Going to Charleston for the first time? If you’re all on your own or have no local friends to roam around the “Holy City” with you, this post makes sure you don’t feel uncomfortable when traversing this curious city.
Located near the center of South Carolina’s coastline on Charleston Harbor (a fork in the Atlantic Ocean where the Cooper, Wando, and Ashley rivers meet), Charleston is the largest city in the state of South Carolina.
Also known as the “Holy City,” Charleston has tolerated religions of all kinds for centuries, making it the state’s most beautiful and cherished historical center. But that’s not all, the city has much more to offer, such as fantastic watersports, splendid attractions, and exquisite dining.
Every year, millions of people across the globe plan a tour to Charleston, SC, for the right reasons. The rich history, festivals, and cultural attractions appeal to all sorts of travel geeks.
But do you need a car in Charleston for a tour? What about Charleston public transportation? Are there places to visit without a car?
Read on to know everything about touring Charleston!
Do You Need a Car in Charleston?
Charleston is a city famous for its slow pace. Many locals prefer to walk or bike around the town instead of getting in a car. So, do you need a car in Charleston?
Well, exploring Charleston with a car is suitable for two reasons. First, if you have small children, it can be easy to get around the city with them. Second, if you plan to visit remote and far-off places on the outskirts of Charleston, exploring the city with a car is your best bet.
On the other hand, if you want to visit Downtown Charleston and nearby areas, you can quickly get around the city without a car, thanks to the Charleston public transit system.
The city offers a reliable, fast, and convenient public transport system. What else is good? It’s pretty affordable.
Also, if you do not wish to travel on public transport, know that living in Charleston without a car is possible, and you can still make the most out of your tour! Bikes, electric scooters, and rental cars are other great alternatives.
So, whether or not you need a car depends entirely on your travel preferences.
Is Charleston Public Transportation Good?
Don’t have a car? No worries! Charleston public transportation is pretty reliable. You have the option to take a bus, hop on a train, get on a water taxi, or clip-clip on a carriage ride.
CARTA (Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority) offers bus service throughout Dorchester and Charleston Counties.
The DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) provides three routes in Peninsula, including attractions like Waterfront Park, Charleston Museum, South Carolina Aquarium, and Charleston Visitors Center.
So, if you plan to visit any one of these places, you can get on the bus and be at your location within 10-15 minutes. Also, taking a bus is a relatively easy process. All you need to do is purchase the pass. You can get it online or from a nearby bus station.
Additionally, you have the choice to opt for a suitable ticket per your preferences. For instance, you can buy:
- A single-way fare ($2)
- Express trip fare ($3.50)
- A day pass ($7)
- Three-day pass ($14)
- Seven-day pass ($15)
- A Month pass ($57)
So, it depends on how you plan your tour. For instance, a long slow-paced trip would be best made with a monthly pass, while a seven-day pass will do for a short trip.
Low Country Rapid Rail System
Although a Charleston light rail system could be a possibility in the future, the city is currently without any form of an inter-city rail system. They do have the next best thing in the form of the Low Country Rapid Transit System (LCRT) to help create your great American adventure.
The LCRT, being Charleston’s mass-transit project, will take you to the heart of action safely and quickly, using less energy and generating fewer pollutants than cars or planes.
All you need to do is head to a nearby train station, purchase the ticket, and get on the train. For more convenience, you can book a ticket from the comfort of your home.
Charleston Public Transportation from Airport
If you’re wondering about Charleston public transportation from the airport, keep in mind that there are no trains to and from the Charleston Airport. However, you have multiple other options, such as rental cars, taxis, and buses.
Charleston Airport Shuttle Transfers offers door-to-door transportation. After every fifteen minutes, a shuttle leaves CHS Airport to downtown Charleston, and the prices are pretty economical.
For example, the CARTA Express Bus charges only $3.5 (per passenger) one-way to/from the airport.
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Boston?
Are you interested in sightseeing from a different perspective? Charleston water taxis are the way to go! You can book a ride for $12 and witness historic sites from the water, see the whales, and take pictures with them.
What else is good? Children under three travel for free! If you’re staying at Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island, or Mt. Pleasant, you can get on a water taxi from Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina (at the end of Patriots Point Road)
However, if you’re staying anywhere at Folly Beach, West Ashley, Kiawah, or Downtown Charleston, you can meet the water taxi from Charleston Maritime Center or Waterfront Park 1 Vendue Range.
Check out these other top beaches in South Carolina.
While people typically book horse carriage rides for special events (prom, wedding, birthday parties, etc), you can reserve a ride for a fun-filled tour across the city.
Anyone who rides in a horse carriage gets a chance to soak up the city’s atmosphere uniquely.
You can book a carriage ride online and embark on an adventurous journey to Charleston. A single carriage tour accommodates up to 16 people, so you won’t be on the ride alone.
Nevertheless, if you want a private tour with your family, you can discuss the charges with the company.
