Charleston is everything you imagine when you think of the Old South, complete with a historic district and cobblestone streets. The best things to do in Charleston will provide an elegant and historical vacation anyone would enjoy.
Charleston also has a great waterfront harbor where you can leisurely enjoy a meal or drinks. You can even take a dinner cruise or a ferry ride to experience some incredible sunsets. Historical sites, fine dining, and museums make Charleston a great city to visit for every age.
Ready to plan your Charleston getaway? For the best Charleston attractions, check out this complete guide.
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Best Things to Do in Charleston
When you see pictures of this beautiful and quaint city, you may have been thinking, “sign me up!” Here are some of the top spots in Charleston that you won’t want to miss!
Take a Walk Through the Historic District
Visiting the historic district in Charleston is one of the best ways to learn about the city and all it has to offer. Walking through the historic district, you can see what makes Charleston so unique. Rainbow Row should be your first stop. It’s an amazing street filled with colorful homes from the 18th century.
In the Charleston City Market, you can support the local economy and get some amazing souvenirs to take home. Pick up some interesting and unique homemade items like baskets and jewelry. You’ll also find more common souvenir items like magnets, coffee cups, and keychains.
Several times a day, you can participate in an African American heritage tour. You will learn about how Charleston was affected by the slave trade and how African American culture is at the very heart of Charleston.
Make sure you admire the several steeples and churches throughout the historic district. The churches also have amazing stained glass windows and beautiful artwork on the inside.
Charleston Museum is considered America’s first museum and was founded in 1773. The museum centers around the history of Charleston and the lower half of South Carolina. There are several exhibits in the museum, and they’re always worth visiting. Some are permanent and some revolve.
The Lowcountry History Gallery will give you an amazing experience walking through the Native American settlements of South Carolina and the agricultural revolution. They also have exhibits showcasing the Civil War and the American Revolution.
Drayton Hall Plantation
Drayton Hall is an 18th-century plantation and one of the top Charleston attractions. The house is full of original artifacts and items from the people who lived and worked at the plantation during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the people who were enslaved to work at Drayton Hall were undocumented Native Americans and Africans.
The archeologists on-site use these artifacts to piece together details on who may have lived at the plantation. Their goal is to identify every person who once lived there by piecing together what they can find to lead to their identities.
You can take self-guided tours of the plantation, as well as private tours and group tours. Make sure to buy your tickets online in advance as tickets often sell out.
Charleston has several different farmers’ markets throughout the city. Most of them are only open on Saturdays or Sundays. So, if you’re in Charleston for the weekend, you should definitely stop by one of the markets to get some locally-made goods.
Charleston Farmers Market is the main market in the city. They offer locally-made crafts, artwork, and baked goods. They’re located at 329 Meeting St, Charleston, SC, 29403. They open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sunday Brunch Farmers Market offers a great selection of fresh produce. All the growers are local. It’s a perfect place to visit if you want to stock up on some groceries for your hotel or Airbnb. It’s located at 1977 Maybank Hwy, Charleston, SC, 29412. They’re open every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lowcountry Farmers Market is owned by a local husband and wife. The vibe at Lowcountry is very casual with food trucks and live music! It also has what you’d expect to see at farmer’s markets like craft vendors, local produce, and fresh meat. It’s located at 879 Island Park Dr, Charleston, SC, 29492. They’re open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sumter National Monument
One of the top things to do in Charleston is to see the Sumter National Monument. It’s right at the entrance of Charleston Harbor. The national monument consists of 2 forts on a small beautiful island. You will get to take a short but stunning ferry ride to the island. Make sure to get your tickets in advance! The ferry departs from Liberty Square.
Each fort offers its own touring options where you can learn more about the history and how they were used in the American Revolution and the Civil War. There are also many trailways you can walk along to explore more of nature and take in the amazing views of the harbor.
The Fort Sumter National Monument ferry meeting point is located at 340 Concord Street, Charleston, SC, 29401. It’s open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $14 for kids.
See the USS Yorktown
In Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, you can see the huge USS Yorktown. It was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy. The USS Yorktown was used in almost every war between World War II and the Vietnam War.
It was also the ship that was able to recover the Apollo 8 capsule. Now, it’s an amazing museum and interactive experience. In the Engine Room Experience, use the kiosks to explore what it was like to be a technician controlling the ship.
There’s also an Apollo 8 capsule replica where you can take a ride simulation to see what it’s like to be in space. It’s a tad bit claustrophobic on the inside of the simulator, so you might want to avoid it if small spaces bother you.
Take a Hike
For some free things to do in Charleston, SC, take a hike in one of the many nature trails in and around Charleston. Most trails are free, though the trails in the area’s state parks may have a small fee.
