Charleston is a coastal city in the state of South Carolina. Its old town is situated on a peninsula made of two streams, Ashley and Cooper, which flow into the Pacific and are shielded from the high seas by nearby islands.
Charleston is defined by centuries-old homes, Spanish moss-draped trees, creepy cemeteries, and cobblestone lanes. You could believe you’ve journeyed back in time as you wandered through the streets at night, passing through gas lamp-lit streets and dodging horse-drawn carriages.
But just because one community in South Carolina is proud of its history doesn’t mean it’s trapped in the past. Charleston is home to cutting-edge restaurants, intriguing stores, advanced art galleries, and the world-renowned Spoleto Festival USA.
Due to the state’s height limitation rule, the existing downtown skyline is characterized by church steeples and the spectacular Arthur Ravenel cable-stay bridge that spans the Cooper River, which finished in 2005.
The city is a major port on the United States eastern seaboard and a popular tourist destination for domestic and foreign visitors. According to statistics, 28 new individuals migrate to Charleston every day, making it the 47th fastest-growing metro area in the United States.
But is Charleston safe? What are Charleston’s crime rates?
What We Cover
- Why Visit Charleston, South Carolina?
- Is It Safe to Travel to Charleston?
- Dangers And Charleston Safety Concerns
- Risk in General
- Risk for Female Tourists and Solo Female Travelers
- Risk of Bad Weather
- Armed Robbery
- Terrorist Attacks
- When in Doubt, Book a Cab
- Purse Snatching and Pickpockets
- Consider Avoiding North Charleston
- Make Sure To Have A Luxurious Experience
- Charleston Police
- Downtown Charleston at Night
- Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
- Festival of Light on James Island
- Lowcountry Oyster Festival
- Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
- Best Places to Stay in Charleston
- Charleston Place
- Spectator Hotel
- Sweetgrass Inn
- Sanctuary at Kiawah Island
- Sweetgrass Homes
- Key Safety Tips for Charleston
- Final Thoughts: Just How Safe Is Charleston?
- How’s the Weather in Charleston?
- What Should I Know About Charleston Airports?
- Is Charleston’s Water Safe to Drink?
- Is it Safe to Use Uber in Charleston?
Why Visit Charleston, South Carolina?
From the grand homes turned into museums to the monuments that celebrate the city’s significance in the history of the US, history infuses practically every element of the “Holy City.”
Visit Fort Sumter to learn about the Civil War, Middleton Place to hear about the plantation owners and the enslaved Africans who toiled for them, and Emanuel AME Church to see where Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic speech.
Those seeking locally manufactured products can visit the Charleston City Market, where they may purchase sweetgrass baskets crafted in traditional Gullah patterns and other unusual mementos.
The city can accommodate you when you’re ready for a day at the beach. Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palm, and Folly Coastal are just a few nearby beach communities that provide sun, sand, and mild surf.
Charleston isn’t the first spot that comes to mind when thinking of a winter trip, but it’s a great option for anyone looking to get away from the cold of the Northeast or Midwest.
Hotel and restaurant reservations are cheaper in Charleston than in more popular warm-weather destinations like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, or Scottsdale, and short-term winter rentals are abundant at lower prices.
You won’t find beach weather in Charleston during January, February, and March. Still, with temperatures ranging around 50-60°F, it’s mild enough to spend time outside without wearing heavy winter coats and gloves.
The minor likelihood of passing snowflakes in late December or early January may even lend a touch of fairy dust to the city’s attractiveness. Most attractions and historic sites are open all year, with distinctive seasonal festivals and activities that lure winter visitors.
So yeah, there are plenty of reasons for visiting – but how safe is Charleston to visit?
See Related: Where to Stay in Charleston, South Carolina
Is It Safe to Travel to Charleston?
Charleston has a crime rate that is higher than the national average, but it is a generally safe place to visit. Serious outbursts of violent crime, protests, and demonstrations are uncommon throughout most of the city.
Theft is the most common crime, and as always, touristy-looking tourists are going to be vulnerable. If you’re asking “is North Charleston safe?” it is worth noting parts of North Charleston, particularly around the old naval station, are slightly more hazardous and the violent crime rate is higher than in Charleston proper.
If you’re asking “is West Ashley, Charleston safe?” then you’ll be pleased to know that West Ashley is one of the safest (and prettiest) regions in the area.
In this neighborhood, people are more vulnerable to assault and robbery. As a result, travelers are advised not to bring valuables or display their electronic gadgets when out and about. Drug trafficking is also more prevalent here. Avoid strolling late at night on dimly lit streets and neighborhoods distant from the city center.
While Charleston’s crime rate is higher than the national average, it’s still a pretty safe place to visit. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
Dangers And Charleston Safety Concerns
Look for areas to avoid in Charleston!
