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Doing the Charleston

May 11, 1998
Web posted at: 3:24 p.m. EST (2024 GMT)

Photographs and story by CNN Interactive TravelGuide Editor Laurel Shannon

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- It may not seem so from the outset, but Charleston is a big city. Certainly not by the obvious measures -- neatly squeezed onto a low-lying peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, hardly a building rises more than four stories, and historic church spires punctuate the city skyline.

But there along the palmetto-lined streets of pastel and whitewashed houses, in the relentless humidity of the South Carolina low country, the essence of Charleston is palpable. First settled by Europeans in the late 17th century, Charleston was by 1742 the fourth largest city in the Colonies, in league with New York, Philadelphia and Boston. It was wealthy too, thriving on sea trade and agriculture.

Charleston's heritage -- pedigree even -- shows not just in a range of historic architecture, but in the very attitude of its people. It is a proud city, full of its own traditions and quirks and, in a quintessentially Southern way, tremendously welcoming.

Its presence, distinctive personality and influential history put Charleston on par with many cities much larger. And once a year, this enclave actually trumps many a metropolis -- with the huge cultural festival, Spoleto (from May 22-June 7 in 1998). The event features theater, classical music, jazz, dance and literature by world-class performers, some debuting their latest works right here.

Whether navigating cobblestone alleys or a rich schedule of entertainment, you can always find something more in Charleston. But the city is small enough to make a perfect weekend trip -- and not just during Spoleto. Here are some quick picks to get you started exploring.

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