You know what I’m tired of hearing?
Complaints that Charleston is expensive.
I know the feeling:
- Restaurants are pricey
- Free attractions are few and far between
- Everything here does seem to cost something
But good news:
While a world famous tourist attraction, Charleston doesn’t have to spend every penny of your hard-earned money.
Beneath the aura of genteel opulence that is what many define as quintessentially 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. There are also lots of cheap things to do in Charleston.
In fact, a personal story:
I was unemployed for months when I first moved here. But I had no interest in sitting in my house all day, applying for jobs.
Instead, I started researching and creating a list of free attractions and activities for making plans with newly-made friends, or date ideas.
The list I created has been added and edited, and is now just a few scrolls down.
Feeling overwhelmed? Download our free checklist of the 60 best free things to do in Charleston, South Carolina, curated by neighborhood.
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Free Things to Do in and Near Charleston, South Carolina
Get ready to catch a ride on Charleston’s free trolley service to scope-out the best free attractions in Charleston. The Charleston tourism industry is a $3.58 billion business as of 2012, but you don’t have to spend all of your money when you visit.
Read on to learn of all 60 of the best free things to do in Charleston, SC, many of which are top activities in Charleston! And if you’re still wondering what to do in Charleston when you’re done reading, be sure to read our list of the absolute best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Best (ie: Cheapest) Time to Visit Charleston?
That’s obviously when other tourists don’t want to be here: winter months, January and February. Though the hottest months of the year can have a few deals. There are more than a few options for the best time to visit Charleston, SC.
30 of the Best Free Things to Do in the Charleston Historic District
First off, no list of free things to do in any locale would be complete without an extensive list of things to do without a car. One of the best things about downtown historic Charleston, South Carolina is how walkable the city is. Many a visitor to Charleston has had a fantastic time without a car, and more than a few locals get along just fine without one as well. Walking outside around the Charleston historic district is a free and very pleasurable thing to do in and of itself: the gorgeous architecture and pleasant weather most of the year makes for glorious walks around the peninsula to see some of the best Charleston tourist attractions. And the abundance of paid opportunities certainly adds to the ambience: Charleston is well known its many casual restaurants and shopping.
5 of the Most Beautiful Free Parks in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston features some of the most beautiful parks in the country, in our humble opinion. Many of them have important historic beginnings: Hampton Park began as a horse race track before becoming a prison site for Civil War Prisoner’s of War and eventually the prettiest part in Charleston. Mary Murray Road largely follows the old race track around the 60-acre park. These parks are wonderful opportunities to enjoy some sunshine, a picnic, a pleasant walk, or exercise, all of which are free activities at these parks.
19 Excellent Free Attractions in Charleston
While many of the best Charleston attractions do require a paid admission, there are plenty of free things to do while you’re visiting Charleston’s historic downtown. Between window-shopping on King Street, poking-around in the Charleston City Market, or wandering through the gardens and campuses of local churches, inns, and colleges, and even taking a free Tours by Foot Walking Tour of Charleston, there are so many great things to do here in Charleston that won’t cost you a cent.
- Exploring the Shops on King Street
- Historic Charleston City Market (be sure to take advantage of the free stuff available, like praline samples)
- The gardens at the Battery Carriage House Inn
- Take a stroll around the Dock Street Theatre
- The Citadel
- Rainbow Row
- Charleston Farmer’s Market
- FreeToursByFoot.com offers somewhat free walking tours in Charleston, including downtown Charleston ghost tours
- Four Corners of Law
- Find drawings of the Hat Man
- Pink House Gallery
- Circular Church Graveyard
- Unitarian Church Tour
- Visit the animals at the Red Barn of Palmetto Carriage Tours
- Visit Local Art Galleries for Free
- Charleston City Hall
- Charleston County Courthouse
- Walk the Campus of the College of Charleston
- Explore the gardens of the Nathaniel Russell House
4 Great Free Museums in Downtown Charleston
While there are many amazing museums in Charleston: the Charleston Museum, Nathaniel Russell House, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and Edmondston-Alston House to name a few–most require the price of admission. Here are four great museums to visit if you’re a little short on cash and looking to learn some interesting facts about Charleston. While free indoor activities are rare in Charleston, these should keep you busy for an entire rainy day.
- Karpeles Manuscript Library
- Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
- Mace Brown Natural History Museum
- The Best Friend of Charleston Train Museum
3 Annual Events in Charleston to Get Excited for
The social calendar of the local Charlestonian is full throughout the year: from about March until December, there’s always something pretty big going on. Unfortunately, Charleston, SC, events that are completely free to the public are a bit lacking. Fortunately, there are a few options: there are free exhibitions at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (including free art and crafts exhibitions where you can pick-up art for your home), the Piccolo Festival, which is the city of Charleston’s free version of the world-famous Spoleto Arts Festival, and the French Quarter Art Walk, when art galleries in the old French quarter open their doors and offer wine and snacks to visitors who wish to admire art for free (held throughout the year, by the way).
