Charleston Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Places to Visit in the Carolinas
Credit

Courtesy of Sam Antonio Photography/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Charleston

Soaking in the ambiance of the brick-walked, Spanish-mossed downtown is Charleston's to-do. 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 July 12, 2018

  • #1
    The Battery
    View all Photos
    #1 in Charleston
    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. 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.

    ...Read More »
  • #2
    Boat Tours
    View all Photos
    #2 in Charleston
    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.

    ...Read More »
  • #3
    Sullivan's Island
    View all Photos
    #3 in Charleston
    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. 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.

    ...Read More »
  • #4
    Isle of Palms County Park
    View all Photos
    #4 in Charleston
    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. 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.

    ...Read More »
  • #5
    Folly Beach
    View all Photos
    #5 in Charleston
    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

    After a few days exploring Charleston's historic sites, take some time to kick back, relax and enjoy the Southern sun. Overlooking the Atlantic from the West Islands  12 miles south of downtown Charleston  this massive stretch of coastline makes for a great daytrip away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Come here for the nature and the surfing, or head to the pier to sit and fish. Folly Beach's friendly atmosphere attracts a variety of travelers: most of the families stick to the shore, while adults traveling sans kids tend to congregate in the many bars that line the sand. If you're hoping to lay claim to some fine beach real estate, you better get here early: Past visitors said the beach can get crowded as the afternoon progresses. And if you didn't bring your own beach chair, you can rent one near the beach, along with umbrellas and nonmotorized sports equipment. 

    ...Read More »
  • #6
    Walking Tours
    View all Photos
    #6 in Charleston
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    With its centuries-old mansion and cobblestone streets, Charleston is like a living museum. One of the best ways to learn about its history (and its ghosts) and the significance of its best-known landmarks is on a walking tour. There are a variety of options available, ranging from broad tours of the city's historic downtown district, to more niche tours that explore the city's paranormal presence, pirates and art galleries and studios.

    ...Read More »
  • #7
    The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
    View all Photos
    #7 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    According to many, there's no better example of antebellum life than the Aiken-Rhett House Museum. Originally built in the early 1800s and then expanded by Gov. William Aiken and his wife in the 1850s, much of the house's original style has been preserved. As you wander through, pay special attention to the antique furnishings, the original wallpaper and the stunning bronze chandeliers installed by the Aikens. Also, spend some time exploring the grounds: You can visit the slave quarters, the stables and the kitchens, all of which have been preserved to satisfy any history buffs yearning for a taste of the Old South.

    ...Read More »
  • #8
    Charleston Food Tours
    View all Photos
    #8 in Charleston
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Considered one of the best foodie cities in the USA, Charleston is famous for its low country cuisine and bevy of trendy restaurants. For a crash course in the city's best eats, consider spending a few hours with Charleston Food Tours. The company offers seven tours, ranging from one dedicated to the city's best desserts to a private dining experience in the home of a local James Beard award-winning chef.

    ...Read More »
  • #9
    Drayton Hall
    View all Photos
    #9 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Built in 1738, Drayton Hall is one of the oldest surviving plantations left in the South. Take your time exploring the massive red-brick main house, which hasn't changed all that much from when it was originally built (be aware that there is no air conditioning, electricity or heat). Afterward, you can wander along the two walking trails, which follow the Ashley River and the marsh, or pay your respects at the on-site African American Cemetery.

    ...Read More »
  • #10
    Crafted Travel Brewery Tours
    View all Photos
    #10 in Charleston
    Tours, Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Tours, Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    After you've sampled Charleston's culinary scene on a food tour, your next logical step should be a brewery tour. The four-hour tours start with a distillery stop (and six tastings) and continues on to two local breweries for a pint at each. Among the breweries and distilleries included in the tour are Holy City Brewing, Revelry Brewing Co., Charleston Distilling Co. and Firefly Distillery.

    ...Read More »
  • #11
    Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
    View all Photos
    #11 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    While Middleton Place's gardens attract those who like trimmed hedges and flower-lined paths, the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the place to go if you're more of an avid nature lover. Yes, the house is worth an hour of your time  it's a less ornate version of other Charleston plantation homes, but the interior is just as beautiful  but most visitors come here to enjoy the wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for gators, otters and turtles in the Audubon Swamp Garden, grab your binoculars and look for local birds at the waterfowl refuge, don your helmet and bike one of the several trails or get lost in the horticultural maze. Recent travelers also agree that the petting zoo makes this a great place to bring the kids.

    ...Read More »
  • #12
    Charleston City Market
    View all Photos
    #12 in Charleston
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    While some may say that the Charleston City Market is a bit of a tourist trap, others call it a great glimpse into life in the Old South. It is often referred to as the "Slave Market" because it was here that slaves would purchase food for the plantation. Today, the market buzzes with residents and visitors alike, perusing stalls loaded with toys, clothes, leather goods and regional souvenirs. But if you plan on buying anything here, you should head straight to the "basket ladies." These women (and men) have been weaving baskets for centuries  this craft originated in West Africa and has been passed down through the generations  using local materials such as sweetgrass and palmetto leaves.

    ...Read More »
  • #13
    Middleton Place
    View all Photos
    #13 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If there were ever a place to stop and smell the roses, this house would be it. Built in 1755, this mansion was once the home of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Today, Middleton Place houses an impressive collection of historic furniture and portraits (all originally owned by the Middleton family), plus a stable with heritage-bred animals. Visitors can also watch historical re-enactors demonstrate the skills and technology used on an 18th-century plantation, or take a carriage or specialized tour. Just make sure you save time to treat yourself to a bite to eat at the Middleton Place Restaurant, where the menu is inspired by traditional low country Gullah cuisine.

    ...Read More »
  • #14
    Fort Sumter National Monument
    View all Photos
    #14 in Charleston
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    You probably remember Fort Sumter as the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, back in 1861. Today, you can see for yourself where all the action happened by taking a ferry to the actual fort. Take your time exploring the thick stone caverns, which still house several Civil War-era cannons. You should also stop by Fort Sumter's small yet informative museum, which provides more in-depth information about the fort's role in the war. According to most Charleston visitors, Fort Sumter is a must-see, especially for kids and history buffs.

    ...Read More »
  • #15
    The Nathaniel Russell House Museum
    View all Photos
    #15 in Charleston
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Constructed at the turn of the 19th century by Nathaniel Russell  a wealthy Southern merchant  this historic home is best known for its magnificent spiraling staircase, detailed furnishings and landscaped gardens. Unlike the Aiken-Rhett House, the Nathaniel Russell House has undergone an architectural and interior restoration.

    ...Read More »
  • #16
    H.L. Hunley Submarine
    View all Photos
    #16 in Charleston
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Originally built in 1864 for the Confederate Army, the H.L. Hunley became the world's first successful combat submarine. Toward the end of the 19th century, it was suddenly lost at sea until 1995 when it was discovered off the coast of Sullivan's Island. In 2000, the Hunley and the remains of its crew were brought to the surface for a detailed restoration at the Old Charleston Naval Base. Today, you can visit the base and tour the submarine; an experience that many recent visitors say is well worth your time, especially if you're interested in nautical history. However, travelers do point out that a trip to the H.L. Hunley isn't well-suited to children because it's not an interactive museum  it's an ongoing, public restoration project that likely won't capture the attention of young kids.

    ...Read More »
  • South Carolina Aquarium
    View all Photos
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Children's Museum of the Lowcountry
    View all Photos
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

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