Charming cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, antebellum homes and Lowcountry eats…you’ll love these fun things to do in Charleston SC. Sure, there are great things for weekend getaways for families, but we wanted to embrace the romantic side of the Holy City.
Dan and I visited on a romantic getaway….follow our plan for the best things to see and do, where to eat and where to stay when you’re traveling with the one you love in this amazing South Carolina town. We’ve also incorporated notes from Sue who visited without kids on a Girlfriends Getaway….not “romantic,” but still packed full of even more ‘adult’ fun things to do in Charleston South Carolina.
Here are 45+ fun things to do in Charleston SC that you won’t want to miss!
FUN THINGS TO DO IN CHARLESTON SC: ATTRACTIONS WORTH YOUR TIME
CHARLESTON TEA PLANTATION
Charleston Tea Plantation is North America’s ONLY tea plantation, and it’s right in Charleston County! We pulled into the 127-acre farm to see rows and rows of beautiful tea shrubs. A stop inside the gift shop allowed us to taste (for FREE) several cold and hot teas, plus tons of cute souvenirs.
Follow your taste-test with a quick factory tour to learn how the tea is made. (Did you know green tea, oolong and black tea are all made from the same plant??) Then grab a seat on the trolley for a tour of the grounds, including the greenhouse.
On your way in and out of Charleston Tea Plantation (heading toward the Historic Charleston area) you’ll pass a small sign giving notice of a big tree! Angel Oak is over 300 years old. It’s 25 feet in circumference, and offers 17,000 square feet of shade! In fact, it’s the largest tree east of the Mississippi!
Making a short stop to ogle the massive tree and the various painters set up around her is a FREE side trip you do not want to miss.
A trip about 30 minutes inland from the Historic District to Middleton Place is certainly worth it! The gorgeous grounds and homes are a National Historic Landmark – they are the oldest landscaped gardens in America, dating back to 1741.
I mention them below under Tours and Restaurants, so let’s just talk about the gardens here. We visited in November and you’d never know it was “off season” in the garden. From the rows and rows of camellias in the Inner Garden to the gorgeous Live Oaks along Mill Pond, every vantage was breathtaking.
Waterfront Park features 12 acres of greenspace, fountains and walkway line Cooper River. It’s a popular park in the Historic area at all times of the day, but we visited one evening before dinner.
Along the pier we found a series of swings, which we snuggled on as we listened to a sax player down at the other end, and as we watched the river light up with vessels including the USS Yorktown. FREE.
BATTERY PARK & RAINBOW ROW
As a visitor, it’s hard to detect what part of this area is Battery Park and what part is White Point Garden, but the fact remains that you have to visit! It offers views from the southern-most tip of the landmass on which Historic Charleston sits, where Ashley River and Cooper River merge before flowing into the ocean.
It’s called The Battery because it was a defensive seawall, as is evident by the large cannons on display. It’s also famous for the majestic Antebellum mansions adorning colorful facades – the very picture of Charleston. We noticed on our Sunday morning walk that it was filled with tourists as well as local runners and walkers – very peaceful and friendly and beautiful.
CHARLESTON CITY MARKET
If you can dream it, you can probably find it at Charleston City Market. The market has been here in Downtown Charleston -in spirit- since 1788, but the current structure was erected in 1841 after a fire took the original. In fact, the hall and sheds are recognized as one of the oldest structures in the country.
You can tour the market’s unique shops with a group or on your own as we did, seeing local artisans and tasting delicious nibbles. Don’t miss a chance to see sweetgrass basket weavers at work. Their ancient traditions are an incredible site to behold, and a bouquet of palmetto leave roses are the perfect take-home piece. We didn’t make the night market, but on the weekends you can shop the vendors with live music.
CHARLESTON FARMERS MARKET
If you want to hang with the locals, then do what we did and visit the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square. It’s open April – November on Saturdays, and it is a treat.
We picked up deep fried peanuts, gawked at the most colorful veggies you’ve ever seen, and nibbled on a few samples from the food trucks and vendors.
OLD EXCHANGE AND PROVOST DUNGEON
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is a great stop, especially if it’s your first visit.
Upstairs is the room where George Washington was entertained, while down in the basement many suffered in shackles with little food. Such contrasts are common in the South.
JOSEPH MANIGAULT HOUSE
Tour the Joseph Manigault House. It’s amazing the reincarnations of a once grand home just to keep it going. At one time the home had an Esso gas station on the site, was divided up for apartments and even served as a USO during World War II. The guide told us about legendary parties in the basement, but that area isn’t part of the tour.
