Charleston also boasts one of the most complete historic districts in the country with more than 1,400 historically significant buildings. Preservation began after an 1886 earthquake almost destroyed the city. From that point on, Charleston has had strict regulations on development and zoning, placing it among the most well-preserved cities in the U.S.
With such an emphasis on preservation, Charleston has retained its charm and historic architecture. Visiting Charleston will give groups a glimpse into the city’s history and the religious tolerance it cultivated, revealing why it is known as “The Holy City.”
Religious Attractions in “The Holy City”
While Charleston’s earliest settlers were primarily from the Anglican Church of England, the city’s religious diversity is reflected in the wide range of denominations. Apart from Anglicans, other denominations included Catholics, Jews, Huguenots, Baptists and Methodists, contributing to the vast number of churches.
The oldest church building in Charleston is St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, built in 1761. George Washington and Robert E. Lee worshiped there.
Home to the oldest congregation in the city, dating to 1681, is St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Originally located where St. Michael’s is, the church was moved to its present location in 1723.
French Huguenot Church, circa 1844-1845, is the only French Calvinist congregation in the world today. The church is built in the Greek Revival style and is the third church building at the site, as the first two were destroyed.
Known as the “Mother Church of Southern Baptists,” First Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist church in the South. Dating from 1822, the church is Greek in style juxtaposed with Roman arches and Tuscan columns.
Featuring twin towers capped by domes is First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, built in 1814. “Nevertheless it was not consumed” is displayed over the main entrance of the church, a message recalling how the church survived a fire in 1945.
Charleston’s Main Attractions
Views of Charleston harbor and the city’s prize-winning architecture and gardens can be seen on a walk along the Battery. Located at the south end of the peninsula, the Battery is a walkway along the waterfront from the city’s Main Pier to White Point Garden Park. Historic sites on a walk include the Edmondston-Alston House, built in 1825. Another highlight is Rainbow Row, a collection of three pastel houses. Locals refer to the houses as the brunette, blonde and redhead.
On the walk, keep a look out for tiny, circular rods on each of the houses. Known as earthquake rods, they were used to stabilize houses for earthquakes. They are found on most houses in Charleston, even modern houses that include them for aesthetic purposes.
Apart from the Battery, historic sites line Charleston’s streets. Calhoun Mansion is an Italianate manor house built in 1876. It is recognized as one of the greatest post-Civil War homes on the East Coast. Nathaniel Russell House, circa 1808-1811, is a three-story house considered a prime example of an Adamesque house. Miles Brewton House, built in 1765, features ornate marble steps and an elliptical fanlight; it was used as military headquarters in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
The corner of Meeting and Broad Street in the French Quarter is referred to as the “Four Corners of Law.” At this intersection is the City Hall, Charleston County Courthouse, the U.S. Courthouse and the Post Office. The nickname “Four Corners of Law” refers to how one can jail, bail, hail and mail at one intersection.
Jutting 200 feet into the Charleston harbor is South Carolina Aquarium. Known for its nine galleries that contain 6,313 animals and 12,000 plants, the aquarium has welcomed three million people since opening in May 2000.
Charleston’s open-air covered market features jewelry, pottery, purses, souvenirs and, most famously, sweet grass basket weaving. A Charleston tradition, sweet grass basket weaving is found only in Charleston and West Africa. Walking through the market enables visitors to see how the baskets are made and learn about the tradition.
Outside Charleston is Fort Sumter National Monument. Located on 2.4 acres in Charleston Harbor, the five-sided, three-story fort was the location of the opening battle of the Civil War on April 12, 1861.
Just across the river from downtown Charleston is USS Yorktown, the centerpiece of the world’s largest naval and maritime museum. Also known as “The Fighting Lady,” the Yorktown served as a destroyer during World War II and patrolled U.S. shores for over 50 years.
In the area surrounding Charleston are numerous plantations, with exhibits and museums. Boone Hall Plantation, Hampton Plantation State Historic Site, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation are among them.
Tours In and Around Charleston
A great way to see the city is on a carriage tour. Options include Old South Carriage Company, Old Towne Carriage Company and Palmetto Carriage Works. Tours allow visitors to learn about the architecture and history of Charleston. Carriage sizes include a 16-person or 4-person.
Bulldog Tour Company provides an array of walking tours through the city, specializing in haunted tours. Options include “Charleston Strolls: Walk with History,” “The Haunted Jail Tour,” “Charleston Ghost and Dungeon Walking Tour,” “Charleston Ghost and Graveyard Walking Tour” and “The Dark Side of Charleston Walking Tour.”
Boat tours of Charleston Harbor are available through Charleston Harbor Tours on the Carolina Belle or Schooner Pride. They feature one-and-a-half hour tours that provide views of Fort Sumter and the surrounding islands.
Spirit Line Cruises offer three-hour dinner cruises with live music, while Fort Sumter Tours provides the only commercial boat transportation to the fort. Tours include a 30-minute cruise on the harbor and an hour tour of the fort and its museum.
Festivals and Events
At the end of March to April is the Annual Spring Festival of Houses and Gardens. The festival provides a rare opportunity for visitors to visit the private interiors of nearly 150 of the city’s magnificent houses and gardens. Another highlight of this festival features a wide range of antiques from more than 30 nationally recognized dealers.
Charleston’s Spoleto Festival USA is one of the world’s major performing arts festivals. The 17-day festival from the end of May to June features more than 120 performances ranging from opera, dance, theater and jazz.
Just outside Charleston at James Island County Park is a Holiday Festival of Lights held November through January. A three-mile drive through the park reveals millions of light displays, along with a Santa’s Village and Winter Wonderland.
With more than 1,400 historical buildings including over 14 churches, Charleston is among the most well-preserved cities in the U.S. Such an emphasis on preservation requires that no building can be higher than the tallest church steeple, allowing the city to have a skyline filled solely with its church steeples. “The Holy City” is an ideal spot for religious groups.