15 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is a port city appreciated for its gorgeous historic district, pastel antebellum houses, and elegant plantations. The city was founded in 1670 and is known for its historical significance. Charleston played a major role in the slave trade and slaves were held on numerous plantations that can still be visited today. The harbor was a major target during the Golden Age of Piracy. The first shots of the Civil War rang out from Fort Sumter. The rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and hospitable people make Charleston a top tourist destination.

 

 

Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row is one of the most photographed places in the historic district of charleston. These iconic colorful homes are the perfect spot to take a great Insta-worthy photo. Rainbow Row is comprised of 13 brightly-colored houses along East Bay Street on the Charleston Harbor. In the 1700s, these homes were shops and businesses. In 1930, the residents decided to uplift the area by painting the homes bright pastel colors. Rainbow Road is unique to Charleston and continues to attract visitors from around the world.

 

Kings Street

Kings Street is the main shopping corridor in downtown Charleston. It is divided into three main districts: Upper King, Middle King, and Lower King. Upper King is known as the interior design district and it is becoming one of the biggest culinary destinations in the city. Middle King is the fashion district and it is ranked as one of the Top 10 Shopping Districts in the USA. Lower King is the antique district and was voted as the Best Antique Shopping in the USA. No matter what you are looking for, Kings Street is sure to have it all!

 

White Point Garden

The White Point Garden is one of the must-see places to visit in Charleston. It is a waterfront park bordered by the Ashely and Cooper Rivers. The park has numerous monuments, a gazebo, and old cannons dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It also is the spot where dozens of pirates were hung and left dangling to deter other pirates from entering Charleston Harbor. Check out the beautiful antebellum mansions and massive oak trees that surround the park.

 

Historic Charleston City Market

This is one of the most visited places in Charleston. This historic market was where slaves bought things like meat, vegetables, and seafood for the plantation. Today, you can buy souvenirs, crafts, woven baskets, jewelry, clothing, sweets, artwork, and more. Numerous amazing restaurants around the City Market deserve a visit.

 

Stroll Along the Battery

The Battery is a seawall and promenade that stretches along the shore of the Charleston peninsula. It is bordered by historic antebellum mansions on one side and the Ashley and Cooper Rivers on the other side. Walking along The Battery will afford amazing views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, the USS Yorktown, Fort Moultrie, and Sullivan’s Island lighthouse.

 

Waterfront Park

The Waterfront Park is located just a few blocks from the Charleston City Market and has fantastic views of the Cooper River Bridge and the Charleston harbor. The famous Pineapple Fountain is located here along with family-sized swings where you can enjoy watching the ships in the harbor. The park is fun to explore during the day, but the views at night are also fantastic. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is lit up and the nighttime breeze makes this park so refreshing.

 

 

Take a Culinary Tour

There are so many good options for food in Charleston, it is really hard to narrow it down! A culinary tour is a great way to try a few bites from several places and learn about Charleston’s history at the same time. Charleston Culinary Tours is consistently ranked as the best food tour in Charleston. They have a wide variety of food tours to suit your style, like an upscale experience, a farm-to-table experience, a sustainable seafood tour, a mixology tour, a brewery tour, and so much more. These tours are designed to showcase Charleston’s history and culture while highlighting the local cuisine. You will want to reserve a culinary tour in advance as they are quite popular and will sell out!

 

See the Wild Side of Folly Beach

Folly Beach is a hotspot for surfers and the bohemian crowd. The colorful main street is lined with surf shops, quirky souvenir stores, and great restaurants. But nestled behind Folly Beach, you will find calm saltwater creeks where you can see a variety of wildlife including dolphins, osprey, wading birds, and sea turtles. Go off the beaten path to explore the hidden gems of Folly Beach like the marshes, creeks, tidal flats, and barrier islands. You can explore this coastal ecosystem on a motorboat tour, on a relaxing fishing trip, or on a kayak/paddleboarding trip. Discover these beautiful saltwater estuaries with an experienced guide so that you can learn about the local ecosystems, wildlife, and flora. Check out the many tours offered by Charleston Outdoor Adventures. Their guides are passionate naturalists that love to show guests the wild side of Charleston.

 

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens is located about 30 minutes from downtown charleston in Moncks Corner. Visitors can enjoy paddling a swamp boat through the gorgeous reserve, explore the 3.5 miles of walking trails that loop through the swamp and the gardens, visit the Butterfly House, or tour the Swamparium (like an aquarium but with fish, amphibians, and reptiles native to the area). This lovely area was used in several movies including scenes from The Notebook, Cold Mountain, and The Patriot.

 

Angel Oak Park

Angel Oak Park is located on John’s Island about 12 miles from downtown Charleston. The 20-minute drive is well worth it to see the massive, 400-year-old, Angel Oak Tree. The vast limbs of this tree produce shade that covers about 17,000 square feet. The pictures don’t do it justice! This tree is a beautiful spot for pictures or enjoying a picnic.

 

USS Yorktown

This is a retired naval aircraft that is now a floating museum at Patriot’s Point. The boat is so massive, that even though only a portion is open for viewing, you can still wander around the ship for hours. On the flight deck, you can see different aircraft that have been used in times past. Also, there is a great view of Charleston Harbor from the flight deck.

 

 

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter is brimming with so much historical significance. On April 12, 1861, the first shots were fired from Fort Sumter, which began the American Civil War.  You can still see mortar shells embedded in the brick walls of the fort. Fort Sumter is a fascinating site to visit and is only accessible by taking a 30-minute ferry ride through the Charleston Harbor.

 

Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation is one of America’s oldest working and living plantations, dating from 1681.  They have been continuously producing crops on this plantation for over three centuries. The long oak-lined entry (Avenue of Oaks) is one of the most picturesque spots in Charleston. You can visit the original slave cabins with artifacts and audio exhibits that help depict the daily life of slaves on the plantation. You can also take a 40-minute open-air coach ride around the property and then a self-guided tour of the beautiful rose gardens. You might recognize Boone Hall Plantation from several scenes in The Notebook. The Boone Hall mansion was Ally’s summer home and the Avenue of Oaks was where the couple biked together.

 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia was founded in 1676 and is the oldest public gardens in America. The current plantation home was built in 1873 after two former homes were destroyed by fire during a raid on Union troops. This plantation has remained in the same family for three centuries. There is so much to do around the plantation and gardens, you will want to plan about 4-5 hours to do everything. Visit the plantation house, historic gardens, petting zoo, conservatory, and theater. Take a ride on the nature tram and nature boat. Experience the Slavery to Freedom tour and a self-guided tour through the Audubon Swamp Garden. The Peacock Café located on the grounds is a great spot to grab some lunch.

 

Drayton Hall

Nearby the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the historic Drayton Hall. This home is one of the only pre-Revolutionary houses that remains in near original condition. When you visit Drayton Hall, you will learn about the seven generations of the Bowen family that were brought to Drayton Hall as slaves. There is a galley that displays archaeological artifacts from the estate and its inhabitants. You can also visit one of the oldest African American cemeteries still in use. The earliest surviving record describes this “burying ground” around 1790.

 

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