This post covers things to do in Charleston, with tips on free, nighttime as well as family-friendly activities.
We also include links to our posts on things to do by month or season.
Disclosure: We think you should consider our free tours, but we have also provided other options. While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.
There are a few things you might want to consider before heading out to enjoy the best things to do in Charleston.
This section will cover a few of the most popular questions asked by tourists visiting this beautiful and historic city.
How many days do you need in Charleston?
If you're interested in seeing as much as possible, it's recommended to spend at least 3 days exploring Charleston.
Is 2 days enough time to see Charleston?
While a lot of visitors will probably find 2 days sufficient, we do suggest considering at least 3 days to really get the vibe of this city.
What is Charleston most known for?
This city is one of the most historic in the United States, and it was a significant site during both the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War.
Aside from being known for its important historical attractions, Charleston is also well-known for its seafood, churches, and good old-fashioned southern charm.
Is Charleston Safe?
While there is a fair amount of crime in this city, it isn't too much more dangerous than any other city of its size. If you stick to the downtown area, you should be fine.
Charleston or Savannah?
Both cities are wonderful and worth exploring, but the answer to this question really depends on what kind of activities you enjoy.
If you're interested in seeing historic landmarks, going on a carriage ride, or perhaps even taking a ghost tour, this is an excellent spot to visit for a vacation.
TOP 10 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO
Here is our top 10 list of things to do in the city of Charleston, including tours, family-friendly activities, attractions, and free things to do.
Take a look at our other popular Charleston posts here:
- Charleston Pay-What-You-Wish Walking Tours
- Charleston on a Budget
- Aiken-Rhett House Museum
- Charleston City Market
- Boat Tours in the Harbor
- Tourist Attraction Discount Passes
1. Visit Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter only has one tour company that is allowed to offer guided tours on this exciting island.
It takes a 30-minute journey by ferry to get there. And once you arrive, you’ll get an intro from a National Park Ranger before being able to look around.
This national historic landmark is the site of the first shot fired during the American Civil War, so it's an absolute must-visit for fans of United States history.
We have a post that covers how to get to Fort Sumter.
And check out our post comparing all Charleston Harbor tours for more information.
2. See a Concert
Charleston regularly brings in nationally and internationally-touring musical acts and has a great local music scene.
No matter what time of year you visit, if you’re a fan of live music there will be plenty of events to choose from.
If you’re interested in going to a concert, make sure to check and see what’s on at the following venues:
Find all the concerts in the city here.
3. Attend the Theater
From the historic Dock Street Theatre to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, there are several venues in the city that consistently produce great plays, musicals, and comedy shows.
- Dock Street Theatre
- Gaillard Auditorium
- Charleston Music Hall
- North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Find all the theatrical events in Charleston here.
4. Go on a Sightseeing Tour
A great way to see more of Charleston is to take a stroll around the city with guidance from a knowledgeable local on a sightseeing tour.
Of course, we recommend taking a pay-what-you-wish walking tour of the city with us or let one of our guides direct you on a GPS-led audio tour.
Other tours that you should consider:
There are also plenty of plantation tours to take that will bring you to the popular Magnolia, Boone, and Middleton Place Plantations.
5. Visit the Battery
The Battery is a coastal peninsula in Charleston that gets its name from a civil-war-era defense artillery battery that was placed there.
Now, the area is full of impressive homes and the public White Point Garden Park.
The beautiful homes in this area are a must-see. Not only are the houses gorgeous, but the harbor view is breathtaking.
Read our post on Rainbow Row to learn more about beautiful historic houses.
Take a look at the free things to do section for more budget-friendly outing ideas.
6. Take a Ghost Tour
Considered one of the most haunted cities in the United States, Charleston is a great place to take a ghost tour!
Choose from a range of haunted tours, including ghost carriage tours, the dark side of history tours, pirate ghost tours, and more traditional ghost walking tours.
If you're traveling with kids, be sure to check with each company beforehand to see if the tour is family-friendly.
Read our post comparing the best ghost tours in Charleston to learn more.
And if you're looking for more fun things to do after dark, check out our nighttime activities section.
If you're interested in spooky experiences, consider visiting Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.
7. Take a Boat Cruise on the Charleston Harbor
Charleston is right on the coast and home to some great waterside attractions, including boat tours, dinner cruises, and sightseeing outings from Charleston Harbor.
You can get an interesting perspective of the city from the water with daily Charleston Harbor tours that include live commentary from your captain.
If you like to relax on the water with a nice meal, why not take a dinner cruise?
8. Enjoy a Carriage Ride
The historic carriage tours of Charleston are a favorite amongst visitors!
If you’re in the city during the summer, you can beat the heat and opt to take a tour at sunset or just after dark.
Evening tours prove to be popular with those hoping to explore the city as the sun is setting or with those who want to see the city lights lit up.
