Have you wondered why Charleston, South Carolina continues to win accolades for being a great place to visit?
Just imagine a place with:
- perfect weather
- beautiful beaches
- historic attractions
But it gets better:
Regardless of the time of year you’re here, there is always something fun to do in Charleston. This historic city is full of pleasant surprises, even for visitors from much larger cities.
But I know the feeling:
There’s a lot to sift through when planning a visit, or just a weekend day while living here.
Start with our list of the top activities for your first day. The rest should fall into place after that, depending on what amount of time you’re looking to spend here.
Here’s our list of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina!
Check out this video by Jetblue they created when they first started flying to Charleston’s airport. It’s a brief introduction to the sights and sounds you’ll experience on a typical day in Charleston, South Carolina.
Don’t forget to check our recommendations for the best time to visit Charleston, SC, if you’re not sure when you’re coming.
Table of Contents
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina This Weekend
With a laundry list of activities to take advantage of regardless of the weather here, a visit to Charleston requires prioritizing. Here are the top attractions to do on your first visit here. 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 Museum on Market Street (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, as well as many unique things, here:
- Sweetgrass baskets
- Artisanal food
- And much more
I would not recommend any of the restaurants on Market Street, but rather to head elsewhere after exploring.
I would also recommend heading elsewhere to find a sweetgrass basket made by local artisans.
The markup is serious here.
That said, you can grab a drink with a view at either the Pavilion Bar or Henry House. Those are two great choices for a rooftop restaurant in Charleston with a view of the Historic Charleston City Market.
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 Charleston. Visitors enjoy beautiful 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.
White Point Gardens, often incorrectly called, “Battery Park”, is perfect for a quiet afternoon stroll. Another historic home on the Battery, the Edmonston-Alston House, is a perfect addition to your visit down here.
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. And that goes double for history buffs.
All Charleston tour guides are well-trained before taking visitors out, and there’s plenty of tour types to choose:
- Charleston culinary tours, most are a walking tour
- Historic tours
- Ghost tours in one of the most haunted cities in America
- Boat tours of Charleston harbor
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. And a boat tour around Charleston harbor is a delightful way to see the city from a different angle. And walking tours are a great way to stretch your legs in a very walkable city.
Each have unique information about the city’s rich history 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.
It’s located right here in the Charleston harbor. When Citadel cadets started firing upon Fort Sumter, the Civil War officially started.
Fort Sumter, SC, is one of the best tourist attractions in Charleston for history buffs.
Even if you’re not into scrambling over rocks for an hour, the ride out to Fort Sumter can be spectacular.
Boat tours of the harbor, including the Schooner Pride, are readily available.
5. Rainbow Row
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 Charleston skyline 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 alone is a major draw; it’s 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.
Walk down Vendue Range to start your visit to Waterfront Park. Wander southward to the point where the park spits you back out into the French Quarter. And poke your head into the Art Gallery at Waterfront Park, while you’re here.
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
The Holy City is most famous for the architectural gems throughout downtown. That list of historic houses 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
- Seabrook Island
- Edisto Beach
12. Charleston Plantations
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a 70-acre Charleston tourist attraction, features gardens in formal, romantic, and natural styles. Be sure to take the guided tour of the Audubon Swamp Garden and visit the petting zoo.
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, SC, 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 in North Charleston or the Citadel Mall in West Ashley.
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 the 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
- Heyward-Washington House
Not maintained by the Charleston Museum, but just around the corner is another historic home. The Aiken-Rhett house museum is owned by the Historic Charleston Foundation, and it’s pretty cool, too.
Another personal favorite is the Old Slave Mart Museum. This gut-wrenching museum in the city center is a powerful reminder of the insidious source of Charleston’s wealth.
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.
It survived an attempt to demolish and convert its spot where East Bay Street and Broad Street meet to a gas station.
And today, it’s a National Historic Landmark.
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 South Carolina 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
22. The Islands near Charleston
Charleston sits amid a constellation of islands. Some are sea-facing (the famed sea islands), others are not.
But each has its own flair and unique points to see. Aside from ones I already mentioned for their beaches (Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach), some others to explore:
The largest island near Charleston, Johns Island still hosts wide country roads sided with live oaks dripping Spanish moss. It’s like a different, much more laidback world over there. And some of the best restaurants in all Charleston, for some reason.
The most densely populated of the islands in Charleston’s orbit, James Island hosts such hip neighborhoods as Avondale. It’s also got some of the most diverse options for food in the area.
The most rural, and remote of the islands near Charleston, SC. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you’re here, enjoying the fresh air. It’s also the home of the Charleston tea plantation.
