WHEN TO GO
Thanks to a relatively tropical climate, you can swim here April through October. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit. Summers are hot and humid, particularly in August (not ideal for walking tours); winters can be mild with highs in the 60s. Hurricanes are a threat from June through October; Hugo wreaked havoc on the city in 1989.
HOW TO GET THERE
Charleston International Airport is 12 miles west of the city (5500 International Blvd; 843-767-1100; www.chs-airport.com). Taxis to downtown cost about $20 and take 20 minutes. Airport Ground Transportation shuttles passengers to downtown hotels for $10 per person (843-767-1100). Amtrak also provides service to the city (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com).
Save the car for day trips to outlying areas. Downtown attractions and restaurants are easily accessible by foot. Taxi fares within the city average $3 to $4 a trip. City bus fares are $1.25 per ride, but DASH, the downtown area shuttle is the quickest and cheapest way to get around on wheels (843-724-7420; www.ridecarta.com). A day pass costs $4; $9 for three days. The Charleston Rickshaw Company will "chauffeur" you anywhere in the historic district via pedicab for $6 to $12 (21 George St.; 843-723-5685; www.charlestonrickshaw.com).
Charleston usually sells out during the internationally renowned Spoleto Festival of music, theater, and dance held in May and June (843-579-3100; www.spoletousa.org). The annual Festival of Houses and Gardens is another big draw, with tours of 150 homes and gardens in 10 antebellum neighborhoods during the spring bloom (843-723-1623; www.historiccharleston.org). The monthlong Fall Candlelight Tours of Homes and Gardens also attracts scores of old-house buffs (843-722-4630; www.preservationsociety.org). For all three, expect to pay top-dollar room rates; advance reservations are a must. And remember that this is mosquito country. Bring lotions and sprays.
The visitor center is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm (375 Meeting St.; 800-774-0006; www.charlestoncvb.com). It's a great resource for free Charleston maps with information on attractions, shopping, and tours.