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Spending a weekend in Charleston and looking for a fun list of things to do in Charleston? Look no further. Here’s a handy guide for your trip!
Charleston is the largest city in South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, and the primary city of the Charleston-North Charleston metropolitan area.
The city is on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean formed by the confluence of the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers, just south of the geographical center of South Carolina’s coastline.
When visiting Charleston, you don’t have to worry about not having something to do or somewhere to go because there is something for everyone.
For more information about how enslaved people lived, where the first battle was in the American Civil War, and some great parks and gardens to visit, continue reading.
Where to Stay in Charleston, SC
Here are our favorite places to stay in Charleston. They are particularly good for a weekend trip because of their location and unique ambiance.
- The Jasmine House – this gorgeous 1843 Greek Revivalist Mansion is the accommodation you need to travel back in time. It’s an incredible B&B with a great location, unique design, and excellent amenities. Click here to book your stay!
- Harbourview Inn – this beautiful 4-star hotel by the water features elegant rooms and jaw-dropping views. Most attractions are within walking distance – perfect location! Click here to check availability!
21 Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC
Wondering what to do in Charleston, SC? Here are our favorite activities and attractions in the city:
1. Go On A Historical Walking Tour
Local guides will lead you on a two-hour walking tour of Historic Charleston to experience its allure.
Then, join the local guide on a stroll through the historic district of downtown Charleston along its most beautiful streets and picturesque alleys.
Share their knowledge of Charleston’s rich history, from its prosperous colonial era to the turbulent Civil War and its aftermath.
Observe some of South Carolina’s most historically significant homes that got preserved and restored to their former splendor.
Along the way, you can listen to stories of colorful locals, lesser-known events in Charleston’s past, and ancient days. This is hands-down one of the best things to do in Charleston.
2. Visit The Waterfront Park
A location where tourists and locals congregate to unwind and admire the views of Charleston Harbor.
Traditional park benches and double swings face the water frequented by sailboats and larger vessels. Nighttime illumination of fountains, including the unusual Pineapple Fountain, and seasonal flower gardens add color.
After you’ve seen the fruit-shaped water feature, explore the park. Visitors can stroll along the pier or a tree-lined path and picnic in a park gazebo.
There are also many benches where visitors can relax and people-watch, making it one of the best things to do in Charleston.
Free and open daily, Waterfront Park’s hours vary by season. The park opens between 6 am and 7 am and closes between 9 am and 10 pm. As a result, some nearby parking garages and metered spots fill up quickly.
3. Learn About The Middleton Place
If there were a place to stop and smell the roses, it would be this home.
This mansion, constructed in 1755, was the residence of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Middleton Place is home to an impressive collection of historic furniture, portraits (formerly belonging to the Middleton family), and a stable containing heritage-bred animals.
According to visitors, the gardens are the best feature of Middleton Place. The 65-acre grounds, modeled after traditional French gardens, feature camellias, azaleas, magnolias, and myrtle throughout the year.
Middleton Place serves as a sobering reminder of Charleston’s history of slavery and its photogenic landscaping.
The property was constructed and maintained by enslaved people owned by the Middleton family.
Visitors should take the “Beyond the Fields: Enslavement at Middleton Place” tour to better understand the contributions and sacrifices of the enslaved people forced to work at Middleton Place.
4. Relax At Folly Beach Charleston
Charleston is known for its historic sites, incredible architecture, and charming old-world atmosphere, but it also has some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
Folly Beach is the perfect place to relax, soak up some rays, and ride the waves after a few days of exploring the area’s attractions, making it one of the best things to do in Charleston.
Twelve miles south of Charleston is a vast stretch of coastline that makes for an excellent day trip.
From the pier, one has a good view of the surrounding nature, surf, and fishing. Folly Beach’s welcoming atmosphere draws a large number of visitors.
Two of the beachfront’s most well-known restaurants, Taco Boy and Lost Dog Cafe, are a must-see when visiting the beach.
In addition to beachfront bars and unique Charleston restaurants, this area also features hotels, restrooms, and foot showers. In the beach area, beach chairs, umbrellas, and equipment for non-motorized sports are available for rental.
5. Go On Charleston Food Tours
Charleston gets regarded as one of the best food cities in the United States due to its low country cuisine and abundance of trendy restaurants.
