After the American Civil War ravaged the American South over the course of several years, many towns and cities were laid to waste by the intense warfare that raged between the forces of the Union and the Confederacy.
While this conflict exacted a horrible toll on human life and property, Charleston, a coastal city in South Carolina, managed to escape much of the damage suffered by its peers by a combination of luck and the wise ruminations of this settlement’s mayor.
His decision to concede to the Union towards the end of the Civil War preserved the outstanding architecture of its downtown, as well as the sprawling plantations that occupied sweeping plots of land just outside the city limits.
This makes this charming place a must-visit destination for any traveler dedicated to exploring the Deep South, as many of the points of interest that can be found here are often hard to find anywhere else.
The fact that Charleston survived the Civil War mostly intact is made all the more fascinating when you consider the role that Fort Sumter played during that conflict. Located on an island that lies within a thirty minute ferry ride of downtown, the first shots in one of the worst conflicts in American history were fired here by Confederate forces, as they successfully laid siege to this fortress, taking it in little over a day.
Reconstructed to reflect its might back in the days of that war, this historic site is one of the more important places to see to gain perspective on that time in history, as the exhibits here cover the events that eventually led to the attack on Fort Sumter that kicked off one of the worst wars in the history of America.
In and about the Charleston area, one can find many plantations that once grew the cash crops that made this area a very wealthy place for many centuries. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, one of the oldest properties of its type in the South, used to be a rice farm and contains exquisite gardens to this day, while the gardens at Middleton Plantation, which include an intact bayou swamp as part of the trails on its property, have some the oldest gardens in the region. Drayton Hall is the most authentic of the acreages, as survived the Revolutionary and Civil Wars without being razed, and its Georgian-Palladian architecture stands out as one of the finest examples of this style in the United States.
The plantation houses aren’t the only example of excellent architecture in the Charleston area, as the downtown core contains plenty of stunning specimens, many of which can be observed on a causal walking tour of the cities’ streets.
While you are strolling around here, ensure that you do not miss Nathaniel Russell House, which boasts a sturdy brick facade that has an out-of-sync New England feel to it, or Governor William Aiken House, a palatial residence built for the politician of the same name back in the 1820’s.
Another way to insert oneself into the daily life of this lively Southern city is to check out the City Market, where a variety of homemade goods are hawked and sold on a daily basis. Of all the products found here, be sure to check out the jewelry and sweetgrass baskets, both of which are of exceptional quality.
The waters off Charleston contain a wealth of aquatic life, but unless you’re an avid diver, your only chance to see it is to go to places like the South Carolina Aquarium. This institution contains a wide variety of local sea life, with the Great Ocean Tank containing more than 700 animals for your viewing enjoyment. Additionally, a touch tank allows you to get up close and personal with horseshoe crabs and stingrays, allowing you and your family to learn about the creatures of the sea.
If you’d rather be by the sea than see its inhabitants in an aquarium, spending the day out at Wild Dunes will allow you to do just that. Located on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island just off the coast near Charleston, this community contains opportunities for swimming, beach volleyball and for those that like to swing clubs at dimpled balls, a chance to play on a championship level golf course.