Waitress is a touching, newer musical that took Broadway by storm a few years ago. It is about a waitress in a small town who is looking for a way out of her abusive marriage and processes her feelings through baking pies.
This post covers the best free things to do in Charleston. Charleston, one of the oldest cities of America, is filled with history, fine architecture, and lots of southern charm. Much of it can be enjoyed for free!
In order to avoid overcrowding of certain areas, the City of Charleston randomly awards one of four routes to each carriage operating in the historic district of Charleston.
This means that the route that each tour takes is predetermined and selected by City officials, rather than the individual companies.
What distinguishes one company from another is the quality of their guides and the types of tours they offer.
For example, in addition to their daytime tours, Palmetto Carriage Works and Old South Carriage Company also offer night tours of the historic district.
Classic Carriage Works is the only company to also offer a Civil War Tour and Slavery to Freedom Tour.
For those planning on visiting other tourist attractions, consider buying your carriage tour ticket as part of a combo deal or discount. Carolina Polo & Carriage and Old South Carriage Company both offer special discounts on combo packages.
Finally, Old South Carriage Company also runs a Haunted Carriage Tour for those hoping to learn more about the darker side of Charleston’s history.
The following section covers each of the carriage tours you can take after dark in Charleston.
We provide details about pricing, tour duration, and other information you might want to know.
Palmetto Carriage Works
In addition to their daytime tours, Palmetto Carriage Works offers an Evening Tour of the Commercial District, which departs every day at 5:30 pm, 5:45 pm, and 6 pm.
These tours typically sell out, so it’s best to book a spot well in advance. Visit many historic sites in the old Walled City, including the Old Exchange Building, Four Corners of Law, & the Waterfront Park on the Cooper River.
Unlike their daytime tour, the evening tour is only 35 minutes long.
They also offer a Haunted Charleston Tour which runs in the evenings and is featured in the ghost tours section. Alternatively, you can also take a private evening trip which we will cover in our private tours section.
This company has partnered with Walks of Charleston and Charleston Culinary Tours to offer a combo deal that saves guests $5 on any tour with either company when you book any tour with Carolina Polo & Carriage.
Charleston Culinary Tours offers 8 unique food tours around the city as well as a private tour you can choose from, while Walks of Charleston‘s popular History Walking Tour is approximately 2 hours and begins from just outside City Hall.
Sites featured during the walking tour include St Michael’s Church, the French Quarter, St Philip’s Church, Heyward Washington House, and the famous Battery.
Guests can choose to take both tours on the same day or split them into 2 different days.
Old South Carriage Company
Old South Carriage Company offers 3 different combo packages. The first combines their carriage trip with a tour of Charleston Harbor from SpiritLine Cruise, entertaining guests on both land and sea.
The second package deal also takes guests on the water as it combines a ticket to visit Fort Sumter with their standard carriage tour. You are advised to first schedule your carriage tour, then arrange your trip to Fort Sumter.
The final combo deal offered by this company includes both their carriage tour and a walking tour of Charleston. This is the most affordable package.
Carriage Tour + SpiritLine Harbor Cruise: $49/Adults | $32/Children
Carriage Tour + Fort Sumter: $49/Adults | $30/Children
Carriage Tour + Walking Tour: $45/Adults | $28/Children
One of the best ways to save money while sightseeing is to purchase a tourist attraction discount pass. These passes work by bundling admission tickets and discounts so that you pay less when you pay upfront.
There are two types of passes, and which one you choose should depend on the attractions you want to see. One focuses on house museums, another on popular tours, plantations, and restaurants.
Though it might not be known for its nightlife, Charleston is a city that really comes to life after dark! From ghost tours and pub crawls to theatre shows and comedy performances, there is a wide range of things to do at night.
Below are a few of our favorite nighttime activities.
Looking for a laugh during your visit? There are several different comedy club venues in Charleston that feature comedians from all over the country.
Catch a show at this beautiful theater. This building was beautifully restored in the 1930s as a result of the new W.P.A. efforts introduced to get the nation back on its feet after the market crash of the Great Depression.
The original theater opened in 1736 and the building was subsequently turned into a hotel, so in the 1930s a colonial-style theater was recreated in the space. This is the home theater of the Charleston Stage Company.
If you don’t have tickets to see a show, don’t worry! The Dock Street is included on a few walking tours, so even if you don’t catch a show you’ll still steal a sneak peek!
The Ravenel Bridge (Cooper River Bridge)
Completed in 2005, the Cooper River Bridge was the longest cable-stay bridge in North America at the time. The bridge boasts a walking and biking path whose views (and height) will leave you breathless.
This photo of Ravenel Bridge is courtesy of TripAdvisor
While the bridge and its surrounding trails are great for a run or bike ride during the day, we suggest visiting at night as the bridge and cables are beautiful while lit up.
