Trying to find great activities and attractions in Chucktown? Our guide to the best things to do in Charleston is all you need to plan the perfect trip!
Founded in 1670, Charleston, South Carolina, features cobblestone streets, historic houses, and horse-drawn carriages, making it a historically unique travel destination.
Voted #1 for the most popular city to visit in the United States, Charleston is a prime location for stepping back in history or enjoying the eclectic Southern charm of the Carolinas.
See the Fort Sumter National Monument and learn about the history of the War of 1812, or stroll through White Point Garden to absorb some peaceful greenery. Visit America’s oldest plantation at Drayton Hall, or take a boat tour around the harbor.
Award-winning restaurants, pristine sandy beaches, and historical landmarks draw people worldwide to this enigmatic destination.
Stop searching for what to do in Charleston. We’ve got you covered!
Our list of the most fun things to do in Charleston will take a load off your back so you can start packing for a monumental trip to one of the most famous cities in the United States.
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
- 1) Explore Downtown Charleston
- 2) Pet Atlantic Stingrays at the South Carolina Aquarium
- 3) Shop at the Historic Charleston City Market
- 4) Peek Into the History of the Oldest City in South Carolina at the Charleston Museum
- 5) Cruise Down Charleston Harbor
- 6) Golf a Few Rounds at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
- 7) Walk Down King Street
- 8) Take A Trolley Tour Of The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
- 9) Bask In The Views At Charleston Waterfront Park
- 10) Discover The History Of Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie
- 11) Learn About the Ties Of African-American History to Charleston at the Old Slave Mart Museum
- 12) Stroll The White Point Gardens
- 13) Listen To The Music At The Charleston Music Hall
- 14) Observe Distinguished Local Monuments At Marion Square
- 15) Visit The Prestigious Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
- 16) Grab Fresh Produce At The Charleston Farmers Market
- 17) Stop By For A Factory Tour Of The Charleston Tea Plantation
- 18) Tour An Active Archaeological Site At The Drayton Hall Plantation
- 19) Sink Your Toes In The Sand At Sullivan’s Island
- 20) Step Back In Time At Middleton Place
- 21) Tour The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
- 22) Take A Day Trip To Folly Beach
- Where to Stay in Charleston, South Carolina
The Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
There are plenty of fun activities waiting to be explored in this historic city.
From visiting the South Carolina Aquarium, to spending the day at Folly Beach, to admiring the historic homes and experiencing southern hospitality, we’ve created a list of the top things to do in Charleston during your stay.
1) Explore Downtown Charleston
As the oldest and most populated city in South Carolina, Charleston hosts a wide range of activities in its downtown area.
Exploring downtown is a must as this pristine part of Charleston preserves history through its charming historical and natural beauty.
Walk down the impressive King Street, in the Charleston Historic District, which remains the second most historically and architecturally prominent street in Charleston. There are a plethora of boutiques, restaurants and art galleries here.
On this historical downtown guided tour, experience the bustling cultural hub of downtown by horse-drawn carriage to witness highlighted areas like Rainbow Row, the Charleston Battery, White Point Gardens, Charleston Harbor, and 4 Corners of Law.
2) Pet Atlantic Stingrays at the South Carolina Aquarium
Sitting on the historic Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium boasts an award-winning education team and over 5,000 animals.
Dedicated to protecting local species through its conservation programs, the South Carolina Aquarium is committing to educating others to “sea the difference” in the impact marine life has on our daily lives.
The waterfront location of the aquarium personifies every guest’s experience by presenting iconic views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the USS Yorktown. In addition, visitors can pick out wild dolphins playing in the water on the open-air decks.
Visit the Sea Turtle Care Center in the aquarium, where injured and sick sea turtles are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. In addition, the “touch” interactive exhibit allows guests to touch wildlife like Atlantic stingrays and hermit crabs.
- Address: 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, SC 29401
- Hours: 9am – 5pm
- Cost: $34.95
Exploring more of the Carolinas? Here is our list of the best things to do in Asheville, North Carolina.
3) Shop at the Historic Charleston City Market
Stretching four blocks, the Historic Charleston City Market begins at the Market Hall, an architecturally significant building established in the 1830s.
Established in the 1790s, the Historic Charleston City Market is an opportunity for locals and tourists alike to take a glimpse into the Old South. The shopping hub is one of the country’s oldest city markets, packed with stalls that feature items like souvenirs, art, clothes, produce, and baked goods.
Join a haunted pub crawl of the market to explore the seedy underbelly of supernatural origins and learn about low-country superstitions and respectable origins of some of the popular tourist stops in Charleston.
- Address: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
- Hours: 9:30am – 5pm
4) Peek Into the History of the Oldest City in South Carolina at the Charleston Museum
One of the top Charleston attractions, and one of the oldest museums in the United States, the Charleston Museum is the perfect Charleston activity for history buffs or those curious about history.
