If you’re looking for the best things to do in Charleston SC then you’ve come to the right place!
Charleston is brimming with history, art and culture and the 7 million plus tourists that visit every year would agree that it’s one of the best holiday destinations around! Charleston boasts activities to rival anywhere else in the area, with such a huge range of things to do and see that even the fussiest of tourists will be entertained.
We’ve put together a huge list of the best things to do in Charleston so that you can fill your visit with your choice of activity – whether that’s marveling in Charleston’s rich and fascinating history, dining on fine food or relaxing by the magnificent water front, you’re going to be spoiled for choice in Charleston SC.
Quick Guide To The Best Things To Do In Charleston SC
The Best Things To Do In Historic Charleston
Brimming with history, Charleston is the dream destination for anyone that loves to delve into the past. Charleston’s history isn’t always pretty, but it’s certainly interesting, and there’s a whole lot of it!
We’ve included some of the best things to do if you want to get to know this fascinating cities messy past, and make sure you check out where to stay in Charleston for the chance to lay your head where iconic figures of the past have called home.
1. Take A Private Carriage Ride
This is one of the most popular things to do in Charleston and we can see why! What better way to see such a romantic city than by horse drawn carriage, sitting next to your loved one (if you’re on a romantic getaway then take a look at the most romantic things to do in Charleston too).
In this private horse drawn carriage ride you’ll get to experience Charleston’s historic downtown district stopping beside all the famous sights, discover the history and architecture of the local buildings and learn about the people that make up the “Holy City”.
But let’s be honest, it’s really about the whole experience so make sure you have your camera at the ready!
2. Visit The Fort Sumter National Monument
The location of the battle that ignited the American Civil War – Fort Sumter is one of the top destinations for any Charleston visitor, and especially those with a passion for history. You will feel as though you stepped back in time when you see the old cannons, real shrapnel, and impressive fort building that overlooks the water. You can really imagine you’re there.
The boat ride over is also a really lovely way to spend a few hours with the chance to see dolphins on your way there.
3. Enjoy A Charleston Historical Walking Tour
On this popular 2-hour walking tour, you will learn about the intriguing history of Charleston from veteran guide Al Ray. Ray recounts the rich tales and legends of Charleston’s proud and turbulent past, from the meanings of the ancient symbols on the tombstones, the city’s history of rapid growth and rampant piracy, and the rise of the rice planters – Ray really does know it all about Charleston!
He’ll describe the cities numerous disasters, such as seven major fires, numerous hurricanes, epidemics, sieges, and bombardments, plus a major earthquake.
This is a great way to pass a morning or afternoon in Charleston and we’d thoroughly recommend you take at least one historic tour while you’re here – it makes the city so much more real when you know all about its rich past.
4. Take A Historic Tour By Bus In The Summer!
For those of you visiting in the heat of summer, this is the perfect option! Hop onboard a deluxe, climate-controlled shuttle for a 90-minute tour of the city’s historical highlights. You’ll visit over 100 of Charleston’s most iconic sights whilst listening to amazing tales about the city by your expert guide.
We love having an expert narrate the history of a city while we sit in air-conditioned comfort! It’s the perfect way to start your holiday in Charleston.
5. Historic Harbor Cruise On A 1920s Bay Steamer
This is a very cool thing to do in Charleston! Experience Charleston onboard a 1920s-Bay-Steamer-replica yacht. Your captain will guide you on a journey through more than 300 years of American history. You’ll pass by 75 landmarks and points-of-interest, get close-up views of the “Holy City,” and pass by remnants of the Civil and Revolutionary wars.
For nature lovers there’s also a good chance you’ll see dolphins and pelicans splashing nearby!
6. African-American History & Philip Simmons House Tour
This tour starts at the Philip Simmons House where one of the greatest African-American artists of the 20th century created true masterpieces. Continue the tour down America Street, the center of Charleston’s African-American community.
Along the way, learn about and witness the trials and tribulations of the past and present, stopping at the edge of the African-American community to see the class division that still exists in the city today. Learn how the Emanuel 9 Shooting brought the entire world together in the fight against racism. This is a fantastic tour and highly recommended on the list of things to do in Charleston.
7. Shem Creek Culture Tour – One Of The Best Things To Do In Charleston
If you want something a little different to do in Charleston then head on this Shem Creek culture tour.
This is the only available historic walking tour in Mt. Pleasant – an area that dates back just as long as the peninsular of Charleston but that most will never have the opportunity to learn about. Visit the oldest house in Mt. Pleasant, head over to Shem Creek proper to take an insider look at the shrimping industry, and see how they catch the famous blue crab.
8. Haunted Jail Walking Tour For Something Different
For those of you with nerves of steel, head on a haunted jail tour where you’ll see firsthand the places where Charleston’s worst criminals lived and died. The jail was in operation from 1802 until 1939 when it housed infamous criminals ranging from 19th-century pirates to Civil War prisoners.
Most of the building’s original structures remain intact, including the cells and warden’s quarters, so you’ll get a real feel for how it was to be imprisoned here. Spooky!
9. Charleston’s French Quarter Guided Walking Tour
This tour is perfect for history and architect lovers. Your native guide will show you some of America’s earliest architecture and national historic landmarks. Visit the oldest burial grounds to see the final resting place of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, and take in the remains of a 17th-century drawbridge. Explore Charleston’s great harbor with its castles and forts that shaped much of America’s maritime and military history.
You’ll also visit many of Charleston’s most spectacular historic buildings, and your knowledgeable guide will be able to tell you all there is to know about Charleston’s historic past.
10. Charleston: Patriot’s Point Haunted USS Yorktown Tour
Come aboard the USS Yorktown and hear the stories of the American heroes who lived, died, and are still rumored to be there today.
The Fighting Lady, commissioned in 1943 was designed to fight off enemies around the world during WWII. Learn about the heroism of the people who once inhabited this ship and the ultimate sacrifice that they paid.
This tour gives exclusive nighttime access to areas of the ship usually closed to the public, including the flight deck, making it a real highlight.
11. Charleston City Tour and Museum Combo
Combine an air-conditioned coach ride tour with a trip to the Charleston Museum – one of the oldest museums in the United States and an unmissable thing to do while you’re in Charleston.
This is a real ‘see it all’ tour and the perfect way to see Charleston in the screaming hot summer months!
12. Charleston’s Alleys & Hidden Passages
This tour is a little different from your usual history tour in Charleston, as it’s highlights include the city’s most enchanting alleys and hidden passages. Visit the historic Philadelphia Alley, and many more. You’ll also visit some of Charleston’s top historic buildings and monuments on this tour with a twist!
13. Head To The Aiken Rhett House Museum
Head to the Aiken Rhett House Museum for an exceptional insight into the Antebellum (slavery) era in America. You can take a guided tour of the property, where you’ll see the original slave quarters, the carriage block and the backlot. It’s a sobering look into what life would have been like for the enslaved Africans that once lived and worked within its walls.
The museum is perfectly situated in downtown Charleston making it a great stop off on any day exploring.
14. Get Cultural On A Walking Tour With Art & Wine
Led by Travel Writer and Licensed Tour Guide, Jill Paris, you won’t find a tour like this anywhere else in the city! Explore Charleston’s beautiful past with visits to some of the most spectacular architecture and historical monuments. End your tour with a special visit to one of Charleston’s premiere Art Galleries where you’ll learn about local artists connected to the city and sip sparkling wine. Perfect for culture junkies!
15. Visit The Old Slave Mart Museum
When the slave trade was still thriving in the South, this property served as an auction house, all the way up to November of 1863. This is the only slave auction gallery still open in South Carolina and has become a museum where visitors can learn through the true stories of former slaves, the Old Slave Mart Museum provides a unique and humbling insight into the region’s tumultuous past — an insight that very few museums across the country can replicate.
16. Take A Trip To The Gibbes Museum of Art
The Gibbes Museum of Art is one of the nation’s oldest arts organisations and houses some spectacular pieces of art work. It weaves together work from local artists to tell the intricate story of Charleston’s history and is one of the best things to do in Charleston for art lovers and historians alike.
17. Picnic At Battery & White Point Gardens
Found in the historic downtown district along the waterfront, White Point Gardens is the ideal place to enjoy a balmy afternoon with a picnic among the greenery and shade.
These gardens provide unrivaled views of both Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor, so make sure you have your camera at the ready!