The tour was interesting, but not quite worth $12 a ticket, and I’m a history nerd. It could have been that we were the last tour, or maybe it was a new guide. She talked so fast and was so sterile in her delivery that we were afraid to interrupt for fear she’d forget the whole thing. When she stopped spieling and became more conversational, it made a huge difference. Next time I might try the Nathaniel Russell House.
MORE PLACES FOR YOUR BUCKET LIST
We didn’t make it to the following points of interest, even though they were on our wish-list of places to visit. You always have to have a reason to return!
- Fort Sumter. A Civil War sea fort, visitors can take a ferry to the fort at Liberty Square or Patriots Point. Looking for online tickets to attractions or cool tours offering insider info? Get Your Guide is our family’s go-to resource for online purchases. Find Fort Sumter tickets here.
- The Citadel. Open to the public year-round, you can tour on your own or take a campus tour. A Friday parade is a must-see event.
- Magnolia Plantations and Gardens. It’s Charleston’s most visited plantation, and dubbed by T&L as one of America’s Most Beautiful Gardens. Get your tickets to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens here.
- Charleston Museum. The American Alliance of Museums named this the first museum in America.
- Folly Beach Sunrise. We learned from a local that Folly Beach offers the most spectacular place to watch the sun rise is on Folly Beach. We partied too much to see it on this trip – but it’s high on the list for the next trip.
- South Carolina Aquarium. This gem opened in 2000 along the harbor and has quickly gained accolades, especially for the Sea Turtle Care Center which rescues, rehabilitates and releases injured sea turtles. But that’s not all – there are over 5,000 animals, multiple exhibits, and tons of great programming opportunities.
CHARLESTON TOURS YOU CAN’T MISS
Want to know a secret? Schooner Pride was my FAVORITE part of our visit!! We sailed aboard a gorgeous schooner with masts reaching 84 feet into the air! Our 2-hour excursion left right at 5pm. We sailed into the Charleston Harbor with a gentle breeze, enjoying views of Ravenel bridge, Ft Sumpter and more. Drinks (including champagne – my fave!) were available for purchase on board, and if you need to nosh you can bring your own snacks.
While on board, we watched the crew hoist the sails – and I even had to opportunity raise the forward main sail!! It was really cool – and not too easy! About 90 min in, the sun began to set over the city. It was gorgeous! I cannot recommend this tour more highly – the crew, the captain, the atmosphere – two thumbs up!
Looking for a dinner cruise option, instead? Get Your Guide is our family’s go-to resource for online purchases. They’ve got a highly-rated relaxing dinner cruise tour on the Spirit of Carolina. Find tickets and info here.
We mentioned Middleton Place above because the gardens and grounds are a wonderful point of interest, but if you are there don’t skip a tour! You can take a self-guided tour if you’d like, but there are also guided excursions of the gardens, the nature walks, the stableyard, the plantation sites on the grounds…and the house museum, which is what we did.
Middleton Place Estate was built in 1755 and houses great artifacts from the Middleton family, including a copy of the Constitution signed by one of the family members. There is also a carriage ride of the property, which I wish we had time to take. It’s a great way to better understand the role this plantation held during the Civil War.
PALMETTO CARRIAGE WORKS
The best way to get acclimated in Charleston is to take a carriage ride through the city. There are five different carriage companies. We took a tour from Palmetto Carriage Works. You’ll know them by the red barn door.
Funny thing about carriage tours in Charleston, you never really know what tour you’ll be taking. That’s because the city regulates the tours to spread the carriages out. Each carriage must stop after boarding to pick up their route, which is done at random.
CHARLESTON CULINARY TOURS
Charleston Culinary Tours is billed as a food tour, but somehow the star of the show ended up being cocktails. How very Charlestonian of us. There are so many places to eat in Charleston SC that it’s hard to decide where to go, especially when you’ve ditched the kids. Best to start your trip to the Holy City with a guide. They’ll give you the lowdown on the hot spots, with a little history and humor, and of course show you where to get a darn good drink.
The couple with us on the tour was from Minnesota and enjoying the warm southern sunshine, by the end of the evening we were old friends.
Our tour guide Susan was super knowledgeable about the restaurants, the food and Charleston in general. In fact, in addition to Culinary Tours, she gives ghost tours, historical tours and works at the local theatre company. And she shared knowledge from all of those places with us as we noshed on Charleston specialties.
MORE WAYS TO EXPLORE
Tours are so difficult because they take up a lot of your vacation time (boo), but I almost never regret it because they give way more than I bargain for – on history, insight and making new friends. So next time, we’ve got these on our to-do list.
- Charleston Footprints Walking Tours. “The tour route can vary, and will wend approximately 16-18 blocks through the French Quarter, South of Broad, White Point Garden, and The Battery.”
