Things to Do in Charleston
Charleston offers a variety of sights and activities to make any member of your group happy.
Besides the Historic Downtown area, there are plenty of sights beyond our walking tour boundaries. We are happy to discuss those with you at the end of each tour and provide additional information to help you in your planning. Some of our recommended activities include the following:
Shopping and Dining
Charleston City Market
Spend a few hours visiting this historic Charleston landmark where you can shop for local crafts, food, and more. Originally established in in the late 1700s for the sale of “meat, vegetables and other provisions” the City Market is now a bustling 4 block long covered market space with hundreds of local vendors selling sweetgrass baskets, jewelry and handmade crafts, art and much much more.
King Street is a shopper’s paradise ranging from Antique shops, art galleries, jewelry and boutique fashion. Some of our locally owned favorites are Madison Mathews, Charleston Shoe Company, and Croghan’s Jewel Box.
Charleston has recently gained national recognition for its restaurant scene. There are hundreds of excellent places to enjoy our LowCountry Cuisine and Charleston specialties. Fresh seafood and local produce are featured on many menus. Shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, barbecued ribs, and she crab soup are a few of the local favorites. Popular restaurants include neighborhood favorites such as Cru Cafe, SNOB, Magnolias, and 82 Queen Street. We’ll gladly suggest a few at the end of our tour, but you might look through Open Table for an extensive list.
Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting Street.
Charleston boasts the first Museum in America, founded in 1773. Its first collection burned in the Great Fire of 1778. The new museum at 360 Meeting Street has an unparalleled collection of South Carolina history in its permanent exhibits. The exhibits share the stories of our early Native American inhabitants; the early colonial settlers and the enslaved Africans brought to our shores; Charleston’s Revolutionary and Civil War times; natural history, architecture and anthropology; art and textiles and much more.
South Carolina Aquarium, 100 Aquarium Wharf.
A fun hands-on escape for families with young children, particularly in hot summer months.
Heyward-Washington House, 87 Church St., c. 1772
Visit Charleston’s first museum house, once the home of Thomas Heyward, jr, a patriot leader and signer of the Declaration of Independence. President George Washington stayed here during his week long visit in 1791. This National Historic Landmark was the childhood home of the abolitionist Sarah Grimke who is memorialized in Sue Monk Kidd’s best selling historical novel The Invention of Wings.
Joseph Manigault House, 350 Meeting St., c.1803
This brick townhouse is an excellent example of Adam style architecture. It was designed for Joseph Manigault, a wealthy planter and state legislator, by his brother Gabriel who was known as the “gentleman architect.” Gabriel Manigault also designed Charleston’s City Hall, 80 Broad St., c. 1800-1804 and the South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting St., c.1804.
Nathaniel Russell House, 51 Meeting St., c. 1808
Considered the finest house in Charleston of its time, this National Historic Landmark is today recognized as one of America’s most important Neoclassical dwellings. The Russell house has been restored to its former glory and is furnished with period art and antiques. The free-flying spiral staircase, cantilevered up three stories, is alone worth the visit. The house was damaged during the Union bombardment and later served both as a boarding house and a convent.
Aiken-Rhett House, 48 Elizabeth St., c. 1817
This magnificent urban plantation was built for wealthy merchant John Robinson and expanded by Gov. William Aiken and his wife Harriet Lowndes. The house has some of the best-preserved slave quarters with carriages actually remaining in the antebellum carriage house. Gov. Alston was one of South Carolina’s wealthiest citizens and his improvements to the house are almost unaltered since 1858.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent a week here in 1863 and General P.G.T. Beauregard moved Confederate headquarters here, out of the reach of the Union bombardment. Henrietta Aiken Rhett inherited the property and it remained in the same family until 1975 when Frances Dill Rhett left it to the Charleston Museum. Today it is owned and operated by the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Edmondston-Alston House, 21 East Battery, c. 1825
This was one of the first homes built along the High Battery on Charleston’s harbor. The Battery sea wall was completed in 1820 and grand mansions were constructed up until the beginning of the Civil War. Charles Edmondston built the house in the Regency style and it was remodeled by rice planter Charles Alston in the Greek Revival style in 1838. This home has witnessed the firing on Fort Sumter in April of 1861 and the Siege of Charleston from 1863 to 1865. Alston’s daughter left the house to her favorite cousin Henry Augustus Middleton Smith and it has remained in his family. The house is operated as a house museum by the Middleton Place Foundation which also operates the family plantation, Middleton Place. It is full of family heirlooms including silver, furniture, books and paintings.
