Things to do in Charleston

About Charleston

Charleston is renowned for its historical attractions, including Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, the picturesque Battery promenade with its backdrop of historic homes, and the bustling Charleston City Market. Other must-sees are the grandeur of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and the solemnity of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Top activities for children include discovering marine life at the South Carolina Aquarium, playing at the interactive exhibits in the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, and experiencing naval history firsthand aboard the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.
Outdoor enthusiasts can stroll or bike across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge for spectacular views, enjoy the beaches at Sullivan's Island, take historic walking tours of downtown, or relax in the serene Waterfront Park. Eco-tourism also thrives with kayaking and paddle boarding in Charleston's coastal waters.
For indoor pursuits, explore the rich collections of the Charleston Museum, appreciate the art at Gibbes Museum of Art, and be intrigued by the Old Slave Mart Museum. You can also tour the many historic houses and take in a performance at the Dock Street Theatre.
The best Charleston tours range from historic walking tours and carriage rides through the city's cobblestone streets to boat tours of the harbor, as well as culinary tours that sample the city's signature dishes and flavors.
The most frequented museums are the Charleston Museum, widely considered America's first museum, the thought-provoking Old Slave Mart Museum, and the interactive Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum with its famed aircraft carrier.
On rainy days, indoor tours like the spooky Charleston Jail Tour, historic home tours, and museum explorations are both informative and dry. The Aiken-Rhett House and Edmondston-Alston House are local favorites.
Short but insightful tours include traditional carriage tours around the city, a quick visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation for a factory tour, or a self-guided tour of the historically rich French Quarter.

Best Things to Do In Charleston

Step into the heart of Southern charm and explore Charleston's historic wonders with our engaging audio tours.

Charleston: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

What is it?
An iconic Charleston plantation known for its stunning gardens and rich history.
Why you should go?
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens brings to life centuries of history in an expanse of floral splendor. Founded in 1676, this family-owned gem allows visitors to wander through lush gardens and witness the diverse plant life that blooms year-round. The plantation offers a glimpse into antebellum life with an impressive house museum and a nature tram tour that showcases the plantation's wetlands, lakes, forests, and marshes. Couples, history buffs, and nature enthusiasts alike will find something to adore in this serene Lowcountry escape.

Charleston: Old Slave Mart Museum

What is it?
A historical museum located in the heart of Charleston, offering a somber look into America's past.
Why you should go?
The Old Slave Mart Museum stands as a poignant testament to Charleston's complex history. Once part of a slave auction complex, the museum now serves as an educational center detailing the stories and impact of the slave trade in Charleston and beyond. Through artifacts, personal narratives, and displays, visitors confront the cruelties of the past while honoring the resilience of the enslaved people who contributed so much to the region. It’s a must-visit for those committed to understanding the full scope of American history.

Charleston: The Gibbes Museum of Art

What is it?
A premier showcase of American art with a focus on the South's rich artistic legacy.
Why you should go?
The Gibbes Museum of Art, located in Charleston's Historic District, captures the visual beauty and narrative of the South through an impressive collection. The museum provides both classical and contemporary perspectives, featuring permanent and visiting exhibitions that change seasonally. The engagement with regional artists’ work allows visitors to appreciate the art inspired by and created in the area. A visit to the Gibbes Museum of Art is an enriching Charleston activity for those who seek to connect with art and history simultaneously.

Charleston: Nathaniel Russell House

What is it?
A fine example of neoclassical architecture and restoration, offering insight into 19th-century Charleston life.
Why you should go?
Step into the opulent world of the early 1800s at the Nathaniel Russell House. With its ornate interior, grand staircase, and antique furnishings, visitors gain an immersive view of the prestige and customs of the period. This historic home, which is among the best things to do in Charleston, appeals not just to history enthusiasts but also to those who appreciate art and architecture. The house operates as a museum, meticulously restored to its former glory and allowing a glimpse into Charleston's high society.