If you’re looking for a bit of adult fun, why not opt for a pub crawl of Charleston! For a more traditional pub crawl experience, join Bulldog Tours on their Upper King Street Pub Tour which shares the history of prohibition, pirates, and pubs in Charleston.
Alternatively, you can go on a Mixology Tour with Charleston Culinary Tours and visit 3 different bars that are highly regarded for their exquisite cocktails.
King Street is a bustling retail corridor with many boutiques for those looking to do a bit of shopping during their visit. However, it also holds great historical significance: “At more than 300 years old, King Street is the second most historically and architecturally significant street in downtown Charleston.”
This photo of 235 King Street at Sunset is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Once the shops close, you can check out one of the many art galleries, bars, or restaurants — all of which promise to keep you occupied late into the night!
Charleston City Night Market
Every Friday and Saturday evening between April – December there the Night Market runs at the Charleston City Market. Open from 6:30 – 10:30 pm, it is completely free and open to the public. The Night Market showcases more than 100 talented artists and craftspeople, and features live music and entertainment.
Take a Dinner Cruise
Though Charleston Harbor is beautiful at all hours, nighttime is one of the best times to relax on the water and enjoy the city lights. From the harbor, you can see Fort Sumter and Ravenel Bridge lit up, in addition to several other sights from afar.
SpiritLine Cruises offer a nightly, 2.5-hour dinner cruise with 3 – 4 courses and special amenities. These are extremely popular experiences, so be sure to book in advance.
The regular season runs from late March to early October, which gives you plenty of time to find tickets to a game! If they make it to the playoffs, games could be happening into early November.
Charleston Battery Soccer
Soccer fans will be happy to learn Charleston has a professional soccer team named Charleston Battery. It was founded in 1993, which makes it one of the oldest professional soccer clubs in the country. This means their fanbase is loyal and the atmosphere at the games is fun and exciting!
The regular season runs from early March through mid-October.
South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is a very popular aquatic center located in the heart of downtown Charleston. Open 9:00 am – 4:00 pm daily, the aquarium features marine animals traditionally found in the coastal waters of South Carolina and beyond. Two of their most popular creatures are a rare albino alligator and a bald eagle named Liberty.
Admission is $29.95 for adults and $22.95 for children.
Described in many reviews as a ‘must-see’, the Charleston Museum is a small but powerful natural history museum featuring exhibits that highlight the city’s long and complex history. Children are encouraged to participate in the museum’s scavenger hunt, which includes questions about each of the permanent exhibits. Visit theCharleston Museum website to learn more.
Located a short drive from downtown Charleston, Frankie’s Fun Park is an extremely popular destination with families with kids of all ages. They have mini golf, a road course, batting cage, bumper boats, and a number of other fun games and attractions. You pay per activity, so families don’t have to worry about paying a big up-front entrance fee.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “spark imagination and stimulate curiosity through the power of play.” The museum features several different interactive spaces, such as the art room, idea factory, medieval creativity castle, and kids garden. It welcomes kids of all ages, though the museum especially caters to those under the age of 10.
This photo of Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Children Under 12 Months: FREE
SC Residents – Children & Adults: $10.00
Non-SC Residents – Children & Adults: $12.00
This is another historic property to visit. The popular attractions here for families are the butterfly house, hiking trails and boat rides through the swamp during which you can search for wildlife like alligators, birds, and turtles. Check out their website to learn more aboutCypress Gardens.
Senior: (age 65+) $9.00
Children: (ages 6-12) $5.00
Children: (ages 5 and under) Free*
Sample Free Pralines
During your visit to downtown Charleston, be sure to pop into one of the many praline shops to try out a few of their free samples! Both children and adults love to indulge in this special Southern treat. You’re not expected or required to purchase any pralines after taking a sample, but we must warn you that it’s difficult to resist!
USS Yorktown and Patriots Point
This is a must-see for any war history buffs, wannabe shipmates, airplane fanatics, and, of course, kids! The Yorktown is deceivingly big and is truly a small city, filled with maze-like pathways, a dentist’s office, jail, and more! Not only is the “town” interesting, but there are all different kinds of airplanes and even a flight simulator for you to try.
This photo of Charleston is courtesy of TripAdvisor
In addition, the view from the deck of downtown Charleston will allow you to see why we’re known as the Holy City; check out all of the church steeples!
You don’t need to break the bank to have fun and explore Charleston.
We have a list of parks and markets to explore as well as churches, homes, and other architecture to admire here.
Waterfront Park and the Pineapple Fountain
This is a beautiful park, voted one of the Top 25 public parks in the U.S. by Trip Advisor, and the fountain is a pretty place to cool down (the fountains are wading fountains).
