What to do when you visit Charleston, one of the oldest cities in America

19 of the Best Places to Visit in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina has many attractions that makes it an ideal place for your next vacation. There are so many things to do that spending a week will keep you busy with beautiful sites, historic knowledge, and various tours, all of which won’t have to break your pocket book. 

One of the oldest cities in America, Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City for its abundance of churches. Charleston has been named the 27th travel destination in the United States and voted the number 1 travel destination in the United States for the past several years. 

Historical Sites

Charleston is one of the oldest cities in America. The first battle of the Civil War happened here. The rich history this city has makes it an ideal place to visit historical landmarks and sites. Here are just a few of these historical sites people visit when vacationing in Charleston: 

Drayton Hall

John Drayton began construction on his country home in 1793. This grand building is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America still open to the public. The drive on a sandy road and past massive live oak trees takes the tourists back in time. Drayton Hall Plantation is one of the few who have survived the Civil War, and has remained untouched. This gives tourists a remnant of what life looked like over 300 years ago.

Drayton Hall offers guided house tours, with exquisite interiors featuring ornamental details and original 18th-century craftsmanship. You can use the 2 walking trails that follow the Ashley River or visit the on-site African-American cemetery. This cemetery is among the oldest in the nation still in use. 

Fort Sumter National Monument 

Fort Sumter is known for being the location where the American Civil War began in 1861. The Fort Sumter National Monument is located on a small island in Charleston Harbor several miles southwest of the city. After a quick ferry ride to the island, you can spend time exploring the well-preserved stone caverns. Several Civil War-era cannons are still located in the ruins. The National Park Rangers tell the story of Fort Sumter and the vital role the fort had in shaping our nation’s history. The museum also provides in-depth information to all interested in the history of the fort. 

Middleton Place

Middleton Place mansion was built in 1755 to Arthur Middleton who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Middleton Place holds an impressive collection of historical artifacts, furniture, and portraits. The plantation hires costumed interpreters who recreate life in the 18th century.

Middleton SC

The re-enactors demonstrate skills and trades such as blacksmithing, carpentry, weaving, and pottery. The Middleton Place is America’s oldest landscaped gardens with 65 acres of trimmed hedges and flower-lined paths that make it the perfect place for nature lovers. 

Aiken-Rhett House

The Aiken-Rhett House is the perfect example of antebellum life. The house was originally built in the early 1800s when then Governor William Aiken and his wife expanded it in the 1850s. The house’s original style has been preserved with antique furnishings, wallpaper, and bronze chandeliers. Take a self-guided audio tour allows tourists to explore the house at their own pace. Aiken-Rhett House is unique in that it remained within the same family for 142 years before becoming a museum. 

The Charleston Museum

In 1773, “America’s First Museum” was founded under the Charleston Library Society. This museum exhibits life during the Revolution, Charleston’s role in the Civil War, and a vast collection of Native American and early settlers artifacts in the Lowcountry History Hall.

Photo of Charleston Museum

A whale who swam into the Charleston Harbor in 1880 hangs suspended in the 2-story lobby. Designed to inspire curiosity and conversation, the Charleston Museum’s collections, exhibitions, educational programs, and events explore the South Carolina Lowcountry and the role it played in shaping our own stories. 

The Ravenel Bridge

At the time of its completion in 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge was the longest cable bridge in North America. This bridge joins Charleston to Mount Pleasant and became a well-loved landmark and rightfully so. The sleek, cable-stay design can withstand winds exceeding 300 miles per hour and 7.4-scale earthquake.

Charleston Ravenel Bridge

Besides multiple lanes for cars, the bridge also includes a pedestrian and bike path called Wonders’ Way. This scenic route offers sweeping views of Charleston and Cooper River, making it a local favorite activity. 

Tours

Tours are popular in Charleston. Whether you choose a walking, boat, or brewery tour, there’s something in this city for everyone. Here are a few tours offered in the Holy City.

Boat Tours 

The Charleston Harbor is one of the must-see places in Charleston. Boat tours are offered, allowing passengers to get great views of the Harbor as well as learning about the city’s maritime history.

