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18 Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

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.

Aiken-Rhett House Museum Aiken-Rhett House Museum
Credit: Aiken-Rhett House Museum by Historic Charleston Foundation

Aiken-Rhett House Museum

What Is It? 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. 

Why Do It? Originally built in the 1800s, much of the interior has been preserved with antique furnishings, vintage wallpaper, and towering bronze chandeliers.

Good to Know: 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 Garden The Battery
Credit: The Battery by bigstock.com

The Battery & White Point Garden

What Is It? Located at the tip of the Charleston Peninsula in the heart of the historic district, The Battery and nearby White Point Garden are top attractions in Charleston. 

Why Do It? 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. 

Good to Know: Part of The Battery is White Point Garden, where there is an abundance of Civil War relics amongst gorgeous landscapes.

Folly Beach Folly Beach
Credit: Folly Beach by © Alex Grichenko/dreamstime.com

Folly Beach

What Is It? A local favorite, Folly Beach is known for its ever-expanding restaurant scene and wealth of water activities to indulge in. 

Why Do It? 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. 

Good to Know: Visitors can go kayaking or paddleboarding 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 South Carolina Aquarium
Credit: South Carolina Aquarium by South Carolina Aquarium

South Carolina Aquarium

What Is It? One of Charleston’s most visited attractions, the South Carolina Aquarium is appealing for both kids and adults alike. 

Why Do It? Visitors are introduced into the low country coastal environment and unique wildlife, where they can get up close and personal with more than 4,500 animals through two-story aquarium tanks and educational tours. 

Good to Know: 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 Charleston City Market
Credit: Charleston City Market by thecharlestoncitymarket.com

Charleston City Market

What Is It? Arguably the most visited destination in the downtown area, the Charleston City Market offers visitors a glimpse into life in the Old South. 

Why Do It? 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. 

Good to Know: Make sure to make a stop at the famous basket weaving Gullah artisans that have been perfecting their craft over centuries of generations, using sweetgrass and palmetto leaves.

Sullivan's Island Sullivan's Island, SC
Credit: Sullivan's Island, SC by © Cynthia Mccrary | Dreamstime.com

Sullivan's Island

What Is It? 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. 

Why Do It? Visitors will find a quiet, less touristy beach area celebrated for its beauty and charm. 

Good to Know: 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.

Drayton Hall Drayton Hall
Credit: Drayton Hall by draytonhall.org

Drayton Hall

What Is It? Founded in 1738, Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation house in the US that is still open to the public. 

Why Do It? 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. 

Good to Know: With a Memorial Arch signifying one of the oldest African American cemeteries in the nation, visitors can pay their respects while audio tours detail the site’s historical significance.

Fort Sumter National Monument Fort Sumter National Monument
Credit: Fort Sumter National Monument by bigstock.com

Fort Sumter National Monument

What Is It? Most famous for being the site of the first shots of the Civil War in 1861, the Fort Sumter National Monument is an island fortification in Charleston Harbor. 

Why Do It? Fort Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in 1861 and became a Southern stronghold during the Civil War. 

Good to Know: Fort Sumter was then restored by the US military and manned during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.

Middleton Place Middleton Place
Credit: Middleton Place by Middleton Place

Middleton Place

What Is It? 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-breed animals, and one of America’s oldest landscaped gardens. 

Why Do It? Located along the Ashley River, visitors will find an 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. 

Good to Know: Visitors can take a ride in the carriage or go on a specialized tour of the grounds in addition to watching reenactors give demonstrations.

Rainbow Row Rainbow Row
Credit: Rainbow Row by © Jerry Coli | Dreamstime.com

Rainbow Row

What Is It? One of the most photographed areas of Charleston, Rainbow Row is a charming row of 13 colorful historic homes and is the longest cluster of Georgian homes in the U.S. 

Why Do It? 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. 

Good to Know: 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 Isle of Palms
Credit: Isle of Palms by © Jon Bilous | Dreamstime.com

Isle of Palms

What Is It? Located just 16 miles outside of Charleston, Isle of Palms has seven miles of stunning coastline in addition to championship golf, tennis, and a marina. 

Why Do It? Filled with family-friendly activities, visitors can swim, sail, windsurf, or sunbathe at this beautiful oceanfront community. Beachgoers can take advantage of the area’s boardwalks, picnic areas, volleyball court, and children’s play area in its park. 

Good to Know: Restaurants, shops, and endless entertainment are on offer, perfect for a day trip for the entire family.

The Charleston Museum Charleston Museum
Credit: Charleston Museum by charlestonmuseum.org

The Charleston Museum

What Is It? If you’re looking to add a dose of culture to your Charleston visit, head to The Charleston Museum.