The park is conveniently located just a few blocks from the market and some of our tours end here. The park sits at the mouth of the Cooper River and offers a terrific setting for a picnic with a view!
The entire inner harbor is laid out before you. There is a sunny side, but if it’s too bright for you just go to the benches under the trees on the other side of the park – the view won’t be obstructed and the foliage will block the rays.
Admire the Houses of Worship
The houses of worship, from KKBE Synagogue to St. Michael’s Episcopal and the Unitarian Church, will stop you in your tracks; their history and beauty are unmatched in our country. In one of the oldest cities in the country, you’ll find churches constructed with care that is comparable to European churches.
Many of the churches and synagogues here will leave you in awe – organs, carved mahogany, Tiffany windows… Come and see it for yourself!
Angel Oak in John’s Island
The oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River is a sight to see! You won’t believe your eyes. Photos do not do it justice.
This photo of Angel Oak is courtesy of TripAdvisor
It’s just a short drive from downtown Charleston and is definitely worth the trip. The attraction just asks for a donation to help secure the health of the tree. No one is quite sure how old it is – anywhere between 400 – 1000 years old!
The tree is a sight right out of a storybook and everyone from any age will be amazed.
Charleston City Market
The City Market is a must-do for any visitor to Charleston. Established in the 1790s, the City Market was initially a beef and produce market for the local people of Charleston. As it gained in popularity, the market became a place for people to socialize and trade other goods. Today it features a wide range of merchandise, including traditional Gullah sweetgrass baskets and jewelry.
Rainbow Row is one of the most iconic attractions in Charleston. The series of Georgian row houses were restored in the 1930s, during which time they were painted with the iconic pastel colors. This tradition began when one of the homeowners of the time decided to restore her property to back to the colonial Caribbean color scheme and soon others follow suit.
This photo of Historic Charleston is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Today the homes are still privately owned, and though they are not regularly open to the public, some do open their doors during annual Festival of Houses and Gardens during the month of March.
Discover Picturesque Alleys
Go on an adventure and you’ll find yourself meandering down quiet, hidden alleys. The city is safe and always camera ready! What are you waiting for?
There are several small streets and alleys that are public and ready for you to discover. They are also a great place for you to see the beautiful foliage and blooming plants in Charleston. The sub-tropic climate, combined with areas that are less traveled, means that these are the areas where Mother Nature really shows off. Have fun!
There are some interesting places to see and enjoy outside of the city that make great day trips. Whether you’re willing to travel for 15 minutes or two hours, there are fun day trip options for you!
Folly Beach is a fantastic family-friendly beach located just a 20-minute drive from downtown Charleston on Folly Island. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach, or choose from one of the many seaside restaurants or bars for a meal. Though summer is the best time of year to relax on Folly Beach, smaller crowds, and slightly cooler weather make the spring and fall equally enjoyable. Alternatively, if you’re in Charleston during the month of January, check out the annual Bill Murray Look-Alike Polar Plunge where participants are encouraged to ‘freeze their Bill’s off!”
Located just a 15-minute drive from the heart of the Historic District of Charleston, Isle of Palms is also a great place for families to visit! The beach at the Isle of Palms is probably the most kid-friendly beach around Charleston thanks to the ample space, safe waters, and clean environment.
There are several other beaches that are within 20 to 45 minutes’ drive from the center of Charleston. This includes the private beach of Seabrook Island, that is known for its quiet, idyllic atmosphere and Kiawah Island, known for its recreational sports, live music, and entertainment.
There are several big plantations near Charleston — each location is very family-friendly, despite the dark history surrounding them. Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Plantation are just west of the city, and Boone Hall is over in Mount Pleasant.
The plantations west of the Ashley River were mainly rice plantations, whereas Boone Hall and many of the plantations east of the Cooper were known for producing bricks.
You can learn about each plantation’s black history and culture, as well as the effects of the Civil War on the plantation owners and their homes.
Kids will love exploring the labyrinth of gardens at each plantation. Magnolia even has a petting zoo! And, if you’re here at the right time, you can pick your own fruit at veggies at Boone Hall.
Sure you need a car, but you cannot go to the South and miss going to a plantation! The trip is worth it and we hope you have fun!
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia, and close enough to Charleston to allow for fun day trips. It takes just two hours to drive between the cities. Savannah’s Historic District is full of antebellum, colonial, and Victorian architecture and beautiful estates.
You’ll also learn about the history of the city from colonial times, including the slave trade and cotton industry details.
We have also created guides based on the time of year. Click on the links below for the corresponding time that you plan on being in Charleston. These also include monthly weather expectations to help you plan how to dress.
This post covers the top things to do on Christmas in Charleston (updated for 2019), including nighttime activities, free things to do, and family-friendly options. Don’t forget to look into our packing tips for winter trips!