How to spend 48 hours in Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, consistently ranks on “best of” lists, including TPG’s own 18 best places to travel in 2023, and for good reason. It’s home to historic sites and landmarks, a number of eclectic art galleries, and varied shopping opportunities.

Foodies flock to Charleston for its fresh from-the-dock seafood, soulful Gullah-inspired Lowcountry cuisine, restaurants helmed by James Beard Award-winning chefs and a thriving cocktail scene.

Additionally, it’s an ideal pre- or post-cruise vacation. Carnival Cruise Line‘s Carnival Sunshine home ports in Charleston, with varied itineraries to the Bahamas, and American Cruise Lines offers Intracoastal Waterway cruises to Florida.

Although Charleston is South Carolina’s largest city, its historic downtown is easy to explore on foot. Shopping, dining and attractions are within close proximity, so you can explore a lot in a short amount of time.

Here are a few ways to spend your weekend in this charming Southern city.

Getting there and around

Charleston International Airport (CHS) is around 15 minutes from the downtown historic district. There are several daily nonstop flights from various U.S. cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, Dallas and Seattle.

The city is also a popular road-trip destination for visitors from Charlotte; Atlanta; Knoxville, Tennessee; Savannah, Georgia; and Jacksonville, Florida.

Day 1

Hero Doughnuts & Buns

Fuel up for a day of shopping and sightseeing at this popular spot on Calhoun Street. It started as a pop-up in Homewood, Alabama, and the fresh brioche-style yeast doughnuts and buns quickly captured fans and taste buds. The first brick-and-mortar shop opened in 2017, and today you’ll find several outposts in Alabama and others in Nashville, Atlanta and Charleston.

The menu also expanded to include breakfast sandwiches, salads and lunch buns. Craving a burger for breakfast? No problem here. They’re available starting at 7 a.m.

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Standard doughnut favorites like “The OG” vanilla glazed, chocolate glazed, vanilla cream and sprinkles are available every day. Other flavors rotate but may include maple sea salt, raspberry jam and cereal milk (topped with crushed Fruity Pebbles cereal­).

Shopping along King Street

You’ll find a good mix of upscale chain stores and specialty boutique shops along King Street.

Stock up on the latest must-haves at Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Gretchen Scott and Kate Spade. Locally owned retailers feature a diverse array of clothing, home decor items and souvenirs.

Kids on King stocks the cutest outfits for babies and kids — smocked rompers and dresses, whimsical sleepwear and swimsuits, and a good selection of holiday-themed clothing. There’s also a good selection of toys, puzzles and learning games.

The colorful lanterns in the front window will likely draw you into 7 Hills Living. Its vibrant rugs, dishes, lamps, clothing and jewelry will keep you browsing for some time.

Fulfill all your Barbie Dream Closet dreams at LoveShackFancy. Dripping with pink, lace, ruffles and floral pastels, this shop is a wonderland of eye candy.

Charleston City Market

A National Historic Landmark, the market is at the intersection of Market and Meeting streets and stretches four blocks. Most of the buildings were constructed between 1804 and the 1830s and served as the city’s market for most of that time.

Today, the open-air venue showcases more than 100 artists and vendors selling crafts, prints, jewelry, spices and other products. Watch local artisans weaving the iconic coiled sweetgrass baskets (which you can purchase). The skill was passed down through generations from their African ancestors.

The City Market is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you visit during a summer weekend, avoid the heat of the day and shop during the Night Market. It’s open Friday and Saturday from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Head upstairs to The Museum at Market Hall for a detailed glimpse of Charleston’s past. The museum features an impressive collection of Civil War-era artifacts, portraits, photographs, documents and clothing. Items include original wool uniforms, a drum used in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars and a rifle cannon that was made in Charleston in 1861. There’s even a lock of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s hair that his barber cut while preparing Lee’s body for burial.

The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for visitors ages 6 to 12. Active military members, veterans and children age 5 and under enter for free.

Rainbow Row

On East Bay Street, this section of 13 pastel-painted historic homes is probably one of the most photographed parts of Charleston. You’ll also spy these iconic homes on paintings, postcards and other souvenirs throughout the city.

Lunch at Circe’s Grotto

This local favorite on Wentworth Street is a great place for made-to-order paninis, sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Lunch items start from $12 (for the mozzarella panini or grilled cheese). Cool off with one of the fresh-squeezed lemonades ($5 and worth every penny). Add a flavor (strawberry, blood orange, peach, mango and others) for just 75 cents.

Seating is limited inside, but the restaurant has a nice shaded patio for customers.

Afternoon at the Charleston Tea Garden

Outside of downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island, the Charleston Tea Garden makes for an interesting side trip. It’s the only tea garden in North America where guests can tour the 127-acre grounds. Currently, over 320 varieties of black and green teas are produced at this facility.

Inside, visitors can enjoy unlimited free hot or iced tea (and take it with them as they tour). Sip your tea Southern style while relaxing in one of several porch rockers.

There’s no admission fee for a basic tour. However, guests can take a trolley tour through the tea field and to the greenhouse for $15.

Cocktails and bites at Little Palm

The Ryder Hotel made our list of best hotels in Charleston, but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the gem that is Little Palm. The breezy poolside restaurant and cocktail bar gives amazing retro South Beach vibes.

If you aren’t super hungry, shareable plates like the peel-and-eat shrimp with jalapeno cocktail sauce ($16) and the crab hushpuppies with pepperoncini aioli ($14) are perfect (and tasty). Go for the fish po’ boy or the two-patty smash burger if you need something more substantial.

