Things to do in Charleston, SC

More About Charleston

One of the East Coast's most picturesque cities, Charleston is known for its antebellum row homes, its Civil War history, beautiful waterfront, nearby beaches and scrumptious Low Country cooking. In addition to being a top travel destination, Charleston is home to several universities and boasts awesome college-town appeal.

Founded by colonists in 1670, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and features over 40 churches, public buildings and meeting spaces listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of them, including many homes date back to the early 18th century were meticulously repaired after the Civil War. Antebellum row houses, known for their narrow facades and balconies, adorn the city's oldest neighborhoods, most notably Rainbow Row.

Site of the first shots of the Civil War, Fort Sumter remains a top destination for history buffs and is a must for first-timers. Within the city, several prominent historic homes are open to the public, allowing a glimpse into the lifestyles of prominent early citizens. Horse-drawn carriage tours frequent the streets of the Historic District and have become emblematic of the city for many visitors. Cannons situated near the waterfront and the City Market, itself an important site of commerce since the early 19th century, hearken back to the city's past. Local artisans occupy the historic market today, many of them selling hand-woven sweetgrass baskets and other Gullah crafts.

Nearby, several of the country's oldest plantations allow you to see what life was like during the South's agricultural heyday. Boone Hall is a sprawling estate with a working plantation, and Middleton Place features elaborate gardens, working stables and a sugarcane mill. These attractions also shed light on slave life and the emergence of Gullah culture as Africans in the Low Country strove to keep their heritage intact.

Today, sparked by the dynamic roles it plays — among them, major port city, college town and tourism center — Charleston continues to thrive. Home to the College of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina and the Citadel, Charleston caters to a large 18-20-something clientele, as well as university employees. Privileged vacationers own homes on nearby beaches, and several prestigious golf courses, such as Wild Dunes Links on Isle of Palms, provide additional draw.

Low Country cuisine remains popular on the dining scene, where seafood boils, shrimp and grits, and chicken and biscuits are common indulgences. Far from static, however, the restaurant industry has expanded to include more contemporary cookery to satisfy an increasingly cosmopolitan demographic. Abundant shopping, nightlife and dining opportunities fill downtown, accommodating both students and tourists.

An old city that pulses with new energy, Charleston is a rare find. Natives take pride in her historic character and Southern refinement, imparting to visitors a contagious love for the "Holy City" that permeates travel, work and play.

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Things to do in Charleston

Charleston is known for...

Six of Charleston's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Known For...:

Five of Charleston's most unique features.

2. Lowcountry Cuisine:

Charleston's restaurant scene is gaining national attention for its distinctly southern flavors, uniquely modern restaurants, and talented newcomer chefs. Local ingredients have always been a point of pride for area restaurants, and in recent years Charleston's finest have rallied behind a standard of using only fresh, locally sourced foods.  In this way, Charleston's classic Southern recipes are maintained, created and served right from the source, giving visitors a truly authentic taste of the lowcountry. Charleston is known for comfort foods with a Gullah influence, and famous for such dishes as Shrimp and Grits and Hoppin' John.

3. Historic Homes:

Early in Charleston's history, the city collected property tax on the street width of the house, rather than the length, creating a preference for the long, narrow houses that are signature Charleston style homes today.  Almost every home on Charleston's peninsula is historic, including most of the homes of area college students! Beautifully colored antebellum mansion homes can be found on East Bay on Rainbow Row, and at the Battery on Murray and South Battery streets. Most of these picturesque dwellings also contain shady secret courtyards and black ironwork gates. 

4. Southern Hospitality:

A town raised with "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am," Charleston demonstrates its southern hospitality in every aspect of life.  The friendliness of locals and strangers is noticeable, and anyone on the street is willing to point you in the right direction or give insider recommendations. Hotels in Charleston go above and beyond the usual amenities you'd expect, with many offering complimentary wine and cheese receptions in the afternoons, and cookies and milk in the evenings. Restaurants hold their staff to the highest level of accommodation. Charleston has even been named America's Most Mannerly City more than 10 different times!

5. Beaches:

While Charleston's downtown itself is a harbor town, three beaches are located just a short drive off of the peninsula.  Isle of Palms, the furthest beach from downtown, is full of upscale beach condos and remains relatively uncrowded most of the year. Sullivan's Island, only about 15 - 20 minutes away by car, is a flat sand beach with beautiful homes and rentals, unique bars and restaurants, and is the home of Fort Moultrie, a defensive fort used in both Revolutionary and Civil wars. Folly Beach, a 20 minute's ride away on James Island, is most popular with college students and Charleston vacationers. 

6. American History:

Called the Holy City for its many church steeples and historically early religious tolerance, Charleston's great tale begins when King Charles the second of England chartered Carolina to his 8 Lords Proprietors. Established in 1670, Charleston fell victim to attack in the centuries to come by Native Americans, Pirates like the "Gentleman Pirate" Stede Bonnet, and throughout the War of 1812, and American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Visit historical sites like Ft. Sumter in the Charleston harbor, to stand where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.