Walking down the Battery or King Street in Charleston is one of our favorite things to do in one of our favorite places. Charleston is packed with history, art, local shops and amazing food, especially the freshly caught seafood. Pack a bathing suit and head to the beach when it warms up, or lace up your sneakers and go on a walking tour. Whatever you choose to do in Charleston, expect a hit.
5 Things You Must Do In Charleston
Stroll Museum Mile
Charleston’s Museum Mile is full of historic houses and places of worship, parks and, of course, museums. Start at the Aiken-Rhett House, one of the best preserved homes in the area, and continue down Market Street stopping at the restored Joseph Manigault House, National Historic Landmark Nathaniel Russell House, and the Heyward-Washington House – full of antique colonial furniture. Check out the supremely playful Children’s Museum of the Low Country and the Charleston Museum, which was founded in 1773 making it “America’s First Museum” and a must visit to learn about the natural and cultural history of South Carolina. For artistic history, visit The Gibbes Museum of Art, which connects contemporary art to the region’s fabled past. You can also stop by The Powder Magazine, South Carolina’s oldest government building turned colonial history museum, and the South Carolina Historical Society, the state’s largest and oldest private archive, for more Charleston history. If you’re still up for more, swing by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston or one of the many member galleries of the Charleston Gallery Association.
As a coastal, low country city, Charleston sports inviting beaches and secluded marshes where visitors can bask in the sun, learn a new watersport, or hike through the landscape. James Island Park is a great place to go fishing, crabbing, hiking, biking or camping. You can play beach volleyball or horseshoes, visit the climbing wall, seasonal water park, disc golf course or challenge experience. You might rent a bike, paddle boat, stand-up paddle board or kayak. You can even bring your pooch to the off-leash dog park, which has its own lake. Hop over to John’s Island to visit Angel Oak, the 300+-years old, largest living Oak east of the Mississippi. You might want to stay at one of the coastal towns, like Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach or Kiawah. It’s easy to visit these or the nearby Isle of Palms County Park for the quintessential beach day. If you’re looking to see wildlife while hiking, head to the Ravenel Caw Caw Interpretive Center, a former rice plantation that now has trails and boardwalks with interpretive displays. This sanctuary is a birding hotspot and home to waterfowl, otters, deer, alligators and more. Bikers and hikers alike can take a trip across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, the longest cable stay bridge in North America at 2.7 miles long. For more of a leisurely stroll, head to the Shem Creek Boardwalk or meander through White Point Gardens or Mrs. Whaley’s Garden, the most visited private garden in America.
Step Into the Past
Charleston is full of history, both beautiful and painful, and you’ll find different perspectives on each at these locations. The Charles Towne Landing, where English settlers came ashore in 1670, is the birthplace of the Carolina colony and now home to 80 acres of gardens, the Animal Forest national habitat zoo, and a 17th-century replica sailing ship. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon has had many functions over the years –– from a British prison during the Revolutionary War to the site of South Carolina’s ratification of the constitution. It was a major hub in the domestic slave trade and is now a National Historic Landmark, focusing on the American Revolution and colonial Charleston. The Old Slave Mart Museum stands at the only known building used as a slave auction site still in existence in South Carolina. It is the first African-American slave museum staffed by individuals who can trace their lineage to enslaved people who entered the country through Charleston. There are also plenty of old plantations to visit, including the McLeod Plantation, an important Gullah/Geechee heritage site and former sea island cotton plantation, and Middleton Place, home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America. These two sites contrast the beauty of the properties and grounds with the atrocities perpetrated by the owners against the enslaved people who built the plantations.
Revisit Your Military History
Charleston played major roles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and that is reflected throughout the city. Fort Sumter was the site of the first battle in the Civil War where Confederate soldiers forced Union troops to retreat. Now the area is a National Historic Park you can tour along with nearby Fort Moultrie. The tour will leave you near the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, centered on the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. Explore the Yorktown, as well as other boats and planes – you can even sleep on board if you’re interested. For some underwater history, visit the Hunley, the combat submarine that sank the USS Housatonic, then vanished at sea for over a century before being found, excavated and turned into a museum showcasing life during the Civil War. See some modern day military practices at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, where weekly parades during the school year are open to the public.
