If you are staying and are here to see downtown Charleston then it's very easy to just walk to get around, but if you need to go a bit farther than you'd like to walk the buses are a good way to go. they look like trolley cars...very cute. Just look for a bus stop and pay when you get on. You can ask the driver how to get where you need to go.
Charleston International Airport is only a 20 minute ride up Route 26, 5500 International Blvd # 101, Charleston, SC. The airport is very easy to find and easy to get to, except during peak traffic times which moves at a snails pace! They have 164 flights daily according to their site.
This is a big town so while walking take take you around the corner or a few good blocks, Terry and I love to take a bikes with us. We find we get a lot more area covered and if we just walked around which tends to wear us out. There is an awful lot to cover here so you may want to think about bring you own bike or rent some for the day, I did see a few bike rental companies in Sullivan's Island, Folly Beach and Charleston.
This is the sign for the short term parking lot right next to the visitor's center (No RVs) The first half hour is free, so you could nip into the visitor's center and use the bathrooms or pick up brochures or maps and not have to pay anything. The second half hour is 75 cents, and each hour after that is $1 with a maximum of $12.
We are often in Charleston Harbor by boat. It is very interesting and a different perspective to see the city from the water. This boat is one that tours the harbor. However, IMHO, the boat to Fort Sumter would be a better one to take. In addition to seeing the city from the water, you also get to visit an important National Monument.
This is what they say on their website:
" Charleston Harbor Tours is the longest running harbor tour company in Charleston, serving her guests since 1908. The Harbor of History Tour lasts 90 minutes and is non-stop, fascinating, live-narrated, featuring 75 points of interest spanning almost 20 miles, Considered by many to be the most popular attraction in Charleston. Once aboard, you will experience Charleston from a different view point. Every fort in Charleston's harbor is included on this trip; Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, and Fort Johnson, See the Battery and the architectural make-up of the Holy City. Boat tour leaves conveniently from the Charleston Maritime Center (1/2 block south of the Aquarium) daily at 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 3:30 PM. Snack Shop features sandwiches,beverages and other snack bar items available for purchase"
Children under 4 free with purchase of an adult ticket.
Parking is Charleston is terrible. If you're staying at a hotel, leave your car there. If must drive, valet your car. If your lucky enough to find a meter spot, leave your car there, just remember where you parked it. You can leave your car over night at SOME meter spots, not all. Pay attention to the signs or your car will be towed. Parking at meters is free after six everyday, and free all day Sunday.
As I mentioned, Charleston is relatively small. I would just walk everywhere. But, if you must take transportation, use a pedicab or rickshaw. They'll get to you within five minutes(cabs take forever). It's a fun way to get around Charleston. Most of pedicab/rickshaw drivers are college students...i.e. they are really nice.
Charleston has no train system, and the bus system is on the verge of being non-existant. Besides, the buses are dirty.
Take a cab as your last option.
Charleston is served by many air carriers.
The Historic district can be taken in by foot or by the narrated trolley rides that are available. Boats ply the Cooper River. For greater distances, a car or taxi is needed.
Your personal auto is the best way to come to Charleston because air fares are so high. About 85% of tourists arrive by vehicle.
If you are going to concentrate your day in the Historic Downtown District, I used to recommend parking your car at the Visitor's Center garage on Meeting Street between Ann and Mary Streets. (The parking lot infront of the Visitors Center is FREE for the first 1/2 hour.)
However I no longer recommend relying on the DASH bus for transportation. They, early in 2004, cut all the downtown routes but one because of a critical budget crunch. CARTA is using political blackmail against the citizens who defeated a 1/2 percent sales tax to fund the mis-managed bus service.
Parking is going to be hard to find with everyone now driving downtown without bus service. There are lots of parking garages and parking lots scattered throughout downtown. On street parking will be very difficult to find. Continually feeding meters will get you a ticket if you don't move to another spot.
Charleston has a very large force of parking meter ticket writers. They seem to patrol their assigned streets in about 30 minutes and return. Feed the meter or you WILL get a $6 parking ticket. DO NOT park in commercial loading zones. That will be a $20 ticket unless you have commercial plates. Even then you get ticketed for more than 30 minutes in that zone. Residential Neighborhood parking is very time limited without a permit. Read the signs. That is a $15 ticket. And they do boot vehicles that have unpaid tickets.
Driving in Charleston can be a HUGE pain in the ass. Too many of the streets are one-way, so it can be very hard to take a direct route to where you need to go. And God help you if you take a wrong turn.
Also, the streets are narrow, bumpy (even the ones that aren't cobblestone, which are REALLY bumpy), lined with parked cars, and prone to flooding.
And despite the construction of many new garages recently, there still isn't enough parking.
See the city by foot if at all possible. That way you can annoy the people in the cars by crossing streets slowly and in the wrong places--something a lof of the tourists seem to do.