Both visitors and locals alike enjoy Charleston's top attractions
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
With all of the things to do and see in the Holy City, deciding how to plan your time can be challenging. 10Best has narrowed down Charleston's popular attractions down to the most appealing and enjoyable, so that you can fully experience Charleston surrounding lowcountry areas the way locals do every day.
Local Charleston college students are often the first to take advantage, (read: skip class), to enjoy the city’s warm sunny weather. Follow their example by getting outdoors, and heading to one of Charleston’s many parks or three area beaches. Take a short drive to visit Charleston's favorite tree on John's Island, or plan a picnic lunch at Battery Park downtown.
Families and young children visiting Charleston may want to try their hand at recycled arts and crafts at the Children's Museum, or even feed local shrimp to stingrays at the South Carolina Aquarium. Visit the USS Yorktown, a retired World War 2 aircraft carrier turned interactive educational ship, at the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Charleston’s rich, centuries old American history is all around you in the buildings, markets, and cobble stone streets. Why not take a step back in time to learn more of Charleston’s story by visiting local museums, taking a carriage tour, or visiting a traditional Southern plantation? Don’t worry about seeing it all - we’ll just see y’all next time!
10 Children's Museum of the Lowcountry
The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry is the perfect family activity for those travelling with young children! All eight of the museum's exhibits feature hands-on learning and imagination training, with stations like the Art Room, where kids can construct with recycled materials or paint outside in the museum gardens, and the Medieval Creativity Castle, where kids can make a royal feast, dress up as prince and princesses, and accept knightly quests! Special classes and events vary month to month throughout the year. (843-853-8962)
9 Charleston City Market
The Historic Charleston City Market is perhaps the most visited destination in downtown Charleston. Always bustling with shoppers and sightseers, the City Market is open 365 days a year, and showcases local Charleston vendors, their unique wares and crafts, and casual and fine dining take-away fare. Stop by the Charleston City Market to pick up souvenirs, snack on local goods, or just to leisurely stroll and people watch. Charleston's famous sweet grass basket weavers can be found practicing their craft along the Market's open air stalls. The Market was constructed between 1804 - 1830, and originally used as a meat, vegetable, and seafood marketplace. ((843) 853-8000, (843) 937-0920)
8 South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston's Aquarium brings visitors into the lowcountry coastal environment and its wildlife through touch tanks, two-story wall aquarium tanks, salt march aviaries, and educational tours and programs. Panoramic views of Charleston's harbor and Ravenel Bridge serve as a background to your aquarium visit. Display themes are classified into each of South Carolina's major geographic regions: Mountain Forest, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and Atlantic Coast. A variety of songbirds, reptiles, like the Albino Alligator, and both salt and freshwater fish are at home in the SC Aquarium. The interactive touch tank and stingray tank invite children to hold horseshoe crabs and starfish, and feed shrimp to the aquarium's stingrays. (843-720-1990)
7 Angel Oak
This impressively massive live oak is believed to be more than 1500 years old, having survived many hurricanes earthquakes. The incredible heights stretch up 65 feet, with a trunk 25 feet in circumference, and twisting, crooked limbs that extend out over 160 feet, and provides shade over more than 17,000 square feet earth. Named for the family who once owned this John's Island property, the Angel Oak now occupies a public park tended by the City of Charleston. The Angel Oak is believed to be the oldest living thing this side of the Rocky Mountains, and is a truly beautiful piece of Charleston's natural history. (843-559-3496)
6 Boone Hall Plantation
An iconic row of ancient live oak trees welcomes you to one of America's oldest living and working plantations, and one of the most famous plantations in the South. Boone Hall Plantation, set on 783 acres and established in 1681, and opened to the public in 1956, has been the filming location for dozens of movies TV series with its historic buildings and old slave cabins still perfectly intact. Boone Hall offers guided tour group tours of the elegant house, a carriage tour of the grounds or self-guided tours through the slave quarters and the extensive gardens. (843-884-4371)
5 Sullivan's Island Beach
Head North out of downtown Charleston on US 17/US 1-26 N, keep to the right when crossing the Ravenel Bridge. Follow the signs to Sullivan's Island, passing expansive marsh and wetlands during a 15 - 20 minute drive from the peninsula. Sullivan's Island, one of three area beaches in Charleston, offers a quiet, more relaxed and less touristy setting than nearby Folly Beach. Sullivan's Island is known for its impressive beach homes, smooth sand beaches, and popular restaurants on its main streets. Each beach access, or beach station, is numbered by a grey stone marker. Alcohol, dogs, not allowed. (843- 883-3198)
4 Battery Park & White Point Gardens
Battery Park is the quintessential image of Charleston for most Holy City locals. Walking along East Bay Street, with the famous Battery mansions to one side, the Charleston harbor to the other, you'll be able to spot Ft. Sumter in the distance, and imagine the first shots of the Civil War that took place here in 1861. Over many centuries, the Battery has seen many wars, such as the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and was even the hanging grounds for famous pirate Stede Bonnet, among others. Here you are completely surrounded by the charms that Charlestonians love the most- antebellum historic homes, a view of the Ravenel Bridge across the harbor, and centuries old oaks alongside stately palmettos. (800-774-0006)
3 Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore, all retired WW2 watercraft now at home in the Charleston harbor. Open daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Patriot's Point is a unique way to experience life at sea aboard these ships during World War 2, and learn about the history and brave missions of their American crews. (843-884-2727, 866-831-1720)
2 Palmetto Carriage Works
Palmetto Carriage Works is the oldest carriage tour company in Charleston, and offering hour long horse-drawn guided tours of Charleston's Historic District. Tours begin and end at the Palmetto Carriage Works "Big Red Barn" near the northern end of the Old City Market, and tours run from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. during daylight savings time, and 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. during the rest of the year. Private and custom group tours available. (843-723-8145)
1 Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter, visible across the harbor from Waterfront Park and the Battery, is the famous site of the first shots of the Civil War. Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in 1861, and became a Southern stronghold for most of the Civil War, even towards the end of the conflict. The fort is only accessible by water -- daily ferries run informative trips back and forth, leaving from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square and Patriots Point, year round. Nearby Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, is also worth a visit. The Visitor Education Center, with extensive historical information on both forts, is at Liberty Square, on Concord Street downtown. (843-881-7337, 800-789-3678)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and North to Boston, MA before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches, and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.
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