Where to Stay in Charleston First Time: Best Areas

The best areas to stay in Charleston for first-timers are the neighborhoods of Downtown, French Quarter, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, West Ashley, Isle of Palms. In this guide, we will be looking at where to stay in Charleston for couples, families, without a car, as well as the safest neighborhood in Charleston.

Located along the coast of South Carolina in the Lowcountry area, Charleston, SC, offers visitors infinite variety including a rich history, famous Southern cuisine, and great beaches. Historic Charleston dates back to the late 17th Century so you can imagine the famous landmarks for visitors to enjoy.

Charleston International Airport is northwest of the city but Downtown is just 12 miles away so it is very accessible wherever you decide to stay in Charleston. Road and rail connections with other parts of the eastern seaboard are good so Charleston is an easy city to reach by whatever means.

Downtown and French Quarter are the best places to stay in Charleston for tourist, especially for first-timer due to its prime location and its wide range of accommodation options. If you stay here, if you be located within walking distance to many tourist attractions, as well as many restaurants, bars, and shops.

Downtown is one of the safest neighborhood in Charleston but as in any tourist area, you should use basic common sense, avoid walking alone in dark alley ways at night, and keep valuables close to you. Also be sure to check the weather before you go to avoid hurricane season.

As a walkable city, with historic tours and horse-drawn carriages, Charleston is an intriguing destination. Look at Downtown; many do and decide to stay there because its highlights are within walking distance of each other. All the top international hotel brands are presence. Prices are higher here, especially in the high season.

💖 Best Area for first-timers:Downtown
💎 Best luxury hotel:Charleston Place, A Belmond Hotel, Charleston
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Francis Marion Hotel
💰 Best budget hotel:Homewood Suites By Hilton Charleston Historic District

9 Best Areas to stay in Charleston, SC for tourist

1. Downtown, where to stay in Charleston for first-timers

Downtown, where to stay in Charleston for first-time tourists

Downtown is the best area to stay in Charleston for first-time travelers due to its prime location. If you stay here, you will be located in the middle of everything, within walking distance to Charleston’s top sights, as well as many restaurants, bars, and shops.

Few cities are more walkable than Charleston which was an early settlement in colonial history. The area on a peninsula between the Cooper River and the Ashley River retains its colonial feel. There are few high-rise buildings in Downtown and plenty of landmarks as you walk along its cobblestoned streets.

You can take a walking tour to explore its centuries-old mansion, historic buildings, museums, churches; there is also a boat tour to have better views of Charleston Waterfront Park, Castle Pinckney, The Battery, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, and Fort Sumter.

King Street is the main thoroughfare and for shoppers it is heaven. It boasts some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, hotels, art galleries, businesses, chic boutiques, antique shops, and energetic nightlife.

King Street has three areas Upper King Street Design and Dining District, Middle King Street Fashion District, and Lower King Street Antiques District. So now you know what you are after and where to go by its name.

Along the street, you will find some interesting places such as McLeod Plantation Historic Site, Gibbes Museum of Art, Aiken-Rhett House Museum, USS Hobson Memorial, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston.

You can also find Marion Square, a big green space location for relaxing, sunbathing; you can find almost everything here from local markets to food, culture, music events most of the time.

At the end of King Street near the waterfront area, you will find the Battery and White Point Gardens. The battery is a fortified seawall and promenade where you can find the row of Southern-style mansions overlooking Fort Sumter, the USS Yorktown, and the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse.

King Street hosts various parades and events such as the weekly Saturday Farmer’s Market, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Charleston Fashion Week, Food & Wine Festival, and Southeastern Wildlife Festival.

If you want to do some shopping, head to one of the country’s oldest city markets, the Historic Charleston City Market, where you can grab some souvenirs, jewelry, local artwork, and handicrafts.

There are also numerous historic churches around Charleston, such as the neo-Gothic style Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, French Huguenot Church, the Romanesque-style Circular Congregational Church, and Saint Michael’s Church.

You can take a ferry to the small island in Charleston Harbor to see the actual Fort Sumter National Monument where the Civil War began. Be sure to check out its museum to learn more about the fort’s role in the war.

The ferry ride is a relaxing trip and you may even spot some dolphins. It will depart from Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center on Liberty Square or the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum which is near the USS Yorktown.

Another interesting place in Downtown for families with kids is the South Carolina Aquarium with 5,000 amazing animals and learn more about the natural world at daily dive shows and animal encounters.

Downtown is also home to the 12-acre Joe Riley Waterfront Park, the gathering place of tourists and locals. It is home to the huge pineapple fountain displayed on many Charleston postcards.

In addition, Downtown offers a vibrant nightlife with lively bars, nightclubs. There is also a great dining scene with many top-quality seafood restaurants and modern American grills.