Consider taking a Charleston food tour of the city’s finest cuisine for a crash course.
Past visitors praised this city’s food tour, noting that most guides were friendly and well-informed.
According to reviews, this is an excellent activity if you’re interested in the Holy City’s food scene and history.
However, low-country cuisine can be pretty heavy, and some tourists had mistakenly eaten before their tour and left stuffed.
Still, a food tour is by far one of the best things to do in Charleston. So don’t miss it!
6. Shop At Charleston City Market
Some may argue that the Charleston City Market is a bit of a tourist trap, whereas others praise it as a beautiful representation of life in the Old South.
It has been a shopping center since the 1800s and is one of the oldest city markets in the country.
The massive outdoor market and its numerous vendors sell everything from fresh food and produce to clothing, toys, and souvenirs.
In addition, you can sample local snacks, stop for a cup of coffee, and purchase one of the region’s coveted traditional baskets.
In the evenings, it gets replaced by a night market where local artisans and artists sell wares.
Shopping here is by far one of the best things to do in Charleston.
7. Learn About The Drayton Hall
Drayton Hall dates back to 1738 and is one of the South’s oldest surviving plantation homes.
Take your time exploring the enormous red-brick plantation house, which hasn’t changed much since it was constructed (be aware that there is no air conditioning, electricity, or heat).
Its tours and visitors’ center provide a fascinating insight into the lifestyles of both plantation owners and the African Americans they enslaved.
After watching the orientation video, guests can opt for a 45-minute audio tour explaining enslaved people’s role on the plantation at no additional cost.
Visitors have stated that the stories they heard on the audio tour and the information provided by the knowledgeable staff helped paint a picture of the daily realities faced by enslaved people on the plantation.
In addition to learning its history, you can stroll through the expansive estate’s beautiful grounds and gardens.
8. Visit The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum is said to be the first museum in the country, and its focus on the South Carolina low country makes it an ideal place to learn about the region.
It was established in 1773 and now houses a captivating collection of artworks, works of art, and archaeological artifacts.
There is a natural history gallery, a Civil War exhibit, a Charleston silver exhibit, and an interactive “Kid story” section.
In addition, the “Lowcountry History Hall” exhibit features artifacts relating to the Native Americans who inhabited the South Carolina coast before colonization and the enslaved African Americans who contributed to the region’s agricultural prosperity.
While some sections examine life during the American Revolution or Charleston’s role in the American Civil War, others contain unusual objects such as an Egyptian mummy and a complete whale skeleton.
Needless to say that this is one of the best things to do in Charleston.
Read next: Best Places to Visit in the South, USA
9. Visit South Carolina Aquarium
It is easy to see why the South Carolina Aquarium has been a family favorite since it opened in 2010 at the historic Charleston Harbour.
Its enormous aquariums display many fish and marine animals, including alligators, otters, sharks, starfish, and sea turtles.
With more than 5,000 animals, the South Carolina Aquarium is a must-see destination for families on vacation.
The Aquarium is situated in downtown Charleston on Charleston Harbor and offers views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
The Aquarium got accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which requires it to pass an annual animal welfare inspection.
Visitors can rest assured that the Aquarium’s numerous inhabitants, including alligators, eels, and otters, are treated with the utmost care.
The South Carolina Aquarium does not house dolphins, whales, or manatees per the Marine Resources Act of 2000, which prohibits South and North Carolina facilities from exhibiting marine mammals.
Still, a visit to South Carolina Aquarium is one of the funniest things to do in Charleston, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
10. Experience Nathaniel Russell House Museum
The refined Nathaniel Russell House, located just south of the city’s center, is another of the city’s many historic homes worth visiting.
As a museum and National Historic Landmark, it gets regarded as one of the finest examples of Neoclassical architecture in the United States, making it one of the best things to do in Charleston.
This historic home got built at the turn of the nineteenth century by wealthy Southern merchant Nathaniel Russell.
This landmark home is renowned for its spiral staircase, intricate furnishings, and landscaped gardens.
In contrast to the Aiken-Rhett House, portions of the Nathaniel Russell House Museum got subjected to architectural and interior restoration.
