Free Things to Do in Charleston

This post covers 25 of the best free things to do in Charleston, SC, and its surrounding areas and is geared toward tourists and visitors, updated for 2020. 

Be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in Charleston for even more ideas.



For tips on the most popular activities in Charleston, check out our schedule of pay-what-you-like walking tours, our bus tours, and boat cruise pages.


1. Stroll Along the Historic Charleston Battery and White Point Gardens

The city’s most southern tip is an absolute must for seeing some iconic Charleston views! You’ll see Cooper River, Fort Sumter, and Castle Pinckney. 

 

Historic Charleston Battery

 

You’ll also see the sumptuous mansions of the Battery. Relax in White Point Gardens and enjoy the sea breeze. 

 

White Point Gardens

 

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.

 

Charleston City Market

 

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.

 

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

 

In the museum, you will learn about the story of the plantation’s inhabitants, from the slaves kept there to its owner Charles Pinckney, 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

 

Fort Sumter Education Center

 

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! 

 

Red Barn at Palmetto Carriage

 

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.

 

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Tours run on a name-your-own-price model. Tours run at 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.

You can also take a self-guided tour and take it at your own pace!


7. Rainbow Row

Take a stroll down Rainbow Row, one of the top 10 things to see in Charleston. 

This series of 14 houses has been painted the colors of the rainbow, hence the name. 

 

Rainbow Row

 

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 the 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.

 

Ravenel Bridge

 

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

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.

 

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 area, take a ride to the Charleston Tea Plantation, where you can learn how the tea makes it from leaf to teabag.

 

Charleston Tea Plantation

 

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.

 

pralines

 

We recommend Charleston’s Candy Kitchen and Market Street Sweets for snagging free samples.

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. 

 

Charleston Tea Plantation

 

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.

 

Magnolia Cemetery

 

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 Island is a short drive from Charleston and is home to incredible beaches, great restaurants, water sports for those adventurous, and some shopping.

 

Sullivan Island

 

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.

 

Angel Oak Tree

 

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! 

 

Folly Beach

 

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!

 

King Street

 

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.

 

Four Corners of Law

 

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.

 

Postal Museum

 

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 is a great place to visit to see the works of local emerging and mid-career artists.

This non-profit, non-collecting contemporary art institute is located within the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston and is free to visit.

 

Halsey Institute

 

We recommend checking out their website beforehand to get an idea of the exhibits currently on display. 


23. Mace Brown Museum of Natural History

This free museum is located at the College of Charleston 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.

 

Riley Waterfront Park

 

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! 


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% 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


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About the author

Guide & Manager | Charleston, SC

Scott has led over 2,000 tours of Charleston and has more than 1000 5 star reviews. He started working in museums at the age of 16 (Unsinkable Molly Brown House) and hasn't looked back. He was the Executive Director of Heurich House and on the historic interpretation/ education staff at Mount Vernon, both in Washington DC, for over 6 years. Scott moved to Charleston in 2012 for a job with the Historic Charleston Foundation and began leading tours for Free Tours by Foot.