Colorful historic homes. Overflowing window planter boxes. Savory meals at world-class restaurants. Shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrians crowding the streets. One hour for a table for two. Not exactly what you had in mind for a visit to Charleston?
With a subtropical climate, Charleston is a year-round destination. Consistently ranked as one of the top tourism destinations in the country – and often times the world – more people visit the city every year.
So, when is the best time to visit?
That depends on a lot of factors. Weather. Hurricane season. Festival schedules. There are a few definitive best times to visit – and also a few worst times. I’ll break it down here to help you plan the best time to visit Charleston, South Carolina.
Worst Time to Visit Charleston is June – August
When the first British settlers arrived in Charles Towne, they found the summer heat and humidity so overbearing they began traveling away from the colony for a respite. Some only traveled as far as Summerville – hence the town’s name – while others eventually traveled as far as Highlands, North Carolina.
Despite the often-times overbearing heat and humidity, summers are still the peak tourism season in Charleston. Hotel rates are at their highest, wait times at restaurants the longest, and downtown traffic congestion the worst. During these months, you will invest about two hours a day doing nothing more than waiting in a line of people or cars.
However, there are a few activities best enjoyed during the summer months. Anything to do with the water – swimming, scenic cruises, or a visit to Fort Sumter is best during the warm summer months. The days are the longest, giving you plenty of daylight to enjoy the city’s scenic beauty. And docents are dressed to the nines at all the best historic sites!
Alternative Time to Visit Charleston is November – February
Winters are typically very mild in Charleston – but make no mistake about it, it does get cold. The water is frigid, so you should only bring a bathing suit if your hotel has an indoor pool. You might also want to skip the guided boat tour because the wind can have a bitter bite.
The most significant advantage of visiting Charleston in the winter is that you’ll mostly have the town to yourself. Restaurants are open, museums offer self-guided tours, and hotel capacity is at the lowest. The only traffic congestion you’ll face is typical rush hour traffic – so just avoid those particular times, and you’ll never trudge along at a snail’s pace.
With the shortest days of the year, you’ll have to tailor a winter visit to more indoor activities. Do the sightseeing early and visit a local plantation in the early afternoon. Skip on the big lunch and instead opt for a big dinner after the sunset. Museums and retail shops close early – especially on the weekends – so take this time to discover beach bars normally packed in the summer months.
Second-Best Time to Visit Charleston is September – October
Despite the unpredictability of hurricane season, the second-best time to visit Charleston is September and October. Hotel rates drop some, but not much. The most significant difference is the drop in the number of visitors with families returning home for school.
Nights start to get chilly, but the days are wonderfully warm. Self-guided walking tours, scenic cruises on the water, and rooftop bars are still comfortable to enjoy. Enjoy the late evening sunset before the time changes.
Museums still have docents dressed to the nines on the weekends, and guided tours are still available. Speaking of the weekends, special events at local restaurants are still available – have you ever wanted to take a southern cooking class?
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Best Time to Visit Charleston is March – May
Charleston is a year-round destination, so nothing ever really closes. As the city begins to shake off the wintry blues with warmer weather – spring typically arrives around mid-March – everything comes to life again.
Museums and restaurants begin offering longer hours. Guided walking tours are enjoyable – especially with reduced traffic congestion drowning out the guide’s voice. When the day is done, you won’t find much of a wait time at the best restaurants – and you just might get the table of your choice.
By May, the water temperature is usually warm enough to enjoy a swim. Days become increasingly hot and humid but are bookended by chilly mornings and evenings that actually feel quite pleasant.
Throughout March, April, and May, Charleston is a city of history, exploration, and excitement. Smaller crowds, lower hotel rates, and little wait times. It’s the best time of year to visit Charleston. What would you do with a weekend getaway to Charleston in May?