Charleston, SC Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Places to Visit in the Carolinas
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Best Things To Do in Charleston, SC

Soaking in the ambiance of the brick-walked, Spanish-mossed downtown is Charleston's to-do. And the best way to see it all is on a walking tour. Historic homes are also plentiful: The Nathaniel Russell House, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens are just a few examples. And if you want to pick up a few travel souvenirs – perhaps a sweetgrass basket – look no further than the Charleston City Market. There are even a few beaches in close proximity – Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, among others – ideal for warm-weather swimming and cold-weather strolling. 

How we rank Things to Do

Updated August 22, 2019

  • #1
    Things to do in Charleston, SC
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    #1 in Charleston, SC
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Many visitors say you can't leave Charleston without seeing this stretch along the city's southern tip, which they call beautiful and a must-visit. This row of Southern-style mansions overlooking Charleston Harbor was formerly the heart and soul of the city's maritime activity. Today, the area attracts camera-toting tourists from all over the country.

    As you explore this picturesque neighborhood, make sure to also spend some time in the nearby White Point Garden, where several Civil War relics and memorials commemorate the city's role in the battle. Start your tour of the Battery at the 12-acre Waterfront Park (home to the giant pineapple fountain featured on many Charleston postcards), then follow the walking paths on East Battery Street for the nearly mile-long stroll to White Point Garden. If you're staying at one of the hotels or bed-and-breakfasts located downtown, you can easily walk along the Battery from your digs. If you're driving to the Battery, you'll find some limited street parking, and some lots closer to Waterfront Park. Bus route No. 211 provides service to Waterfront Park and East Bay Street. Several of the city's best walking tours make stops along the Battery. If you're interested in the history of the mansions or the promenade's role in the Civil War, consider signing up for a tour.

  • #2
    Charleston Boat Tours
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    #2 in Charleston, SC
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    To get a better view of the Charleston harbor (and maybe even spot some dolphins), consider signing up for a boat tour. Not only will you enjoy some time on the water, you'll also have the chance to learn more about the city's maritime history (many boat captains provide historical commentary throughout their tours). Along the way, you'll likely see some of Charleston's top landmarks, including The Battery, Waterfront Park, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney.

    There are a variety of tours and operators (including private charters) in Charleston that offer a bevy of experiences for all types of travelers. Adventure Harbor Tours receives high praise from previous visitors for its Morris Island tours and sunset cruises. Tours aboard The Schooner Pride are also popular, especially if you're interested in the mechanics of sailing, as the captain offers travelers the option to raise and trim the sails with the crew. If you're looking for a less intimate or more formally narrated experience, sign up for a Charleston Harbor Tour, which has a fleet of boats that can accommodate hundreds of passengers.

  • #3
    Isle of Palms County Park
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    #3 in Charleston, SC
    Beaches, Golf, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Golf, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If several days in Charleston proper have you longing for a do-nothing day at the beach, Isle of Palms might be just the ticket. Located just 16 miles east of the city, visitors will find about 7 miles of shoreline, ideal for swimming, sailing, windsurfing or sunbathing. If you're having trouble deciding between Charleston's two closest shorelines (don't forget about Folly Beach), your fellow beach bums might help you decide: Isle of Palms is known to attract more families than Folly Beach.

    Recent beach-goers praised the wide, clean beach and said it's a beautiful place to relax. Isle of Palms also boasts a few more beachfront vacation rentals, plus the sprawling Wild Dunes Resort and The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. What's more, you don't have to be a guest to enjoy the two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses at Wild Dunes: both courses are open to the public. However, keep in mind Isle of Palms doesn't offer as many bars or restaurants compared to Folly Beach.

  • #4
    Sullivan's Island
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    #4 in Charleston, SC
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Comprising only 3.3 square miles, Sullivan's Island may not seem like a must-see for Charleston visitors. But this beachfront town proves that good things come in small packages. Sitting at the mouth of the Charleston harbor – a little less than 10 miles east of the downtown area – Sullivan's Island boasts beaches, tasty restaurants and unique shops, plus a colorful history. Many visitors say the beach is ideal for families. You'll also find a bevy of vacation rental properties here – a worthy alternative if you want a little more seclusion than some of downtown Charleston's hotels and bed-and-breakfasts can provide.

    Even if you're not much of a beach bum, you'll still find plenty of interesting local history to make a pit stop here worthwhile. For instance, Fort Moultrie was the first fort on Sullivan's Island. Composed of soft palmetto logs, it withstood a nine-hour battle in 1776 when nine warships were advancing on Charleston. Its soft composition meant enemy cannonballs simply bounced off its cushy exterior. Aside from its triumphant ability to protect the city, Fort Moultrie also served a purpose in literary history: Edgar Allan Poe was stationed at the fort from November 1827 to December 1828. Those who have read his short story, "The Gold Bug," will recognize Sullivan's Island as the backdrop of the tale. His brief residency is celebrated at