9 Free Things to Do with Kids in Charleston, SC
Charleston doesn’t always feel like a great place to bring your kids–some restaurants, for example feel a bit stuffy, and no house tour would be complete without an unfounded fear that a kid will knock something priceless over. But Charleston’s great for visitors (or locals) of any age, with plenty of free family activities! After you’ve exhausted indoor kids activities like the South Carolina Aquarium and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, check-out our list for free kids attractions and things to do with kids in Charleston, South Carolina!
- Wandering through the Old City Market is a fantastic free activity when it’s raining in Charleston
- Running around in beautiful Hampton Park is one of the top free activities for kids in Charleston, SC
- Waterfront Park (enjoying the splash pads and Pineapple Fountain are one of the most fun activities for kids in Charleston on a hot summer day)
- Charleston Farmer’s Market is one of the fun activities to do with kids on a Saturday morning
- The Citadel
- Visit the animals at the Red Barn of Palmetto Carriage Tours, though these Charleston carriage tours aren’t exactly cheap
- White Point Garden (be warned, there are no public bathrooms South of Broad)
- Storytime at the Charleston County Public Library on Calhoun Street
- Citadel Dress Parades is a great thing to do in Charleston with kids on Fridays
3 Free Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina, at Night
With so many opportunities to enjoy Charleston nightlife, there are rarely dull moments in town. The problem is, most Charleston bars don’t exactly welcome teetotalers and those looking to spend as little as possible while enjoying a night on the town. Fortunately, there are a few free fun things to do downtown and around Charleston at night, as well as some cheap things to do in Charleston, like dive bars. And whenever you’re ready to eat, don’t forget to check out our list of the best restaurants in Charleston.
- Youth Orchestra of the Lowcountry
- Free Live Music at The Pour House on James Island
- Walking around the College of Charleston campus at night
10 Free Things to Do in Charleston, SC, This Weekend
Once you’ve exhausted your favorite free things to do in downtown Charleston, there are even more possible attractions and activities further afield. You just need to have access to a car, or figure-out the public transportation system, which is cheap but not the simplest way to get around. The world-renowned attractions near downtown Charleston can be pricey: Charleston plantations like Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place, and Drayton Hall can all add-up for those looking to spend a day. Luckily, the rest of the Lowcountry is full of free attractions, like the Angel Oak Tree.
- Walk the Ravenel Bridge from Mount Pleasant back towards Charleston
- Explore Magnolia Cemetery in the northern peninsula of Charleston
- Visit the Charles Pinckney Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
- The Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island
- Walk the Beach and State Parks on Folly Beach, the more rambunctious of the beaches in Charleston, SC
- Enjoy a Beach Day at Sullivan’s Island, one of the calmer Charleston beaches
- Hike Through Francis Marion National Forest
- Take a Free Tour of the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea plantation in America
- Enjoy a Free Tour of the Irvin-House Vineyards
- Enjoy the Beach at Edisto Beach
Free Romantic Things to Do in Charleston, SC
While a typical romantic date night consists of dinner at a fancy restaurant and some other activity that requires more than your pocket change, creating a fantastically romantic evening in Charleston doesn’t have to always cost a fortune. In fact, it’s easier to plan an evening of free romantic activities in Charleston than in many other places. From planning a day at a Charleston beach to exploring parks in the area either at night or during the day, there are more than a few opportunities for couples to plan a romantic date in Charleston. Be sure to swing by one of the candy stores on Market or King Street to get some free pralines! Check out some free date ideas below.
- Watch the harbor at Waterfront Park
- Take a walk at Hampton Park
- Plan a beach day at the various Charleston beaches
- Explore the beautiful College of Charleston campus
- Walk along the houses at the Battery and South of Broad Street
There’s no question a visit to the Crown Jewel of the South is full of opportunities to explore and enjoy the area. Remember to bookmark this page so you can keep visiting it throughout your visit to the Lowcountry and plan activities for the entire family!
What About Cheap Places to Stay in Charleston, SC?
And as far as where to stay in Charleston, SC, the Town & Country Inn and Suites on Savannah Highway in West Ashley is a fairly cheap and convenient option for hotels in Charleston. A short commute from downtown Charleston, it’s close to the 526 beltway and an easy drive all the major Charleston tourist attractions for sightseeing. For all around in-expensive locations, its one of the best places to stay in Charleston, South Carolina.
What about for a better location within walking distance of the many free things to do in downtown Charleston? There are plenty of options downtown, if you’re looking to splurge. Check out our list of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Another fantastic resource in general for during your visit to Charleston, SC, is the Charleston Visitors Center. And for an even more in-depth idea of what’s always going on in Charleston, be sure to visit the free Charleston newspaper, the Charleston City Paper. You can find other free Charleston travel guides here.