Happy hour is Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. with $12 cocktails, $8 beers and $8 house wine (choose from red blend or sauvignon blanc). The creative no-alcohol cocktails ($10), like the School Night (nonalcoholic dry riesling, citrus cordial, mulled hibiscus water), are delicious, too.

Day 2

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee

If a quick shot of caffeine and positive vibes are all you need to get going for the day, you’ll get it in spades at Bitty & Beau’s.

Founders Amy and Ben Wright opened the first Bitty & Beau’s in 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina, with the goal of employing mostly people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The coffee shop is the namesake of their two youngest children, who both have Down syndrome.

They have a card-only policy, and after ordering, customers receive a playing card instead of a number, making the transaction easier for the employees. The Charleston outpost at 159 Church Street is one of 24 in 12 states and Washington, D.C. Currently, Bitty & Beau’s coffee shops employ more than 400 people with disabilities.

While you sip on your freshly prepared coffee, check out their branded items — mugs, shirts, tumblers, hats and other merchandise.

International African American Museum

Twenty years in the making, the 150,000-square-foot museum finally opened in June on Gadsden’s Wharf. Its location is significant — from 1772-1808, the wharf was the country’s largest slave auction site. In fact, historians believe that around 90% of African Americans can trace one ancestor back to Charleston.

The museum is laid out in a series of nine galleries that showcase interactive exhibits and more than 150 artifacts, and nearly 50 films and interactive digital experiences that share compelling stories of survival and resilience. Several smaller galleries feature topic-specific installations and artwork. Some exhibits will rotate throughout the year.

One particular gallery is devoted to the West African-born Gullah Geechee culture of South Carolina. Guests sit on wooden pews within the “praise house” for a moving film about the importance of the sanctuary and the music that flowed from it.

The museum also houses a genealogy research center to help visitors trace their ancestors’ journey from their arrival on land.

General admission tickets on a timed-entry basis are $19.95. Tickets for youth (age 6-16), seniors (62-plus) and veterans and active military members are $9.95. We recommend purchasing your tickets prior to your visit to secure a spot.

Gibbes Museum of Art

Constructed in 1905, the Gibbes is the South’s oldest museum facility. The building itself is a work of art.

The three-story museum houses over 10,000 works of art. There’s no cost to peruse the first floor or the well-curated gift shop; the second- and third-floor galleries require a ticket. Permanent galleries filled with paintings, photographs, sculptures and furniture provide an impressive introduction to art from the American South. The Gibbes also features a handful of special exhibitions each year.

Tickets are $12 for those 18 and older; $10 for college students, seniors and members of the military; and $6 for children age 4-17. Patrons under 3 are free.

Dinner at Frannie & The Fox

Situated within Emeline, downtown’s lovely boutique hotel on Church Street, this buzzy wood-fired eatery somehow manages both a homey and posh atmosphere. (Emeline also made our list of best hotels in Charleston.)

Menu ingredients are sourced regionally, and the menu mirrors the seasons to ensure the freshest possible dishes. Choose from hand-tossed pizzas, salads and hearty mains of steak, fresh seafood and decadent pastas. The Margherita pizza ($18) and Caesar salad ($13) received high marks from our table.

Pair your meal with an expertly crafted cocktail. We recommend the Violet Beauregarde ($16) made with Beyond Distilling tropical gin, blueberry liqueur, pasubio amaro and lemon.

Cocktails at Citrus Club

The Dewberry Charleston’s rooftop cocktail bar is extremely popular with locals and tourists — the 21-and-over set, that is. It’s an ideal spot to wind down after a day of exploring and soak up sweeping views of Charleston’s steeple-filled skyline.

Tuck into a plate of Calypso chips and dips — plantain, taro and sweet potato chips served with a dip trio of mango tomatillo salsa, spicy avocado and Peruvian black bean ($16). Feel like sharing? Savor the fresh-made warm blue crab dip with butter crackers ($32).

For cocktails ($20), the Purple Rain (gin, lavender syrup, lemon and sparkling water) and the Long-Time Listener (tequila, dry Curacao, lemon syrup, St. Germain and bitters) are solid choices.

Where to stay

Charleston brims with accommodation options — from upscale stays to points-friendly hotels. Here are a few worth checking out.

Related: The 17 best hotels in Charleston, from historic inns to modern stays

The Dewberry Charleston

Midcentury modern fans will ogle over John Dewberry’s take on hospitality in this Southern city. The luxury boutique hotel includes 154 guest rooms and suites that boast tall windows showcasing views of downtown Charleston and Marion Square.

Guests can make use of perks like a well-stocked fitness studio (with Peloton bikes), loaner bikes and a fleet of luxury Volvo house cars.

Rates at The Dewberry Charleston start from $378 per night.

Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston


Opulent, art-forward and bold — this upscale hotel is a fantastic spot for Marriott loyalists to earn and burn points.

Spacious and colorful guest rooms feature commodious marble bathrooms. Don’t miss Eleve, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant, with an impressive coastal menu and even more impressive Charleston views.

Rates at Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston start from $391 or 71,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Hyatt House Charleston/Historic District


Situated on King Street, the hotel is convenient to shopping, galleries and a bevy of local historic attractions. Book a room or suite and enjoy free Wi-Fi, spacious bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. Some accommodations include a fully equipped kitchen — perfect for budget-minded visitors wanting to shave a bit off their food spending. An on-site indoor pool is a hit with families.

Rates start from $204 or 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

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