There’s a reason why Charleston, South Carolina continues to win accolades for being a great place to visit. It’s also understandable why so many people move here after visiting a few times (or just based off a few good recommendations). There really are so many activities and attractions. Here’s our list of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina!
At the center of the South Carolina Lowcountry, Charleston is a world-class city wrapped-up in a very accessible package. Check out our list of the best attractions and activities in Charleston, SC. And be sure to keep exploring The Best of Hipster Charleston site for even more recommendations on the best activities and attractions here.
Don’t forget to check our recommendations for the best time to visit Charleston, SC, if you’re not even sure of that.
Top 10 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina This Weekend
With a laundry list of activities to take advantage of regardless of the weather here, any visit requires prioritizing. Here are the top attractions to do on your first visit to Charleston. If you don’t get to them all, there’s always the second visit! And speaking of coming back, keep visiting this page as we continue to add more things to do in South Carolina.
1. Historic Charleston City Market
No visit to Charleston would be complete without wandering through the Historic Charleston City Market and nearby. Though the market area is touristy, the Charleston City Market is pretty and historic. It’s also an opportunity to check-out the Confederate Museum (when open). Walking through (using the free public restrooms) and looking at the various goods is all free. You’ll find anything related to Charleston here: toys, sweetgrass baskets, jewelry, food, and much more. I would not recommend any of the restaurants on Market Street, but rather to head elsewhere after exploring.
2. The Battery and White Point Gardens
Where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet sits one of the most quintessential tourist attractions here: White Point Gardens. This park features a prime location at the tip of the peninsula in the South of Broad neighborhood in historic downtown Charleston. Visitors enjoy fantastic views of Charleston Harbor and the Ravenel Bridge. Missing a stroll through White Point Gardens and along the Battery would leave a visit to Charleston inadequate.
3. Charleston Tours
One of the fastest ways to see Charleston and surrounding area is through the guidance of a trained local. Charleston, SC, tours are always fascinating. All Charleston tour guides are well-trained before taking visitors out, and there’s plenty of tour types to choose:
Ghost tours in Charleston, SC, especially are a treat: as a historic city, there are more than a few great ghost stories to share with visitors. But there are also carriage rides and Charleston plantation tours to enjoy on your visit. Each have unique information shared according to the individual tour guide, so you’ll be sure to enjoy some variety.
4. Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor
Charleston, South Carolina was of significant political and military importance for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. And luckily, visitors are welcome to the location that marked the start of the Civil War, located right here in the Charleston harbor. Fort Sumter, SC, is one of the best tourist attractions in Charleston, and the ride out to the fort can be spectacular.
5. Rainbow Row on East Bay Street
Arguably the most photographed location in Charleston, Rainbow Row is a line of 13 historic homes on East Bay Street. Painted various pastel colors to match a Caribbean color scheme, the houses faced the Cooper River when they were first constructed. Today, they stand between Tradd Street and Elliot Street and are right along the route from White Point Gardens to Waterfront Park.
6. Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge
Aside from Rainbow Row, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge is what most Charlestonians associate with living in the Lowcountry. It almost seems that no matter where you are in the area, you can see the two towers of the bridge standing high above everything. A fair amount of that is probably because of how low-lying the land is here. But a walk or bike ride along the Ravenel bridge is a relaxing way to see the skyline of downtown Charleston and the harbor.
7. Charleston Waterfront Park
Another scenic location on the Charleston peninsula, Waterfront Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Charleston, South Carolina. The pineapple fountain is another one of the most famous sites to see here. But sitting on one of the swinging benches on the wharf is a great way to while away the afternoon.
8. Middleton Place
Definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Charleston, Middleton Place sits on the Ashley River. The house is not the most impressive of the plantations near Charleston, as the original home was burned in the Civil War. That said, the gardens are gorgeous and framed by live oaks lining the Ashley River. Take a carriage ride, explore the house, or enjoy a meal at the Middleton Place restaurant. But definitely don’t miss a chance to wander through this former rice plantation.
