Some have started to draw comparisons between downtown Charleston, South Carolina, and Venice. Both are slowly sinking into the sea, both flood at the drop of a hat, and both are starting to have a bit of liveability problem.
There is no question that historic downtown Charleston, SC, is beautiful. It is now a major tourist attraction after all the work lead by former Mayor Joe Reilly to make it so. It sometimes feels possible to find one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, on every other block.
Unfortunately, some could argue that the push has gone a little too far. We’re currently down to two grocery stores (with a third, a Publix being built on Spring Street by the bridge to West Ashley). And it seems like the Post & Courier is reporting an old store closing, its real estate getting sold to a developer, at least once a month.
But that’s progress here in Charleston.
But I digress.
On the plus side, the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are all within walking distance of each other. They’re also an easy walk to many of the best things to do in downtown Charleston, SC. And most of them have pretty fantastic bars, which is sometimes this writer’s only way of getting inside.
What is the Best Area to Stay in Charleston, SC?
If you’re looking at hotels in this list, you’re looking for luxury or boutique hotels. Those are all clustered in a few (pricey) neighborhoods in historic downtown Charleston:
The French Quarter
But there are hotels scattered all over the peninsula, suiting various tastes and budgets. Check out the best places to stay in Charleston, SC, for more recommendations. And yet, the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are going to remain in the above neighborhoods.
What to Expect at Any of the Best Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
Keep in mind that all the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, offer similar amenities. Some of which include:
Friendly, professional, and attentive staff
Evening aperitif with some cheese or some other small bites
Plush, luxurious amenities in your accommodations
And most also feature spas, pools, and fitness centers, though some are limited by their historic structure or location. Check their websites for specifics I haven’t covered. I recommend always booking direct with the business for the best available rates. Several are likely advertising on this website, which helps cover the costs of maintaining this blog.
3 Cool Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC
The following are my favorites on this list. They’re trendy and just plain cool. They’re also perfect for a drink any night of the week, depending on the vibe you’re looking for. More than a few of these are on my list of the best bars in downtown Charleston, SC. I swear I’m not as big of a lush as I am making myself sound.
The Vendue Hotel
The Vendue Hotel is on the corner of East Bay and Vendue Range, which leads straight to Waterfront Park. This hotel has two cool things going for it:
a rotating display of art on the first floor
a rooftop bar with the best view of the sunset in downtown Charleston
The building is a collection of historic warehouses, some of which date from the 1780s. That said, the historic nature of the building does require some lowered expectations for the accommodations. The rooms can be on the small side. That said, the food at their restaurant, Drawing Room, and the service in general is fantastic. And it’s an easy walk to many of the best Charleston, South Carolina, points of interest:
Historic Charleston City Market
The Spectator Hotel
Another of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, is only a few blocks away from the Vendue Hotel. It’s also just as close to all the same attractions. Some of the rooms and balconies have views of the Historic Charleston City Market, for example. The Spectator Hotel is one of the newest hotels constructed in downtown Charleston. It’s set in a 1920s art deco building on State Street.
The rooms here are big with comfortable beds, though cleanliness could be improved. Having grown-up working at a bed and breakfast in Greenwich, Connecticut, I know a thing or two about cleanliness in hospitality.
That said, this place is fancy: amenities are all high-end, with bathrooms graced with marble. Staff is friendly and professional, even when this writer stood confused in the lobby looking for the bar. They made a point of not matching my subconscious feeling that it was obvious I had no right to be there.
The decor of the bar and lounge is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. It’s great for an aperitif before taking advantage of half-price sushi night. Sushi Blue, one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC, is right next door.
The Grand Bohemian
Again, the Grand Bohemian is a short walk from the other two boutique hotels on this list. This luxury boutique hotel has a funky decor. While the Vendue Hotel displays art for art’s sake, the selection here is intended to be somewhat off-putting to the casual visitor. The retro decor of the common areas pervades into rooms, which are plush with the standard amenities of a boutique hotel.
This lodging establishment is also pet friendly. Though I personally wouldn’t want to stay in a hotel room after someone’s pet, no offense.
The Grand Bohemian has more available on the premises than the Spectator:
Expensive farm-to-table restaurant
But my favorite feature is obviously the rooftop bar. The drinks are a little pricey, and the view of Meeting Street isn’t exactly impressive. But it’s still a pleasant, funky place to see and be seen.
Restoration on King
I’ll be honest, the Restoration on King is more my style if I were looking for a place to stay in Charleston. All accommodations are suites, and most have high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and great views of the city. That said, I can’t afford it. Accommodations like these extensively restored ones right on King Street don’t come cheap.
Restoration on King describes itself as uniting classic elegance with a natural and easy going Southern touch. And that style pervades the decor, service, and amenities:
Breakfast is included in the rate, and delivered in picnic baskets
Evening wine and cheese receptions
Free bike rentals for guests
Free access to a nearby fitness club
As far as I’m aware, the rooftop terrace appears accessible only to guests and their guests. That said, the view looks great when I spy on it from the rooftop bar at the Vendue.
