Charleston, South Carolina, is a city brimming with Southern hospitality, culture, history, and natural beauty.
Known for its picturesque cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, and vibrant waterfront, this is a destination that delights visitors from all walks of life.
Experience this historic city by visiting well-preserved landmarks like the Fort Sumter National Monument, and Morris Island, which played an important role during the American Civil War.
Beyond century-old historic sites, you’ll find plenty of family-friendly tourist attractions in Charleston. Take the kids to see fascinating marine creatures at the South Carolina Aquarium, and to explore the city’s lush parks and gardens, such as the Magnolia Plantation.
With a history dating back hundreds of years, Charleston is also known for having several haunted sites. For the braves at heart who want some adrenaline, there are several ghost walking tours around the city.
Whether you’re interested in history, adventure, or simply relaxing in a beautiful setting, Charleston is a city that should be on every traveler’s list.
Here’s a list of the 17 best things to do in Charleston, SC. Have a look!
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The 17 Best Things to Do in Charleston, SC
Meet Marine Creatures In The South Carolina Aquarium
Located waterfront in the beautiful Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium allows visitors to see more than 5,000 animals.
Atlantic spadefish, barracudas, octopuses, rays, eels, sharks, and otters are some of the creatures you’ll see here.
Aside from marine life, the South Carolina Aquarium is home to eagles, owls, alligators, and snakes.
The aquarium also has a Sea Turtle Care Center, which aids sick or injured turtles.
Address: 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC
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Explore The Charleston City Market
The City Market is a stunning and history-filled market complex located in downtown Charleston.
Founded in the 1790s and regarded as the heart of the city, the market used to be a meeting place for local farms and plantations to produce, as well as a spot for locals to gather and socialize.
While the market encompasses a series of one-story sheds, its centerpiece is the enclosed Great Hall, where you’ll find a plethora of vendors of food, art & crafts like sweetgrass baskets.
Address: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC
See The Colorful Houses Of The Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is, unarguably, the most photographed place in Charleston. Located on East Bay Street, the row is a line of 13 historic homes painted in various pastel colors to match a Caribbean color scheme.
Aside from being an Insta-worthy location, Rainbow Row holds an important place in Charleston’s history. These houses back in the mid-1700s, these structures were used by local merchants who would run their businesses on the ground floor and live on the top floor.
After the Civil War, this area was dilapidated and considered a slum. Later on, in 1931 Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband Judge Lionel Legge purchased the section of houses on East Bay Street and decided to revitalize the area
Dorothy Porcher Legge started to paint the homes on this row a pretty shade of pastel pink, and as time went on, other residents on the street began to paint their homes various pastel colors.
Address: 83-107 E Bay St, Charleston, SC
Discover Charleston’s Museums
Charleston has a rich collection of museums catering to every interest and curiosity.
Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum is home to dazzling exhibits — from natural history to armory and photography — that depict the history of South Carolina Lowcountry.
The Old Slave Mart Museum, housed in a portion of the city’s last major slave market, is the first African-American slave museum.
In the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, you’ll get the chance to see a USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, a destroyer, and a submarine, along with other educational exhibits.
Beautifully set within a Beaux-Arts building, in Downtown Charleston, Gibbes Museum of Art is home to a spectacular collection of modern and contemporary artworks. These pieces were created over the past 40 years by artists who are native to the area, or who have worked here, and reflect the rich and varied heritage of the South Carolina Lowcountry region.
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Go On A Scenic Boat Tour Of Charleston Harbor
Boat tours are one of the most exciting ways of experiencing the beauty of Charleston. While cruising on the scenic waters of the Charleston Harbor, you’ll have the chance to learn more about the city’s maritime history, and even spot some dolphins!
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Take a Scenic Walk In The Riley Waterfront Park
Riley Waterfront Park offers a glorious setting for a leisurely stroll in Charleston. This 8-acre park has scenic walking paths lined with towering palmetto trees and offers stunning water views over the Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River.
There are several benches dotting the park, both along the river and in the green spaces just offshore, providing the perfect place for some well-deserved relaxation.
Address: Vendue Range, Concord St, Charleston, SC
Go Shopping On King Street
King Street is the heart and soul of Charleston and a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the city.
Located in the city center, this vibrant street is lined with charming boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, making it the perfect place to spend a day shopping, dining, and soaking up the city’s unique atmosphere.
Here you’ll find an array of plus boutiques, making it a prime destination for high-end and luxury shopping.
The street has a rich history of more than 300 years. In addition to shopping and dining, visitors can also admire the stunning architecture of the historic buildings that line the street, many of which date back to the 19th century.
Learn About The American Civil War At The Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter National Monument is a must-visit destination for history buffs and anyone looking to learn more about the American Civil War.
