Known for its picturesque, antebellum charm, incredible cuisine, and colorful history, Charleston makes for one of the best vacation spots in the United States. Its colonial-style buildings and cobblestone boulevards evoke the romantic Old South, while its coastal location provides plenty of scenic variety.
From family-friendly gardens to spooky ghost tours, Charleston has something for everyone. Continue reading to learn about 15 of the best attractions Charleston offers.
Picnic at Riley Waterfront Park
Riley Waterfront Park is one of Charleston's most popular places to unwind. This ten-acre park overlooks both Charleston Harbor and Cooper River and offers waterfront and off-the-water paths to tread upon. In the park is the beautiful Pineapple fountain, which is gorgeously lit up at night. This park has been beloved by Charleston locals and tourists alike since it was established in 1990.
Relax with a drink or some iconic Charlestonian dishes on one of the benches along Riley Waterfront Park’s iconic esplanade, for the perfect end to a day in the city.
Stroll down Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is a famous series of 13 houses along Charleston’s East Bay Street. With its captivating, eponymous bright colors, Rainbow Road is one of the most photo-worthy locations in the city. Each pastel home has its own fascinating history and architecture. Theories as to why the houses are so brightly colored range from the colors helping drunk sailors find their way home more easily, to their allowing merchants to indicate what wares they sold, to their ability to keep the buildings cooler during hot summers. Whatever the truth, Rainbow Row is a must-see part of Charleston.
Visit Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
Yet another testament to the rich history of Charleston, Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is a fascinating place to visit. Built-in 1771, it has changed roles countless times: it was a British dungeon during the American Revolution, an elegant hall during George Washington’s 1791 visit to Charleston, and a meeting place for the ratification of the Constitution, among many other functions. With its gorgeous Georgian-Palladian facade, this landmark cannot be missed on a visit to Charleston. Admission to this historic building is only $12 for adults; within it, visitors can see the history of the nation come alive.
Marvel at the Angel Oak
Known as one of the most beautiful trees in the world, Angel Oak is another Charleston treasure. It is between 400 and 500 years old, making it one of the oldest living trees east of the Mississippi, and its canopy shades more than 17,000 square feet. Many believe that this tree is haunted by the spirits of enslaved people. Whether this is true or not, many visitors claim that the tree has an otherworldly presence. Angel Oak is just a 30-minute drive outside the city, and its surrounding park is free admission. This tree is an absolute must-visit wonder.
Visit Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens
The 738 acres at Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens contain a wealth of nature and history. Its well-preserved slave quarters offer an eye-opening look inside the culture and lifestyle of enslaved people on the plantation, while the main hall provides visitors a glimpse inside the traditions of Southern planting families. The gardens are home to countless butterflies and varieties of antique flowers. Visitors can learn about the history of enslaved people, the plantation’s farming practices, and more during a visit to Boone Hall, with tickets starting at just $28.
Peruse the Charleston Museum
Charleston Museum is famously known as America’s very first museum. Established in 1773, the museum and its two Historic Landmark Houses are home to a vast collection of artifacts. From exhibits on antique textiles to Lowcountry Native American history to sports in Charleston, the museum is steeped in information. Its focus is on the archaeological, artistic, and communal history of South Carolina. Learn about everything from antique weapons to fossils with a visit to Charleston Museum, where admission starts at $12.
Take a ghost tour
Many believe Charleston to be one of the most haunted cities in America; visitors can experience the city’s paranormal underside during their own guided ghost tour. Tour Charleston offers a Ghosts of Charleston Nighttime Walking Tour with special access to Unitarian Church Graveyard, a haunted hotspot. During the tour, a storyteller brings Charleston’s haunted history to life while guests embark upon a nighttime tour of the city’s spookiest locations. This terrifying 90-minute ghost tour is available for $35 and is a must for those interested in Charleston’s haunted history.