Recent visitors were impressed by the meticulous restoration and said the house gave them insight into Russell and his family’s daily activities.
Previous visitors praised the self-guided audio tours, accessible via the smartphone app, as highly informative.
In addition, they praised the knowledgeable staff members who brought the house’s history to life.
11. Learn About The Aiken-Rhett House Museum
The Aiken-Rhett House, located in the heart of the city, is worth visiting if you want to learn more about what it was like living on plantations.
The historic house, its slave quarters, stables, and kitchen are now a museum, and, like Drayton Hall, it is conserved but not restored, making them very thought-provoking to explore.
Built in the early 1800s and expanded by Gov. William Aiken Jr. and his wife in the 1830s – 1850s, the house retains much of its original style.
Spend some time exploring the grounds, which contain the stables, kitchens, and slave quarters, before touring the house.
The slave quarters, which retain their original paint and flooring, remind them of the harsh living conditions endured by at least 14 enslaved workers on the property.
Past guests valued seeing the living quarters first to comprehend better how the house functioned.
12. Visit The Citadel
The Military College of South Carolina, or simply The Citadel, is a senior public military college located in Charleston, South Carolina.
It is one of the six senior military colleges in the United States and got founded in 1842. The large campus of the Citadel, which contains numerous exciting landmarks, monuments, and memorials, is just ten minutes drive northwest of the city center.
It got founded in 1842 as a prestigious and historic military college, and tours take visitors to see its magnificent Spanish Moorish-style schools, barracks, and parade ground.
In addition to exploring the colorful Checkerboard Quadrangle of Padgett-Thomas Barracks, visitors can visit the beautiful Summerall Chapel and distinctive Howie Bell Tower, which is one of the best things to do in Charleston.
There are also scattered memorials and monuments to military campaigns and personnel. Once per week, visitors can observe an entire dress parade featuring a rousing performance by the regimental band and pipes.
13. Visit The Angel Oak
The Angel Oak, one of Charleston’s most photographed landmarks, is on Johns Island.
Supposedly, it is the largest live oak east of the Mississippi River. The magnificent tree is 65 feet tall and 25.5 feet in circumference. The Angel Oak was the 210th tree the Live Oak Society registered.
The tree is between 300 and 400 years old and provides shade for an area of nearly 20,000 square feet.
Visitors in the thousands pose next to the tree’s long branches, which is definitely one of the best things to do in Charleston.
Angel Oak’s mesmerizing tangle of branches and twisted limbs is a must-see attraction, just thirty minutes to the city’s southwest.
The tree and the park are free to visit. Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm. Visitors are welcome on Sunday from 1 to 5 pm. Donations are accepted. In addition to the tree, there is a gift shop on-site.
14. Discover The Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
While Middleton Place’s gardens appeal to those who enjoy manicured hedges and flower-lined paths, the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens are ideal for nature enthusiasts.
The house is worth an hour of your time, it is a less ornate version of other Charleston plantation homes, but the interior is just as beautiful. However, most visitors come to enjoy the wildlife.
Observe alligators, herons, and turtles in the Audubon Swamp Garden, search for local birds in the waterfowl refuge, grab a helmet and bike along one of the many trails, or get lost in the horticultural maze.
Recent visitors agreed that the zoo and nature center make this an ideal destination for families.
Despite the plantation’s aesthetic appeal, its history is deeply rooted in slavery. It was once home to numerous slave families, who resided in the four cabins on the property until the late 20th century; the cabins got preserved, representing a significant historical period.
15. Visit The Fort Sumter National Monument
As the location where the first shots of the American Civil War got fired, Fort Sumter is now a National Monument.
It is only a half-hour ferry ride from Liberty Square and is located on a small, pentagon-shaped island at the entrance of Charleston Harbour.
The park rangers are highly informed and knowledgeable. They provide an excellent overview of the fort’s history and the locals’ perspective before the Civil War outbreak.
The Confederacy attacked the sturdy sea fort on April 12, 1861, marking the beginning of the American Civil War.
While exploring its fortifications and museum, visitors can learn about its role in the war and enjoy breathtaking views of the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean from atop its ramparts.
16. Experience The Ravenel Bridge
Upon its completion in 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River, connecting downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant, instantly became a beloved landmark.
