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Charleston Sightseeing

Before sightseeing in Charleston, park your car. Trying to negotiate the narrow streets while sightseeing is difficult, and your visit will be much more interesting if you move at a leisurely pace. So, follow one of the TourBook's walking tours or take one of the guided carriage, bus, van or trolley tours. Fort Sumter Tours offers trips to Fort Sumter and cruises around the harbor. Other tour operators are listed below.

A good place to begin your exploration is at the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St. “Forever Charleston”, a multimedia presentation shown continuously at the center, provides an introduction to the city and its people. Self-guiding tour maps and brochures also are available.

Two of the most prominent features of the historic area are the two major architectural styles: the double house and the single house. The front doors of the double house face the street, with one room to each side. The typical single house is only one room wide with the narrow gable end turned toward the street. To one side is a door that opens onto a porch. Gardens or courtyards are beside or behind the house.

No one knows why there are so many single houses in Charleston, but there is speculation that the design might have been prompted by taxes levied according to how many feet of a house faced the street. Similar houses were built during the 18th and early 19th centuries in New Orleans for this reason.

Many of Charleston's old houses have solid shutters on the first floor windows and louvered shutters on the windows of the floors above. The solid shutters helped keep the noise and dirt from entering the early houses, which had walls that rose from the edge of the street.

Perhaps the most common sight in Charleston is not a thing, but a color. Charleston green, such an extremely dark shade that it is almost black, is seen on everything from shutters to front doors to piazza trim. The color is said to have been devised during Reconstruction, when only black paint was available in quantity. Residents mixed in a small amount of yellow pigment and were able to use colored paint.