Located in Charleston Harbor, the fort was built in the 1820s to defend the city from naval invasion. In 1861, it became the site of the first shots of the Civil War, and today, the fort is a national monument and museum.
The museum has a variety of exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the fort’s role in the Civil War.
Visitors can also take a guided tour of the fort’s ruins and learn about its unique architecture and design.
Address: Visitors travel to Fort Sumter, located at the entrance of Charleston Harbor, on ferries operated by Fort Sumter Tours.
The ferries leave from two locations: Fort Sumter Visitor Center in downtown Charleston and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant.
Tour The Lush Charleston Tea Plantation
Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea garden in North America where you can see thousands of tea bushes grown over 100 acres.
Located on picturesque Wadmalaw Island, just a few miles south of Charleston, the plantation can be explored through a 45-minute trolley tour.
While winding through the lush green bushes, you’ll learn more about tea production from both the trolley guide as well as the plantation’s founder, Bill Hall.
You’ll also be able to tour the tea factory and see all the equipment it takes to make tea.
Address: 6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island
See The Famous Morris Island Lighthouse
Morris Island 840-acre uninhabited island that is part of the cities of Charleston and Folly Beach. Accessible only by boat, the island was used as a strategic location during the American Civil War, being the site of a major battle between Union and Confederate forces in 1863.
Today, visitors can explore the island’s historic landmarks, including the iconic Morris Island Light, the tallest lighthouse in South Carolina.
Morris Island is also known for its beautiful beaches and stunning natural scenery. Visitors can take a stroll along the shore, collect seashells, or simply relax and soak up the sun.
The island is also home to a variety of bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers.
Explore The Colorful Charleston Farmers Market
Held every Saturday in Marion Square since 1989, this vibrant outdoor market hosts local vendors selling food, crafts, and local produce.
While meandering through the market’s vibrant stalls, you’ll see everything from locally sourced vegetables and fruits, fresh flowers, artisanal pasta, and organic honey.
Charleston Farmers Market also harbors an array of food trucks selling all sorts of delicious treats, from cakes to sandwiches and delicate crepes.
Visit The Nathaniel Russell House
The Nathaniel Russell House is one of Charleston’s most iconic sites. Built-in 1808 by wealthy merchant and slave trader Nathaniel Russell, it is recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical houses.
This early 19th-century house, now a National Historic Landmark and museum, has been artfully restored to its 1808 appearance.
Visitors can tour the Nathaniel Russell House and marvel at its grand entrance, soaring columns, intricate decorative details, and the three-story, cantilevered, flying staircase.
The house is also home to a variety of fascinating exhibits that showcase life in Charleston during the early 19th century, including the role of slavery in the city’s economy and culture.
Address: 51 Meeting St, Charleston, SC
Go For A Stroll In The Battery and White Point Gardens
White Point Garden is a 5.7-acre public park located in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. The park was first used as a public garden in 1837, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, it became a fortification for the city.
The gardens are filled with beautiful live oaks and other trees, and provide amazing views of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers empty into the Atlantic Ocean.
Here, visitors also find an impressive display of historic mortars and cannons from the Civil War used to defend the city.
Address: 2 Murray Blvd, Charleston
Marvel At The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a historic house with gardens and one of the oldest plantations in the South.
The gardens date back to the 1840s when Rev. John Grimké Drayton, the owner of the estate, planted the elaborate romantic gardens to cheer up his wife who had just moved to Charleston from Philadelphia.
Following the Civil War, the Rev. Drayton believed the best way to preserve the gardens at Magnolia was to open the space to the public.
Today 25 acres of the Magnolia property are devoted to the gardens, which are dotted with azaleas, camellias, bald cypress trees, and plants mentioned in the Bible.
A must-see is the Audubon Swamp Garden a 60-acre blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp that was once a reservoir for the plantation’s rice cultivation. Expect to see herons, ibis, turtles, otters, alligators, and other wildlife.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the plantation house, which is filled with antiques and artifacts that tell the story of the plantation’s history and the people who lived and worked there.
Address: Charleston, SC 29414
See The Majestic Angel Oak on Johns Island
Angel Oak is truly a sight to behold. Located on Johns Island, just 11 miles from downtown Charleston, this legendary tree is said to be the largest live oak east of the Mississippi River.
Regarded as a “Lowcountry Treasure”, this gorgeous tree receives approximately 400,000 visitors each year thanks to its commanding presence and staggering beauty.
Angel Oak is 65 feet high, with a circumference of 25.5 feet. It’s estimated that the tree shades an area of nearly 20,000 square feet and is between 300 and 400 years old.
Address: 3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC
Discover Middleton Place’s Beautiful Gardens
Middleton Place National Historic Landmark is a surviving portion of the three-building residential complex that once stood overlooking the Ashley River, in Charleston.
