I'm going back to Charleston, back where I belong. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace. --Rhett Butler, "Gone With the Wind"
The Holy City, Charleston, is so named for the skyline of steeples seen by ships' passengers as they enter Charleston harbor. The view was there before the American Revolution, during the Civil War, and you'll see the same today as your ship arrives or departs. Charleston has endured much over the centuries, but the city also has thrived and prospered. Pirates, wars, disease, hurricanes, earthquakes and, most frequently, fires have left their mark on the city and the region known as the Lowcountry, as have the unique individuals and personalities that have shaped the centuries there -- and left us the Charleston we know today.
Today's Charleston is a treasure trove, a unique blend of architecture and history, art and culture. Visit the Old Exchange Building, and see the history of the city and that of the port. Look at Rainbow Row to see how individual buildings have become part of a city landmark. Turn down any corner, and discover quiet alleys and cobbled streets where the past is always present. The air can be thick with scent -- tea olive, jessamine, magnolia; camellias and azaleas burst forth with color, each in their season. It's hard to get lost -- sooner or later, you'll end up at either the Ashley or Cooper River. Walk the Battery, with planters' mansions behind you, and gaze across the harbor at Fort Sumter, where the tragedy of the Civil War began. Stroll the neighborhoods, and begin to understand why Charlestonians are proud of what has been preserved and maintained. They're eager to share it and will go out of their way to help visitors, which explains why Charleston has been named the "Most Polite" city in America several years in a row.
Bring your camera, your appetite and a shopping bag. The city is overwhelmingly picturesque, and you'll find yourself stopping over and over for that perfect photo, that intriguing view. Dine well and often in this city where, in years gone by, residents ate only at home; now, the city is a foodie haven where dining out has become a never-ending adventure. The Saturday Farmers' Market is always crowded, and an annual Food & Wine Festival has been introduced. And, make sure to set yourself to shopping mode. National chains do exist, but it's what's local that really counts. The must-have items are handwoven sweetgrass baskets; they're expensive, yes, but you're buying centuries of tradition. Look for antiques, silver, jewelry and art of every kind. (No, it's not legally required to have an art gallery on every block ... it just seems that way.)Take your time, and don't try to do everything; you'll be coming back.