Best Way to See Charleston | Self-Guided Walking Tour

Historic Charleston Walking Tour

It was my first time to visit the historic port city of Charleston, South CarolinaEven though the carriage tours were tempting, we decided to take a self-guided walking tour through the historic downtown district so we could see and explore Charleston at our own pace.  Here are some of the highlights.

We Began our Walking Tour at St. Michael’s Church

Self guided walking tour
Charleston’s Historic St. Michael’s Church with it’s Cedar Box-Pew Seats

We started our walking tour at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.  I was inspired by the beauty of this 18th-century, historic white church with a tall steeple.  It’s open to visitors, so we stepped inside to see this church that had survived wars, fires, and hurricanes.  Rows and rows of box-pews filled the room, facing the pulpit and the organ pipes.  Pew Number 43 was used by George Washington in 1791 and by Gen. Robert E Lee in 1861.

Walking Tour in Charleston
St. Michael’s Church Steeple was Painted Black during the Revolutionary War

St. Michael’s steeple was a target for British ship gunners in the Revolutionary War, so the church had it painted black.  But it was even more visible against the blue sky.  Oooops.

Historic Charleston walking tour
Graveyard of St. Michael’s Church

The graveyard behind the church is the resting place of many colonial-era Charlestonians and is historical as well.  Two signers of the Constitution are buried there, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and South Carolina Governor John Rutledge.  The cemetery is well maintained and we enjoyed walking through, looking at the old headstones and markers.

Peaceful Walk through Washington Square

Charleston Walking Tour
Washington Square Has Statues and Monuments Honoring Those Who Fought

Across the street was Washington Square, an inviting park with wrought-iron gates, a quiet place to reflect on the past.  In the center was an obelisk dedicated to soldiers of the Civil War.  We saw other monuments and markers dedicated to Revolutionary and Civil War heroes and heroines.  The statue of George Washington was (finally) placed in 1999.

Walking tour
Statue of George Washington in Charleston’s Washington Square

Exploring Some Historical Treasures

Nearby is the Dock Street Theatre where we stopped to go inside.  This ornate building dates back to 1809 when it was built as the Planter’s Hotel. The style reminds me of New Orleans!!

walking tour in Charleston
The Dock Street Theatre, originally the Planter’s Hotel

As the last surviving hotel of the antebellum period, this building has been beautifully preserved.  It is now the home of the largest theater production company in South Carolina.

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The Lobby of the Dock Street Hotel

Another historical site is the Pink House.  It is believed to be the second oldest remaining structure in Charleston, built around 1712.  It was a tavern built in the bordello district near the wharfs.  No, it was never a HOUSE, but yes it is PINK!

Charleston walking tour
The Pink House is One of the Oldest Buildings in Charleston

One of the well-known sites in historic Charleston is the Exchange and Provost.  It was completed in 1771 to support harbor commerce and was also the location of significant meetings during the colonial period. During the Revolutionary War, the British used the building as barracks and the basement as a military prison.

Charleston historic sites
The Historic Exchange and Provost in Downtown Charleston

The Old Slave Mart is located on Chalmers Street, one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in Charleston.  It is the only known remaining structure that was used as a slave auction gallery, where auctions took place until 1863.  Today it houses the Old Slave Mart Museum.  It was an opportunity to reflect on the past and the atrocity of slavery.

walking tour
The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston

See the Iconic Rainbow Row!!

I enjoyed strolling along Rainbow Row.  This is a stretch of 13 colorful houses along East Bay Street, probably the most famous residential block in Charleston. These row houses date back to the 18th century when merchants operated stores on the ground levels and lived in the upper levels.  The rainbow of houses is an iconic site in Charleston.

walking tour in Charleston
Charleston’s Iconic Rainbow Row with its Colorful Houses

St. Phillips Episcopal Church and Graveyard

Another beautiful church towering over downtown is the stuccoed brick St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church. The colonial congregation built a small church in 1681, but the current building was built in 1835.  Many notables are buried in the graveyard, including Charles Pinckney, signer of the Constitution, and Edward Rutledge, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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St. Phillip’s Church in Historic Charleston
walking tour
St. Phillips Church and Historic Cemetery

I also enjoyed seeing the carriage steps (upping stones) around Charleston.  These were used by women and children getting in and out of horse-drawn carriages.  These could still be handy!!

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Carriage Steps Can Be Seen Around Charleston’s Historic District
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Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours in Charleston

Historic Heyward-Washington House

These carriage steps in the picture below are in front of the historic Heyward-Washington House, which was the home of Declaration of Independence signer Thomas Heyward.  President George Washington was entertained at the house in May 1791 while visiting Charleston.

walking tour
Heyward-Washington House in Charleston is a Historic Landmark

Beautiful Sites Along our Walking Tour

One of the things I enjoyed the most about our walking tour was the stunning visuals with almost every turn.  There were beautiful gardens, lovely walkways and courtyards, colorful buildings, and historic landmarks.

We definitely experienced the southern charm and learned about the history of Charleston.  I definitely recommend seeing Charleston on a self-guided walking tour!

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4 thoughts on “Best Way to See Charleston | Self-Guided Walking Tour”

  1. If you love history and charm, Charleston can give you plenty! I enjoyed it both on foot and wheels!

    1. We were using a map in a Charleston visitor’s book. There are maps available at the Visitor’s Center and downloadable as well.

      Glad you found the post informative!

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