Are you looking for the best and most unique things to do in Charleston, SC? You've come to the right place! Our guide to the best things to do in Charleston has got you covered for planning your perfect trip!
Charleston, SC, is known for its warm hospitality, history, culture, food, and natural beauty. Known as the Holy City, Charleston is famous for its Spanish moss-covered buildings, quaint cobblestone streets, and scenic coastline views, making it a family-friendly destination.
You can explore this historic city by visiting well-preserved landmarks like Morris Island. If you're traveling with family, Charleston boasts many kid-friendly attractions. You can take your children to the South Carolina Aquarium to observe fascinating marine creatures or to the Magnolia Plantation to enjoy lovely parks and gardens. If you're in the mood for the beach, go to Folly Beach, then unwind at one of the exciting restaurants or bars in the vibrant downtown area.
With so much to see and do, you may be unsure where to begin. That's why we've compiled a list of the best things to do in Charleston. Follow these interesting and unique Charleston bucket list ideas, and you'll have an incredible time exploring this stunning South Carolina city.
Let's get started!
When is the Best Time to Visit Charleston, SC?
March-May: This is a beautiful season to visit, with blooming trees and flowers. But it is also very crowded and expensive because many people discover this is the ideal time to visit.
June-August: Summer in Charleston means scorching temperatures, and August means rain. Despite the disadvantages, it is still bustling.
September-November: The fall season is ideal for visiting. It's less busy, and the weather is ideal – neither too hot nor too chilly.
December-February: This is Charleston's off-season. The weather is usually mild, with temperatures rarely falling below 40 degrees. These months are ideal for those looking for budget-friendly options. However, because Charleston is known as one of the most romantic towns in the United States, hotel prices often skyrocket around Valentine's Day.
15 Best Things to Do in Charleston, SC
1. Explore Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie
Location: 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan's Island, SC 29482
Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter, known as Guardians of Charleston Harbor, are must-sees for history buffs. They are home to a one-of-a-kind collection of American seacoast weaponry. The forts host an “Adopt-a-Cannon” program where you can donate to help maintain these precious historical treasures.
Fort Sumter was erected on an artificial island to protect Charleston from naval attacks. Its history dates back to the War of 1812. Fort Moultrie is a set of fortifications on Sullivan's Island. The fort got its current name from General William Moultrie, a patriot leader in the Battle of Sullivan's Island. The museum exhibits various aspects of American history, such as the fort's history and enslaved Africans' contributions. You can reach it by a short ferry ride over Charleston Harbor.
2. Interact with Marine Creatures in The South Carolina Aquarium
Location: 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC.
Hours: Daily 9 am – 5 pm.
Admission Fee: $34.95
If you're looking for family-friendly activities in Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium is a must-see. It is a great choice for families and is located on Aquarium Wharf along the Cooper River's headwaters. This huge aquarium houses over 5,000 marine creatures, birds, and plants. In its fascinating exhibits, you'll see alligators, river otters, sea turtles, stingrays, and native fish.
The Great Ocean Tank is the main attraction, a towering 42 feet high. There's also a touch tank where you and your kids can get close to manta rays, sharks, and starfish. Inside the aquarium, you can visit the Sea Turtle Care Center, where wounded sea turtles are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. With its trained staff and interactive features, the South Carolina Aquarium is a fantastic place to visit with kids.
3. Join a Scenic Boat Tour of Charleston Harbor Tours
Charleston is a historic Southern port city, and taking a boat ride is one of the best ways to explore it. Board the 84-foot Schooner Pride, a sailboat propelled only by the wind. During this 2-hour trip, you'll see the four famous forts in Charleston Harbor, including the renowned Fort Sumter. You'll also admire the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a long cable-supported bridge.
Keep an eye out for wildlife like pelicans and dolphins. Enjoy the serenity of the harbor as the sun sets, casting a warm glow on the city's historic steeples. It's an excellent option for a romantic evening and one of the best things to do in Charleston. Book your tours here!
