Well, all the attention is starting to make us blush. In July, Travel & Leisure named Charleston its No. 1 city in the United States for the fifth year running and No. 2 in the world — the only American city among its top 10 overall.
Southern Living Magazine slotted Charleston first on a list of the "South's Best Cities 2017." The Holy City landed on Food + Wine magazine's list of the "10 most exciting cities for food around the world.”
With its charming architecture, scenic views and well-preserved history, Charleston offers an almost overwhelming variety of things to do and places to see. So we've narrowed down the can't-miss attractions by budget: The first 10 are free, and the others are well worth the admission fees.
10 free attractions
1. City Market
The City Market, a centuries-old open-air market, has become the top spot to browse for souvenirs, signature Lowcountry snacks and locally made goods. While it's no longer the place to pick up produce and freshly caught fish as it was generations ago, you'll still see sweetgrass basket weavers and jewelry makers at work on their crafts there.
2. The Battery & White Point Garden
The oak-shaded park on the edge of the upscale South of Broad neighborhood overlooks the meeting of the Ashley and Cooper rivers into Charleston Harbor. Just up East Bay Street is the historic Rainbow Row, a run of 13 adjacent town homes — the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the nation — painted in pastel colors.
3. Magnolia Cemetery
A short drive up the city’s neck is Magnolia Cemetery, which dates to 1850 and is considered an outstanding example of rural and Victorian cemetery design. It’s a mix of the older city names along with some of the Confederate dead who fought locally and far away, including those who fell at the Battle of Gettysburg. The crews of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley are buried here as well. Moss-draped live oaks adorn the grounds.
4. Shem Creek
In Mount Pleasant, Shem Creek is the waterfront entertainment district for Charleston’s neighbor on the other side of the Ravenel bridge. It’s lined with restaurants, bars and the shrimp trawlers that remain, which give the creek its character. You also can buy fresh shrimp and fish dockside. Take in the views without spending a dime by walking the new town-owned boardwalk along the marsh, accessed behind Vickery's Bar & Grill.
5. Morris Island Lighthouse
Visible from the northeastern tip of Folly Beach, the Morris Island Lighthouse once guided ships into Charleston via the southern channel approach. It is no longer in use and erosion has washed away the beach sand that had protected the site. You’ll need a boat if you want to get near; otherwise drive to the eastern end of Folly Beach, park and walk up the beach to get a look. The lighthouse is closed to the public but always is good for photographs.
6. College of Charleston campus
Nestled in the heart of downtown Charleston, this lively and picturesque campus injects youth and energy into the city's historic district. Walk into Cistern Yard and take in Randolph Hall and Towell Library, but also be sure to explore the brick streets where dozens of historic buildings have been adapted for the college’s use.
7. The Citadel
The Citadel is best known nationally for its Corps of Cadets. Its undergraduate student body of about 2,000 cadets live and study under a military system that focuses on leadership, character and academics. On Friday afternoons, cadets often hold military dress parades on Summerall Field. Generally, they start at 3:45 p.m., but check the schedule to be sure: www.citadel.edu/root/paradeschedule. Take a spin around Hampton Park while you're in the area to see the peninsula's largest park.
8. Waterfront Park
You’ll often have to get in line for the swinging benches at one of downtown Charleston’s most popular parks. Its 12 acres provide vistas of Charleston Harbor, the Ravenel Bridge and Fort Sumter, while children play in its two water fountains.
9. Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
Charleston's signature double-diamond bridge stretching over the Cooper River is the third largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. While the annual Cooper River Bridge Run is one of the Lowcountry's biggest events of the year, you can cross its foot and bike path anytime to catch unrivaled views of the harbor.
10. Angel Oak Park
Take a drive to rural Johns Island about 12 miles away from Charleston's downtown to see a centuries-old live oak affectionately known as Angel Oak. The giant tree's limbs, thicker than most trees' trunks, twist and curve in every direction, giving it an almost mystical quality.
10 well-worth the admission
1. Charleston Museum
Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum on Meeting Street ranks as the oldest museum in the country. Its permanent exhibits include historic textiles and silver pieces, plantation artifacts, Revolutionary War and Civil War weaponry and relics, and even an array of prehistoric animal skeletons found in South Carolina.
2. South Carolina Aquarium
A treat for children and adults, this top-notch attraction overlooking the Cooper River takes visitors on a journey from mountain habitats to Lowcountry marshes and out into the deep blue sea. Visitors can gaze at everything from rainbow trout to giant red drum, cobia, sea turtles and sharks. Among visitor favorites are the Shark Shallows hands-on exhibit, the 322,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank, and the newly opened sea turtle hospital, the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery Center.
3. Gibbes Museum of Art
The Gibbes Museum of Art has been in existence for more than 100 years and recently reopened after a major renovation and expansion. The Grand Gallery, with its original Beaux Arts skylight, showcases early American art. The newly expanded South Galleries display hundreds of portrait miniatures, while the North Galleries feature several works that demonstrate the national shift in American art from academic painting to Impressionism. And don’t miss the garden out back.
4. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Just over the Cooper River from Charleston is the area's most unique military museum with its centerpiece attraction, the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown. The ship, moored in pluff mud along the edge of Mount Pleasant, has been updated recently to include several interactive attractions, including an Apollo 8 experience that tells the story of the Yorktown's recovery of the space capsule in 1968. The site also is home to several other National Historic Landmark ships, Medal of Honor Museum and Vietnam Experience Exhibit.
5. Charles Towne Landing
The 184-acre Historic Site in West Ashley preserves and commemorates the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina, and is often called the birthplace of the state. One of its signature attractions is a natural habitat zoo housing a black bear, bobcat, bison and river otters — all species that were once native to South Carolina. Other features on the grounds include replicas of 17th-century cannons and the tall ship Adventure.
6. Middleton Place
The 18th-century rice plantation on the Ashley River is a National Historic Landmark, home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the country. Its horticulture is planned so flowers are in bloom year-round. The main house on the grounds, now a museum, revisits the life of the Middleton family and its role shaping the country's early history. In the stableyards, historic interpreters re-enact what daily life was like for slaves forced to work on the property.
7. The Aiken-Rhett House
The mustard-hued museum house on downtown Charleston's Elizabeth Street is a poster child of architectural elegance in antebellum Charleston. It was home in the mid-19th century to South Carolina Gov. William Aiken Jr., whose fine art and furniture collected from around the world can still be found on display in the house. It still has its complete set of outbuildings.
8. Fort Sumter National Monument
Confederates fired the first shots of the Civil War in 1861 on this federal fort at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, forcing Union forces to abandon it and then to spend four years fighting to get it back. The monument is accessible by boats operated by Fort Sumter Tours, which depart daily from Patriots Point and Liberty Square.
9. Dock Street Theatre
The theater tucked into the French Quarter neighborhood on Charleston's peninsula offers as much entertainment as it does history. The original theater was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1740, just four years after its first performance. The property was later a hotel and other uses, and the theater itself was re-created in 1937 and then extensively renovated just a few years ago. Charleston Stage Company puts on renditions of popular and classic plays year-round.
10. McLeod Plantation
The Historic Site on James Island was opened to the public as a museum in 2015 by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. An important stop along the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor, the well-preserved grounds showcase the plantation house built in 1858, several original slave cabins, a cotton gin and a carriage house.