Things to do in Charleston

Things to do in  Charleston

That Southern charm is no joke

Known for its stately mansions, magnolia-scented gardens, and a heady mix of cultural influences, Charleston embodies Southern charm. Thanks to a subtropical climate, this South Carolina coastal town is a popular year-round destination, which means there’s no shortage of things to do in Charleston. Get a second (or third) helping of its diverse, ever-evolving food scene. Wander the city’s cemeteries and hear haunting ghost tales. Stroll the cobblestone streets to view the historic homes. Nearby beaches like Folly Beach and Isle of Palms offer quick getaway options, too.

Top 15 attractions in Charleston

The Battery and White Point Garden

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The Battery wraps around the edge of Charleston’s peninsula, providing an elegant buffer between the city and the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Stroll and sightsee along the wide pedestrian paths, which pass by antebellum homes and historic sights, or perch beneath the live oaks in White Point Garden and watch the world go by.More

Fort Sumter National Monument

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A top historic attraction in South Carolina, Fort Sumter National Monument is famous for being the site where the Civil War began. Today, the sea fort, accessible only by boat, retains much of its original stone structure—plus a few lodged cannonballs—letting visitors experience a piece of American history firsthand.More

Charleston City Market

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Smack in the middle of historic Charleston, the Charleston City Market is a central landmark for Holy City visitors. In addition to being one of the most visited historic attractions in town, the City Market—opened in 1807—is also one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the United States.More

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (Cooper River Bridge)

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At 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the United States. It connects downtown Charleston to the city of Mount Pleasant and the beaches beyond, plus it provides bike and pedestrian paths that lead to unobstructed views of Charleston Harbor and the city skyline.More

Rainbow Row

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This street of brightly colored homes in Charleston is easily the most photographed spot in the city, and it’s easy to see why. The 14 colorful Georgian row houses along East Bay Street date back to 1730, when they were built as merchant stores.More

St. Michael's Church

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Towering above surrounding Charleston, the nearly 200-foot tall white steeple of St. Michael’s signals the site of the city’s oldest church. Inside, visitors and parishioners are transported back to the colonial era: alcoves shine with Tiffany stained glass windows, the original 1768 organ still pipes tunes and creaky wooden pews have seated centuries of worshipers including notables George Washington and Robert E. Lee. The central chandelier once blazed with candles, but has since been retrofitted with bulbs. Otherwise little altered, the church has survived tornadoes, an earthquake and even civil war bombings. The pulpit still bears battle wounds suffered in the 1865 Siege of Charleston Harbor. A table in the main vestibule along the western wall details the building’s long and storied history.Choral music still emanates from St Michael’s on Sundays, and, as a still-functioning Episcopal Church, it can be sometimes challenging to tour the inside. Still, the exterior is a highlight of many historic downtown tours. It's still possible to see the old colonial clock— though minute hands weren’t added until the mid-1800s—and tour the adjacent cemetery, the final resting place of, among several other notables, two signers of the US Constitution.More

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon

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The Old Exchange is one of the oldest structures in Charleston, a famous city landmark, and one of the most historically significant buildings in the United States. Once the site of important political events, the building is now open to the public for fascinating tours, including a walk-through of its haunted Provost Dungeon.More

Charleston Waterfront Park

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Waterfront porch swings, a giant pineapple fountain, and grassy areas perfect for lazing the day away make Waterfront Park feel like Charleston’s personal backyard. Watch the boats float by on the river, snap photos, and enjoy the park’s family-friendly amenities—they keep this park a favorite hangout spot for locals and visitors alike.More

St. Philips Church

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Located in the historic French Quarter, St. Philip’s Church is home to Charleston’s oldest congregation and was the first Anglican church established south of Virginia. A National Historic Landmark, the beautiful stuccoed brick building features an impressive steeple, three Tuscan porticoes, and Corinthian columns.More

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

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As the last large-scale Romantic garden left in the United States, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens seek to provide an escape from the struggles and stresses of everyday life. Unlike a formal garden that seeks to “control” nature, a Romantic garden cooperates with nature to create a peaceful landscape where people and nature exist in harmony. Magnolia’s are also the oldest unrestored gardens in the United States, and the historic house is one of the oldest in the South.More

Circular Congregational Church

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Founded in 1681 by an eclectic group of English Congregationalists, Scots Presbyterians, and French Huguenots, the Circular Congregational Church of Charleston is the oldest, continuously-operating house of worship in the United States. The unique meeting hall was designed and built in a circular shape to reflect the spaces’ open and free-flowing exchange of ideas.More

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

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Located in the beautiful Charleston Harbor, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is one of Charleston’s most popular museums for hands-on learning. Climb aboard the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier), the USS Laffey (a destroyer), and the USS Clamagore (a submarine) as you learn about American naval and maritime history first-hand.More

Heyward-Washington House

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The two-story brick Heyward-Washington House takes its name from its original owner, Thomas Heyward Jr., whose signature appears on the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington, who stayed at the home in 1791. The Georgian-style double house offers a veritable portal into 1700s Charleston.More

Aiken-Rhett House

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Charleston’s historic Aiken-Rhett House offers a rare glimpse into antebellum plantation life in South Carolina. The only surviving urban plantation, the 1818 townhouse complex remains largely intact, its rooms decorated with original wallpaper, fine art, and antique furnishings purchased by the owners more than 150 years ago.More

Charleston Museum

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As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Charleston is known for its deep history. The Charleston Museum, which marquees itself as America’s First Museum, is a great first stop for a broad overview of Charleston’s past, featuring exhibits ranging from Lowcountry dinosaur skeletons to niche Revolutionary War artifacts.More

Trip ideas

A Spooky City Guide to Charleston

A Spooky City Guide to Charleston

Top activities in Charleston

Charleston’s Old South Carriage Historic Horse & Carriage Tour
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Charleston Marsh Eco Boat Cruise with stop at Morris Island Lighthouse
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Charleston Sunset Blues & BBQ Dinner Cruise
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Daytime Horse-Drawn Carriage Sightseeing Tour of Historic Charleston
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Downtown Charleston Food Tour
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Downtown Charleston Food Tour

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Private Luxury Sailing Charters, BYOB & Dolphins
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Undiscovered Charleston: Half Day Food, Wine & History Tour with Cooking Class
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All about Charleston

When to visit

Spring and fall are the best times to visit Charleston. This is when you’ll experience comfortable temperatures and avoid the hot, stickiness of summer. Hurricanes can hit the area hard in the late summer and early fall, so bear that in mind when booking your travel. In spring it’s all about the magnolia blooms, while in the fall, popular foodie events such as Charleston Restaurant Week and Taste of Charleston take center stage.

Getting around

Visitors can easily explore most of Charleston’s major historical sites without a car—either on foot or with the help of public transportation, including the free DASH shuttle, which stops at popular points of interest such as the Charleston City Market. The area’s plantations are not located within walking distance of Charleston hotels, so you’ll need to order a rideshare, rent a car, or book a tour with roundtrip transportation to visit these sites.

Traveler tips

The sweetgrass baskets in the Charleston City Market are nice, but head across the bridge to Mount Pleasant and drive along Route 17 towards Georgetown to pass sellers with baskets at lower prices. Another can’t-miss is the fabled Angel Oak located on Johns Island. It stands 65 feet (20 meters) tall and is purportedly more than 400 years old. Even though it’s technically not in Charleston, the tree is considered one of the city’s must-see attractions, so expect crowds.

Local Currency
US Dollar ($)
Time Zone
EST (UTC -5)
Country Code
+1
Language(s)
English
Attractions
26
Tours
220
Reviews
50,247
EN
9e006a9f-7cfb-4686-9521-66e235ad13b2
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People Also Ask

What is Charleston known for?

Known for its centuries-old mansions, magnolia-scented gardens, and palmetto palms, Charleston blends Southern hospitality with influences from France, Africa, and the West Indies. Founded in 1670, it was the original capital of South Carolina and served as a hub for trade, as well as the largest slave port in the US.

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How many days is enough in Charleston?

Plan on spending three to four days exploring Charleston to experience its historical sites, shops, and dining scene at a leisurely pace. Get acquainted with the city by wandering around the Historic District, visit the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and Fort Sumter, and head to one of Charleston’s antebellum plantations, such as Magnolia Plantation.

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What should I not miss in Charleston, SC?

Don’t miss the city’s Historic District, where you’ll find stately mansions, fragrant gardens, and churches, as well as the historic pastel-colored homes of Rainbow Row and the Waterfront Battery, a defensive seawall and promenade that stretches along the Charleston peninsula. Fort Sumter is another must-see for history buffs.

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Is Charleston a fun town?

Yes. While the party scene might be tamer than other Southern hot spots like Savannah and New Orleans, Charleston’s thriving restaurant and bar scene (and large student population) make it a dynamic destination for a range of travelers. Here, you’ll find elegant hotel bars and fine-dining establishments along with dive bars and nightclubs.

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What foods is Charleston known for?

Charleston is known for budget-friendly Lowcountry staples like shrimp and grits and she-crab soup. Because of the city’s coastal location and European, African, and American Indian influences, its cuisine is a true melting pot of flavors. Other must-try dishes include hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, oysters, barbecue, and Frogmore stew.

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What activities are popular in Charleston?

Most travelers enjoy exploring the city’s historic sites on foot during the day, and then taking an evening ghost tour to wander the grounds of the rumored haunted graveyards. Shop the boutiques along King Street and browse Charleston City Market, which stretches four city blocks and features vendors of items ranging from jewelry to Gullah sweetgrass baskets.

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