Expert Tips


Best Things to Do in Charleston

Charleston's Best Attractions and Activities for Visitors and Locals Alike

Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina! We're happy to have you, and whether it's for the week or just the weekend, you'll find that Charleston appeals to every traveler, every mood, and every appetite. The true worth of Charleston is defined by its welcoming nature, conveyed in the demeanor of its residents, the warmth of its sunny weather, and the feeling of belonging you get in the city–even if just for the weekend. 

Charleston, South Carolina is the idyllic, historic town you've heard about, with an added bonus: a world-famous collection of entertaining attractions, activities, and culinary spoils that cater to families, couples, and travelers of all kinds. A visit to Charleston guarantees a fantastic vacation, with an unseen variety of options: catch some Carolina sun on Folly Beach, take the kids to the South Carolina Aquarium and the USS Yorktown, cruise back in time with a trip to Fort Sumter or Boone Hall's plantation grounds. Charleston's parks, markets, and cobblestone streets give the opportunity for days spent exploring this classic lowcountry city.

From historic sites to sandy shores and centuries old Oak trees, Charleston is yours to explore. Don’t worry about seeing it all this time; we know you'll be back again soon!


Johns Island

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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The breathtaking Angel Oak Tree is uniquely Charleston--an ancient reminder of the timeless strength and beauty still present in our historical city.

Clare's expert tip: DO NOT attempt to climb on the Angel Oak's limbs or branches. You will be asked to leave the park, not to mention risk harming Charleston's favorite tree.

Read more about Angel Oak →

Just across the sparkling span of the Arthur J. Ravenel Jr. Bridge from downtown Charleston, Patriots Point preserves naval history in its centerpiece: a World War II aircraft carrier named the USS Yorktown. Both kids and adults alike love to scramble up and down the 13 decks of this 888-foot-long ship, which was commissioned in Newport News, Virginia, in 1943. As you roam the decks, you'll find 26 naval aircraft on board as well as the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum (in Hangar Bay #3). Also on-site are a recreated Vietnam Support Base, the Cold War Memorial, and two other World War II ships: the submarine USS Clagamore and the destroyer USS Laffey. Beyond impressive naval history, Patriots Point serves as a departure dock for boat tours to the Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Sweeping harbor views aside, Patriots Point is a must-visit destination for many Charleston visitors interested in American history, showcasing historic battleships and aircraft.

Clare's expert tip: Patriots Point is a launch point for exploring several Charleston attractions. Tour the USS Yorktown here, play a round of oceanfront golf, or catch a cruise ride to historic Fort Sumter National Monument.

Read more about Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum →

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, where more than 5,000 animals live: Shark Shallows, Mountain Forest, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and Saltmarsh Aviary, the Touchtank, Coast, and Ocean. A variety of songbirds, reptiles, like the Albino Alligator, and both salt and freshwater fish are at home in the SC Aquarium, along with a few species unusual to most aquariums, like lemurs. The interactive touch tank and stingray tank invite children to hold horseshoe crabs and starfish, feed shrimp to the aquarium's stingrays, and come 'fingers to fins' with sharks.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The South Carolina Aquarium is one of the best in the South, deeply involved in sea turtle rehabilitation as well as sustainable fishing practices.

Clare's expert tip: Don't miss the daily Sea Turtle Hospital tours at noon and 2 p.m., where you can get a "behind the scenes" look at the SC Aquarium's conservation efforts at work.

Read more about South Carolina Aquarium →

Sullivan's Island
Sullivan's Island
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney

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 markers, making it easy to meet up with other groups. Alcohol is prohibited on Sullivan's Island beach.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Many locals name Sullivan's Island as their favorite Charleston-area beach--seldom crowded, with plenty of room to spread out, and plenty of great, post-beach day restaurants.

Clare's expert tip: Head toward the higher numbered stations for the giant sandbar and tidal pool, a favorite spot for local kids.

Read more about Sullivan's Island →

Boone Hall Plantation
Photo courtesy of 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 Southern states. The majestic 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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Boone Hall differentiates itself from other Charleston area plantations by hosting numerous seasonal events throughout the year, with daily tours and events for the public.

Clare's expert tip: If you are visiting Charleston in January, be sure to attend the Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation each year!

Read more about Boone Hall Plantation →

Charleston City Market
Photo courtesy of Historic 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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Charleston City Market offers the widest variety of Charleston-themed gifts and souvenirs available in the city, and close by to several carriage tour offices.

Clare's expert tip: Charleston's City Market finished multimillion dollar renovations in 2011, and now features air conditioning and revolving fans. Stop by the market for a cool break from your explorations during the summer months.

Read more about Charleston City Market →

Folly Beach

You can't talk about Charleston area beaches without including Folly Beach! Besides the sand and waves, Folly is known for its growing restaurant scene, state park, and water sport rentals. Folly Beach is the ideal choice among Charleston's many nearby beaches, (Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, and Edisto Beach), due to the variety of lunch and dinner options, local watering holes and outdoor bars, and rental beachfront homes and bungalows. Stay at the Tides Hotel, which is located just steps from the shoreline and boasts a popular in-house restaurant, Blu. While you're visiting Folly, grab some breakfast at Lost Dog Cafe, and head to Taco Boy for a midday shrimp taco break from the heat!

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: You can't talk about Charleston beaches without including Folly! Besides its shore, Folly is known for its growing restaurant scene, county park, and sport rentals.

Clare's expert tip: There's only one main route to Folly Beach from downtown Charleston, and traffic regularly forms on weekends and holidays. Head to the beach early to beat the backups!

Read more about Folly Beach →

Charleston Farmers Market
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney

The Charleston Farmers Market, held weekly each Saturday from 8am to 2pm April through December in Marion Square, is centrally located close to numerous restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and museums, as well as the College of Charleston. Start your weekend in Charleston off right at the Charleston Farmers Market with breakfast, brunch or lunch alongside live music, farm and gift vendors and local artisans. Parking is available in the Francis Marion Garage or on street, and the Charleston Farmers Market is 100% handicap accessible. What to bring: your camera, your family, the dogs, a reusable bag, and your appetite!

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A visit to the Charleston Farmers Market is Saturday morning well spent getting to know the culture, community, artists and culinary flavors of the city.

Clare's expert tip: Beat the heat and the breakfast lines by arriving at the Charleston Farmers Market before 10am!

Read more about Charleston Farmers Market →

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 April 1861, and became a Southern stronghold for most of the Civil War, even towards the end of the conflict. Fort Sumter is only accessible by water: daily ferries run informative shuttle 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 for its historial value and involvement in the Civil War. The Visitor Education Center, with extensive historical information on both forts, is located at Liberty Square, on Concord Street in downtown Charleston.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This serene fort-island setting is the location where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861.

Clare's expert tip: During your short ferry ride to Fort Sumter, keep an eye out for the many dolphins that call the Charleston harbor home!

Read more about Fort Sumter National Monument →

Battery Park & White Point Gardens
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney

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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A visit to Charleston isn't complete without a walk along the White Point Gardens and Battery. This area is arguably the city's most photogenic spot.

Clare's expert tip: Pick up fresh baguette sandwiches for picnic supplies from Fast & French on nearby Broad Street, and slow down to Southern time under the shady oaks.

Read more about Battery Park & White Point Gardens →


Meet Clare Sweeney

A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare is always venturing between traveling abroad and her beloved Lowcountry. 

Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days...  More About Clare