The collection at this prestigious museum features two historic Charleston homes, the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward-Washington House, historical artifacts, arts, natural history, and more.
Founded in 1773, the museum is often regarded as “America’s First Museum” and has used many years of its establishment to develop a prominent collection that would eventually be featured among the finest in America.
And to this day, the museum presents the most comprehensive collection of South Carolina materials in the nation.
Take a peek at the historic textiles, the armory, and more with this guided city tour and museum combo to absorb the 300 years of Charleston’s living history by a climate-controlled coach.
- Address: 360 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403
- Hours: 9am – 5pm (Opens at 12pm on Sundays)
- Cost: Prices range from $5 – $25 depending on your age and which attractions you’d like to visit. See the website for more details!
5) Cruise Down Charleston Harbor
Serving as the major port for the city center, the Charleston Harbor represents a vital part of the city’s economy.
As one of the most productive ports in the United States, the harbor stands a deep-seated role in the success and continuation of Charleston’s workforce as one of the top shipping ports in the industry.
Guests can come to explore the greatness of the productive harbor by joining a tour. Then, climb aboard the historic “Carolina Belle” to coast down the harbor to relax and learn about the enigmatic history of Charleston and other historical landmarks.
6) Golf a Few Rounds at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Every golfer’s dream spot, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, is a luxurious resort settled on ten miles of immaculate oceanfront views of the beach.
Boasting world-class accommodations, this resort is a unique stay and Charleston attraction that is highly recommended.
Come for a romantic getaway to this pristine, luxurious resort for a romantic stroll along the beach or a sun-kissed day of bathing in the sun on the beach.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a resort like no other. Golfers can take their pick of five championship golf courses with backdrops of unrivaled iconic views for an unforgettable experience in Charleston.
- Address: 1 Sanctuary Beach Dr, Kiawah Island, SC 29455
- Hours/Prices: Check the website for details about each course
7) Walk Down King Street
The center of downtown Charleston’s vibrancy, King Street, has been drawing in locals and tourists for hundreds of years!
This historical street homes more than 300 years of history. It is named after King Charles II of England and presents Southern charm to all who visit
The bustling street is split into three districts: Upper King Street Design and Dining District, Middle King Street Fashion District, and Lower King Street Antiques District. Each represents an essential aspect of Charleston’s history, catering to various tastes and passions.
Present day, the street is full of fun activities and stores ranging from art galleries to fine dining restaurants. Plenty of shopping is to be had down the famous historical street thanks to the many unique boutiques, shops, bakeries, and more.
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8) Take A Trolley Tour Of The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
One of the oldest plantations in the South, the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in history.
The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens was established in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton, who arrived from Barbados. Immense wealth came to the plantation through its cultivation of rice.
The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens soon became the oldest public garden in America, thanks to John Grimké Drayton, a generational successor who loved gardening and desired to create an earthly paradise for his beloved wife.
After emancipation, previously enslaved workers continued to work at the plantation and gardens as paid garden staff.
Guests can explore the historical background on a trolley tour of the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens while witnessing the famous gardens’ stunning flowers, trees, and other features.
- Address: 3550 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
- Hours: 9am – 5pm
- Cost: $29 for general admission, extra attractions may cost more
9) Bask In The Views At Charleston Waterfront Park
A top location to soak up the local vibes of the city, Charleston Waterfront Park features stunning views of Cooper River and the harbor.
With more than ten acres of area to stroll and explore, the park offers exceptional waterfront views to be admired. The serenity and peace offered by this picturesque location can transform into a romantic spot pre- or post-lunch, dinner, or even a space to sit back and soak it all in.
Near the northern end of Charleston Waterfront Park, guests can walk down the pier that juts into the harbor. Plenty of benches, porch swings, and picnic tables are available to rest or sit back to enjoy the view.
- Address: Vendue Range, Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401
- Hours: 7am – 9:30pm (7:30am – 10:30pm on Sundays)
- Cost: Free
10) Discover The History Of Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie
Another one of the best things to do in Charleston is visit Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie.
Fort Sumter, a sea fort built on an artificial island, was established to protect Charleston from naval invasion. It dates back to the War of 1812, when the British invaded Washington by sea.
Unfortunately, the fort was still incomplete when the Battle of Fort Sumter began, beginning the American Civil War. It is now known as Fort Sumter National Monument.
Fort Moultrie is scattered as a series of fortifications on Sullivan’s Island. Initially named Fort Sullivan, its establishment of palmetto logs inspired the origins of the South Carolina flag and the nickname of “The Palmetto State” for the state of South Carolina.
The fort was renamed after General William Moultrie, the U.S. patriot commander in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.
Called the Guardians of Charleston Harbor, both forts play a huge role in history, and with a visit to both of the forts, visitors can discover interesting historical facts.