It got constructed to withstand winds exceeding 300 miles per hour and an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale.
In addition to its multiple traffic lanes, the bridge features a shared bicycle-pedestrian path called Wonders’ Way, and walking or biking across it is a popular pastime due to the panoramic views of Charleston.
17. Visit The Old Slave Mart Museum
The Old Slave Mart Museum is in the heart of the French Quarter, close to the French Huguenot Church, in the building where enslaved people got auctioned off before the Civil War.
The tour is self-guided and includes historical signage, personal accounts of enslaved people, artifacts, and audio and visual displays.
It is a small but profoundly moving museum that provides a sobering perspective on history.
A block away is the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, where costumed guides discuss the history of pirates and patriots who got imprisoned there.
18. Explore The Battery And the White Point Garden
The Battery and White Point Gardens are located at the southernmost tip of the Charleston peninsula and provide breathtaking harbor views.
Numerous exciting monuments and memorials got scattered throughout the park and promenade, with some lovely Southern-style mansions lining its edge.
Initially a public garden, during the American Civil War, the area’s defensive seawall was reinforced, fortified, and transformed into a battery.
As a result, many of its monuments have a military theme, with historic cannons and statues of military heroes positioned alongside pleasant walking paths, fountains, and flowerbeds.
19. Learn About The H.L Hunley Submarine
The H.L. Hunley, initially constructed in 1863 for the Confederate Army, was the world’s first successful combat submarine.
Unfortunately, it was lost at sea in 1864 until 1995, when it got found off the coast of Sullivan’s Island.
In 2000, the Hunley and the remains of its crew were brought back to the surface for a meticulous restoration.
Today, you can visit the base and tour the submarine, an experience many recent visitors deem worthwhile, mainly if you are interested in naval history.
Recent visitors found the combination of guided and self-guided tours with interactive exhibits and activities fascinating.
Additionally, many praised the expert guides. After a 20-minute overview, visitors are free to explore independently.
Needless to say but the H.L Hunley Submarine is one of the best things to do in Charleston.
20. Visit The McLeod Plantation Historic Site
At the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, visitors can learn crucial Gullah Geechee heritage information.
This plantation was founded in 1851, and by 1860, 23 cabins contained 74 enslaved people. It was primarily a cotton plantation until the final crop was harvested in 1922.
The property got restored to its original condition, and visitors could tour the McLeod family home and the enslaved people’s quarters.
In addition, they will learn about the relationships between those who lived on the plantation and the property’s significance during the Civil War.
The 37-acre plantation includes a dairy and kitchen, a worship center, a cemetery, a cotton gin house, a riverside outdoor pavilion, and a tree believed to be more than 600 years old.
21. Explore The Sullivans Island
Sullivan’s Island, which comprises only 3,3 square miles, may not appear to be a must-see for Charleston visitors.
However, this beachfront community demonstrates that good things come in small packages.
Located at the mouth of the Charleston harbor, approximately 10 miles east of the city center, Sullivan’s Island features beaches, unique restaurants and shops, and rich history, making it one of the best things to do in Charleston.
According to many visitors, the beach is perfect for families. You’ll also find many vacation rental properties here – a viable alternative if you desire a little more seclusion than some hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in downtown Charleston can offer.
Even if you’re not much of a beach bum, there’s enough local history here to make a stop worthwhile.
Fort Moultrie was the first fort constructed on Sullivan’s Island. In 1776, when nine warships were advancing on Charleston, this structure made of palmetto logs withstood a nine-hour battle.
More Fun Things to Do in Charleston SC
Here are a few more ideas on what to do in Charleston, SC.
- Shop til’ you drop at King Street
- Visit the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square
- Visit the Boone Hall Plantation
- Learn the naval history at Patriots Point
Final Thoughts on What to Do in Charleston SC
Charleston has something for everyone to enjoy, from great food and beautiful landmarks to museums with a rich historical background.
You can learn about how enslaved people used to live and what they did in their day-to-day lives. You can even take a ferry to Fort Sumter and learn about where the first shots of the American Civil War got fired.
But suppose you are not a fan of learning about South Carolina’s history. In that case, you can visit the South Carolina Aquarium, home to over 5000 animals ranging from birds and land-dwelling mammals to reptiles and fish.