Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the most exciting and lovely cities in the United States. Visitors are drawn to this historic city to explore the city's storied past and enjoy its stylish elegance, exceptional food, and Southern charm. Frequently ranked as one of America's best places to visit, Charleston has received many awards and accolades as a top destination for romantics, family vacations, and foodies.
Whether you're planning your first visit to Charleston or returning to enjoy more of the things the city and surrounding areas have to offer, our favorite attractions and activities will help you plan a sightseeing itinerary that is tailored to your interests. You can begin your trip with a visit to the Charleston Visitor Center, housed in a restored railroad warehouse that dates back to 1856. Here you'll find maps and information about scheduling tours and be able to purchase tickets for tours and attractions.
It seems obvious, but there's no better way than your own two feet to learn about Charleston's past and present. Navigate yourself, or take an Old Charleston Walking Tour. These tours offer several different themes, ranging from history to a "South of Broad" tour based on South Carolina author Pat Conroy's New York Times bestseller of the same name.
Take an Unusual Tour
If you'd like to learn about the more hidden side of Charleston, check out these two options. Owner and guide Alphonso Brown, explores the places, history, and stories that are relevant to the rich and uniquely Lowcountry Gullah culture, while Charleston Ghost Tours explore the eerie past of haunted Charleston on their spooky adventures.
Discover the Low-Country Food Scene
Long known as a top destination for classic Southern favorites and regional low-country specialties like shrimp and grits or Frogmore Stew, Charleston is also home to many fine restaurants that feature international flavors. Husk, run by James Beard-award winner Sean Brock, has become famous for its locally-infused Southern cuisine, but Charleston is also home to traditional upscale favorites like Magnolias.
Explore the History of Plantation Life
Visit one or more of Charleston's plantations to explore the history of plantation life, fine historic landmark architecture, and some of the earliest private gardens in the nation.
Celebrate the Performing Arts
In every month of every season, visitors to Charleston have a variety of annual festivals and special events from which to choose. Among the most popular is the Spoleto Festival. Recognized internationally as a premier performing arts festival, Spoleto Festival USA celebrates opera, theater, dance, and music every spring in Charleston. The opening ceremonies are held in late May at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. Festival performances and events continue for more than two weeks into early June and feature a program that showcases both renowned and emerging artists.
Held concurrently with Spoleto Festival USA, Piccolo Spoleto showcases local and regional artists from many genres, including the visual arts, theater, dance, poetry, cultural performances, crafts artisans, film, and music (including classical, jazz and choral music).
Discover Charleston's Museum Mile
Charleston's Museum Mile is along a one-mile section of Meeting Street that stretches from the Charleston Visitor Center to the Nathaniel Russell House. Easily walkable and offering plenty of public transportation options, as well as ample public parking, Museum Mile features many of Charleston's most interesting historic and cultural sites. Themed ticket packages, which offer admission savings for sites along Museum Mile, can be purchased online or in person at the Charleston Visitor Center.
Learn About Charleston's Civil War History
Originally built by the U.S. government for coastal defense, Charleston's Fort Sumter National Monument is best known today as the site of the initial engagement of the Civil War. Fort Sumter is on an island and can be reached only by regularly scheduled ferry service or private boat.
Walk Along the Historic Charleston Battery
The Battery, located at the southern end of the Charleston peninsula where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet to form Charleston Harbor, is a popular Charleston tourist destination. Things to enjoy and explore in the Battery area include some of Charleston's grandest historic homes, several statues and informational plaques, displays of Civil War artillery, peaceful White Point Gardens shaded by majestic live oak trees, and views of Charleston Harbor.
Explore the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Allow plenty of time to explore Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, which includes the USS Yorktown and USS Clamagore, the Medal of Honor Museum, Cold War Submarine Memorial, and the Vietnam Naval Support Base exhibit, the only one of its kind in the United States.
Visit the South Carolina Aquarium
A trip to the South Carolina Aquarium, which opened in May 2000, goes from the mountains to the ocean. Y ou'll see fish, river otters, alligators, crabs, sea urchins, sea turtles, ocean fish, and sharks in this watery wonderland.
See Charleston from a Horse-Drawn Carriage
Charleston is an especially enchanting city to explore by carriage. Choose from several entertaining carriage tours or enjoy a quiet, romantic evening carriage ride through the Historic District.
Visit Charleston's Famous Markets
Open seasonally on Saturday mornings, Charleston's seasonal farmers market at Marion Square is a great place to explore the region's fresh local produce, plants, herbs, and cut flowers. You can also have breakfast and lunch, check out local artisans' arts and crafts, and hear live entertainment. Nearby, the Charleston City Market has art, music, and food at one of the oldest city markets in the country—it's served Charleston since 1807. It's at the corner of Meeting and Market streets in the heart of Charleston's Historic District.
Tour Some of Charleston's Historic Homes
Sponsored by the Preservation Society of Charleston, some of Charleston's most spectacular historic homes and gardens open up to the public each fall. From late September through late October, visitors can take self-guided tours to explore these Charleston treasures.