4. Marvel at the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Location: 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Ticket Price: $29
A visit to a plantation is an absolute must on any South Carolina road trip. If you only have time to see a single attraction in Charleston, make it the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. Magnolia is distinguished by its gorgeous gardens, blooming with various flowers, such as daffodils, camellias, and azaleas. You'll want to spend a whole day meandering through winding trails, crossing quaint bridges, and enjoying the beautiful gardens.
For a more relaxing experience, choose a boat or tram excursion, both of which provide fascinating insights. Take a risk and walk across the bridge at The Audubon Swamp Garden. Don't worry if you can't fit all of Magnolia's magic into one day; your garden entrance is valid for a return visit within the same week.
5. Discover the Vibrant Charleston Farmers Market.
Location: 329 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Hours: (April – November) Every Saturday, 8 am – 2 pm.
Since 1989, the Charleston Farmers Market has been a weekly event in Marion Square featuring local vendors and live entertainment. It has been voted as the “Best Outdoor Event” and “Best Attraction” several times. As you wander through the market, you'll find locally grown fruits and veggies, fresh flowers, organic honey, artisanal pasta, and much more.
The market is also home to several food trucks, serving everything from pastries and sandwiches to delectable crepes. Shopaholics will love the Charleston Farmers Market, which is a treasure trove of unique gifts. Take home a “Charleston in Bloom” scented candle or a gorgeous handmade sweetgrass basket to remind you of your visit.
6. Travel back in Time at the Charleston Museums.
Charleston has an extensive selection of museums for history buffs. The Charleston Museum, built in 1773, features fascinating displays of natural history, weaponry, and photography. You can visit the first African-American slave museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum. It is located in a part of the city's last main slave market. The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a USS Yorktown aircraft destroyer, carrier, and submarine and educational exhibits.
The Gibbes Museum of Art, located in Downtown Charleston and housed in a Beaux-Arts building, features a fantastic collection of modern and contemporary artworks created by local or regional artists during the last 40 years. Visit the Aiken-Rhett House Museum in Charleston to experience antebellum life. This historic residence offers a glimpse into the pre-Civil War South.
7. Visit King Street for Shopping
King Street is the heart of Charleston and a must-see for visitors. King Street is divided into three districts: Middle King Street Fashion District, Upper King Street Design and Dining District, and Lower King Street Antiques District. This ancient street was named after King Charles II of England and has a long history of 300 years.
Today, King Street is a bustling hub with a wide range of activities and stores. Explore art galleries, shop at the numerous shops, boutiques, and bakeries, and dine at exquisite restaurants that line this famous historic street. You can also shop for designer items while supporting local businesses. If you enjoy shopping while traveling, make sure to include King Street in your Charleston itinerary.
8. Take a Stroll down Rainbow Row.
Location: 83-107 E Bay St. Charleston, SC
Rainbow Row, a collection of 13 historic Georgian houses on East Bay Street, is a beloved Charleston landmark. These pastel-colored homes have been attracting passers-by and photographers alike. These houses, built around 1740, were initially used as warehouses for local merchants. They fell into decay after the Civil War.
Rainbow Row was revitalized in 1931 when Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband, Judge Lionel Legge, decided to give the community a new makeover by painting the homes in beautiful pastel hues. Today, Rainbow Row is a dynamic and scenic destination ideal for strolling and free exploration. It's a must-see attraction in Charleston.
9. Visit the Charleston City Market
Location: 188 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC
Hours: Daily 9:30 am – 5:30 pm
The Charleston City Market, founded in the 1790s, is one of the oldest public markets in the US. It was once a hub for local farms, gardens, and community events. Today, the market consists of one-story sheds with an enclosed Great Hall in the center. You can browse stalls run by local artists and businesses. You'll find everything here, from candles to food, jewelry, artwork, and sweetgrass baskets.
The market is open daily, with weekend night markets offering live entertainment. It's a bustling hub where you can meet local artists, enjoy fantastic cuisine, distinctive art, and so much more.