Further, you also get knowledgeable travel guides to assist you throughout your tour. Discover this fine city as you clip-clop along and create unforgettable memories!
Do You Need to Rent a Car in Charleston?
Charleston public transport is pretty doable, but there could be several reasons you may not want to travel on local transport. For instance, if anyone in your family has a disability, you may prefer a rental car for their comfort, ease, and independence.
Also, renting a vehicle saves you from frustrating experiences with young children on public transportation. You may also wish to rent a car to travel in your comfort zone and avoid getting anxious in public gatherings, especially with COVID-19 worry about.
While most people believe that renting a car can get a little expensive, fortunately, several rental car deals are affordable, particularly from companies such as Kayak or Rentalcars.com.
The best part is that you can book the ride from the comfort of your home. All you need to do is enter the date & time you need the car, and location, and the driver will be at your doorstep within minutes.
What are the Other Options to Get Around Charleston Without a Car?
As mentioned earlier, Charleston is known for its “slow pace,” and many residents prefer to walk around the town or take a bike. So, if you do not have a car, you can still explore the city.
Read below for everything you need to know about other options for getting around Charleston.
Cyclist groups in Charleston deem it one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the Southern U.S. and the town continues to improve the environment for cyclists at all levels. Nevertheless, when you head out with a bike, you need to be mindful of the traffic. Also, make sure that you wear a helmet and necessary protective and reflective gear.
You can rent a bike and visit the nearby parks, hiking trails and roam around the charming Charleston gardens. However, if you have your own bike, it’s even better, as it gives you to freedom to travel far-off and get lost in the city’s vibe, without an extra fee or worrying about service areas.
The smooth roads and pleasant weather of Charleston are suitable for long walks down the charming streets. You can ditch your car and head out to several places on foot. For instance, The Battery, Rainbow Row, Charleston City Market, Pineapple Fountain, and Old Slave Mart are places worth exploring on foot.
Also, when you plan to go out for a walk, make sure that you apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the fierce sun.
Cruise around Charleston on scooters in style! They are a fun, fast, and convenient way to get around the city. All you need to do is rent a scooter, get a helmet and ride to your desired location.
Keep in mind that these aren’t electric scooters; Charleston has banned ride-share electric scooters like Lime and Byrd. When renting one of these babies, you’ll need to present a driver’s license, and riders under 21 MUST wear a helmet.
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Exploring Charleston Without a Car: Is It Possible?
Yes, exploring Charleston without a car is pretty much possible. There are plenty of fun activities and exciting places to go about in the city.
What else is good? With a relatively low cost of living, you do not need a lot of money to experience the best of Charleston. We’ve compiled a few top places to visit in Charleston without a car.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardening
Officially opened in 1870, Magnolia Plantation and Gardening are America’s oldest public gardens.
Whether you’re a garden lover or not, a slight glimpse of these charming gardens will enchant you. With years of care and nurturing, these gardens appear fresh and pleasant to the eyes.
You can take a walk, visit Antebellum Cabin, or take a boat tour to feel refreshed and unwind. Spending some lazy time here with your favorite person is perhaps the best thing to do; a walk with them here will surely be a walk to remember!
There has never been a better place to stop and smell the roses than this one. This mansion was constructed in 1755 as the residence of Arthur Middleton (a signatory of the U.S. Declaration of Independence).
This grand old home is a unique place in and of itself. For instance, besides scenic views, you’ll come across portraits (initially owned by Arthur Middleton’s family), historic furniture, and a stable with horses. After touring this site, make sure to dine in the Middleton Place restaurant. The food is fantastic.
The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum is a perfect place to learn more about the city. Built in 1773, it is said to be one of the oldest museums in Charleston. If you have kids, they’ll love exploring the Kid Story Area and if you’re a history buff, there’s a separate gallery devoted entirely to the city’s history.
This museum is definitely worth spending some time exploring. Also, it’s a great place to cool off in the hot South Carolina summers!
Locals believe that a tour to Charleston is incomplete if you didn’t visit this stretch along with the city’s southern point.
If you love photography, this place is for you. You can roam around this picturesque neighborhood and click photos of the incredible architecture.
Do not forget to spend some time near the White Point Garden. It is best to begin your tour at the Waterfront Park, follow East Battery Street, and end at White Point Garden. Also, you can accessibly take a walk along the Battery if you’re staying in a downtown hotel.
South Carolina Aquarium
If you adore underwater animals, South Carolina Aquarium is the place for you. It isn’t just home to plenty of aquatic creatures but also land mammals, reptiles, and birds that’ll likely intrigue up small children.
It’s a two-story and 375,000-gallon aquarium tank. The authority also holds interactive shows where you can touch the whales and rays. If you want to catch a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes, you can take a tour of the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Hospital. It’s one of the best things to do in Charleston with kids.
So no, you do not need a car to have a whale of a time in Charleston. There are a lot of fun activities to do even without a car. Charleston’s public transportation is a viable option, as is walking or biking, but you can always rent a car if that suits your travel preferences.
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