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Carriage Rides in Charleston: 5 Tips Before Climbing Aboard

BY: Editors | Aug 31, 2018

Horse carriage with tourists headed down street

It's fitting that carriage rides in Charleston, South Carolina are so popular. The city was founded all the way back in 1670, making it one of the oldest cities in the United States, and home to some remarkably historic buildings, including mansions and churches dating back to the early 1700s.

After debuting in the 1970s, the carriage tour industry has only expanded, to the point that some residents don't find the constant clip-clop of hooves on asphalt so charming anymore. But for tourists, the rides are a must-do. Not only might you get to see sights like the Old Exchange and Provost (where the British held prisoners during the Revolutionary War) and Rainbow Row (a stretch of 13 colorful Georgian row houses on East Bay St.), but you get to do it while a beautiful draft horse leads the way.

Here's what you should know before you book:

Your route is determined by chance.

There can be up to 20 carriages on the streets of Charleston at any given time, so to avoid gridlock, the city has come up with an unusual way to regulate traffic: a lottery. Before each tour, the carriage company holds a drawing to randomly select one of four zones for the ride to cover. That means that you won't know where you're headed or what you'll see until it's time to hit the streets.

But most people say you can't go wrong.

Despite the random nature of the route selection, there isn't much risk involved. There's little consensus on which zone is the best draw, and all of them will provide you with views of the city's historic architecture and palmetto-lined streets. Still, if you have your heart set on seeing a specific section of the city, you may be better off booking a walking tour.

Go in the morning to beat the heat.

Charleston has a hot, humid climate, with an average high temperature in the high 80s during summer months. What we're saying is, you may not want to spend too much time outdoors in the heat of the afternoon. But there's actually another reason to book a morning ride: if temperatures reach 95, or if the heat index reaches 110, tours are suspended to protect the animals.

Carriage rides are often a second career for the horses.

Carolina Polo and Carriage Company states on its website that most of its horses started their lives on Amish farms, where they were trained to follow directions and obey their reigns. Other companies also claim that the carriage industry provides work for animals that might otherwise have trouble finding someone to care for them.

You may get to interact with the animals.

Palmetto Carriage Company hosts an open stable dubbed the Big Red Barn that visitors can walk before their tours. Inside they'll see about 35 mules and 20 horses, as well as goats and chickens. Meanwhile Old South Carriage Company hosts a 15-minute "Meet the Horses" tour inside its own stables before each ride. Some companies even let you pet the animals as part of the tour experience—though only under supervision.

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