9. College of Charleston Campus
Walking through the central part of the College of Charleston campus is like walking through Disneyland’s version of Charleston. The buildings and homes have all been beautifully restored. The lights and Spanish moss dripping from the limbs of the giant live oaks make nighttime at the Cistern a magical experience, to boot.
10. The Nathaniel Russell House
Charleston, South Carolina, is most famous for the architectural gems throughout downtown. That list is sure to include the Nathaniel Russell House. Walking around town is a delight, but exploring the inside of some of these homes add interest to fans of architecture and interior design. It’s also good to see how people lived in the height of Charleston’s influence and wealth. It’s difficult to find examples of how the vast majority of Charleston’s inhabitants lived downtown (the slaves and urban poor). And yet, the Nathaniel Russell House is one of several excellent examples of the upper crust’s lifestyle.
More Activities and Attractions in Charleston, South Carolina
11. The Best Charleston Beaches
Isle of Palms
12. Charleston Plantations
13. Hampton Park
At 60 acres, Hampton Park is the largest park in downtown Charleston (though not the largest park in all Charleston). It’s also the prettiest and most relaxing, in this writer’s humble opinion. A circular running path around the perimeter of Hampton Park compliments the interior. Stroll through the middle to find the gazebo, playground, pond with fountains and friendly ducks, and the best plantings in Charleston. To get here, head north of the Crosstown and pass Westside neighborhood and Hampton Park Terrace.
14. Shopping in Charleston
Going shopping is not necessarily for everyone. But the best shopping in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is a major draw for more than a handful of people. King Street shopping is Charleston’s version of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, Fifth Avenue in New York, or Bond Street in London. But high-end and luxury shopping is not the only thing found in this shopping area. From used book stores to thrift shops to specialty Charleston coffee shops and Charleston bakeries, there are plenty of establishments to pique anyone’s interest. For those looking to save some money, there are plenty of malls near Charleston, like the Tanger Outlets.
15. Broad Street
There’s an old saying that there are two types of people in South Carolina: people who live South of Broad Street, and everyone else. Broad Street has long been associated with wealth. Today, the street is lined with art galleries, luxury real estate offices, law offices, and some great restaurants. A personal favorite is Fast and French.
16. King Street
Broad Street is associated with Old Charleston, but King Street is linked to modern and the future of the city. Lower King Street is full of high-end boutique shopping. Meanwhile, Upper King Street is where you’ll find many of the best restaurants and bars in the entire city.
17. Charleston Museum
Joseph Manigault House
18. Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
The Old Exchange and Provost Building was completed in 1771. It was the socio-cultural center of the city of Charleston from the end of the colonial era and into early Revolutionary period. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon below the building is even older than what’s above it. It’s worth a visit to see how pirates and others found outside the law were treated in early America (and maybe see a ghost yourself).
19. South Carolina Aquarium
No trip to Charleston, South Carolina, would be complete without visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. Opened in May of 2000, the South Carolina Aquarium inspires conservation with some pretty spectacular exhibits such as the two-story tank. It is home to more than 5000 animals, including birds, stingrays, a touch tank of sharks, and river otters! This unique facility is both educational and entertaining for at least a few hours (a lot more if you’ve got kids). Be sure to come see why the SC Aquarium has been consistently voted the best tourist attraction in Charleston for families!
20. Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park
The “Joe”, as it’s locally known, is named after the former 10-term mayor of Charleston. It’s located on the banks of the Ashley River between Brittlebank Park and the Citadel Military College campus. Of course, baseball is a major part of the draw of the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, but that’s just a part of the story of the stadium and its draw. Their hipster-style hot dogs cannot be beat.
21. Gibbes Museum of Art
60 of the Best Places to Eat in Charleston, South Carolina
There’s a reason Charleston was voted North America’s Best City and second best city in the world (after Kyoto, Japan). Among them: the food.
10 of the Best Fine Dining Restaurants in Downtown Charleston, SC
Many fine dining downtown Charleston restaurants have gained nation-wide notoriety for their ingredients, their chefs, or just their flavors. No visit to Charleston is complete without exploring as many of the fantastic Charleston restaurants as time here permits.