There are currently two different companies offering nighttime carriage rides. Both are 30 to 35-minute tours and cost $15-$16 per adult.
Read our post comparing the best carriage tours in Charleston to learn more.
9. Restaurants and Food Tours
No visit to the Southern United States is complete without enjoying some delicious southern cuisine.
And this is why we recommend taking any one of Charleston’s popular food tours.
These food tours will introduce you to classic dishes including grits, collard greens, various fried treats, and sweet tea.
If you’d like to make your own food tasting experience in the city, make sure to read our post about the best Lowcountry Foods to try in Charleston.
You also don’t want to miss these popular restaurants:
10. Save Money with a Charleston Tour Pass
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.
Included Attractions on Various Passes Include:
- Boone Hall Plantation
- Charleston Tea Plantation
- Charleston Harbor Boat Tour
- Nathaniel Russel House Museum
- Deep Water Vineyard Free Tasting
- Lewis Barbeque Voucher
- Free Glazed Gourmet Doughnut
- Aiken-Rhett House Museum
Check out our full comparison post to see which pass will save you the most money.
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.
Some of the most popular include The Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre and Theatre 99.
The second of which exclusively features improv and costs just $5 on Wednesday nights, $12 on Friday nights, and $12 - $14 on Saturday nights.
The Dock Street Theater
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.
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.
Visit Ravenel Bridge on a city bus tour or boat tour of Charleston Harbor.
Take a Pub Crawl
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.
Click here to read a comparison of the pubs crawls offered by Bulldog Tours and Charleston Culinary Tours.
King Street Shopping District
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.”
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.
Charleston is a city that truly has something for everyone!
Below we list some of our favorite things to do with kids, though most (if not all) of these suggestions are equally enjoyed by adults.
Find more inspiration for things to do with your family in Charleston here.
Charleston Riverdogs Baseball
Take the whole family out to the ballgame for a Charleston Riverdogs minor league baseball game.
Sports fans can enjoy the fun atmosphere, hotdogs, and 7th inning stretch games with volunteers from the crowd.
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 still in 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. They also have sea turtles, sharks, a touch tank, and much more.
Admission is $29.95 for adults and $22.95 for children.
Read our post on the aquarium for more information.
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 the Charleston Museum website to learn more.
Charleston Museum is included in the Heritage Passport.
Frankie's Fun Park
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.
Learn more about Frankie's Fun Park on their website.
Children's Museum of the Lowcountry
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.
- 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 about Cypress Gardens.
- Adult: $10.00
- Senior: (age 65+) $6.50
- 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 aircraft carrier 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.
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!
This is also home to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, and there are a lot of historic World War II attractions to see here.
FREE THINGS TO DO
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.
And check out our full post on free things to do in Charleston.
Joe Riley 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. Spanning a total of 10 acres, there's plenty to see and do in the area.
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!
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston is a non-collecting contemporary art museum with a focus on emerging, mid-career, and oddly overlooked artists.
They strive to create meaningful interactions between adventurous artists and diverse communities within a context that emphasizes the historical, social, and cultural importance of the art of our time.
Admission to the galleries and most programs is free.
The museum closes in between exhibitions, so make sure to check their website to ensure they are open when you are in Charleston, halsey.cofc.edu.
Angel Oak in Johns 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.
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 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.
If you're looking for even more great shopping in the area, head to Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square every Saturday from April - November.
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 iconic pastel colors.
This tradition began when one of the homeowners of the time decided to restore her property back to the colonial Caribbean color scheme and soon others follow suit.
Today the homes are still privately owned, and though they are not regularly open to the public, some do open their doors during the 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.
DAY TRIPS FROM CHARLESTON
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.
One of the best things to do here is to go fishing and spend time at the pier.
Depending on how far north you travel, you might be able to see attractions like the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve and the Morris Island Lighthouse.
Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach, or choose from one of the many seaside restaurants or bars for a meal.
Since you're right by the water, you might want to consider some fresh seafood such as shrimp!
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 a 20 to 45-minute drive from the center of Charleston.
This includes the private beach of Seabrook Island, which 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 Plantation.
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.
Learn more about Savannah walking tours here.
Just 10 miles east of downtown Charleston, this popular day trip destination has plenty of great beaches, restaurants, and unique shops to visit.
This is one of the most popular places for families looking to get away from the city for a while during the summer.
If you're looking for another location to enjoy the beaches and experience the small-town atmosphere of a beachfront community, Sullivan's Island is one of the best options nearby Charleston.
THINGS TO DO IN CHARLESTON BY MONTH AND SEASON
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.
- Things to Do in January
- Things to Do in February
- Things to Do in March
- Things to Do in April
- Things to Do in May
- Things to Do in June
- Things to Do in July
- Things to Do in August
- Things to Do in September
- Things to Do in October (Weather)
- Things to Do in November (Weather)
- Things to Do in December
- Things to Do for Christmas
- Seasonal Flowers in Charleston