Charleston - Boat Tours

The boat tours are a great way to check out the sites, learn about Charleston’s history, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, possibly spotting dolphins and other marine life along the way. 

Brewery Tours 

Crafted Travel has received high ratings over the years for its brewery and distillery tour. The knowledgeable and fun guides offer you a 4 hour tour, starting with a distillery—that includes 6 tastings—and continues with stops for a pint at 2 local breweries. While enjoying the local beers, you’ll also get a tour of the Holy City Brewing, Revelry Brewing Co, Charleston Distilling Co, and Firefly Distillery. 

Ghost Tours 

Ghost tours are very popular in Charleston. There are many to choose from, such as carriage, walking, prison, and pub crawls to name a few. But no matter which ones you choose, be prepared to learn and explore Charleston’s darker history and supernatural legends. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, ghost tours are a fun way to see Charleston. 

Walking Tours

Charleston’s rich history and beautiful landscape makes it the ideal place to go on a walking tour. You can do your own tour for free or join a tour guide to learn the in-depth history of how Charleston played important roles in the Revolutionary and Civil War. One such tour is under 2 miles and goes at a slow pace, making it perfect to take in the sites and snap the must-post selfie. 

Carriage Tours

Charleston’s Old South Carriage Ride and Guided History Tour gives tourists a chance to see many mansions, churches, and gardens in a horse-drawn carriage. The tour covers over 300 years of history, more than 2.5 miles, and 30 blocks of historic Charleston. This is a great experience and a unique way to tour the city and learn all about its rich history. 

Food Tours

Take your taste buds for a stroll and join the Charleston Culinary Tours. This food tour offers the best of Charleston history paired with food and drinks.

Charleston Food Tour

Dine the local cuisine that offers an array of dishes, concoctions, and cocktails to tease everyone’s palate. This unique tour makes the stay in Charleston that much more eclectic.

Nature

Charleston is full of beautiful parks, gardens, and beaches, making it the perfect place for nature lovers. Here are a few favorite places tourists and locals love to visit.

Magnolia Gardens

Magnolia Gardens is the oldest publicly accessed gardens and a must see. It first opened to visitors in 1870, but parts of the garden were in use 2 centuries prior. Magnolia also boasts America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden. Part of area contains a house, a cabin, exhibits, a nature center, and a petting zoo. They also offer a boat tour to those interested in seeing the gardens from the water.

Waterfront Park

The Waterfront Park stretches for more than 1,000 feet along the Cooper River. A smattering of benches and double swings litter the 12-acre park to give visitors the best views of the Charleston Harbor.

Charleston - Waterfront Park

The popular and unusual Pineapple Fountain rests in the park and is an attraction to both locals and tourists. 

Angel Oak Tree

A short drive from downtown Charleston brings you to the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River. The Angel Oak Tree is photographed by many and the branches sprawl in all directions. Visitors can come and enjoy a lunch at the picnic tables and walk among the younger oaks surrounding Angel. The age of the tree is undetermined—between 400 to 1,000 years old. Visiting is free, but the attraction asks for donations to help secure the health of the tree.

Folly Beach

Folly Beach is located 12 miles south of downtown Charleston. This massive stretch of coastline attracts a variety of travelers and makes a perfect day trip during the busy week of sight-seeing. People enjoy seashell hunting, surfing, and fishing off the pier.

Charleston - Folly Beach

It gets busy during the hot summer months, so getting there early to snag a good spot is preferable. Many eateries, restaurants, and bars line the coast, making it a perfect place to spend the entire day. Renting equipment such as beach chairs and snorkels is also available.

Sullivan’s Island 

Sullivan’s Island is a 3.3 square mile island that sits at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor. Only a 10 mile drive from east of downtown, Sullivan’s Island is a perfect place to spend the day. The breath-taking beaches, tasty restaurants, and unique shops add to the experience. You can check out the infamous Fort Moultrie where Edgar Allen Poe was stationed for over a year. Sullivan Island was his inspiration for his short story, The Golden Bug.

No matter if you live here or just visiting, there is so much to see and learn about Charleston. It’s fascinating history, eclectic cuisine, and unusual tours add adventure to any vacation itineraries. Choose Charleston as your next vacation destination.

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