• Lisa

Charleston, South Carolina - City Guide

Updated: Jun 15

Charleston is known for it's charm and history. There is no other place like it in the US. Some compare it to New Orleans, but in my eyes, Charleston will always outshine New Orleans. I can be a bit biased though because I lived in Charleston for a year right after college. It was my dream location to live at the time and I truly loved every second of it. It was hard for me to leave but I always try to go back and visit this charming city at least once a year.

If you think Charleston is just a beach town, you are very wrong. There are actually no real beaches on the peninsula of Charleston (best beaches near CHS are listed here). Check out the list below for all of the things that you can visit within Charleston, SC other than driving out to a beach!

Know Before You Go to Charleston, SC:

  • Charleston is not a beach town! To visit a beach, you'll need to drive off the peninsula. Read my full list of Best Beaches Near Charleston HERE.

  • Charleston is a foodie town! Make dinner reservations about two months in advance.

  • Parking isn't cheap - downtown parking will always cost you (meters or garages).

  • The best way to see the city is on a bike!

How To Get to Charleston, SC:

Charleston, SC is located along the Atlantic Ocean cost of South Carolina.

Flying into Charleston, SC:

The Charleston International Airport (CHS) is located about 20 minutes north of downtown. Your best option to get to downtown is Uber/Lyft. There is also a Downtown Shuttle into Charleston for $15 per person. Check with your hotel to see if they offer a complimentary shuttle from the airport - some do!

Driving to Charleston, SC:

Driving to Charleston is easy for those in the Southeast and neighboring states. It's definitely worth the road trip for a weekend getaway or week long vacation!

  • Savannah, GA: 105 Miles (1 Hour and 50 Minutes)

  • Columbia, SC: 119 Miles (1 Hour and 45 Minutes)

  • Charlotte, NC: 208 Miles (3 Hours and 25 Minutes)

  • Atlanta, GA: 305 Miles (4 Hours and 42 Minutes)

Best Time To Visit Charleston, SC

Charleston is a beautiful place to visit year round because it always has something to offer! Peak tourism season each year is Spring (March-May) and Fall (September-November) due to the weather. However, these seasons are the most expensive and tend to be the most crowded! Check out a breakdown of each season in Charleston to decide what time is best for you.

March - May

This is the best time to visit Charleston, SC. The springtime weather is typically between 60-80 degrees, the flowers begin to bloom, and there are daily events and festivals taking place.The only bad side to visiting during this time frame is the crowds and higher hotel rates. Note: April is always the most expensive month to visit Charleston.

June - August

The weather during the summer is hot, humid, and sometimes, unbearable. Expect temperatures to be 80+ degrees. However, this is a great season to enjoy one of the nearby beaches (full list HERE).

September - November

The fall is equally as expensive & crowded as the spring. Temperatures begin to drop to the 70s and events are in full swing during the fall. My favorite events are the Charleston Restaurant Week (Sept), Taste of Charleston (October), and the Holiday Festival of Lights (November).

December - February

Visiting during "off season" will pay off - literally, you'll save so much money! The temperatures will definitely cool down but don't typically drop below 40. You can still enjoy many of the same activities in the winter season without the crowds! There are two big holidays during this time frame that are so much fun to celebrate in Charleston:

  • New Year's Eve: You must experience USS Yorktown on New Years Eve at least once in your life!

  • Valentine's Day: This weekend will always be crowded because Charleston is considered one of the most romantic places to visit in the USA!

What To Do in Charleston, SC:

Below I've listed ALL of the Must See & Do Attractions, Best Restaurants, Beaches, and more! Use this interactive Google Map to find all of the attractions listed and best restaurants.

Some of these items might be a bit touristy, but they're all must see attractions and destinations in Charleston. Even as a local, I would visit each of them. BONUS: Most of the attractions listed below are FREE.

Map Key: Things To Do are in BLUE & correspond with The Numbers Below. Best Restaurants are in GREEN.

1. Historic Charleston City Market

Downtown Charleston // 30 Minutes to 2 Hours // FREE

Located in the heart of Charleston is the Historic City Market. Here you can shop at local vendors selling everything from artwork to tasty treats to woven baskets. It is the Number 1 Most Visited Attraction in Charleston so it is number one on my list! :)

2. The Battery

Downtown Charleston // 30+ Minutes // FREE

This landmark is the site of a civil-war coastal defense artillery and covers the southern peninsula of Charleston. There are many ways to explore this area - you can take a stroll here, bike ride, or hop on a horse carriage and take a tour through this area. You can even pack a picnic and enjoy it under the shaded trees here at the Battery. Either way, it is an important part of Charleston history that you shouldn't miss!

