South Carolina’s gem –Margaret Mitchell made it Rhett Butler’s hometown in her classic, Gone With The Wind, Charleston is a refined city with mansions dating back to pre-Civil War times, historic neighborhoods with gardens filled with showy magnolia trees, fragrant jasmine, and other blooms, and gracious Southern hospitality and culinary specialties. It is a popular port of call on Colonial America and other cruise itineraries that visit the east coast of the U.S.
Occasionally, visitors hear the story that once somebody asked a Charleston society lady if she traveled frequently and she replied: “Why travel? I am already here.” And in reality few places on earth can compare when it comes to the beauty, grace, traditions and history of Charleston.
Founded in 1670 by British colonists on a peninsula on the Atlantic by the Cooper and Ashley Rivers, its original name of Charles Towne was in honor of Charles II, the king of England. The name was changed to Charleston in 1783. Around that time, George Washington visited the city, and vast plantations growing cotton, rice and other crops flourished.
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Charleston’s attractions include Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. The fort is now a national park with broad fortifications, cannons and exhibits. Another big draw: restored historic mansions like the Nathaniel Russell House, 51 Meeting Street, in Federal style dating from 1808. The house boasts period furniture and beautiful gardens. Other pre-Civil War mansions that are open to the public include the Calhoun Mansion, 16 Meeting Street, in Italian style and with 35 rooms, gardens, and views of the Port of Charleston. Still other historic mansions include the Edmondston-Alston House, 21 East Battery; Drayton Hall, 3380 Ashley River Road; and Middleton Place, 4300 Ashley River Road. Many city tours that can be purchased onboard ships include stops at historic homes that are maintained by the non-profit Historic Charleston Foundation.
At plantations, like Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, on 1235 Long Point Road, visitors can tour the slave quarters (listed in the National Register of Historic Sites), take in African-American exhibits and visit the plantation’s gardens and grounds where some trees date from the 16th century. One of America’s oldest working plantations, it has a white-columned portico and an oak alley, and visitors can enjoy Southern-style cooking at the on-site restaurant, Serena’s Kitchen.
Other Charleston “musts” include the following attractions:
- The South Carolina Aquarium with a 350,000-gallon aquarium with sharks, sea turtles and other creatures, and 50 exhibit areas. The aquarium, at 100 Aquarium Wharf, at the Charleston Harbor, offers, among other attractions an aviary with exotic birds.
- The Gibbes Museum of Art – Established in 1858, this facility showcases local and regional art including a collection of works by African-American artists. Other collection highlights include Italian sculptures from area pre-Civil War plantations. The museum is at 135 Meeting Street.
- The Charleston Museum – Founded in 1773, this is one of the earliest museums in the U.S. It explores the cultural and natural history of South Carolina from prehistoric times to the present. Among the highlights are a gigantic whale skeleton, silver objects and pre-Civil War fashions. The Charleston Museum is at 360 Meeting Street.
Local flavors not to be missed include Southern dishes like crab soup, and refreshing mint juleps.
Cruise lines that visit Charleston include American, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Oceania and Princess.
IF YOU GO – For additional information about Charleston, visit www.CharlestonCVB.com.