Need things to do in Charleston SC? Great!
Let’s explore the city’s rich coastal culture together, experience Southern history, hop on a tour, and hit the beaches.
If you are looking for things to do in South Carolina, Charleston is one of the state’s must-see destinations. Charleston, SC offers unique things to do for nearly any traveler, and attracts over 7 million visitors each year.
In fact, Charleston is the heart of South Carolina’s history, entertainment, and arts. It has Southern charm, carefully preserved history, natural beauty, as well as friendly and welcoming people.
Also “the Holy City”, Charleston has a skyline with over 400 steepled churches of many religions. The city boasts historic houses and cobbled streets, century-old mansions and plantations, lively beaches, and even paranormal activity.
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Fun and Unusual Things to Do in Charleston, SC
Come on, let’s explore Charleston (or “Chucktown” as the locals call it). We’ll help you find fun things to do, including outdoor and indoor activities for any season.
Iconic Charleston Sights and Activities
While Greenville is the cultural up-state hub of South Carolina, Charleston holds that title along the coast. And to call this southern gem of a city “picturesque” would be putting it mildly.
From its Spanish mossed downtown, to cobble-stoned streets, horse-drawn carriages, historic houses and mansions, the city promises many photo opps. Come on, let’s begin first in Downtown Charleston for some sightseeing, shopping, and a tour through history.
Explore Historic Downtown Charleston
Fun fact: when many people mention “Charleston”, it is actually the Downtown area they mean. Downtown Charleston includes West Ashley, James Island, Johns Island, Daniel Island, and the Cainhoy Peninsula. But what makes Downtown Charleston so special?
Charleston’s Downtown is one of the Southern jewels of the Lowcountry. The Peninsula is only a few feet above sea level, making buildings appear to rise from the sea itself. Meanwhile, its Spanish mossed, brick walkways promise a peaceful stroll through the city.
Downtown is home to carefully preserved historic houses, including the Nathaniel Russel House, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantations and Gardens. It also boasts one of the country’s oldest city markets, the Charleston City Market: a shopping hub since the 1800s.
How about another fun fact? When the downtown area floods, which it’s prone to do, fish literally swim through the streets. Have you ever seen a school of fish cross the road? We have, and the Charleston City Market didn’t even close! Vendor stalls remained open, with shoppers wading through 1 – 2 feet of water from one shop to the next.
Shop the Charleston City Market
Now, locals might call the Charleston City Market a tourist trap, but it is nonetheless worth the visit. It promises both a glimpse of life in the Old South, and hours of shopping with 300+ vibrant pop-up shops. Resident artists and locals alike offer many “Certified Authentic: Handmade in Charleston” wares, toys, clothes, art, leather goods and souvenirs.
The Charleston City Market resides within 200-year old brick buildings, with countless arts and crafts stands to browse. Visitors will also notice a strong African American influence through the variety of food and product vendors. Find hand-woven baskets by Gullah artisans using local materials like sweetgrass and Palmetto leaves, or try Gullah cuisine.
Then, after exploring one of the South’s oldest markets, a 10-minute walk leads to the waterfront. Pop over for seaside views, or to eat and drink at one of the many restaurants there.
Stroll the Battery and White Point Gardens
Next up for Charleston’s historic downtown district is the Battery and White Point Gardens. The Battery is the city’s iconic defensive sea wall and promenade. It dates back to the Civil War, with its name deriving from the coastal defense artillery battery at the site.
The Battery is on the southern tip of the city, and offers unbeatable views of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. Start at the Waterfront Park, home to the famous Pineapple Fountain, and follow the trail to East Battery Street.
The path strolls past Southern-style mansions overlooking Charleston Harbor until it reaches White Point Gardens. These sprawling grounds straddle the waterfront, and offer plenty of shade for a stroll or picnic in the park.
Afterward, just across the street is Rainbow Row, another famous Charleston attraction. This stretch of a dozen or so houses stands along the palm-tree-lined East Bay Street. Each pastel-hued home is now painted in different, vibrant colors, promising great Instagram photo opportunities.