3. Rainbow Row

Downtown Charleston // 15 Minutes // FREE

It would be remiss for the instagram-lover in me to leave this off the list. Rainbow Row is the infamous street of colorful houses in Charleston. It between the Battery and the Historic City Market and a beautiful site to see.

Fun Fact: It is illegal for any of the home owners on this street to change or alter the color of their houses. It must be approved by the city.

4. Waterfront Park

Downtown Charleston // 15 Minutes to 1 Hour / FREE

Believe it or not, there aren't many places to sit by the water in Downtown Charleston. This is one of the few areas that gives you a view of the water. There is a pier here with swings that is a perfect place to relax (especially after a meal at the nearby Fleet Landing).

5. Shopping on King Street

Downtown Charleston // 30 Minutes to 4+ Hours // FREE

King Street is the "hub" of Charleston. This is where most shops, restaurants, and activities take place. Chances are you'll find yourself on this street frequently. If you're visiting on the second Sunday of the month, you're in luck!! "2nd Sunday" is a monthly event where King Street is closed to cars and only allows for pedestrian traffic. Restaurants will put tables & chairs in the street for extended dining options and shops typically offer special discounts!

Fun Fact: King Street was rated Top 10 Shopping Streets in the USA by US News & World Report!

6. Walk the Arthur Ravenel Bridge

Mount Pleasant // 1-2 Hours // FREE

This bridge is an iconic spot in Charleston. It connects the Charleston Peninsula to Mount Pleasant so many commuters use this daily to/from Charleston. There is a walking path along the entire bridge that gives you beautiful viewpoints. Sometimes, I would see dolphins down below! It is 2.5 miles one way (5 miles roundtrip); but you can always just walk to the halfway point and back.

Free Parking (Mt Pleasant Memorial Waterfront): 71 Harry Hallman Boulevard, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464

Fun Fact: This Bridge is the starting point for the annual Cooper River Bridge Run 10K which is the first weekend in April every year.

7. Magnolia Plantation

North Charleston // 2-8 Hours // $20+ per person

The Magnolia Plantation is known for so many different things: America's Oldest Garden, America's Last Large-Scale Romantic Garden, and voted America's Favorite Garden. But don't let those titles fool you - there is so much to do here than just walk through the gardens. I've listed out some of the key attractions at Magnolia Plantation:

  • Plantation House

  • Nature Tram Ride

  • Nature Boat Ride

  • Slavery to Freedom Tour

  • Swamp Garden Tour

  • Garden Maze

  • Zoo & Nature Center

8. The Spa at Belmond Charleston

Downtown Charleston // 1+ Hour // $50+ per person

If you're in Charleston for a girls weekend or romantic getaway, an afternoon at the Spa is a must! The Belmond Charleston is one of the most historic and charming hotels with a wonderful spa. You'll feel so relaxed afterwards.

9. Make Your Own Candles at Candlefish

Downtown Charleston // 1 Hour // $55 per person

Make your very own souvenir to take home with you. Candlefish offers Candle Making Classes which gives you an opportunity to make the perfect scented candle. The class is BYOB so you can bring wine or beer with you to enjoy!

10. Firefly Distillery

North Charleston // 1-2 Hours // $10 per person

Check out Charleston's oldest distillery hidden between Spanish moss and tucked into the lowcountry. Firefly Distillery is open Monday-Saturday from 12PM to 6PM and costs $10 per tasting. They are most known for their Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. But don't worry if you're not a sweet tea fan - the distillery has tons of various flavors to sample and try!

11. Angel Oak Tree

James Island // 15 Minutes // FREE

The Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, SC, is thought to be one of the oldest living oak trees east of the Mississippi River. It stands 65 feet (20m or 6 stories) tall, is 28 ft (8.5 m) in circumference, and an area of 17,000 square feet is shaded by its tentacular crown. The largest branch reaches 187 feet. This spot is a perfect place to snap a picture and stand in awe of the beauty of mother nature.