Visit the National Parks Website for details about visiting the forts.
Book your entry ticket and ferry ride to Fort Sumter National Monument on Get Your Guide!
11) Learn About the Ties Of African-American History to Charleston at the Old Slave Mart Museum
Established in 1859, the Old Slave Mart Museum was once an antebellum slave auction gallery. Believed to be the last extant slave auction facility in South Carolina, the Old Slave Mart Museum is the first African-American slave museum.
Frequently staffed by individuals that can trace their family history to the enslaved people of Charleston, history shows that as many as 40% of enslaved people came to the United States through Charleston.
Since then, the museum has been added to the National Register of Historic Places due to its role in African-American history.
Visitors can step inside the Old Slave Mart Museum to read interviews of formerly enslaved people, along with informative posters meant to educate others on the trying history of the United States.
- Address: 6 Chalmers St, Charleston, SC 29401
- Hours: 9am – 5pm (Closed Sundays)
- Cost: $8
12) Stroll The White Point Gardens
Settled in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, the White Point Gardens is a significant Charleston landmark that offers stunning views of the harbor and Fort Sumter.
Initially famous as a spot where dozens of pirates were hanged and left as deterrents for other pirates tempted to enter the harbor, White Point was a hot spot in history.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, White Point Gardens, first used as a public garden in 1837, became a fortification for the city.
Today, visitors can witness the enigmatic display of cannons and mortars used in the Civil War to protect the city of Charleston, as well as a stunning array of antebellum mansions and massive oak trees decorated with Spanish moss.
- Address: 2 Murray Blvd, Charleston, SC 29401
- Hours: 7am – 9:30pm
- Cost: Free
13) Listen To The Music At The Charleston Music Hall
A venue for a range of entertainment, including comedy shows, concerts, and theater and dance performances, the Charleston Music Hall is situated inside an impressive 19th-century Gothic Revival building.
Next door to two award-winning hotels and three nationally acclaimed restaurants, the Charleston Music Hall offers a prestigious location in downtown Charleston.
Set inside a listening room, meant to create an intimate environment to impose a personal interaction between artist and audience, the music hall allows for a unique experience.
Every seat offers excellent acoustics so that no matter where you sit, you get the best seat in the house! Catching a show here is definitely one of the best things to do in Charleston.
- Address: 37 John St, Charleston, SC 29403
- Hours/Prices: Check the website for showtimes and ticket prices
14) Observe Distinguished Local Monuments At Marion Square
Initially established for various purposes, Marion Square is now a sought-after greenspace spanning almost seven acres in downtown Charleston.
Situated between King Street and Meeting Street, the square is a verified national landmark filled with history and beauty.
In the past, the square was designed as a defensive wall against the local Native Americans. By the late 1700s, this was no longer necessary, and the property was handed over to the Charleston city government.
In the present day, Marion Square is surrounded by prestigious buildings and hosts seasonal farmer’s markets and a variety of local events.
Strolling through the area, visitors can observe impressive monuments like the statue of South Carolina native John C. Calhoun, an American Vice President, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of War.
Located in Mount Pleasant, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is settled on the harbor across from Charleston.
The museum was established to present the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, a World War II aircraft carrier, as the centerpiece.
Since its establishment in 1976, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum has gone on to host a fleet of National Historic Landmark ships along with the Cold War Memorial, the only Vietnam Experience Exhibit, the Patriots Point Museum, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the official Medal of Honor Museum of the agency.
Featuring the most important education and overnight camping programs in the United States, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is proud to educate others on the history of the United States and honor those that served.
- Address: 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
- Hours: 9am – 6:30pm
- Cost: $27
16) Grab Fresh Produce At The Charleston Farmers Market
Hosted in Marion Square since 1989, the Charleston Farmers Market welcomes locals and tourists weekly!
The local vendors feature fresh and local produce, crafts, and other fun products. Voted as the “Best Attraction” and “Best Outdoor Event” repeatedly, the Charleston Farmers Market is dedicated to supporting Lowcountry farmers and growers while presenting locals and tourists with fresh, inventive options for produce and food options.
In addition, the live entertainment, various activities, and local crafts allow for an exceptional experience to sink into the unique Charleston environment.
Meet with the locals or fellow tourists as you scour your options of fresh produce and souvenirs to take home!
- Address: 329 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403
- Hours: 8am – 2pm Saturdays
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17) Stop By For A Factory Tour Of The Charleston Tea Plantation
Originally a 127-acre potato farm, the Charleston Tea Plantation is now an essential part of American history.
After many unsuccessful attempts at propagating and producing tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant from China, tea was finally grown for the first in the United States in 1888 in Summerville, South Carolina.
The tea plants were transported to the Charleston Tea Plantation to rehabilitate the plants before producing them successfully again.