Ferry Across Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter
A must-do for any Charleston, South Carolina vacation, Fort Sumter is where the American Civil War began. In fact, stories say that this historic fort is where the first shots of the war rang out.
Now, Fort Sumter is a national park, housing a museum with a range of artifacts from the Civil War era. To get there, visitors take a ferry ride across Charleston Harbor. The ferry offers views of USS Yorktown, Ravenel Bridge, and the church-steepled city skyline along the way.
Looking for a guided tour from the ferry ride to the national park? Look up the Charleston: Fort Sumter Entry Ticket and Ferry Ride. Knowledgeable National Park Rangers show you the grounds when there, and share stories about the Civil War’s first battle.
Board the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point
Want to board an American military vessel? Travel to Charleston for the chance to see the USS Yorktown. This Navy aircraft carrier dates back to World War II. It is now permanently docked at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston Harbor.
On board, visitors can tour the vessel, as well as see military submarines, aircraft, and other maritime artifacts. The tour makes for an exciting couple hours in Charleston, whether solo, or with family. It’s an immersive trip for children, and for any history buffs traveling in the group.
Suggested Guided Tours and Activities
If you don’t want to go it alone in Charleston, there are plenty of affordable tours to check out. From Southern mansions and plantation tours, to pub crawls and ghost tours, read on for our recommended Charleston activities.
Take the Historical Charleston Walking Tour
Why not get acquainted with Charleston’s history on a guided walking tour through the city? The Charleston: Historical Walking Tour follows cobblestone streets through the city’s unique past and turbulent history.
An expert guide takes you through the historical English walled city of Charleston on a 2-hour tour. Highlights include churches and colonial homes, and tales of pirates, patriots, belles and balls from a 7th generation Charlestonian storyteller.
Discover how Charleston was once the leading seaport of the 13 colonies, and later the United States. See pre-and-post Colonial homes, storefronts, and churches – each with their own unique story. The tour also explores cemeteries and ancient symbols on tombstones, sharing history from days of piracy to modern day.
Hop a Lift to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Take in the beauty of Charleston’s wetlands, lakes, forests and marshes at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Better yet, catch a ride with the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Tour. This half-day tour takes visitors by climate-controlled transport on a house and garden tour.
On the Magnolia Plantation grounds, visitors explore world-famous gardens dating back 12 generations. There is also a conservatory, a 45-minute guided house tour, and a nature tour by tram.
On the tram, visitors get a narrated tour and can spot local wildlife, including alligators, turtles, herons and more. The ride traverses Audubon Swamp Gardens, and visits important locations like Drayton Home. Additional highlights include Orientation Theater, and the Old African American Cabin.
Get a Historic City and Southern Mansion Combo Tour
Want to experience Historic Charleston by air-conditioned coach, while stepping out to see the city up close? Look for a Historic City and Southern Mansion Combo Tour to explore 300 years of living history in 2 hours.
Expert tour guides unravel the city’s storied history, and take visitors on a tour through a historic Southern mansion. The tour explores the Old Market Area, with highlights including the famed Joseph Manigault House, Rainbow Row, and Charleston’s notable churches.
It’s a great way to experience Charleston quickly, on a budget, and without breaking a sweat. Along the journey, you can even hop off the bus for great photos from the Battery seawall.
Take a Walking Ghost and Dungeon Tour
Now, what about those ghosts we mentioned? Some say Charleston is “one of the most haunted destinations in America”, and today it offers many haunted tours.
One, the Charleston: Ghost and Dungeon Walking Tour takes visitors through some of the city’s oldest buildings.
It’s a 90-minute guided tour through the Holy City’s Haunted District, exploring the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. You can wander eerie back alleys and churches, and test your nerve in darker parts of the city.
