I’m not the only one who thinks that Charleston is a charming city that everyone should visit at least once in their life. Conde Nast has ranked Charleston #1 city in the US for the 4th year in a row (and #2 in the world)!
Travel + Leisure also ranked Charleston as the #1 best US and Canadian city for the second year in the row. Charleston is continually being recognized as a fantastic travel destination. And I couldn’t agree more!However, with its popularity comes an expensive price tag. Charleston isn’t high on a budget traveler’s destinations list. The boutique hotels are stunning, but at close to $400 a night, not many can afford their luxuries.
Charleston is a hotspot for foodies. The restaurants are numerous, and each serves delicious menus, but many come with high price tag. Have you heard about the $100 coconut cake? Not to mention the horse-drawn history tours can set you back some dough too.
Charleston has always been high on my travel list within the United States, but I was always afraid to go because I had such high expectations for the city and the fact that I knew that it was expensive. However, I managed to stay in Charleston for three days without breaking the bank!
How to Travel Charleston on a Budget
Both Southwest and Jet Blue fly into Charleston. I was able to find a decent fare from Portland, Maine to Charleston that I later erased with my Barclays Arrival Plus Miles, so my flight was free at the end. Both budget airlines offer sales throughout the year, so I recommend subscribing to the airline newsletters to get alerted when these sales happen. You never know if you could score a good flight deal!
AccommodationsInitially I was hoping to Couchsurf, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find an available host near town that was available the weekend I was in town. Thankfully a Google search found the NotSo Hostel that turned out to be the next best option for me. It only set me back about $60 for the weekend. Airbnb is always an excellent choice, and I also learned that there are several B&B’s that run about $200 a night, which isn’t a bad price in my opinion.
Charleston is so full of history that you’ll see it everywhere you walk in the historic city center. I did all three Free Tours by Foot tours that I highly recommend. The tours were excellent and the perfect option for budget travelers.
I also recommend checking out the old Exchange Building and at least one of the house museums. Bring your student ID and get a big discount!
FoodCharleston is a major foodie destination thanks to the former Johnson & Wales culinary school. New restaurants are opening up left and right, and you can’t go wrong with most of them. However, some of them will set you back some serious cash. I’m all about eating one good meal from an expensive restaurant while I’m traveling, but I also want to be able to afford to eat the rest of the time too.
One of my favorite ways to find budget restaurants is to ask the locals. After my Civil War History tour with Free Tours by Foot, I asked Scott for his recommendations. He suggested that I try the Bull Street Market for sandwiches and salads. I ended up eating there both Saturday and Sunday night. I also ate lunch on Sunday at Magnolias, a Charleston favorite.
Expensive restaurants tend to offer similar dinner menus at lunch but for lower prices. When traveling, I have a tendency to eat a substantial lunch and a light dinner to save money. I highly recommend splurging for a breakfast sandwich at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit on King Street. It’s a little piece of heaven that will set you back $7, but so worth it!
A taxi from the airport to downtown will cost about $25 while the local CARTA bus might take you an hour but will only cost $1.75. If you’re looking to save some money, I recommend the bus. There is a bus that stops directly in front of the airport and leaves about every hour.
When you’re downtown Charleston exploring, I recommend walking. Charleston is a very walkable city, and it’s a good way to “live like a local” while you’re visiting. Charleston does offer a free trolley shuffle that runs down “Museum Mile” so if you’re feet get sore hop on the free trolley. The city bus system can get you to most places in the city and pedicabs are quite abundant too.
A long weekend in Charleston doesn’t have to be expensive if you do your research and make smart choices. It’s quite easy to blow your budget by shopping on King Street and stopping at every restaurant that wharfs into your nose. Charleston is an amazing little city on the sea and it worth the visit. I know I plan to go back again soon!