There are so many incredible things to do in Charleston, SC. Whether you’re drawn to its renowned culinary delights, captivated by its scenic and historic waterfront, or eager to explore its many cultural treasures, Charleston has a lot of diverse activities to offer to any and all travel enthusiasts.
This comprehensive travel guide is packed with so many fun things to do in Charleston you’ll need to plan more than one trip to feel like you’ve truly experienced the historic Holy City. Every time I visit, I feel like I discover a new gem or favorite thing to do.
I’ve had such a great time on each trip to Charleston that I’ve compiled a list of all my favorite places to visit and things to do so you can rest assured knowing your trip will be an enjoyable and memorable occasion.
Soak In the History & Culture of Charleston
No city quite blends military, political, social, and economic history the way Charleston, Sout Carolina, does, from Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, to the fortunes built or lost through commerce in the Charleston harbor and the daily lives of citizens. There is richness everywhere you go and in every part of the city.
Walking around town, you’ll see countless examples of historically relevant architecture, from the old cobblestone streets, the colorful Georgian homes on Rainbow Row, and the large family homes passed down through generations of Charlestonians.
As you explore the city’s various landmarks, take a moment to cool off in the AC of the many museums or art galleries around town. Immerse yourself deeper into the city’s beginnings by visiting the Charleston Museum, which vividly showcases the diversity, from its colonial roots to the Gullah Geechee heritage and beyond.
One of my favorite things to do in Charleston is tour the historic homes in town that are open to the public. The docents are always delightful and happy to answer questions or dig deeper into any aspect of the history you find most interesting. Some of the most famous historic homes in the Charleston downtown area are listed below.
Address: 87 Church St. | Website
Joseph Manigault House
Address: 350 Meeting St. | Website
48 Elizabeth St. | Website
Nathanial Russel House
51 Meeting St. | Website
You also won’t want to miss other historical sites like the Charleston City Market or the Patriots Point Naval Maritime Museum.
After hours of reading, learning, and experiencing the city, you’ll likely be ready for something delicious, like fried green tomatoes. Luckily, there is no shortage of wonderful restaurants to choose from.
Dig into Charleston’s Culinary Scene
Like many cities known for their cuisine and noteworthy restaurants, there are delicious meals for every type of budget and dining experience. Don’t forget about happy hour, either. With several beautiful rooftop bars and distillery tours, there are plenty of things for culinary enthusiasts to enjoy.
However, one thing I will note, as I do with all my restaurant recommendations, is to remind you that if a place looks busy, smells great as you walk past, or has a welcoming environment – give it a try. All I can say about my recommendations is that I went to these places and had a wonderful experience at the time. The restaurant business is a tough and competitive business where things are constantly changing.
Don’t be afraid to ask locals you encounter or people you meet about recent dining experiences they’ve enjoyed. Sometimes, you find the best-unexpected gems this way. But if you’ve just arrived and aren’t sure where to start, here are a few of my favorite go-to restaurants.
Fleet landing has become a regular stop on our visits to Charleston. Their service and food have been consistently excellent, even years between visits. A few of my menu favorites include the seafood pasta and key Lime pie.
We came across Bumpas on our most recent visit. Nestled on an unassuming side street, this awesome pub offers a unique selection of burgers, sandwiches, and more. They have many large tables, making it a great spot for large groups.
60 Bull Cafe
A relaxed cafe serving an exceptionally delicious variety of meals and beverage pairings. Nestled into the neighborhood, this unassuming restaurant feels like a locals hideaway and best kept secret.
This spacious Mexican restaurant has great drinks, delicious food, and yummy appetizers like chips and queso. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown activity, it’s easy to pop in between sites at Ru Ru’s. Depending on the day and time, it can get busy, but takeout is always an option. If the weather is nice, you might enjoy your meal picnic-style in the nearby park.
Pearlz Oyster Bar
A low-key place for live music, burgers, and seafood. Their Seafood chowder is delicious. Or, if you’re looking for something a little lighter, you could make a meal of their fresh peel-and-eat shrimp appetizer. They always have a great variety of local drinks on tap and daily chef specials to check out.
Toast! All Day
Traditionally known as a breakfast diner with legendary mimosas, Toast has a variety of great menu items that will keep you coming back. In addition to breakfast, their salads are perfectly crisp and generous, so it’s easy to find something delicious no matter what you’re in the mood for. Since they serve breakfast all day, you don’t have to worry about missing out on their delicious biscuits, but expect a wait, especially early, so consider making a reservation.
Cozy seating areas, old woodwork, and beautifully tiled fireplaces. This petite, cozy, chic cafe offers a delicious selection of baked goods, coffee, tea, and lighter fare. Have the avocado coffee cake without question, if there’s any left. They rotate their selection and sell out quickly.
Off Track Ice Cream
Another side street find! Off Track Ice Cream has a full list of fresh-made flavors sure to soothe any sweet tooth. The shop’s decor is great, with lots of natural light and plenty of seating for cooling off and enjoying your treat.
This restaurant has an incredible selection of baked goods and regular menu items with seating inside or on their patio. Saffron is just the place if you have a larger group or are looking for a place to get a break from the crowds. Nestled on the northeast edge of the busiest downtown area, they’re just outside the fray of the crowds. They’ve been a mainstay in the Charleston restaurant scene for over 40 years, and for good reason.
