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Charleston on the Cheap: Free Things to Do in 'The Holy City'



Whether you're visiting Charleston, South Carolina for the first time or regularly stay in the Holy City, the draw of complimentary local attractions and free things to do are highly appealing. Luckily, Charleston has a lot to offer both its local residents and tourists in the way of free events, historic sites, beaches and parks, both on and off the downtown peninsula.

Make the most of Charleston's mild climate and coastal disposition - explore the city's public parks and beaches to get a true taste of the natural beauty of the lowcountry. Make a day trip to Wadmalaw Island for a factory tour at the Charleston Tea Plantation, or Hampton Park and The Battery and White Point Gardens downtown. Charleston's beaches are a main draw for annual tourist visitors, and are equally enjoyed by local students and longtime residents. Make a visit to Sullivan's Island if you're traveling with a young family, or hit Folly Beach for bigger waves, surfing, and jet ski rentals. Both beaches have free parking!

Try out Charleston's art scene by joining in the fun of a free French Quarter Art Walk, which take place four times each year and include free food and wine at each participating gallery! Indulge the history buff in your group with a quick trip to the Charles Pinckney Historic Site, or plan for the fitness enthusiasts among you to enjoy a walk or run across the Ravenel Bridge, where anyone can enjoy some of the best views of Charleston around.


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This National Historic Site, located in Mount Pleasant, is named for Charles Pinckney, an author and signer of the U.S. Constitution. The site is managed by the National Park Service, and is what remains of the Pinckney plantation, known then as Snee Farm. When Pinckney sold this property in 1817 to settle debts, a new plantation home was build on the grounds, and it has shrunken to just 28 of the original 715 acres. Like many other Charleston plantations, the history of this park is tied to the story of enslaved Africans, who made up the vast majority of those living on Snee Farm while it was in operation. Each Saturday in March, the park hosts a celebration of local Gullah culture, derived from West African slaves that were transplanted to the lowcountry. There is no entrance fee to this park, making it a pleasant destination for an afternoon off-peninsula.


Are you in search of a free attraction or outdoor space that's close to downtown Charleston for a romantic day trip or sunset viewing? You're in luck - Mount Pleasant's Pitt Street Bridge, as it is typically referred to, is located just a short drive across the Ravenel Bridge from the peninsula, and makes an excellent picnic spot or intimate evening outdoors when the weather is nice. Locals often visit Pitt Street Bridge, once the site of a longer dock bridge connecting Mount Pleasant to Sullivan's Island and a training spot for the Hunley, to launch kayaks or try their hand at some shore fishing. Parking and admission into the park is free!




This beautiful 127-acre farm and plantation, tea factory and gift shop are all a part of the country's only tea plantation, producing American Classic Tea in flavors like Governor's Grey, Charleston Breakfast, and Plantation Peach. Visitors to the Charleston Tea Plantation, which is run and managed in part by Bigelow, can feel free to stroll around the intensely green grounds that are home to over 300 varieties of tea plants, or go on a complimentary tea factory tour. For a small fee ($10 for adults and children aged 12 and up; $5 for children 11 and younger), visitors can take a Trolley Tour through the farm, which is narrated by the tea plantation founder himself.


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Organized by the Charleston Gallery Association with more than 40 local art galleries, Art Walks are a free and delightful way to experience Charleston's burgeoning art scene with wonderful company. These art walks take place four times each year, on the first Friday in March, May, October, and December, from 5pm to 8pm. Art walks are free to anyone who wishes to stroll from gallery to gallery in the French Quarter and surrounding blocks, one of Charleston's most beautiful and historic city neighborhoods. Simply stop by one of the many participating galleries to pick up an art walk gallery map, and leisurely journey from one gallery to the next, moving at your own pace, enjoying complimentary wine and refreshments at each location. Both visitors and locals enjoy this seasonal event, which allows for the mingling of artists and art lovers in a lively and inviting setting.


