Charleston Downtown Architecture Walk (Self Guided), Charleston

Charleston is a very beautiful city, with a rich history, famous for its southern hospitality. Those who like architecture will find some marvelous buildings, structures, churches, mansions and other outstanding sights here. Take the tour below to see some of the most beautiful Downtown architecture.
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Charleston Downtown Architecture Walk Map

Guide Name: Charleston Downtown Architecture Walk
Guide Location: USA » Charleston (See other walking tours in Charleston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: alice
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Rainbow Row
  • Charleston County Courthouse
  • Governor's House Inn
  • Hibernian Hall
  • Dock Street Theatre
  • St. Philip's Church
  • Trotts Cottage
  • Circular Congregational Church
  • Historic City Market
Rainbow Row

1) Rainbow Row (must see)

Rainbow Row is the name for a series of 13 colorful historic houses in Charleston. A popular tourist attraction and one of the most photographed parts of the city, it represents the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States.

Rainbow Row – a name coined after the pastel colors that the houses were painted as they were restored in the 1930s and 1940s – is located north of Tradd St. and south of Elliot St. on East Bay Street. Common myths include variants on the reasons for the paint colors. According to some tales, the houses were painted in the various colors such that the intoxicated sailors coming in from port could remember which houses they were to bunk in. In other versions, the colors of the buildings date from their use as stores; the colors were used so that owners could tell illiterate slaves which building to go to for shopping. Each house has an interesting story to tell about its origin, its inhabitants and its renovation.

Why You Should Visit:
From fires to flooding to hurricanes to the Civil War and so on, these homes have somehow remained intact and still stand.

If you look closely, you can see where renovations have been done to keep the standing, including earthquake rods that run through the structure.
Check out this row as you're walking toward Waterfront Park – it's a must stop photo op!
Sight description based on wikipedia
Charleston County Courthouse

2) Charleston County Courthouse

Charleston County Courthouse is a Neoclassical building in Charleston designed by Irish architect James Hoban. It was a likely model for Hoban's most famous building, The White House and both buildings are modelled after Leinster House, the current seat of the Irish Parliament in Dublin.

President George Washington visited Charleston on his Southern Tour in May 1791, may have met with Hoban, and summoned the architect to Philadelphia in June 1792. The following month, Hoban was named the winner of the design competition for the presidential mansion in Washington, DC. He later altered his design under Washington's influence. The Courthouse itself is still in use, located in the historic district near the park at Washington Square.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Governor's House Inn

3) Governor's House Inn

Governor's House Inn was built in 1760 and was once the house of Edward Rutledge, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Governor of South Carolina. Today it is a very pleasant inn and a National Landmark.
Hibernian Hall

4) Hibernian Hall

Hibernian Hall in Charleston is located at 105 Meeting Street, just north of the intersection of Meeting and Broad Street, more commonly referred to as the "Four Corners of the Law". The building was constructed in 1840 by Thomas U. Walter of Philadelphia in the Greek Revival style, with six giant-order Ionic columns supporting the pediment. The building is home to the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent society. The first floor was used as a meeting space, and the second floor as living quarters for the delegates, who slept on hundreds of cots set up for the occasion.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Dock Street Theatre

5) Dock Street Theatre (must see)

Situated in the historic French Quarter neighborhood of downtown Charleston, the Dock Street Theatre was the first building in America designed for use as a theater. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973 and reopened for the third time on March 18, 2010, after a three-year, $19 million renovation by the City of Charleston. This extensive full-scale renovation brought the historic theatre into the 21st century with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, modern heating and air conditioning, and new restrooms and seating. In addition, the theatre was made seismically secure and fully handicapped accessible. Extensive sound-proofing was added to ensure that outside noises no longer intruded on performances inside.

Now owned and managed by the City of Charleston, The Historic Dock Street Theatre (soon to enter its fourth century as the heart of Charleston's artistic life) is home to many of the City's finest cultural institutions including Spoleto Festival USA. Charleston Stage, which became the resident professional theatre at the Dock Street Theatre in 1978, produces over 120 performances each season and plays to more than 40,000 patrons annually.

Why You Should Visit:
Just walking around the area is worth the trip (pure Charleston!), but this actually is a charming, snug (seats about 500), warm (lots of woodwork) and overall remarkably comfortable theatre, with acoustics that are easy on the ears.

Be sure to tour the entire theater (free to look) because the interior is quite spectacular!
Great spot for a bathroom break if you are exploring historical Charleston on foot.

Box Office Hours:
Mon-Fri: 1–5pm (open Sat 1:00pm–curtain only on performance days; the Box Office will also open 1hr before each performance)
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. Philip's Church

6) St. Philip's Church (must see)

St. Philip's Episcopal Church is a historic Episcopal church in the French Quarter neighborhood of Charleston. Its National Historic Landmark description states: "Built in 1836 (spire completed in 1850), this stuccoed brick church features an imposing tower designed in the Wren-Gibbs tradition. Three Tuscan pedimented porticoes contribute to this design to make a building of the highest quality and sophistication."

