The 15 Best Charleston Tours

See everything this historic South Carolina city has to offer on one of these guided excursions.

U.S. News & World Report

The 15 Best Charleston Tours

Best Charleston Tours

See all of the top sights in a horse-drawn carriage with Palmetto Carriage Works.(Courtesy of Palmetto Carriage Works)

History lovers will relish a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, for its variety of historic churches, forts and mansions that rank as Charleston's most popular attractions. Or, perhaps you're most interested in its cuisine or the sea creatures that populate its waterways. Either way, these tours – identified by U.S. News using both expert opinion and traveler sentiment – offer just what you need for a fulfilling visit to the Holy City.

Palmetto Carriage Works – Daytime Carriage Ride

This tour from Palmetto Carriage Works focuses on the residential district of downtown Charleston. During the hourlong ride, the horse-drawn carriage winds through 25 to 30 city blocks, passing houses, mansions, parks and gardens, while the coachman shares information regarding architecture, the landscape and regional history. Patrons consistently laud the guides for their knowledge, friendliness and good humor. They also appreciate how well the company cares for its horses. Palmetto Carriage offers a variety of "add-ons," such as a plantation tour at Middleton Place or a tour of the Powder Magazine where tons of gunpowder were once stored. Daytime tours leave every 15 minutes between 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Ticket prices start at $28 for adults and $18 for children 4 to 11. The company also offers evening carriage tours and walking tours.

Two Sisters Tours

Take the name of the Two Sisters Tours literally: sisters, who are seventh-generation Charleston natives, lead every tour. Along the roughly two-hour walking tour, you'll visit St. Michael's Church, the Battery and various centuries-old houses, among other attractions. The sibling guides earn effusive praise for the historical information and colorful anecdotes they share with travelers. Groups are limited to 20 participants. Tickets for the tours cost about $20. Tours are offered at either 10 or 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Afternoon weekday outings starting at 2 p.m. may also be available, weather permitting.

Adventure Harbor Tours – Mild Sunset Boat Cruise

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of this tour is that patrons are allowed (and encouraged) to bring their own food and beverages (alcohol included) on the tour. The 90-minute Mild Sunset Boat Cruise includes narration from a guide regarding the area's history. Travelers will see the Battery, Charleston's historic waterfront and more before heading down the Ashley River to see a gorgeous sunset. Visitors say the guides' commentary is informative. Many tour-takers also report dolphin sightings. Tours run from the summer through the early fall and departure times vary depending on time of the year. Tickets start at $33 for adults and $25 for children 2 to 12. Adventure Harbor Tours also offers a "wild" sunset cruise, which features music, dancing and partying where you can still BYOB.

Old South Carriage Company – Historic Charleston Carriage Tour

Old South Carriage Company's Historic Charleston Carriage Tours cover about 30 blocks of the city. During the one-hour excursions, guides provide facts about the churches, mansions and gardens passed on the approximately 2 1/2-mile route (which may vary from tour to tour). Tour-takers enjoy the guides' personality and extensive knowledge of the city. Visitors also say both guides and horses are friendly. Tours take place multiple times daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (or 4 p.m. in January and February). Tickets cost about $28 for adults and $18 for children ages 4 to 11. Groups are limited to 16 passengers. Old South Carriage Company also offers a haunted carriage tour, in addition to a variety of walking tours.

See some of Charleston's intricate details on the Alleys and Hidden Passages tour from Lowcountry Walking Tours.(Courtesy of Lowcountry Walking Tours)

Lowcountry Walking Tours – Charleston's Alleys and Hidden Passages

Go behind the scenes, as it were, with Charleston's Alleys and Hidden Passages tour. You'll explore various cobblestone and brick pathways that are largely inaccessible by car and often overlooked, but offer a unique perspective on the city. Tour guides consistently receive fulsome praise for their insight and enthusiasm. Even Charleston residents report they learned something about their hometown and its history. Outings depart from the Old Exchange Building daily at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25 per person. Lowcountry Walking Tours also leads a Charleston's Most Beautiful Walk Tour and a Historic Downtown Tour.

Charleston Outdoor Adventures – Dolphin Eco Tour

If you hope to see dolphins in their natural habitat, then Charleston Outdoor Adventures has a tour for you. Its Dolphin Eco Tour takes visitors over the creeks, inlets and marshes near Folly Beach, where approximately 300 wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins reside. During the 90-minute boat rides, the captain imparts information regarding the local environment, wildlife and history. Reviewers frequently report learning quite a bit about both dolphins and Charleston's ecosystem. Tickets for the tours, which depart several times daily (including around sunset), cost about $40 for adults, $25 for children 3 to 12 and $5 for infants. Charleston Outdoor Adventures also offers a Morris Island Lighthouse boat tour and several kayak and paddleboard tours.

Charleston Harbor Tours

This boat tour offers views of many of the city's popular landmarks, including forts Sumter, Moultrie and Johnson, St. Michael's Church and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. During the 90-minute ride aboard the Carolina Belle, the captain provides commentary on the various sights and Charleston's history, which reviewers find informative and entertaining. Plus, many report seeing dolphins during the ride. Charleston Harbor Tours depart several times daily; exact times vary by season. Tickets for adults cost about $30, while those for children 4 to 11 cost approximately $20. Food and beverages are available for purchase on board. Charleston Harbor Tours also offers cruises with live music.