Downtown has plenty of accommodation alternatives with the large international brands well represented. If you want a spacious room with a private bathroom, you are really spoilt for choice.

Stay in Downtown if this is your first visit; You like to have plenty of choices in accommodation, shopping, and dining; you travel without a car; you want to stay in a safe neighborhood.

Best places to stay in Charleston in Downtown:

luxury ($$$): Charleston Place, A Belmond Hotel, Charleston This 5-star hotel has an indoor and outdoor saltwater pool and a fitness center, on-site shops, and a rooftop Clocktower Terrace bar located at the pool deck. Within walking distance from Peninsula Grill, Charleston Historic District, Old Slave Mart Museum, College of Charleston, and South Carolina Aquarium.

mid-range ($$): Francis Marion Hotel This 4-star hotel provides a full-service spa, an on-site restaurant serving classic Southern cuisine, and a fully-equipped fitness center. It has guest rooms with a flat-screen TV with premium cable channels, a custom-made vanity, a seating area, and a coffee maker.

budget ($): Homewood Suites By Hilton Charleston Historic District This 3-star hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, private parking, a bar, a 24-hour front desk, a business center, and free WiFi. All rooms are fitted with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a dishwasher, a coffee machine, a shower, a hairdryer, a desk, and a private bathroom, free toiletries, and bed linen.

🔍MORE HOTELS IN DOWNTOWN

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2. French Quarter, where to stay in Charleston for couples

The picturesque neighborhood of the French Quarter is the area inside the walled city, bordered by Meeting Street, the Cooper River, Market Street, and Broad Street. The high concentration of French Huguenots who came to escape religious persecution give the area that name.

The French Quarter borough is one of the most romantic districts in Charleston for couples where you can take a leisure walk around old cobblestone streets and explore historic churches and art galleries.

Here, you will find the 19th Century Historic Charleston City Market, Confederate Museum, Old Slave Mart Museum where slaves were auctioned prior to the Civil War, and Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

Charleston’s Waterfront Park on the Cooper River is one of the main places to visit elsewhere in the French Quarter. The Park took years to complete with landscaping sympathetic to the history of the district. In years gone by, this area comprised busy wharves and terminals. Enjoy the fountains, shaded benches, and lawns.

If you have an interest in architecture and history, French Quarter can offer you Dock Street Theatre, the French Huguenot Church, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and the Pink House from the early 1700s. The Pink House Tavern is the second oldest building in Charleston.

There is also The Powder Magazine, Circular Church, the Greek Doric style Fireproof Building, Hibernian Hall, and plenty of art galleries such as Cecil Byrne Gallery, Anglin Smith, and Atrium Art Gallery.

Here you can also find the Rainbow Row, a row of thirteen pastel-colored historic houses in East Bay Street, along the Battery. It is a great place for couples to take photos for their wedding, engagements.

French Quater along with Downtown is the best place to stay in Charleston without a car due to its central location. Many restaurants, bars, shops, and tourist attractions are located within walking distance apart. You can easily explore the city by foot and public transport.

Stay in French Quarter if You have a love of historical architecture; A riverside location appeals to you; You like to have a wide range of choices of wonderful art galleries; You are interested in a central location in Charleston.

Best places to stay in Charleston in French Quarter:

🔍MORE HOTELS IN FRENCH QUARTER

3. Mount Pleasant, where to stay in Charleston for families

The family-friendly area of Mount Pleasant is a growing suburb within Charleston Metropolitan County. It links to the city over the Ravenel Bridge where you will find Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum that is home to USS Yorktown, the Second World War aircraft carrier.

Here you can also find the Cold War Submarine Memorial, Shem Creek Park, USS Laffey DD-724, Mount Pleasant Pier, and Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park.

It has a history of shipbuilding and plantations. The oldest building in Mount Pleasant is the Hibben House built in 1755 for a French Huguenot, Jacob Motte. For a time, Mount Pleasant was the place where city dwellers would buy second homes for their holidays. 

There is plenty to see in Mount Pleasant apart from visiting USS Yorktown. There is the Mount Pleasant Historic District centered on the old village, several plantation sites such as one of the oldest working plantations in the United States, Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site which was 18th-century Snee Farm.

If you enjoy parks, you will find plenty in Mount Pleasant where you can relax. If you are keen on shopping, head to the center of town. Bars and restaurants should satisfy anyone staying in Mount Pleasant.

In terms of accommodation, there are options on the riverside with some of the top hotel chains there for you to consider. Hotels in Mount Pleasant are cheaper than the downtown.

Stay in Mount Pleasant if you are traveling with families; You are interested in good transport connections between the city and the beaches; A riverside location sounds ideal; Maritime history is an interest of yours.

