Last Updated on December 15, 2023
Sometimes called “America’s most historic city,” Charleston, SC is certainly one of America’s perennial favorites…here are the top things to do in Charleston, SC.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Charleston, South Carolina annually ranks at or near the top in various national surveys of traveler’s favorites.
It’s a walking city (although there’s no lack of horse-drawn carriages for tours either), where block after block you can admire antebellum architecture, buy antiques, sip a drink, linger over a fine meal or just kick back on the veranda and enjoy that Southern charm.
Get out of the city proper and you’ll discover that there’s also plenty to do in the surrounding Lowcountry where at times you’ll think you’ve stepped back into the plantation culture of the old South.
To help us define the best of this interesting and beautiful city, we asked the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau to provide us a list of the top things to do in Charleston, SC. The following is its list, in no particular order.
And by the way, if you haven’t yet visited Charleston, be sure to put it on your list of must-see places y’all.
Visit Magnolia Plantation & Its Gardens
Founded in 1676, South Carolina’s Magnolia Plantation is home to a pre-Revolutionary War plantation house. One of the top things to do in Charleston,SC, it is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry.
It is also the site of the oldest, and one of the most famous, public gardens in America. Its renowned gardens, planted in the late 17th-century, contain thousands of beautiful flowers and plants which bloom year-round, as well as an antebellum cabin and nature train/boat. It’s open to visitors 365 day a year.
Don’t Miss Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum on Charleston Harbor is home to a small fleet of National Historic Landmark ships, including the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown; the USS Clamagore, a Cold-War era submarine; and the destroyer USS Laffey which supported the D-Day landings at Normandy and later saw service in the Pacific.
The museum, visited by more than a quarter-million visitors each year, is also headquarters to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the agency’s official Medal of Honor Museum. You’ll also find a true-to-scale replica of a Vietnam Support Base Camp, the only one in the U.S.
South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is a state-of-the-art environmental learning center that juts out 200 feet into Charleston Harbor. In it you’ll find the entire spectrum of the Southeast Appalachian Watershed as found in South Carolina: the Mountains, the Piedmont, the Coastal Plain, the Coast, and the Ocean.
The 93,000-square-foot Charleston exhibit includes 9 galleries featuring over 5,000 aquatic animals, from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles and American alligators, in nearly 50 exhibits.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall reflects 300 years of Southern heritage on a magnificent “still working” plantation. Crops have been grown here for more than 320 years.
The entrance way up to the plantation house is one of the longest oak-lined avenues in the world. It’s a beautiful setting seemingly right out of an old movie. In addition to enjoying its beauty, however, a visit here is also quite educational with tours of the house, gardens, slave cabins and its plantation coach tours.
Boone Hall was once known for its crops of pecans and cotton. Today, however, its fields provide a variety of fruits and vegetables for local Charlestonians.
Fort Sumter Tours
No visit to Charleston would be complete without a visit to Fort Sumter National Monument, where the Civil War began. A walk about the old fort is quite interesting as is the cruise out to it. The cruises provides beautiful views of Charleston and the harbor.
You can board a cruise at either Liberty Square downtown or from Patriots Point.
Built in 1755, and still owned by the same family, Middleton Place is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The House Museum interprets four generations of the family, with beautiful family furniture, silver, porcelain, rare books and portraits on display.
It is a National Historic Landmark and also home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The 65 acres of garden, called “the most important and most interesting garden in America” by the Garden Club of America, contains centuries-old camellias and other plants that keep the area in bloom year-round.
The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum, America’s first museum, was founded in 1773 while South Carolina was still a British colony. Another of the top places to visit in Charleston,SC, it showcases a variety of interesting artifacts that tell the story of Lowcountry cultural and natural history, and are of interest to visitors whether that interest be in early Southern furniture, historic textiles or the Civil War.
It is renown for its collection of Charleston furniture and silver, as well as Lowcountry textiles (including costumes, quilts, and needlework) and South Carolina Ceramics.
Browse the Old City Market
Charleston’s historic and charming Old City Market is the heart of the city. It opened around 1804, making it one of the oldest public markets in the U.S. Another of the top places to visit in Charleston, SC, it’s a place to shop for authentic Lowcountry souvenirs.
Stroll through this four-block-long open-air building and you’ll find numerous quality products including paintings, pottery and Charleston’s famous sweetgrass baskets. Open every day of the year, its main entrance faces Meeting Street.
Drive Out to the Charleston Tea Plantation
The Charleston Tea Garden, located about a half hour’s drive south of the city, includes 127 acres of tea plants. Visitors here can tour a working tea factory and its gift shop, as well as take tours about the scenic grounds to learn how tea is grown and made.
A bonus for visitors is the opportunity to sample all the free tea you can drink.
You may also want to visit the Firefly Distillery in North Charleston, which has relocated there from its former home on Wadmalaw Island in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. It’s another of the top places to visit in Charleston since it’s South Carolina’s first and largest distillery.
Firefly is home to Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, the original sweet tea vodka, and other southern specialties. Guests are welcome in the distillery’s tasting room.
If You Go:
Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
375 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29403
Tel: (800) 774-0006
Open: Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm