Things to do in Charleston, SC

Get Your Bearings in Charleston

By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Expert

See & Do

Things to See

Visitors are attracted to Charleston, S.C.  during all seasons, for every motivation imaginable. The variety of things to do and see in Charleston keeps these first timers coming back to the Holy City, ranging from the antebellum historic sites such as Patriot's Point or Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, to the modern and inspiring new Children's Museum of the Lowcountry and the South Carolina Aquarium. You can't miss exploring the several beaches in the Charleston area while in town, like Folly Beach or Sullivan's Island, no matter the time of year.


Setting off for Folly Beach or Sullivan's Island during midday hours on the weekend - traffic can start to accumulate as early as 10am.

Hot Tips:

Check out the South Carolina Sea Turtle Hospital Tour for a truly unique experience!

Where to Stay

Charleston's hotels are no doubt a huge draw for visitors to the city. Luckily, there are many options to choose from when deciding where to stay in the Holy City. Hotels on the peninsula are considered downtown, meaning walkable distance to shopping, restaurants and bars, but a short drive is needed to reach Patriot's Point, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms or Folly Beach. Charleston hotels come in all shapes and sizes, from impressive city-central buildings like the grand Francis Marion and luxurious Charleston Place Hotel to dozens of quaint bed and breakfasts like Zero George near the Battery.


Peak holiday weekends by booking your visit to Charleston before April and after August.

What to Eat

It's no secret that Charleston has become a leading food destination in the Southeast, competing with the likes of Savannah, Atlanta and Miami. The Charleston restaurant community's dedication to locally sourced produce, meat, beer and spirits incorporated into both traditional lowcountry and modern American dishes makes for a unique mix found only in the Holy City. Meander down King, East Bay and Broad Streets for the most plentiful selection of restaurants and cafes such as Husk or Fleet Landing, or instead take a walk off the beaten path for neighborhood joints like Five Loaves, Hominy Grill and Fuel.

Hot Tips:

Hop on one of the Charleston Culinary Tours for a sneak peak at some of Charleston's best restaurants.

Be Sure to Sample:

Many of Charleston's newest restaurants popping up in the Upper King Street neighborhood. Try a new restaurant each night of your visit!

Places to Party

Sunset in Charleston means it's time to explore the night side of the city, getting to know our hometown through the friends you'll meet at the bar! Head in the direction of Market Street for a rowdy night out, or over to Easy Bay for an impressive wine selection at Social Wine Bar and handcrafted cocktails at The Gin Joint. For a younger, more locally-based crowd, venture up to Upper King Street for a visit to craft beer heaven at Closed For Business, tacos and beer at Juanita Greenberg's or ping pong madness at Hom.


Upper King or Market Streets after 9-10pm, if you're looking for a quiet dinner out.

Hot Tips:

Closing time in Charleston is 2am, though several restaurants-turned-bars choose to close an hour earlier.

Where to Shop

Charleston's shopping districts are centered in on King, Meeting and Broad Streets, all of which offer a wide variety of men's, women's and children's clothing stores, antique shops and souvenir stores. While in Charleston, why not keep it local when shopping the area? Chain and national brand stores are easy to avoid, as the city is stocked with one-of-a-kind local boutiques and artisan shops. Hit the Charleston Farmers Market or Charleston City Market on a weekend morning to explore uniquely Charleston gifts and goods. Try The Vault/Haute Hanger or Berlin's for boutique men's and women's items.


Parking is often tricky, with pricey garages and limited street metered spots. Leave the car behind when shopping in Charleston - everything's walkable!


Bringing strollers or pets into the Charleston City Market at peak hours, as aisles are often quite crowded.

Best Local Souvenir:

Anything handmade from the Charleston Farmers Market! Try before you buy at many food gift vendors.



Things to do in Charleston

Charleston is known for...

Five of Charleston's most unique features and characteristics.

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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!

4. 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. 

5. 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.