We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: The best way to experience Charleston is on a bicycle. There is so much to see in this city, and the only way to fully take in Charleston’s raw history and architectural detail is to slow down, and get up close and personal to your surroundings. This can be said for any city in America, but Charleston offers more to the naked eye on one street block than most places do in a square mile.
Charleston proper is actually quite small. The city lies on a peninsula that measures about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide. In fact, there are a few streets where you can see the Ashley River at one end, and turn around to see the Charleston Harbor at the opposite end. The compactness of the city allows you to cruise easily all over town, and offers a chance to see the entire city in one day.
It’s also flatter than a pancake here, and the lack of elevation has fostered a unique pedestrian community. In most cities, riders are most commonly seen on mountain bikes, or bikes with multiple gears at the very least. Cruising Charleston on two wheels is the norm—almost everyone rides chunky, single speed beach cruisers, fixed gear road bikes, or skateboards.
A final case for biking the city, before we disclose our favorite routes: logistics. There are so many one-way streets and alleys downtown that it is literally impossible to see the whole city from a car. The streets South of Broad basically form one giant maze, peppered with slow moving horse-drawn carriages, and wayward tourists walking down the center of each street. This impossibly frustrating logistical nightmare is enough to ruin your car-tour of the historical district, let alone the fact that you’ll probably overlook the most interesting aspects of the neighborhood. Since these streets are quiet most of the time, it’s easy for cyclists to simply disregard one-way streets, and have free reign over every road. That might sound dangerous and illegal, but it’s accepted in this area. Residents like the unwritten rule because it discourages car traffic, and visitors love it because it enables them to walk or ride wherever they like. Still, remember that pedestrians have the right of way, and respect automobile traffic.
Now, if you're convinced to sell your car and move to Charleston to become a bike commuter, we’ll share the best routes for touring the city on two wheels. It’s entirely possible to cruise every avenue in one day, but if you’re here for a weekend, we suggest taking on one route a day as not to feel rushed.
South Of Broad
The area south of Broad Street is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the country, and almost every single house in this area has some sort of historical significance. This route is where your going to be able to check out all of the alleys, 18th century architecture, and secret gardens—all of which are shaded under Crape Myrtles and Live Oaks. The route above outlines the area south of broad. For the best cruising, be sure to ride every street within this boundary.
The Hampton Park area is rarely visited by tourists, mainly because of its far proximity from the main historic district of downtown. This is great for a number of reasons; the obvious being that you won’t have to dodge said tourists on your ride. Cruising this neighborhood will give you a glimpse at the homes of Charleston’s 19th and 20th century working class—single row, shotgun style houses that used to be home to Charleston’s labor force. Now this neighborhood is quiet, and Hampton Park itself adds a bit of pleasant scenery with manicured gardens and lawns, ponds, magnolias, and of course plenty of live oaks and Spanish moss.
Charleston is divided into about 4 boroughs, Ansonborough being the furthest east on the peninsula. Long story short, this neighborhood came to be after George Anson, a fairly notorious pirate hunter along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, won the acreage in a game of cards around 1720. This, along with the fact that the Port of Charleston is literally across the street, explains the federal style architecture that dominates this neighborhood, common in other Atlantic seaport towns along the coast--massive, square brick buildings, metal roofs, gas lamps, and shutters that look like they could withstand a bulldozer. Riding around this borough will have you feeling like you’re on set of the movie Treasure Island...it’s awesome. Just like the South of Broad route, be sure to cruise every street in this area for the full effect.