Spring Garden Tours & Must-See Historic Houses
According to most travel guides (and general public opinion), the best times to visit Charleston are March-May and September-November. Spring and fall are ideal from a weather perspective, and both seasons boast opportunities to garner a special look inside Charleston’s most beautiful and historic homes. Each fall, the Preservation Society of Charleston hosts the Fall Tours of Homes, History & Architecture. Every spring, The Historic Charleston Foundation hosts the Festival of Houses & Gardens. Fortunately for us, the spring tours are just around the corner, and even if you miss those, Charleston has some wonderful historic houses that are open year-round.
The Festival of Houses & Gardens | March-April
This year, the 2018 Festival of Houses & Gardens will begin March 16th and run through April 21st. Festival goers can pick and choose which events they would like to attend, and tour tickets can be purchased online at HistoricCharleston.org. If you will be in town for opening weekend (March 16th-18th), special ticket packages are available that include admission to the annual Charleston Antiques Show.
Must-See Historic Houses in Charleston | Open Year-Round
The Festival of Houses and Gardens features private homes that are open to the public once a year. In addition to those, there are also several “house museums” located about town. I recommend docent led tours at two of these historic houses to all who visit Charleston which would certainly be of interest to anyone attending the Festival of Houses and Gardens.
Nathaniel Russell House
The Nathaniel-Russell House is an early 19th century mansion located on a double lot at 51 Meeting Street. It is a National Historic Landmark, owned and managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation. The house has been meticulously restored over the years and is surrounded by a wonderful garden. A visit here reveals the wealth and opulence of early 19th century Charleston.
Tours are offered at about 30 minute intervals 10:30am-4:30pm daily, and they are led by extremely knowledgeable docent guides. Tour tickets can be purchased online at HistoricCharleston.org.
When you visit, be sure to test out the “joggling board” located at the gift shop entrance. It’s a quintessential Charleston photo opp. The Historic Charleston Foundation maintains the house gift shop, but I highly recommend visiting the larger Historic Charleston Foundation Shop at 108 Meeting Street. It’s only a 5 minute walk from the Nathaniel Russell House.
The Heyward-Washington House is an 18th century Georgian-style townhome located at 87 Church Street. It is less than a 5 minute walk from the Nathanial Russell House, and you could easily visit both houses in one morning. The home was owned by Thomas Heyward, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and was the temporary residence for President George Washington during his visit to Charleston in 1791. Today, the Heyward-Washington house is owned and managed by the Charleston Museum. Like the Nathaniel Russell House, it too is a National Historic Landmark. The home features an excellent collection of historic Charleston made furniture, and it offers a realistic glimpse into Revolutionary history.
Docent led tours cover the main house, kitchen house, and formal gardens. Tour tickets can be purchased online at CharlestonMuseum.org.
Things to See, Do & Eat Along the Way
The following restaurants are some of my favorite lunch spots. All of them are located near the historic houses and Historic Charleston Foundation Shop.
- Poogan’s Porch
- Mills House
- 82 Queen
- Eli’s Table
- Brown Dog Deli
Should you want to do a little browsing and shopping (outside of books and keepsakes from the Historic Charleston Foundation Shop on Meeting), you can visit the Lower King Street Antique District. Two of the popular destinations on lower King Street are George Birlant & Co. Antiques and the Charleston Shoe store.
The Gibbes Art Gallery, Circular Congregational Church and graveyard, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, and First Scots Presbyterian Church are also close by and well worth taking a look and a keepsake photo.
And of course, no afternoon in Charleston’s Historic District would be complete without a guided walking tour. My regularly scheduled afternoon tours, A Stroll Through History and A House Divided, depart from Washington Square Park on Broad Street. It’s the perfect place to meet up after a house tour. We will stop by historic attractions, like St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, during our walk, and I am always happy to make recommendations about other things to do and see as we go. If you have questions about my tours or area attractions, please feel free to email me. I look forward to connecting with you!