Visitors discover both the economic origins of the Old Exchange, and hear chilling stories of paranormal activity and Lowcountry superstition. Learn about prisoners of war, mistreated slaves, and American revolutionaries. Each has their own “ghost” still lingering in the hallowed walls of Charleston’s Haunted District.
Indoor Activities in Charleston
Need something to do when it rains in Charleston? We recommend a visit to one of Charleston’s museums, or making plans for an evening concert. The city has many things to do, rain or shine, from exploring history, to indulging in its culture and the arts.
Relive Charleston’s Past in its Museums
Charleston has many immersive museums detailing times from American settlement to the city’s dark past of slavery and civil war. In fact, the Charleston Museum is one of the oldest museums in America. It has welcomed guests since 1773, with exhibits spanning from prehistoric fossils to modern times.
Exhibits include ‘Charleston and the Revolutionary War’, ‘Lowcountry History’, ‘City Under Siege’, and ‘Kidstory’. The museum also connects to two historic homes: the Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House. Then, for a tour of the Antebellum (slavery) era, the Aiken Rhett House Museum is just a few minutes away.
Visitors get deep insights into the slavery era, with guided tours through the main house, slave quarters, carriage block, and the backlot. Together with the Charleston Museum, the experience provides an unforgettable lesson on what enslaved Africans once faced in daily life.
The townhouse, dating back to 1818, is in the exact middle of Charleston, so it’s easy to fit into daily activities.
Experience Charleston’s Music Scene
Charleston’s thriving and diverse music scene has something for everybody. Music venues host jazz, funk, rock, soul, classic and contemporary, featuring both local and world-famous musicians.
So why not have a peek at the calendar of what’s on at Charleston Music Hall? There’s usually something on every night, with concerts spanning the entire genre spectrum. The venue’s schedule also includes comedy nights, and special events (like Christmas extravaganzas). Just be sure to book tickets in advance. The hall ranks among the best things to do in Charleston, with shows often selling out.
Do you have a jazz aficionado in the group? The New York-style Forte Jazz Lounge is a must-do activity for even the pickiest audiophile. This lounge is the only dedicated jazz listening room in Charleston, with local musicians in regular rotation on stage. Meanwhile, guests can soak in the laid-back atmosphere with a craft beer or a bottle from the bar.
What about rock, metal, punk, underground, or electronic music in Charleston? Check out events at Charleston’s Music Farm. This unique entertainment venue hosts a standing-only concert and event area in a former train shed. It brings in acts from around the states, promising loud music, a full bar and lively crowds.
Catch a Theater Performance
Would a good belly laugh do you good? Pop over to Theatre 99 to enter the home of Charleston’s improv comedy.
With 130 seats, this venue is more of a theater than a traditional comedy club. Shows usually take place on Wednesday through Saturday evenings, putting on active improv performances, music shows and cabaret.
Just be sure to reserve a place in advance and bring cash, as the venue is quite intimate and cash-only.
Pub Crawl through Downtown Charleston
Looking to escape the tourist traps and find a place more local to have a few beers or just chill with friends? Consider hopping on one of the local-run pub crawls. These take you away from the bustling King Street bar scene to the hidden gems, dive bars, and local haunts.
Better yet, why not combine a beer tour with some of Charleston’s haunted history? Consider looking for the Charleston: Guided Pub Crawl and Haunted History Tour . The tour lets you whet your whistle while delving into Charleston’s place in the Civil War, Prohibition, and piracy.
Things to Do in Charleston, SC: Wrap-up
Really, it’d be difficult to not find things to do in “the Holy City” that is Charleston. From the iconic sights and culture, to historic homes, plantations, gardens and beaches, boring days are hard to come by. The city promises both carefully preserved history, and a modern, vibrant cultural hub for visitors of all ages.
So why not grab your pack and hit the road for a day-trip to the beach or a weekend getaway? Chucktown is great for both. Just be sure to check for events so you don’t miss any exciting things to do in Charleston when visiting.
As always, we wish you the happiest of travels, and hope to see you on the road soon!