Risk in General
On average, Charleston may be safe to visit, provided you take certain measures. It is not advisable to walk alone at night. Close your car properly and park in a secured parking area if you travel by automobile. Thoroughly examine places to avoid in Charleston.
Risk for Female Tourists and Solo Female Travelers
Most parts of Charleston are suitable for solo female travelers during the day. Walking alone late at night, though, is not advised. It’s also best not to spend too long at bars. When going alone without a care, exercise extreme caution.
Risk of Bad Weather
Fire, floods, storms, thunderstorms, gusty winds, and earthquakes threaten the Charleston area. When visiting this area, remember to avoid the storm season. A strictly delineated hurricane season affects everyone in the area, so check the weather before you book!
Some years, Charleston bears the brunt of hurricane season. Hurricane Hugo wreaked havoc on the city in 1989. In 1999, Hurricanes Dennis, Irene, and Floyd all hit Charleston within months of one other!
Keep an eye on the weather conditions to stay safe before planning your trip to Charleston, and be aware that if you travel during hurricane season, you may be forced to evacuate during your vacation.
In Charleston, hurricane season lasts from July 4th to Thanksgiving. Because Charleston is at sea level, even a Category 1 Hurricane may inflict significant damage, particularly if you stay on Folly, Sullivan’s, Kiawah, or Seabrook Island.
If a storm threatens the region, have a backup plan in place. If you must evacuate, begin packing and leaving as soon as possible. If possible, go south on Highway 17 to Savannah, Georgia. Interstate 26 is prone to gridlock. Highway 52 is another option for escape. Prepare several escape routes and have a full tank of gas and radiator fluid on hand!
In this metropolis, underprivileged regions are frequently the target of severe thefts. This is uncommon in more popular tourist sites in South Carolina, in general. As a result, stick to downtown and safe neighborhoods, stay off risky streets after dusk, and only travel in groups.
Terrorist activity is a real possibility in Charleston, particularly among white supremacists. Terrorist attacks have occurred in the city, the latest being in 2015 when a white supremacist terrorist gunned down 9 African Americans while they worshipped at church.
Before you visit, check the political climate. Protests and religious and political groups should be avoided. Be cautious of strange items and individuals – and be aware of the simply huge amount of guns this far south.
When in Doubt, Book a Cab
Cabs, public transportation, and trolleys are great ways of getting around town. They’re also a great way of getting around the city safely.
A few cabs are parked at the airports and distributed around Charleston’s city center. Outside of the city limits, though, taxis are tougher to find. If you’re not lodging downtown, phone earlier to book a prepaid cab.
Purse Snatching and Pickpockets
According to local crime figures, pickpockets are very common in touristy areas of Charleston, particularly on Market Street. There are always many tourists around here, which makes for easy pickings. You should exercise extreme caution here and watch your wallets and other valuables.
Consider Avoiding North Charleston
Similar to the association between Manhattan and Brooklyn, North Charleston is technically a separate city from Charleston. Some areas are not as secure as the rest of the city and violent crime rates are markedly higher in North Charleston.
Not all of North Charleston is dangerous, and it’s mostly okay during the daytime. That said, it’s best not to risk it if you’re unfamiliar with the area or if it’s after dark.
See Related: Best Tours in Charleston
Make Sure To Have A Luxurious Experience
If there is one major crime in Charleston that goes unreported, it’s the cost of stuff! Regarding fancy hotels, fine dining, and private transportation, Charleston can be pricey. Be aware that parking is also pretty pricey and scarce if you drive downtown.
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Charleston? 5 Things to Know
Charleston is pretty heavily policed. You don’t want to get out of hand (or even what can be perceived as out of hand), or you’ll find yourself in serious trouble with the trigger-happy police.
It’s worth noting that police in Charleston and North Charleston have a pretty appalling history when it comes to racial bias against black people. Despite making up less than 22% of the population, black people are four times more likely to be arrested or killed by Charleston Police than white people.
Both police departments have been working for the last three years to improve how police officers serve their communities without racial bias. Whether or not this has had any effect remains to be seen.
Downtown Charleston at Night
Is downtown Charleston safe? If you arrive in Charleston via Interstate 26, proceed south to the visitor’s center downtown. It would help avoid the area off the freeway, particularly at night.
The downtown area is safer than other city areas, although, like with most city neighborhoods, it’s best to explore with someone rather than alone.
Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
So, we’ve assessed the risks of traveling to Charleston, but what can a cool cat see and do in Charleston?
Festival of Light on James Island
You can enjoy the Festival of Lights, which transforms James Island County Park into a three-mile-long winter paradise with over two million sparkling lights.
You may either drive through or stroll along the walkways, stopping for activities like marshmallow roasting, train rides, and carousel rides.
