Why Charleston, South Carolina was Recently Voted the Top City in the World

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With many dining, shopping, hotel and resort options, as well as historical venues and cultural events, Charleston, South Carolina has been voted the top city in the world by Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards. Travel & Tours Unlimited has been recommending Charleston to its travel clients for years.

Charleston was not only voted the world’s top city, but the top city in the United States for the second year in a row.

Charleston, South Carolina is the top city in the world – so say the readers of Condé Nast Traveler, one of the leading travel magazines in the United States. In Condé Nast Traveler’s recently released 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards, its annual survey of 46,476 readers, Charleston was not only voted the world’s top city, but the top city in the United States for the second year in a row.

For years, Travel & Tours Unlimited, a Maryland travel agency, has recommended Charleston to its clients interested in domestic warm-climate vacations. According to Laurie Martz, President of Travel & Tours Unlimited, it has been her favorite city in the United States ever since she and her husband took their youngest daughter to Charleston on a college search. During the next four years, she made many visits to Charleston and still looks forward to returning every chance she gets. Her daughter, Mindy, went on to graduate from the College of Charleston, which is located right in the center of the city, and then got married in Mt. Pleasant, a nice community northeast of Charleston (just over Cooper River Bridge).

What is Charleston’s secret? How can Charleston’s charm be described? What about this city is so appealing to so many? The answer to these questions can best be summed up in five words: Dining, Hotels, History, Beaches, Shopping.

The unstated goal of many frequent visitors (as well as residents) is to dine in every restaurant in Charleston before they die. Most of the restaurants feature low-country cuisine and major in seafood. A low-country specialty is the “she-crab soup” served in almost all of the seafood restaurants.

Fortunately, many of Charleston’s best restaurants are within a four square block area on or near East Market Street (between King Street to the West and East Bay Street to the East) and are within easy walking distance of each other. This four square block area is part of what is commonly referred to as the Historic District.

While the restaurants, even in just this four block area, are far too numerous to list, some of the favorites are S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad), High Cotton, Magnolias, Blossom and Grill 225, all located on East Bay Street. Other favorite choices, from down-home southern to the eclectic, include Hymans Seafood (named the best seafood restaurant in the Southeast by Southern Living Magazine - you will notice it from the line of people on the street outside) and Jestine’s Kitchen, both on Meeting Street, as well as 82 Queen and Poogan’s Porch (look for the statue of Poogan the dog in the front yard and read about his story on the back of the menu), both on Queen Street.

Other popular restaurants are in the suburbs, requiring driving - but it is well worth it. Try The Boathouse at Breach Inlet, Isle of Palms, about a half hour Northeast of Charleston (great view of the sunset in the Crow’s Nest Bar above the restaurant) or Fleet Landing Restaurant, Concord Street (plain décor and basic food, but right on the water). For a nice drive 30 – 45 minutes south of Charleston that will evoke memories of scenes from Gone with the Wind, visit Kiawah Island and dine at Jasmine Porch (especially Sunday brunch) or the Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course Clubhouse (see more on Kiawah Island under “Hotels and Resorts” below).

If there is still room for dessert, stop in at Kaminsky’s, Market Street (if you can find a seat) or Cupcake, King Street (North of Calhoun Street a couple blocks), or just pick up some pralines or fudge in one of several candy shops in the market area.

Hotels and Resorts
There are probably as many and as varied hotels in Charleston as there are restaurants. Hotels in Charleston tend to be expensive, depending on the season and/or special events scheduled. A good deal can be found at certain times of the year, but it is hard to get a decent room in the city for much under $200 per night and parking is usually extra.

There are a wide range of hotels in the city from upscale (Charleston Place - within walking distance of all the action), to historical (Mills House and Francis Marion Hotel - convenient to the market and dining) to charming (Charming Inns – a group of 5 inns with a common owner).

If you prefer to be on the beach, check out The Sanctuary at the Kiawah Island Resort south of Charleston, one of the nicest beach resorts and top tennis and golf destinations in the country. Another nice beach resort, the Wild Dunes Resort, located northeast of Charleston in the Isle of Palms community, also has tennis and golf available.

History and Culture
If it is touring that you like, Charleston has a lot to offer. A horse carriage ride starting in the market area is a must - the tours take one of three routes, including one to the Battery (the South tip of Charleston) where the oldest, most expensive, and best landscaped houses are located. As the horse-drawn carriages weave through the city, the drivers weave an excellent narrative of this city’s role in history.

Air conditioned bus tours are another good option (especially in the hot, humid summer). These tours begin at the Visitor’s Center on Meeting Street (several blocks North of Calhoun Street) and also provide an excellent commentary on the history of the area. Tickets for other tours and activities may also be purchased at the Visitor’s Center and there is a wealth of information available about the Charleston area.

Consider visiting Patriots Point, northeast of the City over the beautiful Cooper River Bridge toward Mount Pleasant. One of the features is a tour of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. On the way, you may want to drive through The Citadel military academy. It is well worth the short trip just to drive over the bridge!

Another tour option is a cruise from Bay Street (next to Aquarium) to Fort Sumter and back. The vantage point from the boat provides a unique view of the city and an informative guide talks about history and interesting topics during entire cruise.

If in the neighborhood, explore the campus of the College of Charleston, one of the oldest urban campuses in the country. Stroll down the charming sidewalks draped overhead with Spanish moss, but watch out for cell-phone-distracted students rushing to class.

There are several plantations on the outskirts of Charleston that provide approximately a half-day of activities, some of which have been featured in movies. Consult brochures or ask for info and directions at the Visitor’s Center.

Check the calendar before visiting Charleston as it is likely that there could be a special event scheduled, such as the annual Charleston Food and Wine Festival (February or March), the annual Cooper River Bridge Run (March or April), or the annual Spoleto Festival (spring), one of the world's major performing arts festivals.

The beaches in the area, that can be reached in just a 15-minute drive from the center of the city, are generally very wide with fine sand that are perfect for taking a long walk. While Folly Beach is popular with the college students, the Isle of Palms and Kiawah Island (see “Dining” and “Hotels and Resorts” above) are frequented by families.

Upscale shopping can be found on King Street, from the corners of King and Calhoun Street to the corners of King and Queen Street. This area is packed with unique low-country shops, upscale stores, grilles and bars, a number of which are good places to stop for lunch.

The heart of Charleston is the Market area which consists of several pavilions that stretch for blocks. Local crafts, including the famous sweet grass baskets, are sold there by local vendors and many restaurants and shops are located on Market Street that frames this area.

Enjoy your visit!!

Travel & Tours Unlimited, Inc. specializes in all types of cruises, tours and vacation packages. Its goal is to “help its clients plan their best week of the year – their vacation!” The agency has been designated as an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner by Disney, a gold level Certified Sandals Specialist by Sandals and a Master Cruise Counselor by the Cruise Line International Association. Visit them at http://www.TravelToursUnlimited.com.

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