12. Charleston Riverdogs Baseball Game

Downtown Charleston // 2 Hours // $10+ per person

If you're traveling to Charleston during the summer months, you have the chance to check out one of Charleston's only sports - baseball! The baseball team in Charleston is called the Riverdogs and the stadium is on the marshland giving you a great view at sunset.

13. Boone Plantation Hall

Mount Pleasant // 2-4 Hours // $26 per person

Boone Plantation Hall is similar to Magnolia Plantation - both are beautiful in their own way. Ticket prices are currently $26 and include all of the following:

• Entry to Boone Hall Plantation down the world famous Avenue of Oaks

• Plantation House Tour

• Black History In America Exhibit

• Plantation Tractor Tour (weather permitting)

• Exploring The Gullah Culture live presentation (seasonal) 

• Slave Street and History Tour

• Butterfly Pavilion (late April thru October)

• Free Parking

14. USS Yorktown

Patriot's Point, Mount Pleasant // 2 Hours // $24 per person

USS Yorktown was the 10th Aircraft Carrier to serve in the US Navy. It is now permanently docked here in Charleston, SC and offers a great educational experience. The ticket price is $24 per person and includes:

  • USS Yorktown

  • USS Laffey

  • USS Clamagore

  • The Vietnam Experience Exhibit

  • Medal of Honor Museum

  • Cold War Memorial

15. Charleston Tea Plantation

Kiawah // 2 Hours // FREE

If you like tea, this is the place for you! It is a bit of a drive from "downtown" Charleston, but it's a great activity. Charleston Tea Plantation is actually the ONLY tea plantation in North America so you're in for a treat! While here, you can take an educational tour of the tea plantation, ride a trolley for 45 minutes to see the green house, and more!

16. Visit the Charleston Aquarium

Downtown Charleston // 1+ Hour(s) // $30 per person

If you're looking for a guaranteed way to see marine life during your trip to Charleston, head on over to the Aquarium. They've got great exhibits that are perfect for kids and adults to enjoy.

17. Sunset Cruise

Downtown Charleston // 2+ Hours

There's no better way to admire a sunset than on the water. Charleston has a ton of Sunset Cruise options to pick from... some include dinner and drinks, some are private, while others are for larger groups. Pick your favorite choice here.

18. Food Tour

Charleston's culinary scene is top notch! At the bottom of this list, I've mentioned a few of my favorite restaurants! But, if you're only in town for the weekend, it will be hard to see them all! Consider taking a Food Tour around the city to experience southern cuisine at it's best. Some options are listed here.

19. Haunted Tour

Downtown Charleston // 1+ Hour(s)

Ready for a spooooky night? Savannah, Georgia isn't the only place with fun ghost stories. Take a nighttime tour through the city and explore various cemeteries. Some options are listed here.

My favorite option is taking a tour of the Charleston Old Jail that is said to be haunted!

20. Kayak in Shem Creek

Mount Pleasant // 1+ Hour(s) // $25+ per person

Rent kayaks and explore the lowcountry on the water. The Shem Creek Kayak Rentals is a perfect place to kayak because it is in the marshlands away from the ocean. They offer kayak rentals or tours! People often see dolphins while kayaking, although I wasn't as lucky.

21. Have a BEACH DAY!

Believe it or not, there isn't really a beach in the downtown Charleston peninsula. You'll need to cross one of the bridges either into Mount Pleasant or West Ashley for the best beaches in the area. There are 8 beaches near Charleston (find the list here). The easiest access beaches are below:

  • Folly Beach - West Ashley/James Island

  • Sullivan's Island Beach -Mt Pleasant

  • Isle of Palms (IOP) - Mt Pleasant

Where To Eat & Drink:

The food scene in Charleston is out of this world. Everything is so fresh, unique, and TASTY. You'll definitely get your fix of Southern Food here in Charleston. The Best Restaurants are listed below

  • Fleet Landing - one of the few restaurants on the water

  • Coat Bar and Grill - best salmon and brussel sprouts

  • Taco Boy - fun atmosphere (two locations: one in downtown CHS, one in Folly Beach)

  • Callie's Hot Little Biscuits - you can't leave the south without trying a biscuit

  • 5Church - built inside an old church; stunning vibe

  • SNOB (Slightly North of Broad)

  • The Rooftop Bar at Vendue - stunning rooftop bar; great for cocktails

  • Palmetto Brewing Co - best local brewery

  • The Gin Joint - amazing cocktails

Related Post: Beaches Near Charleston, SC

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