On The Water:
A Harbor Tour and Fort Sumter
Charleston is most famous for its role in the Civil War which began the morning of April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Today the remains of the fort are a National Park, accessible only by Fort Sumter Tours. Your tour includes a pleasant trip around Charleston harbor with beautiful views back toward the city, and then a self guided tour of the fort itself. Park Rangers are there to provide information and answer questions.
Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum
Across the harbor is the home of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and a fleet of historic ships and submarines. 28 historic aircraft are included in the admission as well as a Vietnam experience exhibit and the Medal of Honor museum. It is one of South Carolina’s most popular tourist attractions.
Just across the Cooper River lies the friendly town of Mt. Pleasant and its very popular Shem Creek area. You can stroll along the boardwalks past fishing boats and shrimp trawlers with scenic views of Charleston’s harbor, or enjoy casual waterfront dining at many of the creekside bars and restaurants. Kayaks and paddleboards are available to rent for the more adventuresome.
This is the only extant antebellum plantation house in the Charleston area. It was constructed in 1739 by John Drayton and is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in the United States. It remained in the Drayton family until 1974 when the family transferred the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house has never been plumbed or electrified and so is a rare example of undisturbed architecture. The new welcome center has some of the Draytons finest furniture and paints a picture of the lives of the landed gentry and the enslaved people who lived here for more than 200 years.
Another Drayton plantation, Magnolia gardens were begun in the 1840s by the Rev. John Drayton Grimke. The main house burned in the Civil War and the present house was moved to the property in the late 1800s. Magnolia is the oldest public garden in America, having opened to visitors in 1872. It is most known for its collection of camellias.
This beautiful rice plantation was established in 1741 by Henry Middleton, President of the 1st Continental Congress. He envisioned and began to create the first landscaped gardens in America, designed in the classic style of Versailles. The magnificent 60 acre formal gardens evolved over time with the addition of camellias, tea olives and crepe myrtles, first brought to America by Andre Michaux. It has been described as “the most important and interesting garden in America.” The main house was burned by Union soldiers, leaving only a wing of the original structure. Your visit includes the house museum, the gardens, and the stableyards where skilled enslaved artisans once toiled and tended the animals.
Boone Hall Plantation
Located across the Cooper River, Boone Hall was a cotton plantation established in the 1700s. The main house was lost but nine of the original slave cabins remain on the property. The mile long avenue of oaks served as Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Twelve Oaks in the classic movie Gone With the Wind (1939). The house was featured in The Notebook (2004).
Sullivan’s Island is our favorite local beach. It’s a short drive outside of town with easy beach access and three miles of beachfront for swimming and strolling. Ask us about tips for finding a place to park! There are several popular restaurants on Sullivan’s Island such as Poe’s, High Thyme and The Obstinate Daughter, to name a few of our favorites.
The Isle of Palms offers visitors breathtaking views of the Intercoastal Waterway and salt marshes and the Atlantic Ocean as you cross the bridge from Mt. Pleasant. There is plenty of parking and beach access at its County Park with beachfront hotels and restaurants nearby. Wild Dunes Resort vacation rentals are extremely popular with an array of golf courses, tennis courts and bike trails.
Folly Beach is known locally as The Edge of America. This laid-back island town has a casual come as you are feel to it with lots of southern hospitality and charm. The shops and restaurants have a fun, bohemian feel with a lively mix of music and casual nightlife.