28 Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Planning a trip to the Holy City? Here are 28 of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

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 favorites 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 traveler, here are 28 of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston, South Carolina, USA in the French Quarter.
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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 U.S. 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.

South Carolina, Charleston, Historic Downtown, King Street, shopping and business district
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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-colored Georgian-style row homes. Continue down East Bay until it becomes East Battery, another scenic street with views of the harbor 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, harbor, 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 harbor 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.

Lighthouse on Sullivan's Island
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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 favorites. 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 the 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.

The iconic Rainbow Row in Charleston
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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 beers 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-favorite sweet tea vodka and fruit-flavored 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 neighboring states, and their history and culture (and language, also called Gullah) are important parts 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.

Ravenel Bridge in Charleston
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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 harbor (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 recognize 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 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.

Watch eagles, falcons, and owls take flight.

The Center for Birds of Prey at the Avian Conservation Center offers visitors an opportunity to learn about birds of prey in a beautiful setting. Situated on a 152-acre campus just north of Charleston, the center includes a medical clinic for injured birds and a facility for research, conservation, and educational programs. The center offers tours and flight demonstrations every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, allowing visitors to observe the flight techniques and hunting styles of eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, and vultures.

Angel Oak tree on Johns Island, S.C.
The Angel Oak, a roughly 400-year-old southern live oak on Johns Island, South Carolina, produces an impressive 17,200 square feet of shade (1,600 square meters) under its iconic gnarled branches. (Photo: Mike Ver Sprill/Shutterstock)

See the Angel Oak.

Considered the largest Southern live oak tree east of the Mississippi River, the Angel Oak on Johns Island is one of South Carolina’s treasures. The tree is estimated to be at least 400 years old, which is evident given its sprawling branches that shade an area of over 17,000 square feet. A new 44-acre preserve featuring boardwalk trails, a play area for children, and educational information about the tree is underway, so visitors will have even more to look forward to in the future.

Search for shark teeth on Morris Island.

Only accessible by boat, Morris Island is an 840-acre uninhabited island in Charleston Harbor. Used as a strategic location during the American Civil War, the island has a rich history, but few physical traces of its battleground past remain. Instead, you’ll find a secluded beach studded with shells, fossils, and shark teeth. Tour operators like Adventure Harbour Tours offer guided excursions that focus on searching for beach treasures and learning about the island’s ecology – and you may even spot some dolphins along the way.

Visit the International African American Museum.

After more than two decades of planning, the International African American Museum (IAAM) will open its doors on June 27, 2023 at Gadsden's Wharf, one of the nation’s most prolific former slave trading ports. The landmark project aims to showcase the breadth of African American history through nine core exhibition galleries, a special exhibition gallery, and contemporary art throughout the space. In addition to more than 700 artifacts from the 17th century to the present day, the building also houses the Center for Family History, a genealogy and ancestry resource center. On the ground level, the African Ancestors Memorial Garden will spotlight the shoreline where hundreds of thousands of captive Africans first set foot in America, creating a new space for reflection, programming, and learning opportunities for all.

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