the hidden alleys of charleston.

As I mentioned recently, I have a thing for alleys with the exception of Minneapolis alleys that have a 6″ thick crust of ice in the winter and you’re trying to load a dresser into your van.  But otherwise, alleys always have a mysterious allure that draws me in and makes me want to see where they lead.

And the narrower, the better, right?  Well, as long as you’re on foot.

I think part of the appeal of the alley is that you can get a sneak peek into areas that aren’t necessarily seen from the regular street, without getting arrested for trespassing.

So when I saw that there was a walking tour in Charleston called Charleston’s Hidden Alleys & Passages, naturally I had to book it.

We booked the tour for our first morning in Charleston so we could get the lay of the land and have an idea which areas we wanted to go back and explore further later in our stay.

We were a little worried about the weather forecast.  We had flown in the night before during severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch (something I absolutely do not recommend).  And there was the potential for more severe thunderstorms the day of our tour.  As you can see in my photos, things were definitely wet.

But miraculously, aside from a brief light drizzle, we stayed pretty dry.  We never even pulled out the umbrellas we’d brought along.

And really, I think the overcast skies just added a misty romantic ambiance to the experience.

From a photography point of view, the gray skies made it much easier for me to get great photos in these alleys where the shadows would have been very deep and dark on a bright, sunny day.

One of the alleys we visited was the Philadelphia Alley.

How amazing is it that this alley was created in 1766 and we are still walking on it today.

According to our guide the bricks making up this alley were made by slaves, and the slave children had the job of turning the bricks as they dried in the sun.  As a result, their small handprints can be seen in many of the bricks.

Legend has it that this alley was also a popular spot for duels and that it’s haunted to this day by a man who lost his life there.  I didn’t run into him, but hey, you never know.  I will admit that between the ghostly handprints and the story of duels being fought, it was a little spooky.

One of the last stops on our tour was the Gateway Walk.

The Gateway Walk is an informal trail through gardens and graveyards.  It’s named for the many wrought iron gates that you pass through along the way.

Part of this walkway leads you through the Unitarian churchyard.

Oh my gosh you guys, is this not what you picture every southern cemetery must look like?

Filled with ancient tombstones and trees draped with spanish moss?

And camellias?  It definitely should have camellias.

Is that the most perfect shade of pink?

I really couldn’t stop taking photos of this place.

You might be wondering to yourself why the Unitarians don’t take better care of their graveyard, keeping it mowed, weed-free and tidy.

Instead it looks overgrown and unkempt.

But apparently this churchyard “is a garden that is allowed to flow and blossom and bloom right over and around the many old gravestones. This natural state is in keeping with Unitarian beliefs about the web of creation.”

I kind of love that concept, how about you?

Although this tour was very well done, I have to say that I wish our guide had focused more on the alleys themselves.

He led us through the alleys while talking about the history of Charleston in general.  So, while it was lovely to be walking through all of these amazing spots, in many cases he never even mentioned the name of the alley or any history associated with it.  I found a lot more information online while writing this post and I wish he had shared more of that with us.  This is not to say that he wasn’t incredibly knowledgeable about the history of Charleston, super charming, and quite entertaining.

Would I take this tour again?  Absolutely.  In a heartbeat.  It was a great way to get some background history on Charleston, and to get your bearings.  It also was definitely off the beaten path.  And trust me, that beaten path in Charleston is pretty well beaten.  But if you want to save yourself the $30/person we paid for it, with a little research and planning you could also easily wander these alleys on your own using info available online here and here.  My next post will explain how we did exactly that the following day, so be sure to stay tuned.

25 thoughts on “the hidden alleys of charleston.

  1. So interesting and now on my list of places and tours I want to visit! I love out of the way and “ the road less travelled”.
    I rather like the cemetery that is overgrown and it’s beauty.
    Tours can be a great place to start in a city and an opportunity to learn things about the history.
    Thanks for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed it this morning.

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  2. Thank you for sharing about our beautiful Charleston! We have lived here since the late 70’s and still learn new things! So awesome to see your posts about this amazing city!

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    1. What a lovely place to live (except for the humidity, my hair looked awful for the entire 10 days). So much history, so much beauty, the ocean right there, a longer gardening season, really good BBQ, I could go on …

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  3. Love this so much! We have a trip planned for May and I love the idea of the road less traveled for sure! Something about old cemeteries is so fascinating!

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  4. I loved this post. Alleys and cemeteries! When in England we always visit both. This post really makes me want to go to Charleston! Thank you! Will be looking forward to tomorrow’s post.
    Smiles, alice

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  5. Lovely post and I especially liked the cemetery. My friends and family make fun of me because wherever I travel and time permitting, I always visit the local cemeteries. They are like open air museums and can be quite tranquil and beautiful! I like to take a few small bouquets of flowers with me to leave behind as I wander and ponder.

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  6. Hi
    I’ll e walking through cemeteries and seeing who married whom and how long they lived and when they were born. I’ve always wanted to do Charleston and Savannah together so appreciate your links for when I do it.

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  7. I have been to Charleston and taken the walk and it was a wonderful experience. It was about 4yrs. ago and I loved it thanks for bringing this memory back.

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  8. How incredibly beautiful. And camellias!!! One of my most favorite flowers❤ It’s been so long since I’ve seen one. It’s because of them that I attempt to grow ranunculus each year. Thanks for all the beautiful photos and tips. I’m definitely adding this trip to my bucket list!

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    1. I love ranunculus too, but I’ve never attempted to grow it. Every year I think I should try it, but never have. If you have any tips for growing it successfully, let me know!

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  9. Ooooooh Miss Quandie I’m enjoying this! You know, my father was investigating the purchase of an old house on the Battery to have it restored…..he had a lifelong love for Charleston. But, instead, he was diagnosed with cancer and died nine months later, the day after his 56th birthday……a different kind of adventure! I DID go to our beach house in the summers, across the Cooper River bridge to the Isle of Palms; built by my grandfather many years ago…..

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    1. Oh, that so sad, 56 is way, way, way too early. I’m so sorry. How amazing it would have been to have a house on the Battery. We did end up at the beach for the last half of our trip, but you’ll have to stay tuned to read about that!

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  10. This was a breath of fresh air! We are anxiously waiting for things to green up here in Minnesota…today’s rain should help. Your photography skills are awesome!

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  11. Loved this travel post! Spring is undoubtedly the best season to tour Charleston, and I’m going to research the links you provided and book a trip to Charleston very soon! Thank you for the inspiration and the tips!

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