The southeastern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia have much to offer. Savannah and Charleston are some of the most charming towns in the region with plenty of history, pretty scenery, and characteristic hospitality. In Charleston visitors can check out the restored colorfully painted colonial buildings of “Rainbow Row” and can visit Fort Sumter where the first shots of the American Civil War rang out in 1861. At the centuries old Charleston City Market Gullah women sell intricate woven baskets and local artisans display handmade art and crafts.
There are also more metropolitan cities such as Atlanta, as well as many sparsely populated rural towns scattered across the countryside of the region, where agricultural was once the predominant mainstay of the economy.
Rural, picturesque countryside characterizes much of the land. Notable scenic drives include the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Skyline Drive which passes through beautiful Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Hikers can navigate miles of rugged pathways along Appalachian Trail which passes 14 states including Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Those who enjoy fishing, camping, rafting, kite-surfing, and other outdoor activities will find plenty to dive into.
History buffs can immerse themselves in the extensive history of the region delving into subjects such as the Civil War, the founding of the nation, American slavery, and early colonialism. Reminders of the Civil War are evident in many places and the roots of American history are strong here. Several important universities are in the region, as well as many historic buildings, old plantations, museums, and monuments.
Scenic drives take travelers across mountains and meadows and through verdant forests, and in the fall the changing colors of the foliage is a sight to see. The vibe in most places is laid back, distinctly ‘southern,’ and the people are welcoming. The food is rich, representing a mix of cultural influences, and comforting, as anyone with roots in the region having left home will attest to, perhaps with a hint of longing in their eyes.
The people of the southeastern USA represent a mix of cultures. Urban areas are increasingly culturally diverse. Inhabited rural areas tend to be family centered, slow-paced, and sometimes fairly conservative.
Cities such as Charleston and Savannah are aesthetically beautiful examples of traditional southern architecture as well as fine examples of the characteristic culture of the region which can be identified in part as laid-back and charming.
Tempos tend to be slow paced outside of major metropolises. There are many prestigious universities in the area, with particular university towns having large student populations.
The original native inhabitants of the area include tribes of the Cherokee, Chesapeake, Creek peoples.
In the 17th century English colonists brought a plantation system to the area and eventually slaves were introduced via the transatlantic slave trade to provide labor on the plantations, which were based mostly on crops of tobacco and cotton.
During the transatlantic slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries many enslaved Africans arrived via ports of entry in the South Carolina Lowcountry, including Charleston and nearby Sullivan’s Island. Today several monuments and exhibits at Sullivan’s Island commemorate the enslaved people who arrived there under abhorrent conditions many years ago and educate visitors about the history of the place.
The Gullah people are descendants of Africans brought to the southeastern states beginning in the 17th century to work on plantations as slaves and rice cultivators. The plantation owners of the time had little knowledge about rice cultivation and thus these individuals, many from West African regions where rice was already a staple crop, had valuable knowledge. Eventually the plantation owners left the area either permanently or for long periods of the year, and the communities now referred to as the Gullah or Geechee people have managed to maintain a strongly intact culture throughout the centuries.
Today the Gullah people reside predominantly in South Carolina and Georgia. Their beautiful handwoven ‘sweetgrass’ baskets are sold from road-side stands in the Mount Pleasant vicinity as well as in markets in and around Charleston.
The Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is a designated heritage area that extends from southeastern North Carolina through South Carolina and Georgia to northeastern Florida along the Atlantic Coast.
Food of the region is rich and comforting. The importance of family is intertwined with local culinary customs. It is typical to share a large home cooked meal with friends and family.
Popular dishes and side dishes include collard greens, grits, biscuits, casseroles, macaroni and cheese, slow cooked BBQ (especially coveted in the Carolinas), and abundant seafood in coastal areas (especially crab, lobster, shrimp, and shellfish).
Homemade pies are delicious and often include seasonal fruit, sweet potatoes, or pecans saturated in a heavy buttery glaze. Georgia is famous for its peaches.
Sweet tea (sweetened iced tea) is a popular drink served up as a gesture of hospitality and to stave off the draining effects of a hot humid summer day.
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When To Go
Spring (May and June) is an excellent time to visit the southeast USA, when the weather is generally pleasant, nature is especially beautiful, and many festivals take place.
Summer is also pleasant though the heat and humidity can be oppressive in some places during July and August. Many people travel to the beach during these months so popular beaches may be a bit crowded in July and August. Late summer can bring tropical storms and the occasional hurricane. Hurricane season on the east coast runs from about June through the end of November.
Fall is a beautiful time to experience the autumn colors – red, brown, green, and golden hues representing the changing of the seasons in the countryside, mountains, and nature parks. It is possible to ski in some place in the winter.
Dress varies across the region, especially between urban and rural areas. Most locals tend to dress smart though not overly formal.
Events such as the annual Foxfield races in Virginia, polo matches, or Sunday church can be a good reason for women to dress up in their finest dresses and don lavish wide brimmed hats.
Clothing needs will vary according to the weather and the region. Winter brings some snowfall, especially in the mountains and foothills. In the summer the climate is typically hot and humid. Hurricanes, rain, and sudden storms can occur throughout the year.
It is easy enough to get around the main cities using public transportation or by walking, though the countryside is typically best seen by car. Some of the country’s most popular scenic drives are located in the area including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.
For the adventurous outdoor enthusiast it is possible to embark on a multi-day trek, camping along the way. Most roads are in good condition, and it is usually possible to travel by bus between main cities. International airports include Atlanta (Georgia) and Dulles (Virginia).
Travelers who plan to do any hiking or walking in forested areas should heed signs warning of ticks carrying Lyme disease, and should cover their extremities with long sleeves and pants while hiking to reduce the risk of getting bitten by an infected tick, which can spread disease.
Solo hikers should be aware of the risks of traveling by themselves on long journeys in the Appalachians for example, due to the remoteness of some areas, and it is generally not recommended.
Visitors should be prepared for high temperatures and high humidity in the summer, and should stay hydrated to avoid heat exhaustion. As in most large cities travelers should remain alert in busy metropolises and at transport hubs such as airports and bus and train stations.
Many locals are very friendly and will be happy to offer advice or assistance to travelers especially in some rural areas and in cities such as Charleston and Savannah. Drivers should be attentive during long journeys or road trips, and should take turns driving with fellow passengers to avoid growing weary on long roads which can in some cases be narrow, winding, and remote.
Most citizens of the UK, Canada, Australia, and many European countries can visit the US without a visa if staying for no more than 90 days and if visiting as a tourist. Entry regulations can change without notice, so it is best to check up to date policies before your trip. All visitors are required to present a valid passport upon entry into the country.
Top 5 Sites
1. Shenandoah National Park
2. Savannah, Georgia
3. Charleston, South Carolina
4. Outer Banks of North Carolina
5. The Blue Ridge Parkway (scenic roadway)
Top 5 Things To Do
1. Hike along the Appalachian Trail
2. See a Civil War battle reenactment at Stanardsville (Virginia)
3. Attend the Virginia State Fair
4. Stay in a traditional colonial home in Charleston, South Carolina
5. Attend Bridge Day at the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia, when BASE jumpers parachute from the bridge (America’s third tallest) into the gorge below
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