18. Get Arty On A Charleston Photography Tour
For a walking history tour with a difference, this photography tour of Charleston is tailored to your interests as a photographer. You won’t be rushed from destination to destination, you’ll have all the time you need to get the perfect shot. And your guide will aim to get you to the best spots in the right light for your photography to be top notch!
Best Things To Do In Charleston For Food Fanatics
You’ve probably already heard that Charleston is a food fanatics heaven, with so many incredible restaurants and bars to choose from. Instead of listing the eating out options (there are way too many to go into here!) I’ve picked some of the top food experiences to get you in the know about Charleston’s food scene.
19. Small Group Food Tour – Savor the Flavors
This is surely everyone’s dream tour!? Giving you the chance to eat and drink your way through Charleston’s history. Visit a variety of local eateries, culinary landmarks, restaurants and bakeries, each vital to understanding the evolution of food in the city and why it is so unique. You’ll have the chance to try stone ground grits, Charleston benne wafers, gourmet local chocolates, sweet tea and a whole lot more!
The local guides have varied food and culinary credentials and each brings a unique perspective to the experience. There’s no scrimping on the food you’ll get to try, with each ‘small’ serving making up a big meal! This is great value for money and the perfect way to sample the best of Charleston’s incredible food scene.
20. Downtown Charleston Culinary Walking Food Tour
Combine Charleston’s history with delicious, unique food samplings on this culinary walking tour. You’ll be exploring the locally owned and operated restaurants in Charleston’s downtown district on this mouth-watering tour. You’ll enjoy a meal’s worth of food in tastings of the best southern cuisine in Charleston!
21. Enjoy The True Flavours Of Charleston
Skip the tourist traps and lose yourself in the flavors of true Charleston cuisine. Taste local delicacies like smoked confit fried chicken wings, She-Crab soup, flounder po-boy, shrimp and grits. This tour also include a secret dish that you’ll only find out about on the day, making it extra unique! This is a great ‘off the beated track’ option for anyone wanting to see the ‘real’ Charleston.
22. Head On A Distillery And Brewery Tour
Charleston isn’t just famous for its food, it also has a range of great distilleries and breweries and it would be a crime not to visit at least one while you’re here! Head off on a distillery and brewery tour where you can combine several of Charleston’s most famous (and sample the goods obviously!) This tour will be able to recommend the best choice of the day, with activities like axe throwing and outdoor BBQs also on offer on certain days!
23. Relax At Deep Water Vineyard
If beer isn’t your bag then how about a vineyard tour instead. Deep Water Vineyard is Charleston’s one and only, making it an unmissable thing to do in Charleston! Wine tasting is offered and you can add on a cheese platter for the perfect day out in the countryside.
Top Things To Do In Charleston At Night
Charleston is the city that never sleeps, and with so many interesting things to do after dark why would you want to! I haven’t included the obvious in this list – eating out – as there are so many options when it comes to restaurants in Charleston that you could be reading all night! Instead I’ve chosen some of the more unusual things to do in Charleston at night. Enjoy!
24. Get Spooked On A Charleston Ghost Tour
By day Charleston is a bright and cheery wonder, but by night it’s eerie alleyways and low lit streets take on a new demeaner. Charleston is known as being one of the most haunted cities in America with it’s turbulent 300 plus year historic past.
Join paranormal author Geordie Buxton on this unique tour where you’ll find out about a group of orphans who haunt a dorm of a Charleston College, a Citadel cadet who haunts a local hotel, and an angelic spirit in a Freedman Methodist graveyard, to name just a few.
This is a great evening activity to do in Charleston, and you’ll discover a whole other side to Charleston’s rich past.
25. Charleston Full Moon Stand Up Paddleboard Tour
Watch the sun set over the low country as you paddle board your way along Charleston’s coastline. The stars are incredible here, and you’ll be steering your paddle board by moonlight as you look out for dolphins and turtles, and spot the city lights on the horizon. If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Charleston then look no further!
26. Boo-Hag and Brews Haunted Bar Hop Is One Of The Best Things To Do In Charleston
A bar crawl with a spooky Charleston twist! Take part in a walking brew tour with a side of ghosts! You’ll visit 2 different bars where complimentary appetizers will be served and the guide will provide drink recommendations and you walk through the historic town you’ll get to hear some of Charleston’s scariest hauntings. The tour will end at a hauntingly beautiful local park that just so happens to be where one of the first female serial killers was hung!