Best places to stay in Charleston in Mount Pleasant:

🔍MORE HOTELS IN MOUNT PLEASANT

4. West Ashley, best area to stay in Charleston on budget

The vibrant district of Charleston, West Ashley is a largely residential district across the Ashley River from the Charleston peninsula. It is home to Middleton Place, Ashley Hall and Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall, and Charles Towne Landing.

There are plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, budget-friendly accommodations in the area. When you are looking for where to stay in Charleston, you are close enough to Downtown and its history yet in a quieter neighborhood.

What West Ashley offers that the heart of Charleston cannot is the Greenway Trail that is suitable for bikers and walkers. Its name gives away its location, west of the Ashley River. 

The district developed in the middle of the 20th Century with highway infrastructure improvements in the following years.

This was another area where once there were plantations and two of them found inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, Ashley Hall Plantation and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.

If you make your base in West Ashley, you will be about 8 miles from Downtown. Several big names hotels are here while you will find motels if you are traveling to Charleston by car and do not want to get closer to the center.

Stay in West Ashley if you are looking for a budget-friendly area to stay in Charleston; You prefer a district with plenty of amenities but also with a suburban feel.

Best places to stay in Charleston in West Ashley:

🔍MORE HOTELS IN WEST ASHLEY

5. North Charleston, where to stay in Charleston near airport

Located just a few miles north of downtown Charleston, North Charleston is a major industrial center and also the location for its international airport.  In the early days of the settlers, this was a plantation area for products like indigo and rice. Its expansion into a conurbation of size is very much a post-War development.

The Charleston Naval Base was here but with the threat of Cold War problems receding, it closed in 1996 causing significant economic problems. It is certainly one of the poorer districts in Charleston County, but the arrival of Boeing gave it a boost.

North Charleston has around 8,000 hotel beds, simply because of the opportunity to take advantage of Charleston’s tourist trade. Much of it is 4-star so it provides competition to hotels closer to Downtown. Retail also now plays an important role in North Charleston’s economy. 

Among the places to visit in North Charleston are the C.S.S. Hunley, the world’s first operational military submarine, Homecoming and Lone Sailor statues. and the Greater Charleston Naval Memorial in the old navy yard. 

There is a performing arts center while the area’s largest entertainment venue, North Charleston Coliseum near the airport can hold over 13,000 spectators. 

There are plenty of parks and green spaces while the coast attracts locals and visitors alike for the beaches and water sports. North Charleston’s Riverfront Park offers stunning views of Cooper River and also hosts the annual High Water Festival.

You can also find the 48-acre Cal Ripkin Baseball Facility at Wescott Park, a Golf Club at Wescott Plantation, and North Charleston Aquatics Center.

Stay in North Charleston if you are looking for good value accommodation; your interests include naval history; you prefer a location near the airport when you are traveling as long as it is not too far from the city.

Best places to stay in North Charleston:

🔍MORE HOTELS IN NORTH CHARLESTON

Check out my virtual tour of the best places to stay in Charleston in this video:

6. Kiawah Island, pristine beaches and award-winning golf courses

Kiawah Island, pristine beaches and award-winning golf courses
Andell Inn in Kiawah Island

Located 30 minutes from Historic Charleston, Kiawah Island is a barrier island with 10 miles of pristine beach and world-class amenities.

Kiawah Island found fame 30 years ago when its newly designed golf course was chosen to host the 1991 Ryder Cup between the USA and Europe.

It is remembered as the ‘’War on the Shore’’ but there are happier golfing memories subsequently with 2 PGA Championships (one of golf’s 4 ‘’Majors’’ being held there, the second in May 2021.

Even though South Carolina had enough golf courses to completely satisfy demand, the Kiawah Island Ocean Course designed by Pete Dye immediately captured golfers’ imagination. 

There are now several courses on this island, making it a major golfing venue. Kiawah Island is 25 miles southwest of Charleston and its beaches are just as stunning as its golf courses. The average age of the population is 61 years old which will give you a flavor of the place and its exclusiveness.

Kiawah Island’s beautiful environment offers more than golf and the beach. You can walk or cycle, fish or take a boat out to sea. You will never encounter crowds unless there is a professional competition on the Ocean Course.

Fine dining is available at every restaurant on the Island. For shopping, you can head to the Freshfields Village.

Stay in Kiawah Island if Your budget permits you to look at the quality associated with Kiawah Island; The challenge of a famous golf course is tempting and you are able to plan well in advance in order to secure a tee; time; You want to avoid the crowds but still want a day or two in Charleston which is not too far away.

Best places to stay in Kiawah Island:

🔍MORE HOTELS IN KIAWAH ISLAND

7. Seabrook Island, beachfront area, short drive by car from historic Charleston

Located just 5 minutes from Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island is a barrier island to the southwest of Charleston. Less than 2,000 people live in this oceanfront community.

