Charleston - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Charleston


Charleston is one of the loveliest cities in the country, despite having weathered great fires, earthquakes, epidemics, civil war and a devastating hurricane. It is consistently classed among the most elegant and dignified cities nationwide. Situated on the peninsula at the confluence of the Cooper and Ashley Rivers on South Carolina's Atlantic coast, the colonial port of Charleston is the oldest city in the state, filled with brick and cobblestone streets, and a large downtown district boasting thousands of carefully preserved and restored buildings that house old-fashioned inns, antique shops and pubs. The streets are lined with tall, narrow houses festooned with wrought iron balconies and wooden shutters, ornate iron gates enclosing pretty gardens and shaded porches - the timeless features of southern architecture. Many of its double-storey houses are authentically furnished museums that once belonged to wealthy colonial merchants, while many are still the beautiful private homes of wealthy residents.

The city started as an important seaport serving the rice and cotton plantations throughout the region, and it was a major slave-trading centre with a third of America's slaves being bought and sold at the riverfront market. The Gullah culture of the islands (people of West African ancestry speaking a language based on English with elements from several African dialects) have a tangible presence here, especially at the Old City Market that vibrates with the humming of traditional spirituals, as basket ladies sell their hand-woven grass wares among the local vendors and iron makers, and the distinctive sound of the Gullah dialect fills the air.

Information & Facts


Charleston has a subtropical, humid climate. Spring is a lovely time of year, conditions warming up rapidly between March and May, spring flowers blooming profusely. Summer is hot and humid, the area's coastal situation helping to keep things cooler than inland. It is also the wettest season with almost half the annual rainfall occurring during summer, falling as showers or in thunderstorms. Fall remains warm right until November when cold spells start making an appearance. Fall is also hurricane season. Winter is short and mild, settling in by December and easing up by February, sometimes rainy and with occasional snow flurries in early January.

Getting Around

Charleston is fairly compact and it is easy to explore many attractions on foot or on a rented bicycle. To visit plantations and other attractions outside the city, however, a car is the best option. In the city a bus service covers most areas, running from 5.35am until 10pm for a fare of $1.25. CARTA (Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority) buses cover the central downtown area at a single fare of $1.50, or a day pass for $4. A novel and fun way to see the city is also to ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Taxis are available but must be called for.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Angel Oak (or Scarlet's Tree) is thought to be the oldest existing entity, either living or man-made, east of the Rocky Mountains. This extraordinary live oak is over 1,400 years old and, while not very tall, it does boast a vast canopy, in excess of 17,000 square feet (1,600 m2). Angel Oak has survived countless hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, including severe damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The tree's forest home may have been one of the islands' many lumber sources for ship-building back in the 18th century.

Set in the Caw Caw Swamp, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center is home to vast natural, cultural and historical displays. Dating back to the 18th century, this formerly slave-worked rice paddy exhibits earthen dikes, rice trunks and canals. Many species of plants and animals can be seen in the wildlife sanctuary, from beech-holly forests to bald eagles and otters. Self-guided canoeing is also possible (fee is $10 per canoe).

America's first museum, the Charleston Museum was founded in 1773. Encompassing three historic buildings, the museum aims to preserve the unique culture and natural history of Charleston and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry. Exhibitions include cultural, historic and natural history artefacts and alongside are two National Historic Landmark houses, the Heyward-Washington House and Joseph Manigault House, which depict the graceful architecture and wealthy lifestyle of southern life in days gone by.

Situated on a small man-made island in the bay guarding the entrance to Charleston Harbour, Fort Sumter National Monument is one of the most important historic military sites in the country where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired in 1861. With the secession of South Carolina, the Confederates demanded the surrender of the fort, and after 34 hours of continuous bombardment the Union forces had no choice but to relinquish their hold. The Union troops became the first prisoners of the Civil War. The Confederates occupied Fort Sumter, which became a symbol of Southern resistance until it was retaken by Union forces in 1865 after nearly four years of almost continual attack, which reduced most of the fort to rubble. Park rangers conduct free tours around the restored structure, which includes a museum with historical displays.

Along the Ashley River are a series of magnificent plantations that can be visited, as well as north along the highway towards Georgetown, where the grounds of Boone Hall Plantation are the main attraction. A majestic oak avenue leads to the estate that has been the model for several films including Gone With the Windand North and South.The original slave quarters and cotton gin house can be visited along with the classic mansion. Closest to Charleston along the Ashley River is Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation house in America, dating from 1742. The Georgian mansion is a National Historic Landmark and the only plantation house on the river to have survived the Civil War intact. Middleton Place was largely destroyed during the Civil War, but the south wing has been restored and houses an impressive collection of silver, historic documents, furniture and paintings. The ornamental lakes are surrounded by the nation's oldest landscaped gardens dating from 1741 and are home to roaming peacocks and other farm animals. The stunning decorative gardens at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens can be viewed by tram tours that cover the grounds.

The British used Provost Dungeon to hold prisoners during the American Revolution, and in 1774 the Old Exchange Building hosted the delegate elections for the First Continental Congress. This site was firmly constructed and has (in part) withstood war, earthquakes and even hurricanes. Part of the Half-Moon Bastion was excavated here and is the only visible section of the old Charles Town fort.

The South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston's most visited attraction, features thousands of amazing aquatic animals from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles in over 60 exhibits, which represent the rich biodiversity of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. The Aquarium also presents fabulous views of Charleston harbour like no other found in the historic downtown area. Daily interactive exhibits and programs are offered for visitors of all ages. Every visit to the Aquarium reveals something new - glimpses of new animals in exhibits, budding plants, baby animals and more. Not only that, the institution provides a variety of opportunities to learn about conservation, animal life, endangered species and environmental issues.

The Hunley submarine first arrived in Charleston by train in 1863 and is now on display in a conservation tank at Charleston's Old Naval Base. Here, visitors can see facial reconstructions of the Hunley crew, artefacts excavated from the submarine and the legendary gold coin that supposedly saved the captain's life. There is also a life size model of the vessel from The Hunleymovie and a National Geographic documentary for visitors to enjoy.

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