The property is steeped in history, as it was once home to four generations of the Middleton family who played a significant role in the Revolutionary War.
Inside the house, you’ll catch a glimpse of an extraordinary collection of Middleton family furniture, paintings, books, artifacts, and documents dating from the 1740s through the Civil War.
The estate is beautifully surrounded by 65 acres of formal landscaped gardens, which burst in color with beautiful magnolias, mountain laurels, oak leaves, banana shrubs, and swamp roses.
One of the estate’s current missions is telling the story not just of the plantation’s white owners, but also its African and African American population. That’s why Middleton Place also has an exhibit featuring the names of over 2800 African and African American men, women, and children enslaved by the Middletons.
Address: 4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC
Tour Charleston’s Most Haunted Sites
Looking for fun things to do in Charleston? Then, don’t pass up the chance to go on a guided ghost walking tour of the city.
Regarded as one of the most haunted cities in the USA, Charleston is smothered with eerie places that have witnessed gruesome events throughout history.
Founded in 1670, the city has seen fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wars, so it’s no surprise that haunted places abound here.
You can opt for a self-guided tour or a guided one. No matter which you choose, you’ll likely cover sites like Old Jail, once home of Charleston’s most notorious criminals, the Exchange and Provost, which served as a British prison during the Revolutionary War, and the Circular Graveyard, the resting place for Revolutionary War soldiers.
What is Charleston best known for?
Charleston, South Carolina, is best known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and charming Southern hospitality.
How many days are enough for Charleston, SC?
Most visitors typically spend around three to four days exploring the city and its surrounding areas. This will allow you to visit the main attractions, take a stroll through the historic downtown, and enjoy some of the city’s best restaurants and nightlife.
Are two days enough in Charleston, SC?
Two days can give you a good taste of what Charleston has to offer. But keep in mind that there is so much to see and do in this historic city, so plan three to four days in Charleston.
Is Charleston a walkable city?
Yes, Charleston is a very walkable city. The historic downtown area is compact and easily navigable on foot, with many interesting sights and attractions located within a short distance from each other.
Charleston also has a well-designed network of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, making it safe and easy to explore on foot.
What is the main strip of downtown Charleston?
The vibrant King Street, dotted with high-end boutique stores, restaurants, and cafes, is the main strip of downtown Charleston
Does Charleston have nightlife?
Charleston has a vibrant nightlife scene. There are plenty of bars, pubs, and nightclubs to choose from in the city. Visitors can enjoy live music, comedy shows, theater performances, and more. Some of the popular nightlife areas include King Street, East Bay Street, and Upper King Street.
Which is better to visit Charleston or Savannah?
Both Charleston and Savannah are wonderful cities to visit, and it really comes down to your personal preferences. If you prefer a more upscale, refined atmosphere with a focus on food and drink, Charleston may be the better choice. If you are looking for a more relaxed, artsy vibe with a strong historical and cultural heritage, Savannah may be the better option.
What’s there in Charleston for kids?
The top kid-friendly attractions in Charleston are:
- Joe Riley Waterfront Park
- South Carolina Aquarium
- Rainbow Row
- Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
- Riley Waterfront Park
- Fort Sumter National Monument
- Charleston Tea Plantation
- Charleston Farmers Market
- White Point Gardens
- The Angel Oak on Johns Island
Is Charleston worth visiting?
Yes, Charleston is definitely worth visiting. The city offers a unique blend of history, culture, food, and natural beauty that makes it a popular destination for travelers from all over the world.
What are the best things to do in Charleston, SC?
The top things to do in Charleston are:
- Meet Marine Creatures In The South Carolina Aquarium
- Explore The Charleston City Market
- See The Colorful Houses Of The Rainbow Row
- Discover Charleston’s Museums
- Go On A Scenic Boat Tour
- Take a Scenic Walk In The Riley Waterfront Park
- Go Shopping On King Street
- Learn About The American Civil War In The Fort Sumter National Monument
- Tour The Lush Charleston Tea Plantation
- See The Famous Morris Island Lighthouse
- Explore The Colorful Charleston Farmers Market
- Visit The Nathaniel Russell House
- Go For A Stroll In The Battery and White Point Gardens
- Marvel At The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
- See The Majestic Angel Oak on Johns Island
- Discover Middleton Place’s Beautiful Gardes
- Tour Charleston’s Most Haunted Sites
What is the best walkable area of Charleston?
The historic district is the best walkable area in Charleston. It’s full of charming streets, historic buildings, and attractions. Its streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries, making it an ideal place to explore on foot.
What food is Charleston famous for?
The top dishes to try in Charleston are:
- She-crab soup
- Shrimp and grits
- Hoppin’ John
- Frogmore stew
- Lowcountry boil
- Fried green tomatoes
- Benne wafers
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