While Downtown is 25 miles away, that is not a prohibitive distance for those wanting to enjoy both locations. Sea breezes moderate its humid subtropical climate. At no time of the year is the weather truly unpleasant. 

It was home to native Indians before the English saw its strategic importance and bought them out. More recently, Seabrook has become an exclusive place that is home to wealthy Americans.

They enjoy a range of recreational activities, including two championship golf courses, Ocean Winds, and Crooked Oaks; and a 22-acre Equestrian Center, The Racquet Club sports, Lakehouse community center

You will only be able to go to Seabrook Island if you are a guest of a resident. It is certainly a place that a family will enjoy if invited to the island. There are two excellent beaches and the restaurants are just as good. 

Stay in Seabrook Island if You enjoy exclusive facilities; Championship-quality golf courses appeal to you; You want a great family destination.

🔍MORE HOTELS IN SEABROOK ISLAND

8. Folly Beach, Charleston’s beach town

Folly Beach, where to stay in Charleston's beach town

Only around 2,500 people live in Folly Beach on Folly Island but numbers are slowly growing. Downtown Charleston is only 11 miles away so access from one to the other is easy. It has a pier that stretches out 1,000 feet into the Atlantic and that naturally attracts fishermen who do not want to go out to sea.

Center Street has plenty of shops including those selling surfing gear. Many head to the beach but there is more to the island than sand. Folly Beach County Park has good picnic sites as well as a pelican colony. Lifeguards patrol the beach and there are all the amenities you would want on-site including bars with live music.

Few places on the USA eastern seaboard can offer better surfing conditions than Folly Beach County Park. Equally, this is an ideal place for family holidays. It is good for swimming and extremely safe, day and night.

If you enjoy nature, follow the boardwalk out of time to see the range of marine life and birds in the local ecosystem. Take your camera to Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve to snap a photo of Morris Island Lighthouse, standing there since 1876. 

Stay in Folly Beach if You are looking for a good family holiday location; Surfing is one of your main hobbies; You want to combine the beach with history and culture.

🔍MORE HOTELS IN FOLLY BEACH

9. Isle of Palms, one of the good area for surfing in Charleston

Isle of Palms, good base to stay in Charleston
Isle of Palms

Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, this barrier island on South Carolina’s coast is just 12 miles from Downtown Charleston yet in many ways it is light-years away.

It is an expensive place to stay yet it attracts significant numbers to the lovely six miles of sandy beaches, the majority on day trips of course. 

The beach accessed via 54th and 57th Avenues are private.  Isle of Palms has a permanent population approaching 5,000. There is a commercial district with shopping, hotels, and restaurants with a council administering the Isle.

You need to remember that in certain parts and at certain times, you will encounter crowds. They come because of the sands, the range of water sports on offer, the marina, and championship golf. 

You can head out to sea from the marina, either renting a boat or a captain for a wonderful day, fishing or looking for marine life.  Isle of Palms is a nesting area for endangered turtles so keep your eyes open. 

Isle of Palms attracts a young crowd that wants to surf. They also enjoy the beach bars and the party atmosphere they create. Glasses are not permitted on the beach so be prepared to drink from plastic or paper.

You will see plenty of condos on the Isle of Palms and there are many accommodation options, although none provides budget lodging. However, families will find play areas, picnic grounds, and sands to keep their kids happy all day.

Stay in Isle of Palms if Your budget permits it; You want plenty of activities for the family; A game or two of golf is important;

🔍MORE HOTELS IN ISLE OF PALMS

Where is the best area to stay in Charleston?

The best area to stay in Charleston is Downtown and French Quarter because it has a super central location and many choices of accommodation. If you stay here, you will be located in the heart of city, within easy walking distance to many tourist amenities and tourist attractions.

Where to stay in Charleston without a car?

Downtown is the best place to stay in Charleston without a car because it is the most convenient location and it has wide range of accommodation options. You can easily explore the city on foot, by DASH shuttle and bus, as well as a ride share such as taxis, Uber, and Lyft

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Overall, Downtown along with French Quarter, is the best place to stay in Charleston for tourist because it is the most covenient location and it has a wide range of accommodation options for all budget travelers. If you stay here, you will be located in the middle of actions, within walking distance to many shopping, dining, and nightlife venues.

Now as you know the best areas to stay in Charleston, all you need to do is to book your accommodations and decide How many days do you need in Charleston SC? Well, if this is your first visit, I recommend to spend at least 4 days in Charleston because it is a good amount of time to see famous attractions, enjoy food and drink, as well as get the sense of the city history and culture. You can alway come back next visit and discover more!

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