Hampton Park


This nearly 70-acre green space, named for General Wade Hampton, a Civil War general and governor of South Carolina, is located just north of Charleston's bustling downtown, close to The Citadel military college. Hampton Park has been popular with walkers, runners, sunbathers and others wishing to take advantage of the warm and sunny Charleston weather. The park, which is equipped with public restrooms, a playground, picnic tables, and free WIFI, is home to a beautiful variety of annual blooms, as well as a fountain and pond. Hampton Park is also a popular public space for weddings and engagements and exercise meet-ups.


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


The Town of Sullivan's Island boasts some of most pristine beaches in the Carolinas, with light grey to white sand and wide stretches of uncluttered shoreline. Alcohol and pets are both prohibited on this beach, keeping it a family-friendly destination, though remaining popular with local kids and students as well. The waves at Sullivan's Island are much smaller and calmer in comparison to nearby Folly Beach, and surfers and boogie-boarders should opt for Folly instead of Sullivan's Island. However, the calmer surf makes getting into the water an easier and more appealing idea for younger children. Park for free along the residential streets leading up to the bridge, and be sure to visit a local restaurant before or after hitting the beach! Highlights of the Sullivan's Island restaurant scene include The Obstinate Daughter, Poe's Tavern, and Taco Mamacita.


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Johns Island


Have you ever seen a tree that's more than 1,000 years old? How about one that's dated to more than 1,500 years of age? Visit the Angel Oak tree on John's Island, an ancient Live Oak located within an easy 30-minute drive from the Charleston peninsula. The Angel Oak is highly protected, and is free to the public for visitation, picnicking on its surrounding grounds, and seizing the many photo opportunities it presents. Visually stunning in any season, the Angel Oak measures at about 65 feet high and nearly 26 feet around, casting an area of shade of about 1,700 square feet. The Angel Oak grounds are open to visitors from 9am - 5pm nearly every day of the year.


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Folly Beach


Located just a 20 minute drive from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach, also dubbed "The Edge of America," is a family-friendly beach town popular with college students, surfers, and out of town vacationers year round. Choose Folly as your Charleston area beach destination for its delicious restaurants and bars, such as Taco Boy and Rita's, as well as its numerous beachfront chair, umbrella and jet ski rentals. Surfing lessons are also easily obtained on Folly! Most street parking is free - avoid designated pay-as-you-park areas. Take note that alcohol is now prohibited on Folly Beach. This beach also employs some complicated dog policies: No dogs are allowed on the beach from May 1st through September 30th between 10am and 6pm (high season and peak time). During the off-season from October 1st through April 30th, your canine companion is welcome on the beach at anytime, as long as it's on a leash.


Ravenel Bridge


This magnificent cable-stayed bridge carries U.S. Highway 17 North and South across the Cooper River, connecting downtown Charleston with the city of Mount Pleasant. The bridge, which is host to an annual spring 10K road race called The Cooper River Bridge Run, was completed in the summer of 2005, replacing the previous Pearman Bridge. A pedestrian walkway runs the entire length of the Ravenel Bridge on its Southeastern side, providing expansive panoramic views of the Charleston peninsula, Charleston harbor, and Mount Pleasant marina. The Ravenel Bridge is very popular with local runners and bikers, particularly on weekends with favorable weather.


Battery Park & White Point Gardens
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney


Hit up a nearby bakery or sandwich shop on Broad Street and bring your lunch over to the White Point Gardens at the Charleston Battery for an afternoon well-spent out of doors! Widely considered to be one of Charleston's most iconic historic sites, this downtown destination played a major role in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Walkers of the Battery "path," a wide, elevated sidewalk that abuts the ocean, will be able to enjoy the shade of ancient oaks and palmettos and views of ultra-luxurious waterfront mansions, alongside the occasional dolphin sighting and a glimpse of Fort Sumter in the distance.


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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

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