Outdoor Adventures & Scenic Spots
There are beautiful parks around historic downtown Charleston to take in the views of the harbor and city. Some favorites include White Point Garden, the Joe Riley Waterfront Park featuring the iconic pineapple fountain, Gadson Park near the Fort Sumnter visitor center, Marion Square in the heart of town, and Colonial Lake Park tucked away in the neighborhood of the peninsula’s south side.
But if you’re looking to add a little more thrill or excitement, there are plenty of things to do available both in the Downtown area and just outside the city in the neighboring communities.
Historic Walking tours
Learn the history of some of the most scenic places around the city by taking a walking tour. Most tours are about two hours long, so plan to wear comfortable walking shoes and don’t forget some sunscreen.
Depending on when you visit, temperature and weather can be another consideration. Plan your tour earlier in the morning or at sunset to avoid the heat, and pack an umbrella for any possible showers. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more unique, consider taking a walking Ghost tour at night.
Horse Carriage tours
If you’re a little short on time but still want to take in the city’s sights, a carriage tour is an excellent alternative to the walking tours. You will see many of the same sights in half the time as you enjoy the breeze and a few from a slightly higher perspective.
Charleston is a college city with both the Centinal and College of Charleston just a few blocks from the heart of downtown. You’ll see many people biking through traffic throughout the city. However, consider biking the West Ashley Greenway if you prefer a more relaxed setting.
The Greenway is nearly nine miles of paved flat path that connects West Ashley to the main Folly Beach road. Soon, there will be a pedestrian bridge connecting Charleston, South Carolina, to the start of the trail, but for now, cyclists will have to commute to one of the various trailheads outside the city.
Charleston, South Carolina, offers fantastic opportunities for kayaking thanks to its diverse waterways and stunning scenery. You can explore places like Shem Creek, Folly Beach, or the Ashley River, but this will require you to commute outside the historic city center of Charleston.
Shem Creek provides calm waters and a chance to paddle through marshes while spotting wildlife like dolphins. Folly Beach offers both ocean kayaking and a chance to explore the Folly River, perfect for beginners and experienced kayakers alike. The Ashley River presents a historic backdrop with plantation views and glimpses of local wildlife. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, Charleston’s offers many ways to have a memorable experience.
Anglers don’t have to go far to enjoy casting a line. One of the more unique things to do in Charleston is fish right from the park along the waterfront, where you can catch redfish and flounder. Other types of fishing experiences are available, from fly fishing in the rivers to chartering a boat for a day of ocean fishing.
Within just twenty miles of the city, there are over 30 different courses for golf enthusiasts to play. The various championship-level courses offer a mix of challenges and scenic beauty. Choose from marshland, coastal, or wooded settings that cater to players of all skill levels.
One unforgettable thing to do in Charleston, SC, is to see the city from the water. There are a variety of ways to enjoy your time offshore, from casual or historic cruises to exclusive yachting.
Harbor tours provide a scenic overview of Charleston’s historic waterfront iconic landmarks and the chance to learn about the city’s rich maritime history. Nature enthusiasts can explore eco-tours through the salt marshes, spotting wildlife like dolphins, herons, and egrets.
Sunset cruises offer a romantic experience, showcasing breathtaking views as the sun dips below the horizon. For a taste of luxury, private yacht charters are available, offering personalized experiences, fine dining, and tailored itineraries for special occasions or celebrations.
Immersive Arts & Culture
Charleston’s history is richly matched by its dozens of eclectic art galleries peppered throughout the city and the beautiful Gibbes Museum of Art. You’ll have no trouble finding many notable galleries as you walk the blocks between King Street, Cumberland, East Bay Street, and Broad.
However, art takes more than one form in Charleston, South Carolina. With local theater performances, symphony, dance, and many music festivals throughout the year, you’ll have your pick of cultural experiences.
Make sure to visit Explore Charleston for the official guide for festivals and events.
Unique Experiences & Hidden Gems Charleston, South Carolina
The list of incredible things to do in Charleston is one of the many reasons visitors return year after year. With hidden alleyways and secret gardens throughout town, it’s hard to know when you’ve seen all the best spots. Then, there are all the prominent sites just outside downtown.
Some of the best Instagram-worthy spots are just off the peninsula, a short drive from the historic downtown area. If you could drive to the city or have a rental, consider exploring some of the notable sites like the Angel Oak tree or numerous historic grand homes and plantation gardens.
Or, if you’re a movie buff, you may recall films like The Notebook, The Patriot, and many others were filmed in Charleston and the surrounding areas. Visiting some filming locations is another fun way to get to know the area.
Picking the Best things to do in Charleston, SC
Planning your first trip to Charleston can be overwhelming. Still, with this extensive list of things to do, we hope we’ve hit on all the highlights so there will be no traveler’s remorse and only great memories and more reasons to return for a second or even third trip.
We’re sad to leave whenever we travel but glad to get home. The nice thing about having limited time to explore everything you want to do on vacation is that you go with a reason to return and things to look forward to. After several jam-packed visits, I still have a list of things I cannot wait to do on the next trip, and I have a feeling you will, too. Charleston is one of those cities you can revisit again and again, enjoying each experience differently.
Marly is a lifestyle writer and creator of simplylivinghappy.com, a site dedicated to helping readers improve their health, wealth, mindset, and overall happiness. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her listening to audiobooks while gardening, visiting with family, or traveling.