This post covers 29 of the best free things to do in Charleston, South Carolina, and its surrounding areas and is geared toward tourists and visitors.
While Charleston is a relatively expensive city to visit, you can have an enjoyable visit on a budget.
Be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in Charleston for even more ideas.
How Many Days Do You Need to Spend in Charleston?
Most visitors recommend spending at least 3-4 days in Charleston to see as much of the city as possible.
There's more than enough to see and do here to fill up each of those days with fun.
1. Stroll Along the Historic Charleston Battery and White Point Gardens
The city’s southern tip is an absolute must for seeing some iconic Charleston views!
You'll see Cooper River, Fort Sumter, and Castle Pinckney.
You'll also see the sumptuous mansions of the Battery.
Relax in White Point Gardens and enjoy the sea breeze.
TIP: If you drive here, there is free parking around Battery Street.
2. Enjoy the Charleston City Market
This popular market is a chance to get a glimpse of the old South and satisfy your desire for local arts and crafts, foods, and some tourist kitsch, too.
This is also a great place to witness the braiding of the famous sweetgrass baskets.
The market is located on Market Street and Meeting Street and is open daily, 8:30 am-5:30 pm.
Read our blog post on the Charleston City Market for more information.
3. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
You can visit the 28-acre remains of Charles Pinckney's Snee Farm, a thriving rice and indigo plantation from the 1800s.
The cottage was built in 1828 and is used today as a museum and visitor center.
In the museum, you will learn about the story of the plantation's inhabitants, from the slaves kept there to its owner Charles Pinckney.
Pinckney was one of the principal authors and signers of the United States Constitution.
The site is open to the public and free to visit.
4. Fort Sumter Education Center
The American Civil War began in Charleston with the opening battle at Fort Sumter.
You can brush up on your Civil War history at the Fort Sumter Education Center, which is free to visit.
While there is no charge to enter Fort Sumter, you will need to take the ferry over, which requires a ticket purchase.
To learn more and plan your visit, click here.
For more Charleston Harbor cruises, click here.
5. Red Barn at Palmetto Carriage
Taking a carriage ride is a fun and unique way to explore and learn all about the history of Charleston.
You can also go to the Red Barn at Palmetto Carriage for free and visit with their horses!
Palmetto Carriage also has a free locals day! Come out with your ID to prove you live here and enjoy a complimentary carriage ride.
To learn more, click here.
6. Take a Free Walking Tour or Self-Guided Tour
There is no better way to truly experience Charleston than by walking the streets.
Walking tours of Historic Charleston with Free Tours by Foot have no upfront cost.
Tours run on a name-your-own-price model. Tours run from 9:30 am on Tuesday - Saturday and 1 pm on Sundays.
We meet at the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park off Prioleau Street. NOTE: Reservations are required.
7. Rainbow Row
Take a stroll down Rainbow Row, one of the top 10 things to see in Charleston.
This series of 14 houses have been painted the colors of the rainbow, hence the name.
These houses are prime examples of the architecture that has made Charleston such an appealing destination for residents and tourists alike.
You can see these homes on our Historic Charleston Tour!
8. Walk the Ravenel Bridge
If you want to catch an incredible view of Charleston Harbor, we recommend taking a walk on the Ravenel Bridge.
This bridge has a walking path that is 2.5 miles from one side to the other.
Most people stop for pictures halfway through before turning around, to avoid having to make the full 5-mile loop.
The sight is incredible and you can easily find parking nearby with restrooms, playgrounds, and a boardwalk at the park nearby.
9. DASH Trolley - Charleston, SC Without a Car
Take the DASH Trolley for free through Charleston!
Give your sore legs some rest and let the driver take you around the sights on this hop-on hop-off style shuttle that takes you around to all the shops, restaurants, and sights across the peninsula.
Stops include Charleston City Market, Charleston Aquarium, and of course the historic city center.
10. Art Walks
The first Friday of every month is for art enthusiasts as downtown Charleston transforms into Art Walks.
Over 40 galleries participate, opening their doors for art viewing and light refreshments for guests from 5-8 pm.
To learn more, click here. This is a great free way to see art in Charleston.
11. Visit the Charleston Tea Plantation
There are a number of beautiful plantations to visit in Charleston.
If you are in the Johns Island or Wadmalaw Island area, take a ride to the Charleston Tea Plantation, where you can learn how the tea makes it from leaf to teabag.
Also known as the Charleston Tea Garden, the plantation offers complimentary factory tours on a daily basis.
Tours begin every 15 minutes on the quarter-hour and can be accessed at the top of the stairs in the Gift Shop.
The plantation is open Mon-Sat: 10 am-4 pm, Sun: 12 pm-4 pm.
12. Sample Free Pralines
Downtown Charleston is a great place to stroll, shop, and try free samples of pralines!
These sugary, nutty confections are a southern staple, and you can try a few before you purchase.
For the foodies out there, we recommend going on a food tour, and we've reviewed them for you here to help you decide which ones to go on!
13. City Hall
A great place to visit with lots of history is the City Hall. They offer free tours or you can just drop in on your own for a quick visit.
This building dates back to 1801 when it was built as the Bank of the United States.
In 1818, it was turned into the City Hall. A gallery on the second floor includes a 1791 portrait of George Washington by John Trumbull.
14. Magnolia Cemetery
Cemeteries are great places to explore to learn about the history of the place. There are legends, lores, and of course, ghost stories there as well.
Magnolia Cemetery was founded in 1849 and is the final resting place for generations of Southern leaders.
These leaders include governors like Thomas Bennett and hundreds of Confederate soldiers including five generals - Micah Jenkins, Arthur Manigault, Roswell Ripley, James Conner, and C.H. Stevens.