Lowcountry Oyster Festival
The annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, the world’s biggest oyster festival, is held every year beneath the moss-strewn oak trees at Boone Hall Plantation.
At this family-friendly charity event hosted by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Foundation, enjoy fresh oysters by the bucket, oyster eating and shucking competitions, live music, and plenty of wine and beer. The grounds of Boone Hall, the country’s oldest operating plantation, are in full flower all year.
See Related: Best Restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, scheduled in February, appeals to nature enthusiasts. Artists, crafters, collectors, and sports fans with a common love for wildlife meet in Charleston, presenting great art, live entertainment, and unique events.
Best Places to Stay in Charleston
Look for the bad areas of Charleston and avoid staying there. Considering these places for stay at different pricing ranges, the city provides a variety of lodgings ranging from traditional to modern. Here is a handful that is worth visiting and knows is Charleston a good place to live:
It’s the best place to stay in Charleston. In the ancient neighborhood of Charleston, Emeline is a wonderful vantage point from which to see the Holy City.
The boutique hotel has 212 all-king bed guest rooms, including 128 deluxe suites. Frannie & The Fox (a wood-fired bistro with Italian sensibilities), Clerks Coffee Company (a more casual café and eatery with a tinge of nostalgia), and Keep Shop are all located inside the hotel (an exceptionally well-curated gift shop).
Another premium hotel in the center of downtown Charleston is Charleston Place, A Belmond Hotel. The Club Level accommodations, consisting of a two-story selection of restored rooms and suites with private elevator access and check-in, are available.
In the elevator lobby, custom wallpaper shows a map of Charleston from the 1820s as a nod to the city’s past. Guests may arrange private excursions to local plantations and gardens with the assistance of a concierge.
See Related: Best Charleston Walking Tours
The Spectator Hotel on State Street has an Art Deco-inspired décor that harkens back to the glitz and glamour of the 1920s.
The boutique resort is the only one in Charleston that offers personal butler service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can help with anything from bringing freshly made gingerbread cookies to setting up in-room eggnogs. Make a point of stopping at The Bar, a Prohibition-themed cocktail bar.
The 153-room Sweetgrass Inn at Wild Dune Resorts is the resort’s newest addition. Championship golf, nationally recognized tennis, an enormous private beach, a 10,000-square-foot luxury spa, and a 2,750-square-foot fitness facility are among the resort’s year-round attractions.
Sanctuary at Kiawah Island
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort has 255 accommodations, many of which have breathtaking ocean views. The resort is situated on a barrier island approximately twenty miles from downtown and is particularly popular with golfers. The elegant 255-room hotel is the only Five-Star hotel in South Carolina.
See Related: Best Vacations for a Group of Friends
Sweetgrass Homes is a Kiawah Island-based vacation rental firm with a searchable database of luxury rental properties on Seabrook Island, Wild Dunes, and the Isle of Palms. They offer world-class amenities like waterfront views, private pools, and beach access.
Their professional staff is always on hand to provide the best service possible and answer any questions about finding the perfect vacation rental.
Key Safety Tips for Charleston
The Essential Charleston Passport, published by the Charleston Heritage Foundation, is available online. It gives tourists a digital ticket from GetYourGuide to visit five historic homes, the Charleston Museum, and the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Direct flights to Charleston are from Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Miami, Boston, New York City, Denver, and other major cities.
See Related: Clear vs TSA Precheck
Final Thoughts: Just How Safe Is Charleston?
Charleston is a beautiful city with a moderate crime rate. According to FBI crime data statistics, Charleston is not one of the safest cities in the United States in terms of property crimes and violent crimes. The most serious issues are the theft of products, auto theft, burglary, and drug trafficking.
Charleston’s crime rates are around 18% higher than the national average, with violent crimes in Charleston being 20% higher than the national average and property crimes being 18% higher than the national average. Your chance of being a victim of violent crime in Charleston is 1 in 227, and the chance of being a victim of property crime is 1 in 45.
That said, most of the touristy areas are pretty safe. Just don’t dress like a tourist!
How’s the Weather in Charleston?
Charleston is best visited between March and May or September and November, when temperatures are warm but not oppressive.
What Should I Know About Charleston Airports?
Charleston International Airport is a hybrid civil-military airport in North Charleston, South Carolina. The airport is northwest of downtown Charleston.
Is Charleston’s Water Safe to Drink?
The tap water from Charleston Water System is safe to consume. Water that has been bottled or filtered is available, although it is much more costly than tap water.
Is it Safe to Use Uber in Charleston?
In Charleston, both Uber and Lyft have a presence. The price will be determined by the duration of the journey and time of day, but it is generally safe to use either ride-share service. Be sure your driver and car match the name and plate on the app.