An enchanted land of moss-hung oak trees, steamy summer days, and antebellum plantations lining grand cobblestone paths, South Carolina's Charleston has been a desired destination since before the Civil War. With everything from historic attractions to shopping centers and venues of intense cultural importance, Charleston is a wonderful destination for any student group or graduation trip. Look a little closer and see the magic behind this glorious Southern Belle.
On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War rang out over Charleston Harbor from Fort Sumter, officially beginning the War Between the States. As the Confederacy attempted to hold the fort against the Union, its supply line was cut and fell the day after, surrendering to the Union. Two years later a second battle was fought at Sumter, this time with the Confederacy gaining the upper hand until General Sherman's march in 1865 when the fort was evacuated. Fort Sumter, today, is a highly popular Civil War attraction for obvious reasons - not every battlefield or fort can say they started a war. Now a national monument, you can visit the fort and visitors center for more information and tour guides.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
You know that enchanted wonderland of oak trees and plantations? You'll find that here better than anywhere. Magnolia Plantation is situated on the scenic, languid Ashley River whose drawling attitude lends an equal personality to the estate. Sprawling over 464 acres, the plantation and grounds is one of the oldest in the entire South dating back to 1676 when the famous Charleston Drayton family built the property for rice production. After an Episcopal reverend inherited the property in the 1840s, the estate became known for its gardens as he worked to develop their beauty. Today, the house operates as a museum and the grounds are open for touring with specific gardens such as the Barbados Tropical Garden, the Biblical Garden featuring plants from the Old and New Testaments, a Camellia collection, and many others. Both historic and enchanting, you can't find more of South Carolina in one attraction than here at Magnolia.
South Carolina Aquarium
Everyone loves a good aquarium and your student group certainly won't be disappointed with Charleston's. Opened in 2000 on Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium is dedicated to inspiring and educating visitors on conservation practices to save the world's animals. Housing a Sea Turtle Hospital where rescued sea turtles are cared for and healed before returning to the wild, and also several educational exhibits, the aquarium is so fun you won't realize you're learning. All sorts of animals are found here from poisonous frogs to African baobab plants to ring-tailed lemurs, river otters, sea urchins and jellyfish, octopus and even panther chameleons. Everyone in your group will adore visiting such a beautifully presented and educational collection of creatures.
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
On this plot of land, the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina was established. Built in 1670 on what is now 664 acres, Charles Towne Landing is devoted to preserving the history and the significance of the first landing site. There's plenty to do here including a natural habitat zoo, exhibit hall with fascinating displays, miles of trails and picnic tables, a replica tall ship named The Adventure and several replica fireable cannons and also ongoing archaeological digs. The zoo houses animals native to 1670 era South Carolina like pumas, bison, and bears while you're able to see the contemporary wildlife along interpretive trails through the forest and along the water's edge.
In historic downtown Charleston, the Confederate Museum can be found housing floors of exhibits and galleries documenting the history of the American Civil War as seen by the Confederacy. As South Carolina was a fully Confederate state, this museum represents the state's history as well as that of the Confederate Republic. After the founding of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Confederate Museum was funded and established, opening its doors in 1899 in the building once used for market commissioners and social functions. As a student group, you can tour the building to find an original cannon used in the war, personal artifacts from soldiers, diary entries and photographs, and much more.
Like Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place is a plantation estate predating the Civil War. However, where Magnolia doesn't succeed, Middleton does. Reportedly the home of America's oldest landscaped gardens, the elegant estate is internationally lauded as one of the most important garden attractions in the country. Built-in 1755, the house maintains a preserved museum of family artifacts and furnishings of a family that played an important role in American history. Also included in a tour of the estate are the plantation stableyards still housing livestock such as river water buffalo, cashmere goats, Guinea hogs, and various cattle. The real kicker, however, are of course the gardens. 68 acres find seasonal blooms magnificently arrayed in every corner; certainly, a must-see in Charleston.
Old City Market
Since 1804, the Old City Market has been the cultural hub of Charleston where merchants and civilians mingled. Both indoor and out, the Old City Market has only grown in significance over the years, now playing home to over 300 vendors. No matter what you're wanting to take away from Charleston, you can definitely find it here. Eat lunch in the Great Hall and go shopping for souvenirs, apparel, artisan goods and crafts in the market or wait until Saturday for the Night Market's special events and activities. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience the vibrancy of Charleston and to see the town light up with color and culture. The Day Market operates daily from 9:30 am-5:30 pm while the Night Market runs Friday and Saturday from March through December from 6:30-10:30 pm.