- The History of Charleston Walking Tour. I feel like the thing our visit lacked was more history about the city. This tour will cure that. “Walk with a local and discover Charleston’s pivotal role in American history.”
- Charleston Pirate Tours. Love that there are tours for kiddos, too!! “You’ll feel like you’re right in the middle of the action, as he shares the stories of Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read, along with the fascinating, true facts of pirate life.
- Ghostwalk Tour. “ Stories and legend of the unusual and supernatural are combined with the fun and fascinating history of our city.”
CHARLESTON SC RESTAURANTS YOU’LL LOVE
Now I want to share with you the places we ate on this last trip, because they were ALL AMAZING. I’m not kidding. ALL. OF. THEM.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH OR BRUNCH
MIDDLETON PLACE RESTAURANT
We’ve mentioned them in Points of Interest and in Tours…and now again in Restaurants. Middleton Place has it all! And as we spoke with locals, I was shocked at how few of them knew about the lunch gem. I know, I know…lunch at an attraction usually isn’t much to speak of. Not true here – we thought it was great!
Middleton Place offers several “typical” lunch items like soups and salads, but we tried their Traditional Southern Entrées because, we were embracing the southern feel of the plantation. We each picked a main course and two sides, and shared a skillet of cornbread. I had incredible chicken and dumplings with collards and corn pudding. Hubby went for his favorite, meatloaf with whipped potatoes and Hoppin’ Jon.
They are also open for dinner, if you happen to visit later in the day!
Imagine all the love of hand-made pasta dishes in the quaint Italian village; that’s the feel you get to Le Farfalle. I loved it from them moment I entered, with dark wood floors and chairs, white table cloths, dark blue highbacks, vintage mirrors and lighting. They perfectly marry “posh” with “comfort” – and they make a mean Bloody Mary to help a girl through a night in Historic Charleston.
From the Nutella waffles to the octopus carpaccio, it was difficult to make a decision. Our waitress told us to start with the whipped ricotta. I’m still dreaming of this dish – ricotta mixed with honey and served with cracked black pepper. We had a sliced baguette to scoop it up, but I wanted to lick the bowl. We also shared the lasagna Verde – a HUGE slice of piled homemade noodles, Bolognese, béchamel and mozzarella. It was fabulous.
CALLIE’S HOT LITTLE BISCUIT
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit’s home base is Charleston. Knowing that, we had to stop here for breakfast, of course!
You will not find a better, more flakey biscuit. Just like grandma use to make! We tried it with blackberry jam and with pimento cheese – both were to die for. The line was a little long, but it was lightning quick, so don’t be deterred. The delicious goodness is no longer a secret.
You’ll find locations in the City Market and on King Street.
DINNER FOR FOODIES
We first learned about Chef Sean Brock and Husk Restaurant on Mind of a Chef, but after some research I knew this was a place we wanted to visit. This JB Award Winner’s first restaurant is located in a genteel southern home in the historic district. You’re going to need a reservation…and not just the week before.
We dove into fresh oysters in chili miso butter, and country ham (think prosciutto) with biscuits and house-made pickles. That would have satisfied us most days…so much food…but I was determined to try ALL THE THINGS on our visit. For the main course, I noshed on duck leg confit with cabbage, mushrooms, ham and peanuts. It was unbelievable. Hubby went for the chicken with Brussels sprouts, spätzle and jus.
Take note that on the menu (and on the wall as you walk in) they tell you the local farms from where they are procuring food. Love that. They even feature suppliers on the website if you want to learn more.
There is a building next door where you can belly up to the bar and grab a drink or a light bite, stay for a while or wait for your table. Just be prepared for a crowd…but who can pass up a barrel-aged Manhattan served with a perfectly spherical ice cube? Sound good? Wait until you taste it!
We were sent to The Belmont by our dinner waiter, and we are so glad we went. There’s only seating for a few either at the bar or on intimate benches along the wall.
Classic black and white films show on wall and creative cocktails abound.
THE COCKTAIL CLUB
The Cocktail Club sits above what used to be The Macintosh. Although the amazing restaurant closed in March 2021, The Cocktail Club still remains.
House-made infusions and rare liquors are what they’re known for. I recommend grabbing a seat at the gorgeous bar made of reclaimed wood, chatting with the bartender for a bit about your typical favorites, and letting him make the call for the night. Then, head to a leather couch by the fireplace for an intimate evening of creative delights.
FROM SUE’S CULINARY TOUR
We loved Prohibition, where the house made cocktails took first prize, and the smoky shrimp and grits, made with local ‘adluh’ smoked gouda grits and sprinkled with crushed frozen popcorn, had us considering a second helping the next evening.
