Getting Around Charleston, South Carolina

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Downtown Charleston, South Carolina is compact and pedestrian-friendly. You won’t need a car if you’re planning a short weekend and staying in the city center, which is full of restaurants, shops and historic sites.

Free shuttle buses circle the city on three routes. The Green Line (Route 211) stops at key locations in the Historic District. The Charleston Visitor Center at 375 Meeting St also serves as a shuttle hub. With maps and plenty of information, the Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit.

Walk

With sidewalks connecting its shops, restaurants, churches, museums and historic homes, downtown Charleston is easy to explore. Just be aware that some older sidewalks can be a bit uneven. Its borders are somewhat loose, but the historic core stretches from Calhoun St to the south of the battery – there’s just over a mile in between. Here you will find many of the city’s best-known historical sites as well as its best restaurants. If you’re tired of walking, hop on the green DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) line.

Downtown Charleston covers no more than five square miles. The area south of Calhoun St is home to four neighborhoods: Harleston Village, Ansonborough, the French Quarter and the South Broad Quarter, home to well-preserved churches, the colorful Rainbow Row, Battery & White Point Garden and a host of architecture remarkable. houses. Look for the distinct detached houses, which are long, narrow homes marked by side porches that catch the breeze. A handful of bumpy cobblestone streets in the French Quarter and south of Broad can be a bit tricky to walk.

King Street is the main north-south corridor of the Historic District and is lined with shops, restaurants and galleries.


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The DASH can take you to serene scenes like the Brittlebank Park pier © Daniela Duncan / Getty Images

Shuttle and DASH bus

For visitors, the DASH via its Green Line is the most convenient way to explore the historic district. DASH buses circumnavigate the Charleston Peninsula on three routes. All stop at the visitor center.

The Green Line travels from the Visitor Center south along King St to Broad St, then follows Broad St to the Four Corners of the Law intersection at Meeting St. It then continues to Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, Waterfront Park and the Charleston Market. The Orange Line (Route 210) connects the South Carolina Aquarium and the College of Charleston. The Purple Line (Route 213) loops to the College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina and Medical Complex, Brittlebank Park and The Citadel. DASH buses run from approximately 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays, with slightly reduced hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

CARTA also operates 16 regular bus lines and three express bus lines in and around the city. Route 11/Dorchester Rd connects the Welcome Center to the airport. One-way fares are $2 for a regular ride and $3.50 for an express ride. Fares on board are cash only and the driver cannot give change. A day pass is $7 and can be purchased at the Visitor Center. Children under 6 years old traveling with a paying passenger are free.

Auto

If you plan to spend a weekend exploring downtown Charleston and its historic district, you don’t need a car. Parking at the hotel can be expensive and it can be difficult to find street parking. Walking, riding the DASH, or taking a short ride with Uber or Lyft should suffice. If you plan to visit the Ashley River Plantations, explore the Lowcountry, or drive to a nearby beach, a car is necessary. There are eight car rental agencies at Charleston International Airport and a handful of rental car offices downtown.

Parking in municipal garages costs $1 per half hour. City-run parking lots cost between $1 and $2 per half hour. There may be a reduced flat fee after 5:00 p.m. Street parking at the meters is $1 per half hour and the meters accept coins and credit cards. The meters operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Expect traffic jams on I-17 and I-26 during morning and afternoon rush hours. With an abundance of bridges, tourists coming and going, and an influx of new residents to the area, traffic jams and slow bottlenecks are not uncommon at any time of the day.

Taxi and VTC

Taxis are available in Charleston, as are Uber and Lyft. From Charleston International Airport, there is a $15 minimum charge for taxi service. Taxis from the airport to the peninsula can cost up to $50-$60 depending on your hotel location. The price of ride-hail can be considerably lower, depending on demand. Also check if your hotel offers a shuttle to the airport. The airport is 12 miles from downtown.

Taxi service can be unreliable downtown, so Uber and Lyft are the best options for short trips to restaurants and attractions.

A couple biking in Folly Beach, South Carolina
Cycling can be fun on islands and along beaches a short drive from the city center © KenWiedemann / Getty Images

Bike

With flat topography and short city blocks that keep cars from going too fast, the peninsula is a great place to cycle. There are a handful of bicycle and e-bike rental shops in and around the city center. The town also has a point-to-point bike-sharing program, Holy Spokes, which has many bike stations across the peninsula.

In January 2022, it was announced that mobility company Lime would take over operation of the bike-share program when Holy Spokes’ contract expires in February. Currently, Holy Spokes has 250 bikes. User fees are $8 per hour or $20 per day. Read all lock requirements so you don’t incur additional fees.

You won’t find bike lanes downtown, but you can cross the 2.5-mile Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant on the designated multi-use trail. Cycling can also be fun on the islands and along the beaches a short drive from downtown. CARTA buses have racks that can accommodate bicycles.

Accessible transportation in Charleston

CARTA’s fixed-route buses are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Buses are equipped with lifts that can accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Buses can also lower to the curb for easier boarding. Wheelchair priority seating is available at the front of the bus, and drivers will secure wheelchairs and scooters. Service animals are allowed.

Fares are 75 cents for disabled travelers on fixed routes. Locals can show their valid CARTA card for the discounted fare while visitors can use a Medicaid card or Disability ID card from their transit system. Paratransit options may be available through Tel-A-Ride if you have a certification card, and passengers with a Tel-A-Ride ID card can ride fixed routes free of charge. Visit the CARTA website for more details on ADA services.

Folly Beach County Park offers accessible parking, outdoor bathrooms and changing rooms. There is also an accessible beach path. Kiawah Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island also has accessible parking, bathrooms and outdoor changing rooms. Beach-accessible wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at both parks.

Free parking is available for people with disabilities in metered parking spaces and government-run metered lots.

Download Lonely Planet’s free online guide for accessible travel resources online.

People taking a horse and carriage ride around Charleston, SC
Horse-drawn carriage tours are commonplace in Charleston’s historic district © csfotoimages / Getty Images

Tours of the historic district and horse-drawn carriage rides

Walking tours and horse-drawn carriage rides aren’t designed for point-to-point travel, but they can be a fun and informative introduction to the city and its history. Charleston Footprints offers walking tours by a knowledgeable local guide. You can take your pick of food, history, or ghosts on a themed walking tour with Bulldog Tours.

Horse-drawn carriage rides are part of the town’s tableau and you’ll see them depart from their staging areas near the town market. Open since 1972, Palmetto Carriage Works is Charleston’s oldest carriage tour. As in other cities, horse-drawn carriage rides in Charleston have drawn the attention of animal welfare advocates, who say the city’s summer temperatures and working conditions have a negative impact on animals.

Gondola

Charleston Water Taxi operates a ferry service that loops between four stops on the Cooper River. On the Charleston Peninsula, the ferry stops at Waterfront Park, then heads north to the Charleston Maritime Center, adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium. From there, the ferry crosses the river and stops at Patriot Point, home to the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum. The water taxi then heads south to the Charleston Harbor Marina. An all-day ferry pass costs $12. Ferries depart on the hour and half hour, from around 9am to 7.30pm depending on location.

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