2 New Hip Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC
The next two boutique hotels on the list are a little further away from the others.
I have followed the luxury boutique hotel Zero George since it opened in 2014. On the corner of George Street and East Bay (hence the name), Zero George is made-up of five restored buildings from the early 1800s.
The style of Zero George is elegantly simple, with a mix of period and contemporary decor. The landscaped central courtyard is quite pretty. Amenities include:
Zero Restaurant & Bar
Free use of bicycles
Evening wine and cheese pairing
Cooking classes at the Kitchen Carriage House at Zero George are among the most romantic things to do in Charleston, SC.
This is still a great location. It’s across the street from the Gaillard Auditorium, but also an easy walk to the South Carolina Aquarium and King Street. The hordes of tourists and cars have fewer reasons to be here. It’s also around the corner from the Harris Teeter, if you’re into that.
This is likely the newest luxury boutique hotel on this list. The Dewberry is on Meeting Street, overlooking Marion Square. This renovation made a marked improvement over the dilapidated Federal building that hunkered there before. And the rooms are gorgeous with a contemporary decor. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer fantastic views of downtown. And the location is just as good as the others. The Dewberry is an easy walk to:
The Charleston Museum
The Dewberry’s original plans included a rooftop bar. This detail they neglected to mention to the Board of Architectural Review. When they opened the bar, the BAR immediately shut it down. After that, the neighbors fought it tooth and nail. Last I heard, the rooftop bar remains closed. But the first floor bar’s still quite nice.
4 More of the Best Luxury Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC
None of the rest of this list are places I’ve personally stayed. I do snoop when people visiting me decide to take advantage of these accommodations.
The cupola that graces the top of Wentworth Mansion is hard to miss from much of downtown Charleston. The Wentworth Mansion is a Gilded Age mansion close to Colonial Lake. Today, it’s a family-owned 5-star luxury hotel. Besides typical amenities like breakfast, this luxury boutique hotel also features to its guests:
Circa 1886 Restaurant
Afternoon hors d’oeuvres and wine
Housemade chocolates with turn-down service
Evening port, sherry, or brandy
Many of the inn’s rooms and suites feature touches like sunrooms and original fireplaces. Some rooms are pet friendly. And none of these rooms are within my personal budget.
French Quarter Inn
Back to the area near the Historic Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park is the French Quarter Inn. The French Quarter Inn touts itself as the most awarded hotel in Charleston, as well as one of the most luxurious retreats. It also describes the building it’s in as, “striking”. I believe that translates to late-20th Century modern and inappropriate for its location. But who’s counting?
That said, their awards from Conde Nast Traveler, TripAdvisor, and Travel + Leisure are impressive.
Besides many amenities that are standard for the best luxury boutique hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC, are some unique ones:
Champagne at check-in
Fresh baked cookies and milk each evening
In-room spa services
And their inn is in a fantastic location, to boot.
At the corner of Market and East Bay Street sits the Planters Inn. This Relais & Chateaux property faces the Historic Charleston City Market. It prides itself for being a well-preserved architectural gem with hushed elegance and a refined Southern style. The writers at Travel + Leisure describe a stay at this property as, “akin to an overnight with well-to-do friends in their old Charleston mansion.”
The romantic side courtyard alone makes for a pleasant entrance to the Planters Inn. But the photos on their site do a splendid job of displaying their rooms.
Belmond Charleston Place
The city of Charleston sold the Omni Hotel chain a prime location on Market Street between King Street and Meeting Street in 1986. The hope was that it would turn-around a dilapidated area. Connecting the more-visited Market Street to the dying King Street shopping districts breathed new life into the area. Many more luxury hotels began to plan competitors in the area, which snowballed to today.
The fact that you’re reading an article with a list of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, is testament to the success of that plan.
Today, the now called Belmond Charleston Place is the standard in luxury for Charleston. The rooms are beautiful and elegant, and most have fantastic views of the surrounding city. The rooftop pool has a gorgeous view, and is near the spa and fitness center. The first floor of the Belmond is a small indoor mall full of luxury boutique stores. The shops at Belmond Place contain such options for high-end shopping in Charleston, SC, as:
White House / Black Market
It also hosts one of the most high-end fine dining restaurants in downtown Charleston: Charleston Grill.
The second floor will host events accessible to the public, including art exhibitions for SEWE, or the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.
The Spa at Belmond Place, while expensive, is considered one of the most romantic things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Best Luxury Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC, for Multiple Stays
And there you have it, my personal favorites of the many options for boutique hotels in Charleston, South Carolina. I like them for their unique and elegant Southern-based styles they each exude. I also appreciate their proximity to the best restaurants, attractions, activities, and things to do in downtown Charleston, SC.