Exploring the cemetery is free but you can also go on a paid nightly tour.
15. Citadel Dress Parade
The Citadel is a prominent military academy in Charleston.
Throughout the year they put on a number of free parades that recognize students, faculty, staff, and other notable people.
Find out more information from the Citadel website.
16. Sullivan Island
Sullivan's Island is a short drive from Charleston and is home to incredible beaches, great restaurants, water sports for those adventurous, and some shopping.
It's a nice getaway from the bustle of the city and is a great place to spend the day relaxing with the whole family.
17. See the Angel Oak Tree
The Angel Oak Tree is over 1000 years old and is located 25 minutes away by car outside of Charleston on Johns Island.
This massive tree truly needs to be seen in person to really appreciate its magnificence.
The Angel Oak Tree Park is open Mon-Sat: 9 am-5 pm, Sun: 1 pm-5 pm, and admission and parking are free.
18. Folly Beach
Folly Beach is a free beach that locals and tourists alike love to flock to. It's just a 15-minute drive from Charleston's Historic District.
Dubbed "the edge of America" this charming island town is a great place to get away and see some incredible sunsets!
If you are in Charleston during the month of January, check out the Folly Beach annual Polar Plunge where participants run into the freezing cold ocean!
19. Window Shopping on King Street
King Street is known for its fabulous shops and boutiques.
For some, indulging in a bit of shopping might be out of our budget, but that doesn't stop us from window shopping!
Make an afternoon of strolling down this 300-year-old street and admiring the displays, wandering into shops, and taking in the old-timey Southern feel.
20. Four Corners of Law
For those who love a good bit of trivia, you won't want to miss the “Four Corners of Law”.
Robert Ripley (founder of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!) coined the nickname for this intersection in 1930.
Each corner has an institution of law --federal, state, local, and ecclesiastical.
The four buildings are the United States Post Office and Federal Courthouse, Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston City Hall, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
21. Postal Museum
In an age where we're sending emails and texting, the days of mail seem to be a thing of the past.
So step back in time to the Postal Museum, a fun and free exhibit housed in a 19th-century post office.
The building itself is beautiful, and you can see old stamps and post office memorabilia and see the important role of the post office in this city's history.
22. Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
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.
23. Mace Brown Museum of Natural History
This free museum is located on the College of Charleston campus and is open to the public and manned by geology undergraduates who work as student docents.
They have on display nearly 1,000 fossils, from dinosaur bones, ocean life, fossil plants, and plenty more.
The highlight of the museum is the reconstructed jaw holding the real teeth of the giant extinct shark Megalodon.
This museum is great for all ages and is open Thursday - Tuesday from 11 am to 4 pm (closed on Wednesdays).
24. West Ashley Greenway
An excellent place to go mountain biking, jogging, and walking is the West Ashley Greenway.
The path is mostly flat, packed dirt, making it stroller and kid-friendly.
This trail is close to 10 miles and starts from the South Windermere Shopping Center on Folly Road to Johns Island.
You can park at either end and go as far as you'd like before looping back, though you can spend all day there as it is open from dawn to dusk.
25. Waterfront Park
Riley Waterfront Park, home to the famous Pineapple Fountain, is one of the most popular parks in Charleston and it is free to enjoy!
From this park you can catch great views of the harbor, making it the perfect place to enjoy a picnic.
This park also has free Wi-Fi, so you can relax, even get some work done on your laptop,
There have also been dolphin sightings from this park!
26. Charleston Farmer's Market
This farmer's market is a weekly outdoor marketplace that operates from April - December.
The market is held every Saturday from 8 am - 2 pm at Marion Square. You'll find over 100 vendors selling a variety of items, including fresh produce, handmade crafts, and more.
The market is also home to several food vendors who sell delicious meals and snacks which are perfect for a mid-morning brunch or lunch while you're exploring the area.
27. Mount Pleasant
Located just across the river from Charleston, Mount Pleasant is a quaint little town with a rich history, wonderful parks, and excellent restaurants.
Founded in 1680, the town was originally called Christ Church Parish, and it played an important role in the American Revolutionary War.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy a variety of activities, including boating, fishing, golfing, and other fun things to do outdoors.
This is where you'll find notable attractions such as Boone Hall Plantation and USS Yorktown.
28. Morris Island Lighthouse
The Morris Island Lighthouse is a noteworthy landmark which has served as a navigational aid for sailors in Charleston Harbor for over 150 years.
Built in 1876, the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962 and replaced with a more modern and reliable beacon.
Despite being replaced, this lighthouse still stands tall, attracting tourists and locals alike, and serving as a symbol of South Carolina's history and culture.
Morris Island Lighthouse played a significant role in the Civil War when it was used as a lookout point by Union soldiers.
You'll see the lighthouse 30 yards off-shore on the north end of Folly Beach.
29. Gateway Walk
This is a 2.3-mile walking tour through the historic neighborhoods of Charleston.
The walk takes you through some of the most beautiful and notable areas of the city, including South of Broad, the Battery, and Rainbow Row.
Along the way, you'll see some of the most beautiful architecture in Charleston, including antebellum homes, churches, and gardens.
This is also where you'll see the Nathaniel Russell House. Don't pass up the beautiful gardens behind the house, which are some of the most beautiful in Charleston.
BONUS: Charleston Tour Pass
Do more for less by planning ahead with the Charleston Tour Pass. With this pass, you can get several tickets to attractions or tours each day for free.
Tourist discount passes work by bundling multiple tickets into one price, usually between 20%-50% of the retail price.
Read our post comparing the different Charleston tourist discount passes. Several bus tour companies, including hop-on-hop-off buses, also offer discounts and deals.
For more ideas for any time of year, be sure to read our master post on things to do in Charleston.