Road Trip Charleston: This charming city lights up during winter

Originally published in Wake Living Magazine

Drab winter days dragging you down? Feeling the need to escape to a southern port city — where the architecture is stunningly beautiful, perfectly groomed gardens display some of the country’s best winter interest, and Lowcountry cuisine is prepared by award-winning chefs and local legends — but don’t want to stand in airport lines or blow a day on driving when you only have the weekend? Historic Charleston might just be your cure for the wintertime blues.

A four-hour drive from the Triangle, this gorgeous city offers an opportunity to stroll past historical homes as brightly colored as the rainbow; take a tour down by The Battery, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers merge; and experience fabulous Lowcountry cooking.

The Holidays in Charleston

A good place to start warming up to Charleston’s charm is Old City Market. The main building’s façade on Meeting Street resembles a Greek-style temple, while inside is an open-air market with more than 100 vendors displaying everything from jewelry and souvenirs to baked goods. Adding to the ambience are sweetgrass basketweavers, who sew their creations in the same Gullah tradition as their ancestors. The streets flanking the market are lined with shopping, restaurants and horse-drawn carriage tours, one of the city’s most prolific attractions.

While carriage riders cannot choose which city blocks their tours will visit, each street harbors hundreds of years of history. Seasonal decorations enhance the city’s style, and Christmas is the most charming of all. Fresh flora such as southern magnolia decorates the porticos of the many antebellum and Colonial homes along the way. As holiday decorations disappear, old-fashioned red and white blooming camellias and fragrant Daphne begin to pop up in the perfectly manicured gardens of the city’s many manor homes.

Whether or not it’s on your carriage tour, make sure to walk down to The Battery, which is lined with large antebellum homes and offers a view of Fort Sumter. On Dec. 6, the waterfront is home to the annual Charleston Parade of Boats, a Lowcountry holiday tradition in which boats adorned with festive lights tour the river. Also don’t miss Rainbow Row, which is lined with restored Colonial homes painted in bright pastels. It’s the most photographed spot in Charleston.

Culinary delights

Food writers often gush at the abundance of restaurants in this port city. The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and other guides can help you decide where to eat, but a solid indicator is the smell from the kitchen and the menu posted outside the door. Add a spin by finding the best shrimp and grits or a raw bar with the freshest oysters the city has to offer. Take notes, because first-time visitors always come back for more.

For those who prefer dining and learning at the same time, Charleston Cooks is a real winner. This cooking school is a sure way to enjoy some of the city’s best chefs and Lowcountry cooking. Each dining experience is paired with an appetizer, dessert and wine. Whether adding to your recipe repertoire via school or dining out, reservations are recommended.

Regardless of season, the sun never stops shining on Rainbow Row, the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages never ceases to be romantic, and the shrimp and grits in Charleston never lose their flavor.