Going to the Spoleto Festival? Here’s What to Expect

By:Shani Gilchrist


If you’re heading to Charleston, South Carolina, for the annual Spoleto Festival USA and not sure what to expect, don’t worry. Here’s how to navigate one of the country’s favorite cultural fortnights so that you’ll have next year’s trip booked before you check out of your hotel.

What to Expect When You Arrive:

Genuine smiles. If you’ve booked a hotel, such as the Charleston Place, Kings Courtyard Inn or the Andrew Pinckney Inn, it’s likely that the door will be cheerily held for you as you enter. This won’t just be because it’s part of someone’s job. That door is held because it’s what a person does when they are truly happy to see you and want you to be as happy and comfortable as possible. That’s the way South Carolinians tend to greet their guests, and they’re very happy to have you here.

A noticeable slackening of the neck and shoulder muscles. People often say, “Things move along at a slower pace in Charleston.” That’s not really true. The city is buzzing with financial, commercial and other professional activity every day. There’s nothing slow about that. The “slowness” that is detected is actually some sort of supernatural elixir that seems infused in the Lowcountry air.

It’s HOT! But here’s the thing: It’s not really that bad. You’ll be surrounded by art, music, crafts and excitement.

What to Wear:

Yes, the heat is overshadowed by all of the wonderful Spoleto things happening around you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress accordingly. There’s also a touch of formality that takes over the sartorial senses on the peninsula.


  • Flowy lets the air … flow. Maxi skirts and dresses. There’s a reason for the longevity of this trend. Put on a long, flowy dress and you’ll be able to spend the morning planning the day’s itinerary from a blanket on Marion Square, an afternoon play at Dock Street Theatre, an end-of-the-day glass of wine and one of the best cheeseburgers you’ve ever had at MacIntosh. Who knows? You might even wander into an impromptu cocktail party on your walk home.
  • Don’t forget your hat.
  • Cute — but flat — sandals. Not only are comfort and aesthetics key, but there’s no subtle embarrassment like the one that comes from tripping over a cobblestone in 4-inch heels. As these things tend to go, this almost always occurs in front of a crowd — or worse, in front of a horse-drawn carriage that is completely full of sightseers. Unless you plan on taking a pedicab to dinner, re-think the killer heels.

  • Men

  • A little seersucker never hurt anyone. Whether worn as pants, shorts, a jacket or a suit, seersucker hasn’t remained a Southern wardrobe staple just because of its good looks. The material is lightweight, travels well and can quickly turn from casual to dressed up.
  • And don’t forget your hat.

  • The Best Way to Get Around

    Here’s a tip: biking is better.No fumbling with keys, no circling for parking spaces — and best of all, you’ll get everywhere much faster than your friends with automobiles.

    If biking isn’t practical for you, the city has a large fleet of pedicabs, which is the next best thing. Or maybe the best, depending on how hot it is!

    Need Tickets?

    You’ve planned your arrival and wardrobe, but have you booked the most important tickets? The festival website does a great job of breaking down the events, explaining what to expect and showing you the possibilities. They also have a festival blog to keep you updated on the latest information.

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