Seafood Restaurants in Downtown Charleston
A trip to Charleston would not be complete without savoring at least one meal of seafood fresh from the surrounding Lowcountry waters. Coastal South Carolina seafood cuisine on offer at the various seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC, ranges from shrimp and grits to she-crab soup and fresh oysters.
Casual Restaurants in Charleston
As is befitting for a city with such a strong foodie culture, there are plenty of other casual restaurants in Charleston, SC, to try. A few fantastic options downtown include: Xiao Bao Biscuit, Hominy Grill, Butcher and Bee, Edmund’s Oast, and the Ordinary.
While lacking a major Italian-American population, Charleston does have a pretty good pizza scene, too. Check out our list of places to find the best pizza in Charleston, SC.
Brunch Restaurants in Charleston
Before visiting all the historical attractions within Charleston, a decent brunch in Charleston, SC, is almost required. With many local favorites endemic to here, restaurants in Charleston serve, without question, the best brunch in all the South.
Even More of the Best Things to Do in Charleston, SC: The Lists
To help curate the various Charleston activities according to the goal of your visit, we’ve also made lists according to who’s tagging along with you on your trip:
- your significant other
- an outdoor enthusiast
- your entire family
- a barfly
- someone very, very, cheap
21 of the Most Romantic Things to Do in Charleston, SC
the Morris Island Lighthouse Trail
sailing on the Schooner Pride
taking a cooking class at Zero George
23 of the Most Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC, with Kids
There is no more effective birth control in the world than traveling with kids (except babysitting). But traveling to Charleston can be pretty breezy with tykes in tow. Lucky for you there are plenty of fun things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids. Here’s a list of this writer’s favorite fun things for kids to do in Charleston, South Carolina, after having dragged kids around myself.
60 of the Best Free Activities in Charleston, South Carolina
Despite the aura of genteel opulence that is what many define as Charleston, there are plenty of free things to do in Charleston, SC. In fact, many a Charleston local will spend weeks exploring the city and its various tourist attractions without spending much.
10 of the Most Fun Outdoor Activities in Charleston, SC
Did you know that Charleston, South Carolina, is in the middle of a biological hotspot? This area includes a huge number of endemic species of plants and wildlife found nowhere else in the world. And the unbridled development that happened elsewhere in the hotspot largely passed Charleston by (until recently). Now, there are still plenty of fun outdoor activities to enjoy in Charleston and nearby. You just need to know where to look.
With so many opportunities to enjoy Charleston nightlife, there are rarely dull moments in town. Enjoying a night on the town is pretty easy in as lively a place as Charleston. From exploring the best bars in Charleston, SC, to higher-end establishments, seeing a show at the Dock Street Theatre or a Riverdogs baseball game at the Joe, there’s plenty to keep visitors and locals alike busy.
Explore our full list of the most fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night.
Charleston Visitors Center
After exploring this list, one of the best places to visit first is the Charleston Visitors Center. It provides a great background to the history and main tourist attractions in Charleston, South Carolina. The building even has an introductory video and a replica of part of a historic home. The staff at the Charleston Visitors Center is also happy to provide information about the best attractions and activities here. You can even snag discounts on tours.
Hotels and Places to Stay in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
All these Charleston activities are useless if you don’t have anywhere to sleep.
But Charleston is a major tourist destination, so there are plenty of hotels and inns to suit various needs. Check out our list of the best places to stay in Charleston, SC. It includes our favorite hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts both in the historic downtown and on the beach.
9 of the Best Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC
Most of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are within walking distance of the best things to do here. You’ll also find out the best areas to stay in Charleston during your visit.
What About the Best Things to Do in Savannah, GA, and the Lowcountry?
As far as the best things to do in Savannah, Georgia, be sure to check out the Presidents Quarters Inn’s recommendations. It’s a luxury bed and breakfast in downtown Savannah, so they know a thing or two about their home turf.
- Broad Street Photo By Khanrak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Courtyard on Rainbow Row Photo By John Hoey from Framingham, MA, United States (Courtyard at Rainbow Row) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons