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A gorgeous place to visit at any time of year, Charleston is known for its historic sites, distinct southern flavors, laid-back beaches, and famous Southern hospitality. Appealing to all types of travelers and appetites, Charleston is a welcoming city with consistently warm weather and friendly locals. With a variety of world-class attractions, activities, and a long list of culinary hotspots to indulge in, discover the top things to do and see in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
A classic example of antebellum life, The Aiken-Rhett House Museum offers its visitors a chance to explore one of the most well-preserved mansions in Charleston. Originally built in the 1800’s, much of the interior has been preserved with antique furnishings, vintage wallpaper, and towering bronze chandeliers. Here, visitors can browse the historical grounds and go on a self-guided audio tour of its former slave quarters, stables, and original kitchens that have been preserved to give an authentic glimpse into what life was like in the Old South.
The Battery & White Point Gardens
Located at the southernmost tip of the Charleston Peninsula in the heart of the historic district, The Battery and nearby White Point Gardens are top attractions in Charleston. Visitors will find a row of Southern-style mansions overlooking the Harbor, providing a quintessential image of the city’s charm. Formerly the mecca of maritime activity, it is now a popular spot to grab a picturesque photo. Part of The Battery is White Point Gardens, where there is an abundance of Civil War relics amongst gorgeous landscapes.
A local favorite, Folly Beach is known for its ever-expanding restaurant scene and wealth of water activities to indulge in. Overlooking the Atlantic, Folly is popular for its laid-back vibes and friendly energy that is perfect for a day of soaking in the sunshine. Here visitors can go kayaking or paddle boarding around Folly Beach and James Island, charter a sailboat to view dolphins in their natural habitat or try their hand at world-class surfing or fishing on the pier.
South Carolina Aquarium
One of Charleston’s most visited attractions, the South Carolina Aquarium is appealing for both kids and adults alike. Visitors are introduced into the low country coastal environment and unique wildlife, where they can get up close and personal with more than 5,000 animals through two-story aquarium tanks and educational tours. Visitors will find panoramic views of the harbor while interacting with a variety of animals that include reptiles, salt and freshwater fish, songbirds, lemurs, stingrays and much more.
Charleston City Market
Arguably the most visited destination in the downtown area, the Charleston City Market offers visitors a glimpse into life in the Old South. Originally constructed between 1804-1830, this market is open 365 days a year, always bustling with shoppers and local vendors offering a variety of crafts, toys, clothes, and souvenirs. Those not interested in shopping can snack on delicious local goods, or people-watch on a leisurely stroll. Make sure to make a stop at the famous basket weaving ladies that have been perfecting their craft over centuries of generations, using sweetgrass and palmetto leaves.
Sullivan’s Island is a laid-back barrier island just north of Charleston Harbor boasting a mix of wide beaches, historic folklore, and inviting restaurants and shops. Visitors will find a quiet, less touristy beach area celebrated for its beauty and charm. Visitors can explore the historical Fort Moultrie that withstood a nine-hour battle in 1776, dine al fresco in one of the area’s favorite Middle Street restaurants, or unwind on its peaceful stretch of sand.
One of the oldest surviving plantations in the US that is still open to the public, Drayton Hall was originally founded in 1738. Considered a Georgian-Palladian masterpiece of architecture, the main house of Drayton Hall is said to be one of the most significant preserved historical landscapes in the country. With a Memorial Arch signifying one of the oldest African American cemeteries in the nation, visitors can pay their respects while knowledgeable tour guides detail the site’s historical significance.
Fort Sumter National Monument
Most famous for being the site of the first shots of the Civil War in 1861, the Fort Sumter National Monument is one of Charleston’s biggest attractions for history enthusiasts. An island fortification in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in 1861 and became a Southern stronghold during the Civil War. Fort Sumter was then restored by the US military and manned during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
Once home to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark that boasts a house museum, a stable with heritage-bred animals, and one of America’s oldest landscaped gardens. Located along the Ashley River, visitors will find a breathtaking 18th-century plantation with 65 acres dedicated to an impressive French-inspired garden filled with magnolias, camellias, and azaleas that paint its grounds with an array of colors in any season. Visitors can take a ride in the carriage or go on a specialized tour of the grounds in addition to watching reenactors give demonstrations.
One of the most photographed area’s of Charleston, Rainbow Row is a charming row of fourteen colorful historic homes and is the longest cluster of Georgian homes in the US. Distinctly Charleston architecture, these houses were built in the mid 18th-century and were home to the merchants that worked in the waterfront commerce center. After a deterioration after the Civil War that turned it into a “slum” area, Dorothy Porcher Legge bought the homes and made them into the striking pastel image they portray today.
Isle of Palms
Located just 16 miles outside of Charleston, Isle of Palms has 7 miles of stunning coastline in addition to championship golf, tennis, and a marina. Filled with family-friendly activities, visitors can swim, sail, windsurf, or sunbathe at this beautiful oceanfront community area. Beachgoers can take advantage of the area’s boardwalks, picnic areas, volleyball court, and children’s play area in its park. Restaurants, shops, and endless entertainment are on offer, perfect for a day trip for the entire family.