Shop the Markets
At the heart of the city, The Charleston City Market is one of the nation’s oldest public markets and hosts local artisans, businesses and restaurants (Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits is a must). Besides featuring fresh produce, plants and flowers, the Charleston Farmers Market showcases local artisans, crafters, performers and cooks at the lively, weekly gathering spot in Marion Square. Though not officially a market, the Old Village District is home to a handful of stores in a charming, historic neighborhood well worth visiting.
5 Things You Might Not Have Considered in Charleston
Get In Touch with Your Spiritual Side
Charleston got the nickname “The Holy City” as waves of settlers and immigrants brought different religions and denominations to the city and built houses of worship for each. A few of the oldest churches are St. Phillips Church (1680), Circular Congregational Church, U.C.C. (1681) and French Huguenot Church (1687), which is the oldest continuously active Huguenot congregation in the US. First Baptist Church (1696) is the earliest Baptist church in the south and was established when the pastor and much of his congregation moved to Charleston from Kittery, Maine. Also notable is the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the south, with one of the largest and oldest Black congregations south of Baltimore. Amongst these churches is also a very important synagogue. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was founded in 1749, though there had been Jews in Charleston since at least 1695. It is the second oldest synagogue building in the US and the birthplace of Reform Judaism in America. Seemingly modern in comparison is Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery founded in 1949. Visitors can tour the abbey and gardens or purchase fresh and dried mushrooms grown by the monks.
Give Yourself a Scare
The Holy City has been through a lot, so it’s no surprise that many consider it to be pretty haunted. You can take yourself on a haunted walking tour that will stop at a speakeasy, or if you prefer, a house that has survived more than thirty hurricanes along with two wars, two earthquakes and more – and the 20 South Battery Hotel, which may or may not have a headless torso wandering the halls. You can also tour the Old City Jail, where Charleston’s worst criminals were held from 1802 to 1939. Charleston’s historic churches usually have cemeteries nearby; how could they not be a hotspot for ghosts? The Circular Graveyard is likely the oldest English burial ground in Charleston, with graves dating back to 1695.
Try a New Sport
If stand-up paddle boarding, kite surfing and kayaking have you craving more athletic adventure, Charleston has you covered. SK8 Charleston has intermediate and pro bowls, a street course with “skate art” designed by Team Pain Skate Parks, and offers lessons. John’s Island County Park is home to the Mullet Hall Equestrian Center, which hosts competitive horse shows and festivals, but does not have lessons. It does however sport a six target archery range, plus a 20-target 3-D course and offers intro to archery lessons.
Celebrate the Season
There are so many incredible restaurants in Charleston, but if you visit in the winter be sure to attend an oyster roast like the Lowcountry Oyster Festival. Steamed oysters and shucking competitions are a must, and many oyster roasts are fundraisers, so you’ll be supporting a good cause as you indulge in a bivalve feast. During baseball season you can swing by a Charleston Riverdogs game and keep your eye out for Bill Murray, since he is one of the owners of the team.
Have a Drink
The craft distilling and beer scenes in Charleston are booming, so you can’t leave the low country without trying at least one. Firefly Distillery, the oldest working distillery in the area, offers tours and tastings along with monthly events that feature live music and food trucks all just up the road from downtown Charleston. If you’re sticking to town, check out the facilities and tasting rooms of Charleston Distilling Co. (watch out for the Carolina Reaper Vodka) and High Wire Distilling Co. If beer is more your speed, Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. has an extensive tap list and great food to go with the suds. Other craft breweries to look out for include Holy City Brewing, Frothy Beard Brewing Company and Palmetto Brewing Company. Wine drinkers will be delighted by the only domestic winery in Charleston, Deep Water Vineyard, where the gardens, walking trails and, of course, winery can keep visitors busy all day. Not to leave anyone out, the Charleston Tea Garden is home to America’s only tea factory where the sandy soil and sub-tropical climate facilitate both green and black teas.