The bacon maple old fashioned, with double smoked bacon bourbon, maple syrup, bitters, and citrus zest was top notch, and looked pretty too. The Itty Bitty with Tito’s vodka, cocchi Americano, lemon, honey, and basil was sweet and feminine in its old fashion champagne glass.
JENI’S ICE CREAM
If you’re looking for something sweet, make sure to stop by Jeni’s Ice Cream on King Street.
We finished off our tour at Jeni’s Ice Cream and what can I say? I had five taster spoons before it was all over and still had a hard time deciding on which delicious flavor to go with. I eventually went with pralines and cream, but I bet I could’ve gone with any of their amazing choices and been happy.
The next evening we dined down Hutson Alley at Vincent Chicco’s, an Italian restaurant with a great back story.
Like many Charlestonians, Vincent Chicco, an immigrant from Italy, disagreed with prohibition. His fight to repeal it, as well as his illegal drinking establishments, led to his arrest, which lead to instant fame. When prohibition ended, Chicco found himself on the right side of the law and served consecutive terms as a City Councilman.
His namesake restaurant does his colorful history proud.
MORE WAYS TO EXPLORE WITH YOUR TASTE BUDS
- Toast. Each morning we drive by here around breakfast time, the line was around the block. The locals must know something we don’t – and we want to try next time we’re in town.
- FIG. We learned about this place while chatting up some locals at a bar. Sounds like another great place for southern eats.
- Fleet Landing Restaurant. Another recommendation from a local as well as a Facebook fan. It sits right on the water with super views of the lighted harbor.
- Artisan Meat Share. According to Sue’s Charleston Culinary tour guide Susan, this place has the best Ruben in Charleston.
SHOPPING IN CHARLESTON, SC
There are so many places to shop in Historic Charleston! I found Christmas gifts and birthday presents on every corner – and yes, a few things for myself. Here are a few places you have to stop in.
- Candlefish. I’ve always liked candles, but Candlefish sent me over the edge. They have 100 different scents, and everything is made by the ladies who own this shop. I’ve ordered a monthly candle subscription for my stepmom…if you have time, be sure to sign up for one of their BYOB candle-making classes!
- Charleston Mix. The best Bloody Mary mixer. Ever. No joke. No need to make the drive just for a drink…you can find it here in Atlanta!
- George C Birlant & Co. Birlant is an upscale antique shop that’s been serving SC for 90 years. You’ll see furniture, silver, crystal and more…but here’s why you MUST go. They are the maker of the Charleston Battery Bench – the quintessential Lowcountry garden accessory. Make room in the car, this is the ideal souvenir from your trip!
- Charleston Art Walk. Charleston’s Historic District is brimming with art galleries. It’s a veritable museum collection. We arrived to Charleston on a Friday night – and lucky for us it was the first Friday night of the month. We enjoyed the First Friday On Broad Gallery Stroll, peeking into galleries as late as 8pm…meeting artists, sipping on wine and feeling just like one of the locals.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHARLESTON
FULTON LANE INN
Dan and I stayed at Fulton Lane Inn, right on King Street in the Historic District, and smack among everything fabulous about Charleston. We could easily walk to stores, restaurants, bars, parks and more. It’s nestled secretly in a series of historic buildings, retaining the charm of this amazing city. It’s not too fancy, perfectly intimate and ideally located. I’d stay here again and again when visiting Charleston, SC.
Our room was HUGE, with tasteful matelassé spreads, cottage-like furnishings. We had a mini-fridge, cable, and more in the room, including free Internet.
We adored the evening Sherry in the lobby and the evening cheese and wine reception next door, at the sister restaurant. Continental breakfast is included and delivered to your room each morning (just leave your selections hanging on the door the night before), or if you prefer, you can head to the same sister restaurant to enjoy breakfast with other Charlestonians.
Looking for something uber-romantic? Try one of their suites with whirlpools and fireplaces! Even a four-poster canopy bed.
The charm and location of this hotel is perfect, in my opinion. I adore it.
Book It: The Fulton Lane Inn
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO SOUTH CAROLINA
- YOUR SOUTH CAROLINA VACATION
- GEORGETOWN: 7 Relaxing Things To Do In Georgetown SC
- BEAUFORT: 29 Things To Do In Beaufort SC For A Perfect Weekend Getaway
- SC BEACHES: 17 Alluring South Carolina Beaches Begging You To Visit
- RESORTS: 14 Amazing South Carolina Resorts You Will Love
WHERE TO STAY IN CHARLESTON SC
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