Why Do It? Housed in a modern structure, you’ll be greeted by a two-story lobby that features a suspended whale that once swam into Charleston’s harbor in 1880. Take a journey into the city’s cultural history as you browse its fascinating collection of exhibits, which highlights Native Americans and early settlers as well as life during the Revolution and southern-made silver in the Victorian era. There’s also a hands-on section for little ones to explore.

Good to Know: This museum is known as “America’s First Museum, as it was founded in 1773 under the Charleston Library Society.

Waterfront Park Charleston, South Carolina
Credit: Charleston, South Carolina by bigstock.com

Waterfront Park

What Is It? Charleston’s Waterfront Park is the centerpiece of the city, where many go to relax and enjoy views of the Charleston Harbor.

Why Do It? This 12-acre picturesque park offers a tranquil place to unwind in between sightseeing excursions. Stretching more than 1,000 feet along the waterfront, you’ll find inviting park benches and double swings that face the water. Kick back and enjoy the postcard-perfect views of the sailboats and ships bobbing in the water. The park is popular due to its central location, near the City Market and many of Charleston’s most popular historic sites.

Good to Know: One of the most photogenic sights in Waterfront Park is the quirky Pineapple Fountain. It’s especially beautiful at night when it’s lit up, while it’s typically surrounded by seasonal flower gardens.

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Credit: Magnolia Plantation & Gardens by Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

What Is It? The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a historic house in Charleston and one of the oldest plantations in the South.

Why Do It? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this year-round attraction is beloved for its extensive garden landscapes. Often dubbed as one of the most beautiful gardens in the United States, it’s an ideal spot for nature lovers who want to stop and smell the roses. You’ll find all kinds of flowers to enjoy, including camellias, daffodils, and azaleas, as well as countless other species in bloom year-round. Of course, the best time to see its vibrant floral landscapes is in springtime.

Good to Know: Magnolia Plantation is home to America’s oldest publicly accessed gardens. It’s a popular historic site in Charleston, first opened to visitors in 1870, however many parts of the garden are more than 325 years old.

USS Yorktown USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Credit: USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum by Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

USS Yorktown

What Is It? History buffs won’t want to miss a chance to hop aboard the USS Yorktown, which served in the United States Navy.

Why Do It? To get to this immense vessel you’ll have to reach Patriots Point, which is just across the Charleston Harbor. It has an impressive resume as the 10th aircraft career in the US Navy, receiving the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars for its service in World War II. In addition, it also received five battle stars for service in Vietnam.

Good to Know: In 1975, the USS Yorktown was retired to Charleston’s Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Today you can visit and enjoy an exciting tour of the aircraft and submarines and spend an afternoon browsing the maritime exhibits.

High Wire Distilling High Wire Distilling
Credit: High Wire Distilling by highwiredistilling.squarespace.com

High Wire Distilling

What Is It? An activity for the 21 and up crowd, High Wire Distilling is Charleston’s first distillery since prohibition.

Why Do It? The distillery features a cozy tasting room and collection of distinctive spirits, while tours give you a behind-the-scenes look at its premium, handcrafted, small-batch production. You’ll get an overview of the distilling process and see the still, mash tun, fermentation tanks, barrel aging, and bottling operations in action. Using the finest ingredients, the distillery produces gin, rum, whiskey, and vodka.

Good to Know: High Wire Distilling is located in the heart of historic downtown Charleston. Tours are available on select days and offer insight into the distilling process.

Charleston Farmers Market Charleston Farmers Market
Credit: Charleston Farmers Market by charlestonfarmersmarket.com

Charleston Farmers Market

What Is It? Featuring local vendors and live entertainment, the Charleston Farmers Market is a popular weekend activity in Charleston.

Why Do It? Often called the best outdoor event in the city, this top-rated weekly attraction offers a lovely spot for an afternoon stroll. You’ll discover a large selection of unique items on offer, from produce and plants to flowers, prepared foods, and arts and crafts from local artisans. You’ll find lots of options for food tastings, while live entertainment keeps the atmosphere cheery. The market is within walking distance of most of the downtown hotels, making it an easy Saturday morning jaunt.

Good to Know: The Charleston Farmers Market is typically held every Saturday from April to the end of November in Marion Square. Check the official website for any updates.

Dock Street Theater Dock Street Theater
Credit: Dock Street Theater by Dock Street Theater

Dock Street Theater

What Is It? For a spectacular live theatre experience in Charleston, snag a ticket to one of the shows at Dock Street Theater.

Why Do It? One of the city’s premier performing arts venues, this year-round attraction offers a variety of live shows to choose from. Incorporating both local arts groups and touring companies, the theatre has premiered more than 30 new plays and musicals. You’ll find everything from family-friendly shows like “Charlottes Web” to holiday specials like “Elf”, as well as iconic titles such as “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Kinky Boots”.

Good to Know: The Dock Street Theatre in historic Charleston is often called “America’s first theater”. It’s home to one of the oldest and largest arts education programs in the region, offering a range of classes designed for students of all skill levels.

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