10. Visit Firefly Distillery
Location: 4201 Spruill Avenue, North Charleston, SC 29405
Hours: Mon-Sat; 12 pm – 6 pm, Fri: 12 pm – 8 pm, with drink deals and food trucks from 4 pm – 8 pm
Vodka lovers shouldn't miss the Firefly Distillery in Charleston. Firefly, best known for its sweet tea vodka, offers tasting tours where you can sample a variety of liquors served by friendly bartenders. They also host events featuring food trucks, shopping, music concerts, and other activities to create a lively atmosphere. Firefly, the state's largest distillery, impresses with its handcrafted cocktails and Southern charm. Try their Pecan Pie Moonshine or Fruit Punch Moonshine for a fun night out with friends.
11. Explore the Charleston Tea Garden
Location: 6617 Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island, Charleston, SC
Visit the Charleston Tea Garden, the only tea garden in North America with thousands of tea bushes spread across 100 acres. It is located on scenic Wadmalaw Island, south of Charleston. You can explore the plantation through a 45-minute trolley tour. The guide and the plantation's founder, Bill Hall, will educate you about tea production during the trip. You'll also have the opportunity to tour the tea factory and observe the machinery used to manufacture tea.
Don't forget to stop by the gift shop to sample the nine flavors prepared on-site, including the American Classic Tea, which is created exclusively from American-grown tea.
13. Visit the Charleston Islands and Beaches
If you want to spend a day at the beach, you're in luck, as Charleston offers some fantastic options nearby.
Folly Beach, about 20 minutes to the South, is a beautiful escape from the city. It's great for sunbathing and swimming and one of the best South Carolina beaches for surfing.
Sullivan's Island is a pristine jewel with miles of sandy beaches, historic buildings, lighthouses, and the Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. It's a popular destination for South Carolina beach vacations.
If you're looking for a more luxurious experience, consider visiting Isle of Palms, which is known for its golf courses, resorts, exquisite dining, and stunning beaches.
13. Explore Charleston's Most Haunted Spots
Charleston is known for its bustling atmosphere, but it is also one of the most haunted cities in the United States. The city offers numerous ghost tours, each allowing you to dig into the city's darker history and explore some of the most haunted spots in the South. Guides may take you to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and cemeteries with legends of Annabelle Ravenel's grave and jails where Charleston's most notorious criminals lived and died.
You can also set sail on a haunted cruise for a unique twist to the spooky experience. The cruise travels through areas marked by naval warfare and pirate attacks.
14. Take a Culinary Tour in Charleston
One of the best things to do in Charleston, SC, is to eat! Foodies can take a culinary tour to savor some of the city's best Southern dishes. With a guided tour, you don't have to worry about discovering the best restaurants and food options; it's laid out for you. Some of the famous restaurants include Charleston Grill, Edmund's Oast, and Magnolias. You can enjoy delicious dishes like hushpuppies, shrimp and grits, Lowcountry BBQ, she-crab soup, and more.
A culinary tour in Charleston, SC, is a must because food is a great way to get to know a place. It's an activity the whole family can enjoy.
15. Stroll Through Riley Waterfront Park
Location: Vendue Range, Concord St, Charleston, SC
Hours: Mon-Sat, 7 am – 9:30 pm (Sun, 7:30 am – 10:30 pm)
Joe Riley Waterfront Park is an iconic landmark in Charleston. This eight-acre park is an excellent family attraction. The park features the famous Pineapple Fountain, an extended pier reaching into the harbor, and lovely walking paths shaded by towering palmetto trees. You can see Fort Sumter, Ravenel Bridge, and the USS Yorktown across the water from here.
Kids can have fun on the pier's swings while watching passing boats and wildlife in the ocean. This park is ideal for unwinding after a day of touring Charleston, especially at sunset. Make sure to include it in your Charleston weekend itinerary.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Charleston, SC! Charleston, SC, offers a world of exciting experiences. From historical forts and colorful architecture to bustling markets and beautiful parks, the city has something for every traveler. There's no shortage of fun activities to enjoy.
So, are you ready to experience the charm of Charleston? Start planning your trip today and make memories to last a lifetime!
Is there anything else you'd like to add to our list? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.