60 of the Best Places to Eat in Charleston
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 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.
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.
Check out our list before your hunt for the best shrimp and grits in Charleston.
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 on Folly Beach
- Sailing on the Schooner Pride
- Taking a cooking class at Zero George Hotel
23 of the Most Fun Stuff 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 for plenty of family fun.
Here’s a list of this writer’s favorite fun things for kids to do in Charleston after having dragged kids around myself.
60 of the Best Free Activities in Charleston, SC
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 free attractions without spending much.
10 of the Most Fun Outdoor Activities in Charleston, SC
Did you know that Charleston 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. Some of the most popular outdoor activities here include:
- Golfing, with award-winning courses as the Kiawah Island Golf Resort
- Fishing, with places like Folly Beach pier and Mount Pleasant pier scattered throughout the area
And a few personal favorites are:
- Biking around the Lowcountry
- Nature trails at Caw Caw and other county parks
- Kayaking at James Island County Park
- Any sort of activity at any of the beaches, obviously
You just need to know where to look in the area stretching from Edisto and Kiawah Island up to Awendaw and Isle of Palms.
Looking for things to do tonight in Charleston SC?
Then read on:
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 around Upper King Street
- To higher-end establishments
- Seeing a theater production at the Dock Street Theatre
- Enjoying some live music at the Charleston Music Hall
- 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 events this weekend
Charleston, SC is a city full of life and things to do! Each year, the city hosts hundreds of events, festivals, and fun activities that bring locals and visitors together.
The list of things happening Charleston this weekend more than likely includes an event or two.
Unless you’re visiting in the dead of winter, which… Why?
Charleston Farmers Market
The largest farmers market in the country gathers each Sunday morning at Marion Square in our vibrant cultural hub. Stalls at the Charleston Farmers Market are near bursting with everything from produce to hand-carved tables, most local.
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
Exhibits, lectures, wildlife art, and other activities are part of the three-day Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. The exposition, one of the largest wildlife events in the country, is held every February.
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival includes four days of wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and regional cuisine. The festival is held each year in March. It’s one of Charleston’s most popular events.
The Charleston Jazz Festival
The Charleston Jazz Festival is a three-day event that features local and national jazz musicians performing. The event is scheduled for April.
Lowcountry Cajun Festival
The Lowcountry Cajun Festival is a family-friendly event that celebrates Louisianan cuisine and culture. The April festival will feature Cajun cuisine, music, dancing, and crafts.
Spoleto Festival USA
Spoleto Festival USA is a two-week arts festival that features opera, theater, dance, and music performances. The festival is held every year in May and June.
Charleston International Film Festival
The Charleston International Film Festival, held in November, showcases independent films from around the world. The festival features over 100 films as well as a number of special events, panels, and workshops.
Charleston Visitors Center
After exploring this list, one of the first places to go in Charleston SC is the Charleston Visitors Center. It provides a great background to the history and main tourist attractions in Charleston, South Carolina. The building close to Upper King 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.
Check out our list of other fantastic Charleston travel guides if you need more material.
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.
10 of the Most Romantic Bed and Breakfasts in the Downtown Charleston Historic District
As a former innkeeper, I’d be remiss not to list a few local favorites. The list of the most romantic bed and breakfasts in downtown Charleston include such popular ones as Two Meeting Street Inn and the John Rutledge House. And all are within walking distance of everything you’ll want to do when you visit Charleston.
38 of the Best Hotels in Charleston
There are a ton of hotels here. Check out our list of the top hotels in Charleston we recommend, based on what amenities you’re looking for, their location, and their rates.
9 of the Best Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC
Most of the best luxury 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.
Must-Visit Neighborhoods Near Downtown Charleston
One of my personal favorite neighborhoods off the peninsula is Park Circle, in North Charleston, SC. This is a funky, artsy, and very hipster area. It’s more than worth an afternoon spent poking around the shops, parks, restaurants, and bars.
Mount Pleasant, just across the Ravenel Bridge from Charleston, hosts nautical attractions like:
- The USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier at Patriots Point
- Shem Creek, where fishing boats dock and carousers watch the sunset over drinks
- Old Town Mount Pleasant, a charming historic neighborhood
It also has some of the best restaurants for Lowcountry cooking.
What About the Best Things to Do in Savannah, GA?
Taking a day trip from Charleston to Savannah is fantastic. Both for the destination, as long as the points to visit along the way.
Are there are plenty of things to do in Savannah, GA, to keep you busy over a long weekend.
Or read the best weekend road trips to take from Charleston. Every direction has something cool and unique to discover, you just need the transportation, the music, and a good road trip buddy or two.
Updated and republished: March 28, 2023