Charleston: The Section of the Palmetto Trail

What is it?
A scenic section of the statewide Palmetto Trail offering outdoor recreation and stunning views.
Why you should go?
Outdoor enthusiasts can breathe in the natural beauty of Charleston by trekking a portion of the Palmetto Trail. This trail provides a peaceful escape from the urban buzz and intertwines with the low-country landscape, showcasing marshes, forests, and wildlife. With well-marked paths suitable for hiking, biking, and bird-watching, it’s a prime choice for visitors seeking to connect with Charleston's natural environment. This section of the trail underscores the diverse range of activities the city offers beyond its historic urban core.

Charleston: The Battery

What is it?
A scenic promenade known for its stunning antebellum homes and waterfront views.
Why you should go?
A stroll along The Battery is essential for catching the enchanting spirit of Charleston. This waterfront walk offers panoramic views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, flanked by grand Southern mansions with history etched in their facades. The adjacent White Point Garden, with its display of historical armaments and memorials, provides a serene setting for a leisurely picnic or simply watching the sailboats drift by. It's a true embodiment of Charleston's elegance and an ideal starting point to understand the city’s past and present.

Charleston: Charleston City Market

What is it?
A historic market complex offering a variety of artisan crafts, local produce, and souvenirs.
Why you should go?
Immerse yourself in local culture at the Charleston City Market, a bustling bazaar since the 1800s. Vendors line the open-air sheds offering everything from handcrafted jewelry to the iconic sweetgrass baskets, a timeless craft of the Gullah Geechee people. The market’s vibrant atmosphere is palpable, with the hum of conversation, the allure of sweetgrass, and the promise of finding a unique memento or gift. As a center of Charleston community life, the market is a must-visit for anyone looking to take a piece of the city's soul home with them.

Charleston: King Street Shopping District

What is it?
An iconic shopping destination blending old-world charm with contemporary boutiques and eateries.
Why you should go?
King Street is a haven for shoppers and foodies, offering blocks of high-end boutiques, antique shops, and local designer stores nestled among some of the city's finest dining establishments. This bustling thoroughfare is the perfect blend of Charleston's rich history and modern sophistication. Whether it's for fashion, handmade goods, or just window shopping coupled with delectable Southern cuisine, King Street's dynamic and stylish vibe resonates with visitors looking for the best Charleston experiences.

Charleston: Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

What is it?
A modern cable-stayed bridge providing picturesque views of the Charleston skyline and harbor.
Why you should go?
Connecting downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is an architectural marvel and popular spot for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Walking the full expanse of the bridge offers an invigorating exercise opportunity with the reward of breathtaking vistas at the summit. It's a prime location for photographers and sightseers to capture the essence of Charleston's coastal beauty. A visit here is an essential experience for those who appreciate contemporary engineering framed by natural splendor.

Charleston: Angel Oak Park

What is it?
An enchanting park home to the Angel Oak Tree, an ancient southern live oak believed to be over 400 years old.
Why you should go?
Angel Oak Park is a sanctuary that invites visitors to witness the grandeur of one of Charleston's oldest living residents. The Angel Oak Tree extends its gnarled limbs outward in a majestic display of nature's endurance. This tranquil park is a favorite among locals and tourists for its picnic spots under the shade of the oak's vast canopy. For a moment of respite and awe, Angel Oak provides a serene and visually stunning backdrop unique to the Lowcountry.

TOP-5 Tours in Charleston for First Time Visitors

  • Explore the essence of Charleston on the "Historic Downtown" audio tour, highlighting iconic landmarks and cobblestone streets steeped in history.
  • Discover the "Ghosts of Charleston" through eerie tales and legends that envelop the city’s oldest neighborhoods after dark.
  • The "Cultural Charleston" tour celebrates the artistic and architectural grandeur that has shaped the city’s vibrant character.
  • Delight in the "Culinary Charms of Charleston" tour, which offers an oral history of local cuisine and guides you to renowned gastronomic spots.
  • "Seaside Stories & Harbor History" captures the allure of Charleston's waterways, featuring tales of maritime legacy and seafaring adventures.

Fun Things to Do in Charleston with Kids

Charleston is brimming with activities perfectly suited for families looking to blend education with amusement. The South Carolina Aquarium stands out as a watery wonderland, teeming with marine life from sharks to playful river otters, and a hands-on touch tank. It's a magical underwater experience that educates as much as it entertains. Next up, bring history to life with a visit to the decommissioned USS Yorktown at Patriots Point. Kids can explore the massive aircraft carrier, learn about naval history, and even sit in the cockpit of a fighter jet. For an outdoor adventure, the splash pads and large grassy areas of Waterfront Park provide the perfect setting for kids to run free and cool off on a hot Charleston day. Each location offers an opportunity for kids and parents to create cherished memories while discovering the rich tapestry of waterfront, history, and wildlife that defines Charleston.

Things to Do in Charleston with Family

Families venturing to Charleston will encounter a myriad of activities that fuse fun with the city's distinct Southern culture and heritage. Step back in time at Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, where the Avenue of Oaks, historic buildings, and live presentations paint a comprehensive picture of 19th-century plantation life. Boone Hall offers a blend of education and elegance with something to captivate every family member. For those looking to interact with local wildlife, the Charleston Animal Society provides an afternoon of cuddles and kindness, allowing visitors to meet and even adopt animals in need. Round out your family trip with a picnic at James Island County Park, where sprawling green spaces, playgrounds, and walking trails await. Your family can soak in the picturesque Lowcountry landscape while enjoying outdoor recreation. These attractions highlight the diverse array of things to do in Charleston, creating experiences that are as enriching as they are delightful.

Free Things to Do in Charleston

Charleston, a city rich in culture and history, offers a treasure trove of attractions that won't cost a dime. Take a leisurely stroll through the historic Charleston City Market, which, in addition to being a marketplace, often hosts free cultural performances and events, providing a lively, cost-free experience for visitors. Another notable option is wandering down to Waterfront Park. This picturesque area, with its iconic Pineapple Fountain and expansive views of the Cooper River, is the ideal spot for a family photo or a serene waterside walk. For a dose of history, make your way to The Battery, a landmark defensive seawall and promenade. Here, you can explore the antebellum mansions, cannons, and statues that offer a glimpse into the past of this charming city. These locations are perfect examples of how to enjoy the best things to do in Charleston without spending a single penny, ensuring your visit is both memorable and affordable.

Cheap Things to Do in Charleston

Charleston entices visitors with a selection of pocket-friendly attractions that blend history and fun. A visit to the Charleston Tea Garden allows for a stroll through America's only tea garden with free admission and affordable tasting sessions of their classic brews. Engage with the history by taking a self-guided walking tour of Charleston's Historic District, where you can admire colonial architecture, lush gardens, and the city's famed Rainbow Row. A small investment in a downloadable audio guide enriches this experience. Another affordable option is the Angel Oak Park, where you can gaze upon the majestic Angel Oak Tree. This ancient, sprawling live oak—with no entrance fee—is a spectacular natural highlight and a favorite among visitors for its grandeur and picnic-friendly surroundings. These thrifty activities showcase the variety of Charleston experiences available that are as kind to your itinerary as they are to your wallet.

Things to Do in Charleston for Couples

Couples can find a trove of romantic activities in Charleston, a city that exudes charm and history. Start with a leisurely carriage ride through the cobblestone streets, where you can snuggle under a blanket and learn about the city’s past. It's a quaint way to see Charleston's historic homes and picturesque gardens. For a memorable evening, take a sunset cruise in Charleston Harbor. The serene waters and sky painted with hues of pink and orange provide an idyllic setting for romance. Complete your visit with a walk through the grounds of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, where you can discover secret gardens, blooming flowers, and historic sites. The serene setting is perfect for quiet reflection with your loved one. Each of these experiences offers couples a unique way to connect and experience Charleston's enchanting atmosphere.

Things to Do in Charleston at Night

Charleston's evenings are just as lively as its daylight hours, offering an array of nocturnal activities. A favorite among night owls is taking a ghost tour through the city's historic and haunted streets, uncovering tales of yore, spirits, and folklore, which gives a thrilling glimpse into the more mysterious side of Charleston. For those with a love for the arts, attending a performance at the Dock Street Theatre provides a chance to soak in local culture and enjoy live entertainment ranging from plays to musical performances in a deeply historical setting. Lastly, no evening is complete without experiencing Charleston's burgeoning culinary scene. Indulge in local gastro delights at a rooftop bar or a cozy, Southern-inspired eatery — the perfect way to cap off a night in this culturally rich city. Each of these experiences provides an unforgettable taste of Charleston after dark.