Charleston Culinary Tours – Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour

The Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour focuses on the city's historic French Quarter and includes visits to four restaurants. During the 2 1/2-hour walking tour, samples may include classic southern fare like hush puppies, barbecue, or shrimp and grits. Guides share their knowledge of regional food and Charleston history along the way. Reviewers enthusiastically describe guides as equally entertaining and informative. Tours start at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Specific restaurants visited and meeting points vary by tour time. Tickets, which include all food and nonalcoholic beverage tastings, start at $65 per person and also cover admission to the Powder Magazine museum. Charleston Culinary Tours also offers brewery tours and a sustainable seafood tour, among other options.

Take a relaxing kayak trip (and maybe see a dolphin!) with Coastal Expeditions.(Courtesy of Coastal Expeditions)


Coastal Expeditions – Shem Creek Kayak Tour

Coastal Expeditions' Shem Creek Kayak Tour, which travels its namesake waterway into Charleston Harbor, affords views of Castle Pinckney, the Charleston Peninsula, Fort Sumter and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Along the roughly three-hour trip, you may also spot local creek residents, such as pelicans, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. The company's guides and staff regularly receive high marks for their friendliness, helpfulness and professionalism. Tickets, which cost about $65 for adults and $45 for children age 12 and younger, include use of all necessary gear (including a kayak and paddle). Tours depart daily at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Coastal Expeditions also offers kayak tours to Isle of Palms, along with boat and paddleboard excursions.

Walks of Charleston – Charleston History Tour

The Charleston History Tour promises to take visitors to some of Charleston's most significant structures. While the routes of the roughly two-hour walks may vary, sites visited typically include St. Michael's Church, St. Philip's Church and the Battery. Patrons say guides have wonderful historic insight, humor and storytelling abilities. The tours start at city hall twice daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets cost around $20 for adults and $10 for children 7 to 10. Children 6 and younger tour for free. Walks of Charleston also conducts tours of the city's alleyways and also offers private excursions.

Carolina Polo and Carriage Company – Group Carriage Tours

Carolina Polo and Carriage Company's group tours show visitors the historic streets and structures of downtown Charleston. During the hourlong rides, guides offer information regarding the various gardens, homes, parks and churches on display. Routes vary, but specific attractions seen may include the Battery, the Edmondston-Alston House, the Old Exchange building and the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. Patrons say guides are informative and entertaining. Other tour-takers express frustration about potentially lengthy wait times, as the company does not permit advance reservations for specific times. The horse-drawn carriages depart from the Charleston City Market roughly every 30 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. between March and November, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November to February. Tickets cost approximately $30 for adults and $15 for children 4 to 11. Carriages carry no more than 16 riders. Planning a special outing? The company also offers private tours.

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Learn all about Charleston's haunted history with Tour Charleston.(Courtesy of Tour Charleston at Buxton Books)

Tour Charleston at Buxton Books – Ghosts of Charleston Tour

The Ghosts of Charleston Tour is a 90-minute walk to and through the Unitarian Church graveyard during which guides recount tales from "The Ghosts of Charleston" book, written by the company's founder, Julian T. Buxton III. No two tours are alike, as guides change up the stories shared during each outing. The storytellers receive accolades for being both entertaining and informative. There are two tours per night, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost about $25, with discounts for seniors, children, service members and students. Tour Charleston also has several other tours, including a Lost Stories of Black Charleston history tour.

Charleston Food Tours – Savor the Flavors of Charleston Tour

The Savor the Flavors of Charleston Tour takes foodies through various bakeries, markets and eateries to sample local low country fare like collard greens, fried green tomatoes, grits and sweet tea. Tour-goers appreciate the quality and quantity of food. They advise future participants to eat light (if at all) before the excursion to take full advantage of the food on the tour. The 2 1/2-hour guided tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Tickets cost approximately $65 and must be reserved in advance. Tickets cover the tastings and some nonalcoholic beverage options. Alcoholic drinks can be purchased separately at some stops. Charleston Food Tours also offers tours that guide visitors through the eateries of Upper King Street.

SpiritLine Cruises – Charleston Harbor Tour

The Charleston Harbor Tour directs tour-takers' attention to some of the city's significant historical landmarks, including the Battery, Castle Pinckney, the USS Yorktown and more. As you glide through the harbor, your guide will share details of Charleston's history and former residents. Patrons generally praise the guides for their knowledge and humor. What's more, snacks and beer are available for purchase on board. The 90-minute cruises depart from two sites multiple times daily (except in winter). Tickets start at $26 for adults and $16 for children 4 to 11. Children 3 and younger ride for free.

Charleston Footprints Walking Tours

Charleston Footprints Walking Tours spotlight many of the city's unique characteristics, including its old churches, graveyards, parks and gardens, wrought iron gates, distinctive architecture, cobblestone streets and alleys. Among the specific destinations on these two-hour walks, which cover about 18 blocks, are the French Quarter, the Charleston harbor and the Battery. Michael Trouche, a seventh-generation Charleston native, leads each tour. Patrons describe him as knowledgeable, friendly and funny. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Afternoon tours are offered in select months. Tickets cost $20 per person and reservations are required.

John Rodwan, Contributor

John G. Rodwan Jr. has written about arts and entertainment, food and beverages, hospitality ...  Read more

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