Established in 1681, St. Philip's is the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina. The first St. Philip's Church, a wooden building, was built between 1680 and 1681 at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets on the present day site of St. Michael's Episcopal Church. It was damaged in a hurricane in 1710 and a new St. Phillip's Church was begun a few blocks away on Church Street. After being delayed it was finished in 1723. It burned to the ground in 1835. Work on the present church was begun that same year and completed the next. St. Philip's is still an active parish in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

Why You Should Visit:
One of South Carolina's most photographed buildings! The well-maintained graveyard surrounding the church is also a must when walking through the neighborhood.

Be sure to stop across the street at the French Huguenot Church. They are historically affiliated; both have amazing histories and architecture!

Opening Hours:
Mon, Tue, Thu: 8:30am-4:30pm; Wed: 8:30am-4:30pm / 5:30-7pm; Fri: 8:30am-1pm; Sun: 8:15am-12pm
Free admission
Sight description based on wikipedia
Trotts Cottage

7) Trotts Cottage

Trotts Cottage is an amazing structure of the pre-revolutionary era. At present, the house is a bookshop with a collection of about 5000 volumes of historic and contemporary southern fiction and historic memorabilia that are for sale. The Cottage is famous for its architecture and design, with original and reproduced furniture after the style of the early 1700s and an amazing large central chimney.
Circular Congregational Church

8) Circular Congregational Church (must see)

The Circular Congregational Church is a historic church in Charleston used by a congregation established in 1681. Its parish house, the Parish House of the Circular Congregational Church, is a highly significant Greek Revival architectural work by Robert Mills and is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

The church was a Pantheon-type building 88 feet (27 m) in diameter with seven great doors and 26 windows. On its main floor and in the gallery it was said to accommodate 2,000 worshipers! The first major domed building in North America, it was described by one observer in 1818 as "the most extraordinary building in the United States."

On December 11, 1861, a great fire started near the Cooper River. During the night, a "hurricane of fire" swept all the way across the city, leaving in its wake the ruins of Old Circular. However, the church managed to raise the eyebrows of the establishment once again. The present Romanesque style, quite modern in 1890, was inspired by Henry Hobart Richardson and designed by Stephenson and Greene of New York City. The building combines two powerful forms: the circle (the exterior plan), reminiscent of the former church and universal symbol of eternity and wholeness, and the Greek Cross (the interior plan), the Christian symbol of death and resurrection.

Why You Should Visit:
Definitely a one-of-a-kind sanctuary, easy to walk to from local downtown lodging.

This is an excellent venue for various musical events throughout the year, so check out their website for events!
Make sure to also stroll through the historic graveyard located next to the church.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Historic City Market

9) Historic City Market (must see)

One of the most visited spots in Charleston, the old City Market has a history stretching back to over 200 years, and, besides being a very popular shopping place for tourists and locals alike, it is also a very interesting architectural structure. The main building was established in 1841 and it resembles a Greek temple. The market stretches for four city blocks from it, through a continuous series of one-story market sheds, the last of which terminates at East Bay Street. Vendors sell souvenirs and other items ranging from jewelry to Gullah sweetgrass baskets and the food options are great. Since 1899, the City Market has housed Charleston's Confederate Museum.

Why You Should Visit:
To sift from booth to booth and discover some real local crafting!
Lots of things to see and do; the sights are beautiful and the water is, too.

Make sure to check out the Night Markets on weekends.
Bring your credit cards and plenty of cash – and ask for a deal if you pay cash.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 9:30am-6pm; Fri, Sat: 9:30am-10:30pm

Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina

Create Your Own Walk in Charleston

Create Your Own Walk in Charleston

Creating your own self-guided walk in Charleston is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Charleston Downtown Historic Houses Walk

Charleston Downtown Historic Houses Walk

Charleston, founded in 1670, is very popular for its historic houses.The houses speak of the glorious past of Charleston,being of high cultural value to the entire community. Take this tour the get a glimpse of some of the most famous historic houses in the city of Charleston.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Charleston Harleston Village Churches Tour

Charleston Harleston Village Churches Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
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Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Charleston Downtown Churches Tour

Charleston Downtown Churches Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Charleston Introduction Walk

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Charleston is the oldest and the largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston is a popular tourist destination and has received a large number of accolades, including "America's Most Friendly City" and also "The most polite and hospitable city in...  view more

Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 Km or 3.5 Miles
Charleston Downtown Art Galleries Walk

Charleston Downtown Art Galleries Walk

Charleston is a very beautiful, southern city, with a rich history and very friendly people. It is also home to some amazing and interesting art galleries and museums. Take the following driving tour and discover Charleston's most appreciated art galleries.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles