A Captain's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

A Captain's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

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A true gem of the Southern United States, Charleston, South Carolina is an 18th-century town in a 21st-century world. Historic buildings, idyllic streets for strolling, and nearly 200 churches are the hallmarks of this must-see slice of southern charm.

Charleston is known as “The most friendly city in America,” and Captain Johannes would certainly agree. After all, this Norwegian-born Azamara Journey® Captain has called the city home for many years—and during his time in the city, he’s learned a thing or two about what makes it so special.

We recently spent some time with Captain Johannes to chat about sailing to Charleston with Azamara and to get a local perspective on the city he calls home. Here are a few of our favorite highlights from that discussion.

How does it feel bringing guests to your hometown of Charleston, South Carolina?

The city of Charleston, South Carolina at sunset

I’m very excited about bringing the Azamara Journey to Charleston and to show our guests the city where I live. For quite a few years the readers of Conde Nast and Travel + Leisure have voted Charleston as the best city to visit in their Reader’s Choice awards.

Describe your perfect day in your hometown?

During the spring or fall, we love being tourists in our own town—seeing new sights and trying out new restaurants and bars. We’ve also had fun taking in some of the many culinary walking tours in Charleston.

Where do locals spend their free time?

A sandy beach on a sunny day in Charleston, South Carolina

It all depends on the season. In the summertime, the beaches are quite popular, as is boating and visiting the County Parks. Walking the Ravenel Bridge, which is the main bridge in the harbor, is wonderful any time of year. And during the colder months and oyster season, there are always “Oyster Roasts” taking place somewhere in the area.

What are the top 3 “non-touristy” must-dos in Charleston?

A cobblestone alley in Charleston, South Carolina

1. Take a walk along the Battery and the back alleys. Here, you can view some hidden gardens and beautiful downtown homes and mansions.

2. On Saturdays, the Farmers Market downtown is a great spot to shop, eat, or simply people watch.

3. Enjoy a drink and maybe lunch at one of the more than 20 rooftop bars with a nice view of the city and the harbor. The nearest one to the cruise ship pier is at the Market Pavilion Hotel.

What is your favorite neighborhood? And why?

The Battery in Charleston, South Carolina at Twilight

Walking down East Bay Street towards the Battery at night, you make your way past several top restaurants and good bars. You’ll also pass the famous “Rainbow Row” and some of the old historic mansions. Take a peek down some of the side streets and back alleys, and you’ll discover quaint houses with outdoor gas lantern lamps burning. It’s a perfect blend of charm and history all bundled up.

Rainbow Row Charleston South Carolina

What is the best way to see the city? By foot? By tour? By car?

A horse-drawn carriage in Charleston, South Carolina

You can cover most of the city by foot. Another relaxing way to see parts of the city would be to take one of the horse-drawn carriage rides.

Is it worth getting off the peninsula and exploring further?

The historic Angel Oak Tree near Charleston, South Carolina

Absolutely yes, there are plantations open to the public—including the Charleston Tea Plantation—great golfing, and the beautiful Angel Oak Park on Johns Island.

What food must people try in South Carolina?

Shrimp and grits

You should try some of the Southern Cooking. Just ask for Lowcountry Cuisine and servers will explain which menu items you’ll want to enjoy.

What’s your personal favorite dish?

I love the BBQ Beef Brisket from Lewis BBQ.

What are the top restaurants in Charleston?

Halls Chophouse, Charleston Grill, Grill 225, Circa 1886, FIG, High Cotton, Slightly North of Broad, Husk, Magnolias, and Edmund’s Oast just to name a few.

If you’re looking for some good local southern BBQ, you have to try either Lewis BBQ or HOME Team BBQ. You won’t be disappointed! 

Your favorite fine-dining?

Halls Chophouse for dinner and Grill 225 for lunch.

What do you recommend for history buffs?

Drayton Hall on a sunny day outside Charleston, South Carolina

For those with a special interest in the American Revolution and Civil War era, there are many tours that concentrate on these periods. You can also visit the Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall, Fort Moultrie, or take a carriage ride through the historic parts of town.

What can you not leave Charleston without seeing or doing?

A horse-drawn carriage makes its way through Charleston, South Carolina

Definitely don’t miss the chance to take a carriage through historic downtown Charleston. It’s something you’ll remember long after you’ve set sail.

Tell us about Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

The USS Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina

My wife Tonya and I have been there many times and we always take visitors there. It’s one of those places you can go over and over again and always learn something new. The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown served in WW2 and took part in the offensive in the Pacific, where she was referred to as “The Fighting Lady”. 

Are there any common phrases or sayings travelers must know?

Bless Your Heart—It is a phrase that is said often and 50% of the time it is not an endearment! The phrase has multiple meanings. It can be used as a sincere expression of sympathy or genuine concern. It can be used as a precursor to an insult to soften the blow. It’s a very versatile phrase!

What is a must-buy souvenir?

Sweetgrass baskets or other items made from sweetgrass. I’d also recommend trying Lowcountry cuisine products such as stoneground grits. 

What makes Charleston a must-see travel destination?

Twilight in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is full of history. It’s a golfing paradise. It has beautiful beaches, a charming—and historic—downtown, a vibrant culinary scene, and friendly people everywhere you go. It’s a city with soul and personality—and one that shouldn’t be missed.  

Anything else you want to share?

For shopping, you have to visit The Market, just a few minutes away from the cruise ship pier. The Market starts at East Bay Street and ends at Meetings Street. If you walk one more block you’ll be on King Street, the main shopping street.

Thank you, Captain Johannes!

A Charleston ., South Carolina street at twilight with a church in the background

Learn more about our upcoming cruises to South Carolina here. We look forward to seeing you in Charleston—where the Ashley River and Cooper River meet the Atlantic Ocean, and where you’ll fall in love with the Lowcountry lifestyle.

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