Visit Charles Towne Landing
There is no better way to wrap up this list than Charles Towne Landing: the birthplace of South Carolina. This landing is where a group of English settlers first arrived in 1670. Nowadays, the park is home to a replica village and sailing ship that allows people to experience the life and era of America’s first settlers. Admission to the park is only $12 for adults. With 6 miles of trails and 80 acres of gardens, Charles Towne Landing is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and to experience some of the nation’s history.
These 15 activities are just a few of the countless activities Charleston has to offer. Whether on a family vacation or a solo trip, this fascinating Southern city is the perfect destination.
Visit the historic Middleton Place
Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark, is the site of the oldest landscaped gardens in America. Originally a plantation owned by the Middleton family, it is now a museum dedicated to those who lived and worked on the plantation. The stories of Middleton Place range from those of the Founding Fathers to that of enslaved people, offering a rich look into the history of the nation. Adult tickets are $29 for access to these 110 acres of gardens, farmland, and historic buildings at Middleton Place.
Walk the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
A gorgeous, 8-lane suspension bridge, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge stretches from Charleston to Mount Pleasant over the Cooper River. It offers sweeping views of Charleston, and it is one of the best places to watch the sunset in the city. The bridge has a 12-foot path for pedestrians and bikers, named Wonders’ Way. The path is named after Garrett Wonders, who died in a vehicle accident on the bridge before the path was constructed. The 2.5 mile long bridge is the perfect place to admire Charleston’s picturesque skyline and harbor during a sunset stroll.
Relax at Sullivan’s Island Beach
Located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, right by the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island Beach is the perfect respite from city life. Guests can surf, swim, and catch some rays at this scenic stretch of coastline. The beach is public, and it offers one of the most natural environments in the area. On the beachfront, visitors can find many bars and restaurants for a perfect way to wrap up a day in the sand.
Charleston Culinary Tours
Charleston is renowned for its delicious Southern fare and its lively culinary scene. From classics like shrimps and grits to fried green tomatoes, Charleston has some of the best cuisines in the United States. Bulldog Tours runs a Savor the Flavors of Charleston Walking Food Tour, in which visitors can sample some of the city’s best culinary offerings. From South Carolina barbecue to seafood to gourmet chocolate, this tour covers a full meal eaten at various eateries throughout downtown Charleston. For $95, visitors will get a tasty, fulfilling gastronomic experience comprised of Charleston’s most popular dishes.
Tour Charleston in an
Old South Carriage Tour
Founded in 1670, Charleston is brimming with stories from the past. The Old South Carriage Company offers horse-drawn carriage tours through this beautiful port city, complete with a tour guide. Guides recount more than 300 years of the city’s vibrant history as visitors ride through 30 blocks of historic Charleston.
A carriage tour is a relaxing and authentic way to learn about Charleston’s history and to see its notable homes; the carriages are drawn by Belgian or Percheron draft horses, the same horses that tilled American farms in the 19th century. Tickets are $50 for a one-hour tour.
Charleston City Market
One of the nation’s oldest public markets, Charleston City Market, is both a cultural and a culinary hub. Open during the day year-round, with weekly Night Markets, Charleston City Market is constantly bustling. Over 300 entrepreneurs sell their wares at the market, offering everything from Christmas collectibles to handcrafted jewelry to gourmet jellies.
Visitors can spend a whole day at the market talking to locals, trying Charleston cuisine, and shopping for souvenirs, making it one of the best activities for getting to know the city.
Explore Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter, standing regally at the entrance of Charleston Harbor, was the location of the first battle between the Confederacy and the Union during the American Civil War. Its walls still show much of the extensive damage left behind by that 1861 assault. Now a National Historic Park, it can be accessed by a 30-minute ferry ride. Visitors can explore the fort and its accompanying museum, which showcases the history of the Civil War and of the fort itself.
For $32, visitors can explore the grounds, take a trip around the harbor, and learn about Fort Sumter’s important place in American history.