27. Charleston: Haunted Carriage Tour
Mysterious cobblestoned alleyways await as your knowledgeable guide leads you through Historic Charleston on a Haunted Carriage Tour.
Along the way, you’ll see Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, Circular Congregational Church and Graveyard, Charleston City Market, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church and hear all about Charleston’s darker history in some chilling tales!
28. Magnolia Cemetery Nighttime Tour
Do what most would never dare and visit Magnolia Cemetery at night to hear shocking stories from the past. Learn about the unsolved murdered socialite, an outraged politician that ordered his butler’s execution, and scandalous tragedies that are never told in history books.
Magnolia Cemetery was founded in 1849 on the banks of the Cooper River and was originally built as a rice plantation. Magnolia Cemetery served as a Confederate encampment to defend the city from the Union bombardment during the Civil War. Over 2,000 Confederate soldiers lay at rest here, including the eight-man Hunley crew, eighty-four soldiers who fought in the battle at Gettysburg, and six Confederate generals. If this cemetery isn’t haunted then none of them are!
29. Shem Creek Bar Tour
Your tour guide is Capt. Bryan, a 7th generation Charlestonian who knows heaps about the history of the beautiful Shem Creek. He’ll share his knowledge as you enjoy drinks and appetizers at some of the favourite local stops.
The tour will end as the sun is setting over the Charleston Harbor. The perfect way to end any day in Charleston!
30. Charleston Music Hall Is One Of The Best Things To Do At Night In Charleston
Charleston Music Hall is one of Charleston’s main music venues and the place to check out if you’re a fan of live music. They have a rotating calendar of artists, from the world famous to the up and coming. Just head to their website for the coming line up and make sure you book in advance!
31. Catch a comedy show at Theatre 99
Shows are usually on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and you should book to avoid disappointment.
Theatre 99 is the place to head for improv comedy and promises to be a fun night out. It’s more of a theatre experience than just a comedy night, with elaborate hilarious acts.
32. Haunted Ghost Cruise of Charleston Harbor
This Charleston ghost cruise brings you to the city’s spooky sites that can’t be reached on foot. On a 45-foot catamaran (an adventure in itself!) you’ll set sail on the Charleston Harbor, passing by the sites of pirate attacks, naval battles, and more. As you sail, you’ll be regailed with haunting stories of Charleston’s past. This is a great alternative to a traditional ghost walk and definitely one of the best things to do in Charleston.
Day Trips From Charleston
Some of the best things to do in Charleston are just outside it! Make sure you venture out to some of these top things to do in Charleston to see more of what this fascinating city has to offer.
33. Middleton Place Excursion & Low Country Cuisine
Visit Middle Place in Charleston where two of America’s Founding Fathers called home: Henry Middleton, a president of the First Continental Congress, and his son Arthur Middleton, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Explore the incredibly beautiful landscaped gardens and the House Museum filled with Middleton family possessions. You can also visit the plantation stableyards with heritage breeds.
Make sure you visit Eliza’s House, a freedman’s dwelling that’s purpose is to recognise the lives of the enslaved people who built the property.
Your tour includes a traditional Low Country cuisine lunch which often consists of options including crab soup, shrimp, pulled pork, or fried chicken and pecan pie dessert. Yum!
34. Drayton Hall Plantation – One of the best things to do in Charleston SC
Drayton Hall Plantation is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Charleston. It’s the oldest unrestored plantation house in America that remains publically accessible. Founded in 1742, it’s also the oldest example of Palladian architecture.
It boasts an impressive 125 acres of oak trees, ponds, and riverways surrounding the main house.
35. Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall was founded in 1681 and still grows crops today. The entrance of oaks is iconic and a much-photographed spot, making it one of the best things to do in Charleston! During your tour, you’ll see the plantation’s slave quarters and learn about its history and modern-day use. This tour is fully guided so you’ll have the chance to learn all there is to know about the history of the plantation and how it’s used today, plus transport to and from the plantation. It’s the perfect half-day trip while you’re in Charleston.
36. Kiawah Island
The home of golf in South Carolina, Kiawah Island is a must-visit for any big fans, or just for anyone who wants to relax in pure luxury!
There are over 90 holes of golf to be played here but if golf isn’t your thing then head to the luxury spa and get pampered silly instead! Kiawah also has some incredible beaches to kick back and relax on.