West Ashley Greenway is the most popular hike. It’s not too elevated, so it’s good for all skill levels. Dogs are also welcome!
For a hike or nature walk with some scenery, check out the Audubon Swamp Garden. It goes through a plantation where you can see flowers blooming, wildlife all around, and many different species of birds.
For a hike that’s close to the beach, check out Sullivan’s Island Nature Trail. Most of the trail is paved, but some areas are gravel. The trail ends at the beautiful Charleston Bay, a wonderful reward for the exercise. This trail is also dog-friendly!
Go to a Southern Oyster Roast
Oyster season in Charleston runs from November through February. Although you can get oysters at Charleston restaurants any time of the year, you will have to visit in the winter if you want to go to a roast!
The most popular one is the Charleston Animal Society Chili Cook-Off & Oyster Roast and it’s usually in November. Eat all the oysters and chili you want. The best part is, all the money you spend goes straight to the Charleston Society Animal Medical Fund.
If you like Bloody Mary shots with your oysters, make sure to go to the Oysters on the Point Festival. It’s hosted on certain weekends December through March. They have live music, microbreweries, and a Bloody Mary bar you won’t want to miss.
For a full list of Oyster Roasts, check out the city’s website. Some of the roasts change location every year, so make sure to check the addresses for the roasts you want to attend. These are a fun local experience you won’t want to miss.
Spend the Day at the Charleston Tea Plantation
For one of the most unique activities in Charleston, SC, check out the Charleston Tea Garden. They have acres upon acres of tea plants. You can take a walking tour or a trolley tour through the tea gardens. The tea plantation is stunning, so make sure to bring your camera.
After the tour, you can sample the tea for free. Make sure to stop into the shop on your way out to buy some tea to take home. They also sell all different kinds of handcrafted souvenirs. The gardens are definitely a tea lover’s paradise.
How to Get to Charleston
Charleston has an airport (CHS) not far from downtown. It’s not very big, so it doesn’t serve many international airlines, but it’s still the best option if you’re flying. The airport is only a 17-minute drive to downtown Charleston.
It’s also very well connected to major interstates including I-95, I-20, and I-26. So, no matter from what direction or state you’re coming from, Charleston is extremely easy to get to.
How to Get Around Charleston
If you’re staying in downtown Charleston, you can get to almost every major tourist attraction on foot. Uber and Lyft are also popular ways to get to places. If you want to stay closer to the beach or the harbor, you might want to consider renting a car to get you into the city. The city doesn’t have an extensive bus or public transportation system.
When to Visit Charleston
For the best deals on lodging and amazing weather, visit Charleston from March through May or from September to November. The temperatures are really nice these times of the year. It’s warm enough to sit outside at the harbor and cool enough to walk through historic downtown without breaking a sweat.
Even though Charleston is a little further north, it’s still in the Deep South. Temperatures in the summer can get extremely hot and humid. Charleston is a popular summer vacation spot, so hotel prices also tend to soar in the summer months.
Where to Stay in Charleston
Budget: Best Western Charleston Inn has great standard rooms for solo travelers or suites for families or friends traveling together. All the rooms have fridges and microwaves. It’s close to downtown and has free breakfast.
Mid-range: Hotel Indigo Mount Pleasant is an artistic hotel with artwork on every wall. It’s also decorated very elegantly and modern. It is close to downtown and can get you to all major attractions in just a few minutes. They also have an on-site restaurant and a large outdoor pool.
Luxury: Hotel Emeline is an amazing boutique hotel with modern touches. There is a restaurant and coffee shop right inside the hotel. They also offer full suites with pull-out sofas and full kitchens if you are traveling with a large group. Make sure to check out the amazing fitness center and spa!
Where (and What!) to Eat in Charleston
High Charleston Cotton Restaurant has an elegant vibe with a great view of the harbor. They have an amazing dinner and brunch menu. Choose from the duck breast or the grilled shrimp. At brunch, you can pick the chicken & waffles or eggs benedict.
Lewis Barbecue is a great place to eat if you are looking for a traditional southern barbecue. All the recipes are family-made by the owner. Choose from classics like sausage or brisket. You can pair it with all different sides like cornbread or coleslaw.
The Ordinary is an old 1920s building with beautiful white tile and black accents. Most of the items on the menu are seafood including lobster rolls, fresh and grilled oysters, or crudo. They also have some of the best martinis and an extensive wine list.
The Best Things to do in Charleston are Waiting for You!
There are amazing things to do in Charleston no matter what time of year you visit. The amazing history and beautiful harbor make every corner of Charleston worth exploring. Charleston also has great nature and opportunities to explore the coast. It’s sure to draw you in with its southern charm for a getaway that you’ll never forget!
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