Consistently ranked among the best cities in the United States by Travel + Leisure readers, Charleston is a vacation treasure trove, with an incredible food scene made up of old-school favourites and inventive newcomers, a prime location surrounded by water and near beautiful beaches, and plenty to see and do. With something for every type of traveller, here are 24 of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina. By
Start your day with biscuits
Start your day with a warm, indulgent biscuit. Choose from nationally acclaimed Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (which has two outposts downtown) or head across the river to Mount Pleasant for Vicious Biscuit. At the latter, order The Vicious, a cheddar and jalapeño biscuit stuffed with fried chicken, their signature maple sausage gravy, house cowboy candy, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Learn about USA history on the USS Yorktown
While the historic city is perhaps better known for its significance during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, you can learn about World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, where you’ll find the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, a destroyer, and a submarine, along with other educational exhibits.
Walk down King Street
A visit to Charleston is incomplete without a stroll down the main drag, King Street. On Lower King, find antique shops packed with all sorts of vintage wares; Middle King features a mix of locally-owned shops and high-end boutiques, and Upper King is home to some of the city’s best nightlife and dining.
Stroll along Waterfront Park and the Battery
Start in Joe Riley Waterfront Park, where you’ll see the iconic Pineapple Fountain, and walk down along the water before strolling over to Rainbow Row, made up of several candy-coloured Georgian-style row homes. Continue down East Bay until it becomes East Battery, another scenic street with views of the harbour and historic houses.
See the local marine life at the South Carolina Aquarium
This waterfront aquarium is home to more than 5,000 animals and the Sea Turtle Care Center, which aids sick or injured turtles. The AZA-accredited aquarium highlights the marine life found throughout South Carolina, from the mountains to the coast.
Take a sunset cruise
Getting out on the water — river, harbour, creek, or ocean — is a must when you visit Charleston. One way to take advantage of the waterfront location is a sunset cruise through the harbour aboard a catamaran or tall ship.
Hit the links at acclaimed golf courses
Thanks to the South Carolina Lowcountry’s comfortable weather and fantastic courses (many offer beautiful views of the marsh and water), you can golf year-round in and near Charleston. One of the area’s most famous courses is the stunning Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Lounge on the beach
Downtown Charleston is just a short drive from the area’s three popular beaches: Folly Beach, Isle of Palms Beach, and Sullivan’s Island Beach. Each has soft, white sand and a distinct feel: Folly has lively bars and restaurants just steps from the shores, Sullivan’s Island is more quiet and residential, and Isle of Palms is somewhere in between, with easy public access via Isle of Palms County Park.
Admire art from near and far
Head to the Gibbes Museum of Art to see works ranging from 18th-century paintings and decorative arts to contemporary pieces from local artists. After that, you can visit some of the many galleries throughout the city — perhaps you’ll even find a piece to take home as a souvenir.
Shop local at the farmers market on Saturdays
Saturday mornings are best spent in the heart of downtown Charleston at the farmers market on Marion Square. Find local produce, artisan crafts, and snacks to enjoy while you browse.
Eat your way around the city’s best restaurants
Charleston has long been known as a foodie destination, with a mix of newcomers and established favourites. Go to Wild Common for the incredible tasting menu, Fig for elevated Southern dishes, Hank’s Seafood Restaurant for tasty seafood, and Halls Chophouse for steaks followed by bread pudding.
And order these classic Charleston dishes
On your culinary tour of the city, there are a few local dishes that visitors must try (and they’re featured on menus of many restaurants). Try fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, and hush puppies (delightful balls of deep-fried dough, often served as a starter or a side), all washed down with a glass of sweet tea.
Take a ghost tour
Get acquainted with the spooky side of the city and learn about some of its eternal residents on a ghost tour. Bulldog Tours has options ranging from a visit to the haunted (and historic) old jail to a paranormal investigation of the USS Yorktown.
Cheer on the Charleston RiverDogs
Charleston is home to a minor league baseball team — the RiverDogs — so those looking for a sporty outing can snag tickets to cheer them on. (Fun fact: Actor Bill Murray is a part-owner of the team.)
Sip some local brews
Local breweries abound in Charleston, so try one (or a few) of the brews from the likes of Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co., Holy City Brewing, and Westbrook Brewing, or head to the Firefly Distillery, known for their fan-favourite sweet tea vodka and fruit-flavoured moonshine.
Paddle around on a kayak tour
Take a kayak tour through the marshes and creeks around Charleston to get close to the area’s incredible marine and wildlife. Charleston Outdoor Adventures is one of several tour operators in the area — just don’t forget your sunscreen.
Learn About Gullah history and culture
The Gullah are African American people from the Lowcountry regions of South Carolina and neighbouring states, and their history and culture (and language, also called Gullah) are an important part of the Charleston story. Join Gullah Tours to learn more about Black history in the city, stopping at significant places like Denmark Vesey’s home, quarters where enslaved people once lived, and more.
Walk the Ravenel Bridge
Charleston’s famous bridge connecting Mount Pleasant and downtown Charleston, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, has a path for pedestrians. You can walk across its entirety — or just a section — for sweeping views of the harbour (if you’re not afraid of heights).
Stroll the Shem Creek Boardwalk
Shem Creek, located in Mount Pleasant, is home to several waterfront seafood restaurants, and you can walk along its boardwalk to take in views of the water, marsh, and boats (and breathe in that fresh, salty air).
Explore Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter
The two forts that make up the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park tell the story of Charleston’s role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Fort Moultrie, located on Sullivan’s Island, was in use from 1776 to 1947, while Fort Sumter, found on an island in Charleston Harbor that’s only accessible by boat, was the site of the start of the Civil War.
Visit the Old Slave Mart Museum
In a city known for its former plantations and antebellum homes, it’s important to recognise the true human history. The Old Slave Mart Museum is located inside a building that was used as an auction gallery where enslaved people were sold. Here, you can learn about the history of slavery in Charleston.
Pick up a sweetgrass basket
There are few souvenirs as iconic as a Charleston sweetgrass basket. Created by Gullah artisans with designs ranging from functional to intricate, you can find these baskets, woven from local marsh grass, throughout the city (with many sellers in the Charleston City Market).
Hop around the rooftop bars
Get a new perspective on the Holy City — and see the many church steeples that give it that nickname — with a visit to one (or a few) of the rooftop bars around Charleston. Options include Fiat Lux at the Hotel Bennett, Citrus Club at The Dewberry, Pavilion Bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel, The Rooftop Bar at The Vendue, and Élevé at the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston.
Visit Charles Towne Landing.
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, located in West Ashley, is home to the site of the first European settlement founded in South Carolina (in 1670). Here, you can explore the gardens, visit the original settlement area, and even see animals that lived in the area when it was settled.
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