Things To Do In Charleston For Adventure Junkies
Whether it’s high speed adventures or something a little closer to solid ground, Charleston is full of adventures great and small! It’s really not just a historic city, there is so much more to Charleston than just it’s pretty buildings!
37. Charleston Harbor Speedboat Adventure
For those that like a rush, take a trip out on Charleston harbour in a F13 mini speed boat. You’ll get instructions covering boat basics, rules of the road and tour hand signals as your professional guide takes you on a tour of the waterside attractions!
38. Kayaking Tour
The tidal marshes around Charleston are teeming with Lowcountry biodiversity. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of wildlife such as Loggerhead turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and more as you paddle down Folly Creek en route to the tidal creeks that wrap around the Hammock Islands. This kayak tour is suitable for kids and beginners, and you’ll be paddling at a leisurely pace. It’s the perfect option for outdoor enthusiasts keen to see some of Charleston’s incredible natural splendor.
39. High Ropes Adventure
If it’s adventure you’re after then head to Wild Blue Ropes Adventure Park where you can stretch your comfort zone in some high ropes action! The common theme of all Wild Blue Ropes programs is to promote physical activity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, and you’ll get a truely unique viewpoint from up in the trees!
40. Charleston Wildlife Stand up Paddleboard Tour
Get close to Charleston’s creatures in this paddleboard tour, where you’ll have the chance to see turtles, dolphins and egrets as you paddle along low country coastlines. Your guide will be able to point out all the incredible birds and sea life, or you can just tune out and enjoy the peace and quiet! This is a great way to get a different experience and one of the best things to do in Charleston.
41. Scavenger Hunt
This is a great option for anyone wanting a tour of Charleston with a twist! Accessed through any smartphone, groups make their way among well-known and overlooked gems of the city, solving clues and completing challenges while learning local history. Using a smartphone as “the guide” means you’re on your own time scale. You can stop to take as many photos as you like, but you’ll still get all the information you would on a proper guided tour! This is also a great option for families with the game element to keep them entertained while you soak up the history!
42. Go Surfing
Ever wanted to learn to surf? Now is your chance! With local professionals teaching complete beginners you’ll go from barely being able to hold the board to surfing waves like a pro in no time!
43. Join An Eco Cruise
Take a scenic ride through an estuary rich in biodiversity, looking out for birds, sea turtles and dolphins as you go. You’ll be heading for Morris Island where you’ll get to see the historic Morris Island Lighthouse. This is one of the best things to do in Charleston SC!
44. Schooner Sunset Sail on Charleston Harbor
This is one of the most romantic things to do in Charleston, and also one of the most impressive. Watch the sunset on a 2-hour evening cruise aboard an 84-foot (25-meter) classic tall ship. Wind allowing, you’ll glide through Charleston Harbor as the sun sets over the city. Drinks are available on board for you to really make an evening of it!
45. Shell Hunting Expedition
This is more than just a shell hunting expedition! Relax on a short cruise over to beautiful Morris Island, looking out for dolphiins and turtles along the way! When you arrive onto this unspoiled barrier island you’ll be treated to an expert talk on the historical facts, ecology, tideline critters, and tips on finding wonderful seashells, sharks teeth and more. This is a really cool experience that isn’t offered many places, so make sure you take advantage while you’re in Charleston!
Where To Stay In Charleston
Charleston is full of incredible places to stay – from the luxurious to the unique you will find it here! We’ve put together our favourite choices of romantic places to stay in Charleston, with great options for accommodation in the city centre, or see below for our top picks!
The historic Dewberry Charleston is a mid-20th century boutique hotel. The Dewberry is in the perfect location – central to everything including some of Charleston’s best restaurants and bars.
The HarbourView Inn is a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Charleston and is a top pick for location, with incredible views.
The John Rutledge House Inn is exactly what the name suggests – the former home of John Rutledge. Staying in this little slice of history is quite the claim to fame, so it’s the perfect place to stay in Charleston if you want a really unique experience.
The best things to do in Charleston SC are plentiful and varied. This isn’t even half the things to do, it’s just my favourite options! If your favourite thing to do in Charleston hasn’t made the list then please do include it in the comments so I can add it here! Follow us for more travel ideas!