The city of Charleston has no shortage of free activities. From its gorgeous public parks to its historic landmarks, visitors will have no trouble finding things to do on a budget. Some of the best attractions the city has to offer are free, such as the iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Sullivan’s Island Beach.
Charleston’s low-cost activities will please every visitor. Continue reading for our curated list of Charleston’s 15 Best Free Activities.
Stroll through Riley Waterfront Park
Home of the iconic Pineapple Fountain, the famous symbol of Charleston’s Southern hospitality, Riley Waterfront Park is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. It offers spectacular views of Charleston Harbor and a beautiful lawn shaded by oaks and palmettos. Visitors can wade in Pineapple Fountain or in the nearby splash fountain to cool off on a hot day.
Take in views of the harbor, splash around in a fountain, or take a leisurely stroll along the esplanade during a visit to Riley Waterfront Park.
Walk the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge stretches from Charleston to Mount Pleasant over the Cooper River, and many consider it an architectural marvel. This elegant bridge is one of Charleston’s famous landmarks. Besides its function as a conduit for vehicles, it also offers a path called Wonders’ Way, for pedestrians and bikers.
Walk, run, or bike across this 2.5 mile long bridge for its sweeping, breathtaking views of Charleston.
Hike the Palmetto Trail
The Palmetto Trail is a conservation project that consists of over 500 miles of backcountry trails, city sidewalks, mountain paths, and boardwalks, that serves to connect South Carolina’s mountains to its coastline. Every part of the trail is open for hiking. The trail’s 7-mile Awendaw Passage is closest to Charleston, and it is accessible through the nearby Francis Marion Forest.
If you want to connect with the Lowcountry wilderness, the Palmetto Trail is the way to go.
Head to the beach
Charleston is surrounded by stunning stretches of coastline, much of which is free to the public. Sullivan’s Island Beach, which is right at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, is known for its peaceful atmosphere. Charleston’s beaches are only a short drive away from downtown, making them the perfect getaways from city life.
Surf, swim, and soak up the sun at Sullivan’s Island or any one of Charleston’s nearby beaches for a fun, low-cost way to spend the day.
Relax at Hampton Park
One of Charleston’s largest parks, Hampton Park is known for its elaborate floral displays. Its gardens exhibit seasonal displays, as well as a collection of antique roses. Visitors can also learn about the extensive horticultural history of the park through an audio walking tour. This park’s pavilions, playgrounds, and gardens make it a popular spot to spend an afternoon.
Admire the roses, listen to an audio tour of the grounds, or play a game of frisbee on the lawn at Hampton Park.
Attend an ArtWalk at a local art gallery
The Downtown Charleston Association and the Charleston Gallery Association both host periodic ArtWalks to celebrate the city’s artistic legacy. During the ArtWalk, participating galleries and shops extend their hours, during which anyone can tour their venues and admire their art. This self-guided tour takes place across downtown Charleston, showing off the city’s rich paintings, sculptures, photography, performances, and more.
Art aficionados and regular visitors alike will enjoy soaking up Charleston’s art scene and lively downtown during a free ArtWalk.
Admire the Angel Oak
The Angel Oak, situated on Johns Island, is a tree with a vibrant history and fascinating supernatural stories. Thought to be between 400 and 500 years old, it is one of the oldest oak trees east of the Mississippi. Its canopy covers more than 17,000 square feet of land and the trunk has a circumference of 28 feet. Many believe that the Angel Oak is haunted, either by Native Americans who were buried at the site, or by the spirits of the formerly enslaved.
Whether or not the supernatural stories about the Angel Oak are true, it is worth a visit for its otherworldly beauty and its ancient majesty.
Visit the Charles Pinckney Historic Site
Charles Pinckney was one of the authors of the United States Constitution, as well as a political leader in South Carolina. Snee Farm, which is preserved by this historic site, was one of his many properties. At the farm, visitors can learn about Pinckney’s political influence on the state and the country, the lives of the African people he enslaved, and the farming operations on the plantation.
Learn about South Carolina’s history and about the Gullah/Geechee culture cultivated by enslaved people on the plantation with a visit to the Charles Pinckney Historic Site.
Explore the Charleston Tea Plantation
The Charleston Tea Plantation was the first place in the United States to grow tea. Its 127 acres were originally a potato farm, but they later became an important home for tea production in the country. Visitors can take part in free tours of the factory, during which they will learn about the robust history of tea; visitors can also participate in a scenic trolley ride of the property for a fee. However, admission to the grounds is free, so visitors can still take in the beauty of the plantation without the trolley ride.
Discover the history of tea with a visit to the beautiful Charleston Tea Plantation.
Take photos at Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is one of Charleston’s most iconic spots. A series of 13 brightly painted houses, each with its own unique history and architecture, Rainbow Row is a must-see location. The pastel colors of Rainbow Row’s houses have inspired many stories, involving everything from drunken sailors to illiterate servants. Located on East Bay Street, Rainbow Row is a popular spot for photos.
Snap some pictures or ponder the mysteries of the bright colors during a visit to this gorgeous row of houses.
Admire Dock Street Theatre
The country’s very first permanent playhouse, Dock Street Theatre is rich with history. Completed in 1736, it is still home to countless performances and festivals like Spoleto USA. Though it’ll cost you to attend a performance at the theater, the building and its courtyard are open daily to visitors.
Admire the building’s historic architecture and vibrant artistic legacy with a stroll around its interior and a peek into the courtyard.
Walk The Battery
The Battery, both a seawall and a promenade, winds along the Charleston peninsula’s lower shores. It is famous for its awe-inspiring views of the harbor and for the dignified antebellum mansions alongside it. The Battery is one of the most popular spots in downtown Charleston, for its peaceful views and important military history. This picturesque location is close to Rainbow Row and to White Point Garden, which commemorates the city’s Civil War history.
Take a walk along this beautiful promenade to enjoy some of Charleston’s best sights, like the USS Yorktown and Fort Sumter, as well as its beautiful historic homes.
Step Back in Time at the White Point Garden
Right by The Battery is White Point Garden, an important historical landmark. It has been a public park since 1837. During the Civil War, the garden became one of the city’s fortification sites; in commemoration of that role, the garden now houses a display of the mortars and cannons used in the city during the war. The garden is also said to be haunted—in the 1720s, about 50 pirates were hanged here.
Experience Charleston’s Civil War-era legacy with a visit to the historic White Point Garden.
Visit Morris Island Lighthouse
The statuesque Morris Island Lighthouse is one of Charleston Harbor’s quintessential views. It is unique in that it stands several hundred feet offshore, due to erosion. This offshore status means that visitors cannot walk to the lighthouse, but it can be admired from nearby Folly Beach. Morris Island Lighthouse is South Carolina’s tallest lighthouse, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This beautiful, old lighthouse is definitely worth taking a look at, especially if you find yourself already at Folly Beach.
Explore the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
This non-profit art institute, located in the College of Charleston, is dedicated to sharing innovative visual art by emerging artists. The gallery is open from 11:00am to 4:00pm Monday through Saturday, and it is always free to visit. Past exhibits at the gallery include CROSSED LOOKS by Namsa Leuba, which explores the identity of the diverse African diaspora, and Sea Change, which deals with the pollution of the ocean.
Enjoy some groundbreakiing artistic work during a visit to the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.
Charleston has countless entertaining free activities, from art galleries to tea plantations to lighthouses. No matter the occasion, Charleston has something for you. We hope you enjoy exploring the activities on our list of 15 of the best free attractions Charleston has to offer.