Nowadays, visitors can stop at the Charleston Tea Plantation for a factory tour and scenic trolley ride of the farm to explore the history of tea and its massive role in the United States.
- Address: 6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
- Hours: 10am – 4pm (Opens at 12pm on Sundays)
- Cost: Free admission and $15 for a trolley tour
18) Tour An Active Archaeological Site At The Drayton Hall Plantation
For more than 250 years, the Drayton Hall Plantation has been an active archeological site featuring an extensive collection of rare 18th and 19th-century artifacts.
A visit to Drayton Hall personifies the Southern colonial lifestyle for a step back in time. Holding a critical educational responsibility, the plantation represents the evolution of life in the South though Drayton Hall was not a working plantation.
Instead, Drayton Hall functioned as the commercial center for John Drayton’s plantation empire, totaling 76,000 acres. It is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America, and one of the top tourist attractions in this southern city.
- Address: 3380 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
- Hours: 9am – 3:30pm, Closed Tuesdays
- Cost: $26
19) Sink Your Toes In The Sand At Sullivan’s Island
An island town in Charleston County, Sullivan’s Island is famous for its award-winning restaurants and sandy beaches.
The island was first settled in the late 1700s by Captain Florence O’Sullivan and has since played a significant role in history. The site of a major Revolutionary War battle, known as The Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the island was also where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War.
People from all over the world come to sink back and relax on the pristine beaches of Sullivan’s Island, considered the most stunning in all of the Lowcountry.
Come explore this historic and beautiful island where the famous author Edgar Allen Poe was stationed as a private in the U.S. Army. He used the island as the background for his story, “The Gold Bug.”
20) Step Back In Time At Middleton Place
Homing the oldest landscaped garden in America, Middleton Place is now a National Historical Landmark representing Charleston and America’s history.
Once a plantation, Middleton Place has working stableyards, award-winning gardens, and historic homes to educate all who visit this rich piece of land.
In addition, Middleton Place preserves a legacy of understanding the Middleton family and the enslaved people, the founder that led the Continental Congress, and his son that signed the Declaration of Independence.
Here, stories are told to be shared with others and passed on from generation to generation, from the enslaved to the free.
Spend the night at the Inn, stroll through the award-winning gardens, sit down for a bite to eat at the Restaurant, or explore the museum and stable yards at Middleton Place for an unforgettable step back in time.
- Address: 4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
- Hours: 9am – 5pm
- Cost: $29
21) Tour The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
The historic home of an influential family of the 1800s, the Aiken-Rhett House Museum is one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the nation.
Nationally significant, the home was built in 1820 by merchant John Robinson, then expanded by the Governor and wife in the 1830s, and then again in the 1850s.
For 142 years, the historic house remained in the Aiken family until it was sold to the Charleston Museum.
Offering guided tours, visitors can tour the Aiken-Rhett House Museum to learn exciting facts not found on the internet about this historic house.
- Address: 48 Elizabeth St, Charleston, SC 29403
- Hours: 10am – 5pm
- Cost: $15
22) Take A Day Trip To Folly Beach
For a fun day of sun, sand and surf, head over to Folly Beach.
Located on Folly Island just 25 minutes away from the Charleston city center, Folly Beach is a gorgeous seaside area full of tourist attractions.
Stroll down Folly Beach Pier, go shopping on Center Street, or have a picnic in the County Park. Or just splash around in the Atlantic Ocean and sunbathe on the soft white sand.
Also, consider visiting Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve to watch the sunset over Morris Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1876 and is another one of South Carolina’s historic sites.
Or you can book a guided boat tour and search for Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins.
Spending the day at Folly Beach is one of the most fun things to do in Charleston, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Where to Stay in Charleston, South Carolina
Now that you know the best things to do in Charleston, it’s time to find the best places to stay!
Best Hostel in Charleston
Situated in the historic Elliotborough neighborhood in Charleston, Notso Hostel offers a range of rooms, including private or dorm rooms for its guests.
In addition, this accommodating hostel provides private parking, breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and an excellent location for all of Charleston’s top attractions.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Charleston
Less than two miles from USS Yorktown State Park and less than five miles from the Charleston Museum, Staybridge Suites – Charleston – Mount Pleasant, an IHG Hotel, offers a range of desirable accommodations, including free Wi-Fi, private parking, a buffet or American breakfast, and a fitness center.
In addition, guests can sit back and relax at the seasonal outdoor swimming pool or grab some sun on the sun terrace.
Best Luxury Hotel in Charleston
A luxurious and aesthetically pleasing hotel, The Pinch Charleston is settled in a pristine and desirable location near the Charleston Museum and the city center. Guests receive accommodations such as free bikes and a 24-hour front desk. It’s one of the best luxury hotels in this city full of rich history.
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