The Gateway Walk isn't one single place in Charleston. Instead, it's an informal trail through the graveyards and gardens of some of the most iconic places in the Holy City.
It feels, though, like a secret. Taking the Gateway Walk feels like you've stumbled upon the secret backyard of this beautiful city. It feels like you're seeing things that maybe you aren't supposed to see, though the trail is completely open and welcoming of the public. It's one of the most fun, unexpected and undiscovered ways to see some of the most famous places in Charleston.
The Garden Club of Charleston designed and created the Walk in 1930 and still maintains it to this day. It gets its name from the many wrought iron gates that visitors walk through in the route. The club has a map on its website that you can print out.
So how do you find this secret walk? Head to Archdale Street. The walk officially begins in the churchyard of St. John's Lutheran Church, and leads into the Unitarian churchyard right next door. If the churchyard at St. John's is locked, however, feel free to start right in the Unitarian churchyard.
You'll probably want to linger here. This Unitarian 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.
At the back corner of the yard, you'll see a gate leading to a long, narrow, fern-lined walkway. That walk will pop you right out onto the hubbub of King Street.
Cross King Street, and the trail continues on the right side of the Charleston Library Society's grand and impressive building, and to the green and shady garden behind it. Head through another iron gate, and you'll find yourself in a garden so different from the Unitarian that you almost can't believe it. It's the highly formal garden of the Gibbes Museum of Art. Sit for a minute at the little tables around the edges and admire the peaceful fountain and perfect symmetry.
Exit through the wrought iron gate at the front left corner of the garden, and cross Meeting Street to the churchyard of the Circular Congregational Church. As you walk down the brick paths of this ancient cemetery, take some time to read the names and descriptions of the people who lived and died in Charleston many years ago, and remember that this is sacred ground.
At the back of the church yard, you'll find yet another gate, this one leading to St. Philip's Graveyard. Walk in the direction of the big pink steeple. This is St Philip's Episcopal Church and the end of the walk. You'll now be on Church Street, just a few blocks from Market Street.
The hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston has been all around you this whole time, but you've been in another Charleston entirely.
Find a map of the Gateway Walk here.