russell house

Greek Revival
An organization established to provide aid for Irish immigrants, the Hibernian Society’s gathering spot, happens to be the quintessential model of Greek Revival architecture. Six massive Ionic columns support a pediment decorated with modillion style cornice and an arched window. Stepping inside Hibernian Hall, visitors are lead into a larger stair hall, centered by an open rotunda covered by a dome, held by three different style columns, all Greek influenced. Located at 105 Meeting Street, this 1840s stately establishment and its classic ornamentation are hard to not take notice of.

Hibernian Hall 1

Gothic Revival
From 1840 to 1880, Gothic Revival architectural styles dominated, drawing its inspiration from the medieval era. Romantic and picturesque, castle-like towers, parapets and pointed arched windows are most identifiable on these structures. Elongated, vertical facades with steeply pitched roofs decorated  by intricate vergeboard transport you to a different time. Gothic Revival in Charleston manifested itself in a variety of forms. From the Citadel to the Old City Jail, and the iconic French Huguenot Church at 136 Church Street, this architectural style continues to captivate in the Holy City.

French Huguenot Church

Italianate
Inspired by traditional Italian villas, the Italianate style was prominent from 1837 to 1900. Masonry, stone and stucco are typical facades found on this distinctive architectural style. Tall, slim arched windows are paired with decorated crowns and cornice elements. Often recognizable are square cupolas adorning the low pitched hip roofs. Wide overhanging, emphatic eaves supported by corbels are defining characteristics from this Romantic style. The Colonel John Algernon Sydney Ashe House located at 26 South Battery Street was constructed in 1853 and exudes sophisticated Italianate architecture.

Colonel John Algernon Sydney Ashe House

Queen Anne
Multiple gable rooflines, wrap-around porches, delicate spindlework trimmings and bay windows are all defining features of Queen Anne architecture. From 1880 to 1916, these asymmetrical yet interestingly elaborate and eccentric designs appeared in Charleston with textural variations, plans and tend to feature rich, bold paint colors. A stunning example of Queen Anne architecture is the Wilson-Sottile House, located at 11 College Street. Now owned by the College of Charleston, this house showcases the ornate and unique nature of Charleston architecture.

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Charleston Single House
A unique and vernacular form of house, the Charleston Single house is not a singular style and can be made of any material. Taking into consideration limited space on the peninsula, these one room wide structures take up very little space. Typically, front facing piazzas – a double height porch – are added to the house as a means for more airflow. The oldest documented Charleston Single dates back to the 1730s but these recognizable houses can still be found on practically every street in Charleston.


Charleston Single House 1

Art Deco
The Riviera Theater, located at 130 Market Street, is a Charleston example of the iconic Art Deco Style that started in the 1920’s. Combining modernist styles with rich materials, Art Deco’s eclectic style was influenced by geometric forms of Cubism. Art Deco is not a singular style, but rather a collection of various styles that was in reaction against Art Nouveau in Europe. Featuring sleek modern materials of smooth-facing stone, Terracotta, steel, aluminum and glass, this style was seen as financially practical and endured throughout the Depression due to the simplicity of its design. After being purchased by Belmond Charleston Place in 1997, the Riviera Theater underwent a $4 million restoration that preserved 90 percent of its original interior.

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Explore the rare and iconic architectural styles of Charleston’s private houses and gardens found in some of America’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Manicured lawns and glimmering gardens make for a botanical and visual wonderland. The 70th Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens will run from March 16 until April 22nd.

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