There’s nothing like the sound of the clip clop of a horse-drawn carriage to take you right back in time! And there’s really no better way to begin your stay in Charleston than by taking a carriage tour through this beautiful, historic city. It will give you a great overview of the city as well as informative and enjoyable lessons in history and architecture. But not a dry, boring lesson – Charleston carriage tour guides are known for their unique combination of knowledge, wit and charm. You’ll be entertained as you ride, see and learn. But that’s not all; every carriage tour guide is licensed by the city. Testing for a tour guide license is rigorous; each candidate must take both written and oral examinations. Candidates are tested on Charleston history, architecture and botany, and licenses must be renewed every 3 years. As they gain experience, many tour guides develop areas of specialization, such as antebellum architecture or the Reconstruction era. So, a carriage tour is not just “a buggy ride”; your driver is a highly tested, licensed city historian.
Tours are approximately one hour long and include 300 years of history, a 25-30 block ride through the historic district, and a chance to learn about the mules or horses which will be pulling you along. All tours run between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time and between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. during Standard Time.
All carriages are assigned a tour route before leaving the City Market area (where tours depart and return from). A city Tourism Commission official selects a tour route for the driver using a lottery system. Colored balls are placed in a bingo machine; the color of the ball that pops up identifies the assigned tour route. A green medallion called a “tag” is hooked to the back of the carriage, and it may then depart from the Market to go on its tour route. This process is done for traffic control reasons, and also because only 20 carriages are allowed out on the streets of Charleston at one time.
There are five carriage tour companies and they offer group or private tours. If you know which company you’d prefer, you can buy discounted tickets at the Charleston Visitor’s Center, located at 375 Meeting Street. If you’re in the City Market area, you will see all the carriage tour companies lined up on and around Market Street. These are representatives of each tour company, not the actual guides. They can sell tickets, answer questions about their company and their guides, but remember, the route for your tour is determined by the lottery system, so they can’t guarantee you’ll be touring in a specific area.
Included in all tours:
- Experience 25-30 blocks of Charleston’s beautiful, historic downtown district
- See gardens, mansions, churches, historic business buildings and parks
- Learn about buildings, history, architecture, flora and the people that make up the “Holy City”
- Meet the animals and learn how well they are cared for
- Opened in 1972, they’re the oldest carriage company in Charleston
- Carriages load and unload in the Big Red Barn 8 Guignard St., ensuring you have a shady place to wait in the summertime and can also interact with the animals, purchase drinks or snacks, or use the restroom before the tour.
- Pulled by hardy Mules
- Opened in 1983; owned and operated by the same family since then
- Tours begin at 14 Anson Street, which is 1 block north of the City Market
- Pulled by Percheron or Belgian draft horses
- Restroom and stroller storage available
- Locally owned and operated
- Tours begin at either 181 Church Street or 16 Hayne Street
- Wedding and group tours available, as well as private tours
- Polo lessons available
- Very professional, permanent tour guides
- Group or private tours
- Percheron draft horses
- Tours load on Guignard Street, behind Anson Restaurant
- Tours depart from 20 Anson Street
- In business for over 25 years
- “Cinderella” carriage available for weddings or princess parties
- Private or group tours
- Large draft horses
Begin your visit to Charleston with a relaxing carriage tour and gain a unique perspective on life and history in this most gracious of Southern cities. The Governor’s House Inn is located in the center of the beautiful historic district, an ideal place to stay to experience the charm and elegance that is Charleston.