Piccolo Spoleto, a companion festival sponsored by the city of Charleston and dedicated to bringing art to the people, schedules low-cost or admission-free events during the same period the larger Spoleto Festival is mounted.
While in Charleston...
To acquaint yourself with this charming harbor city, take a tour of Charleston. On foot, by car, bus, ferry, or even in a horse-drawn carriage you can learn about Charleston's African-American legacy (and see the City Market, where slaves were once traded), visit historic Charleston churches and forts (Ft. Sumter was the scene of the first shots of the Civil War), visit heritage homes, and stop and smell the magnolias at lovingly preserved plantations and gardens that reflect Charleston's antebellum past.
At water's edge, the South Carolina Aquarium features exotic aquatic creatures from around the world. Exhibit paths lead visitors through the five major regions of the Southeast Appalachian Watershed. And if you time things right, you can see the entire aquarium in a morning, then hop on a Charleston harbor ferry tour and enjoy the afternoon breeze on the water. Need to completely escape the heat? There's an Imax theater right across from the Aquarium.
Do plan to do some shopping while you're here; everything from Saks Fifth Avenue to hand-made seagrass baskets will tempt you to open your wallets.
And don't miss tasting Charleston's famed regional cuisine. Treat yourselves to a special-occasion meal at the Charleston Grill, Peninsula Grill, or Hank's, where the she crab soup, Low Country bouillabaisse, fried seafood, and banana cream pie don't come any finer.
Hotel rooms in Charleston rooms tend to get booked way in advance for the Spoleto Festival. Whenever you plan to see vibrant and hospitable Charleston, stay in one of its finest properties:
Planters Inn (check rates now)
This intimate, historic inn (circa 1844) on the famous City Market is where Brad and Jen used to stay when they were in town. Private, quiet, romantic rooms and suites seduce guests with high ceilings, canopied beds, marble baths, and grand piazzas overlooking the inn's lush courtyard.
Charleston Place Hotel (check rates now)
In every city there's one large, elegant hotel that not only boasts the most central location but also has a professional staff and full range of services that can support myriad guest needs. Whether hosting a wedding for 400 -- or a honeymoon for two -- Charleston Place doesn't disappoint. Traditionally decorated quarters are airy and spacious. And we appreciated the power of the hotel's air conditioning and the refreshing coolness of its indoor swimming pool. For even in early May, we Yankees sweltered.