Charleston, South Carolina is a city like no other. Located in the heart of the South, Charleston is home to picturesque cobblestone streets, stately pastel mansions, and horse drawn carriages. Entering the city, I felt like I had emerged from a time machine, peering into a world of centuries past.
If you’re looking for a destination that’s a “pinch me, is this even real” kind of amazing, then look no further, Charleston is it! Explore the top attractions in Charleston, South Carolina; whether you only have a few days or a whole week, the heart of Lowcountry has something to offer everyone.
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1 | South of Broad
Many visitors say you can’t leave Charleston without seeing the houses South of Broad. East Bay Street, home to “Rainbow Row” may have been my favorite to photograph, but all of the houses have such beautiful detail. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the old cobblestone streets and daydream about your future #housegoals. To learn some of the historical secrets behind Charleston, check out this Historical Walking Tour!
If you’re not up for tripping through cobblestone streets, a Horse and Carriage Sightseeing Tour might be your answer. You still get to see the city, and from the comfort of a carriage. I’m not sure you can get more southern than that! You can see why this is one of the top attractions of Charleston, South Carolina!
2 | Pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park
Head over to Charleston’s popular Waterfront Park and visit the iconic Pineapple Fountain. Make a wish, and enjoy the views! Don’t be surprised if you see some kids jump in during the summer! Honestly, it was so steamy when I was there, I had to exercise all of my adult restraint not to hop in and join them! (If I weren’t wearing a nice dress, I would have been there in a second.)
3 | Shop King Street
Looking for fine dining, antiques, or high end shopping? Look no further than King Street in downtown Charleston. King Street is home to some serious fashion, and is definitely one of the top attractions in Charleston, South Carolina. All that shopping can work up an appetite for some good old southern cooking, so pencil in a Food Tour through Charleston!
4 | Shem Creek
Take a break from downtown, and head over to Shem Creek Bar & Grill. Enjoy views of the creek, home to shrimping boats and trawlers, while chowing down on some of the freshest seafood around.
5 | Angel Oak Tree
Angel Oak Tree is magnificent, there’s no other way to say it. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 years old and 65 feet tall. Honestly, the pictures don’t do it justice—this is something you just need to see in person. Bring a book, and chill for the afternoon.
6 | The Battery
This stretch of Southern style mansions cannot be missed. Overlooking Charleston Harbor, the views can’t be beat! I couldn’t help but love the little touches of Southern everywhere. By the end of my trip, I’m pretty sure the words “y’all” and “bless your heart” popped up a lot more in my vocabulary. This is definitely one of the must-see attractions in Charleston, SC.
If you’re up for it, take a Harbor Cruise of Charleston, and take in these views from the water!
You can find the historic Dock Street Theatre in the French Quarter section of downtown Charleston. The original theatre likely burned down in a fire in the mid-18th century, so the building you see there now was built in the early 1800s. It’s an iconic Charleston site, and the architecture is truly unique.
8 | Isle of Palms
I don’t know about you, but I can only handle so much history before I go crazy. Spend a day on the Isle of Palms, and take advantage of the laid back beach life.
9 | Bike the Beach
If you have the time, rent a bike and bike the beach. Early morning is ideal; it’s amazing to cruise down the beach and take in the sights with just the sound of the waves for company (or your mother, as I did here).
Exercise on vacation, you ask? Yes, but it’s totally worth it…you get gorgeous views like the pier below.
10 | Firefly Distillery
Firefly is located in North Charleston, and is home to some seriously strong drinks. I’m not kidding – do a tasting tour at your own risk. They’ll give you shots on shots of sweet tea vodka, Sweet Tea Lemonade (with vodka), and plenty of other things I was too tipsy to notice…
11 | Charleston City Market
This 200 year old market gives a glimpse into the life of the Old South. Some might call it a tourist trap (it is), but it’s worth a visit. They still sell the traditional South Carolina sweetgrass baskets and feature the same sense of chaos present through decades past. Fortunately, the market now has AC, and is a great spot to spend some time on a toasty summer afternoon.
Fun fact: Like many old cities, Charleston is known to be haunted. Take advantage of the Ghost & Dungeon Walking Tour while you’re in the city!
12 | Cross the Ravenel Bridge
The Ravenel Bridge is one of the most recognizable attractions in Charleston, South Carolina. Walk or bike over it (or drive for the lazy folks like myself). That’s about it—cool site, but you can only do so much on a bridge.
13 | Trolley Ride to Tea Plantation
Another really unique thing to do in the area is take a trolley to Charleston Tea Plantation. The name is kind of a lie since the plantation is really on Wadmalaw Island, but don’t let it deter you. Take a trolley through the heart of Lowcountry, and learn how tea is harvested and made in the present day. I’m a huge tea lover, and enjoyed learning about the process!
14 | Nap on the Beach at Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is only a few miles long, but boasts laid back beaches, cute little boutiques, and of course, a colorful South Carolina history. Rent a car and drive out to explore for a day. If you’re looking to stay out of the city, Sullivan’s Island is also a great alternative to the downtown B&Bs. I’ve never been mad to wake up to a fresh sea breeze.
15 | Sunset
Last but not least, I don’t think any trip is complete without a sunset. It’s important to slow down, reflect on your day, and just appreciate the natural beauty of South Carolina.
Getting Around Charleston: For rental car deals, my go to is Expedia. If you’re only planning to stay in the city, it’s not totally necessary. However, you’ll need one to get out to the beaches and enjoy the beautiful sunsets!
Where to Stay in Charleston
First off, when deciding where to stay in Charleston, will you choose the beach or downtown? If you’re only in town for a weekend and want to get a flavor of the city, I’d recommend staying in downtown Charleston. I had a full week, so opted for the beach and a bit of relaxation.
Downtown Charleston Options:
Luxury: Check out the Dewberry, a classic boutique hotel, complete with upgrades like a rooftop bar, spa, fitness center, and library. Add to the fact that it located in the heart of Charleston, and you can see why this gem fills up quickly!
Affordable: This house is quintessential Charleston down to the front porch swing and tiny details. You’re only a block away from Upper King Street and walking distance (20 minutes) to Historic Charleston. Plus how cute is this color scheme?!
Image: Plum Guide
Budget: I’m going to be honest…downtown Charleston isn’t exactly known for its budget hotels. However, the Courtyard Charleston Waterfront is probably your best bet. Located only two miles from the Historic District, you can enjoy views overlooking the Ashley River and save a bit of $$$ by not staying right downtown.
Beach Charleston Options
Ok, my beach recommendations are going to be centered around Isle of Palms. One, I lived there a few years and think its a literal heaven on earth. Two, it truly is a gorgeous beach and is still a relatively easy drive into Charleston.
Luxury: This stunning beachfront house gives you unbeatable views of the dunes and ocean. Imagine relaxing on the back deck, watching a beautiful sunrise, and enjoying the sound of waves. Pure bliss!
Image: Plum Guide
Affordable: The Palms Oceanfront Hotel is right on the beach, so you can enjoy beautiful views of the sand dunes and beach. Take advantage of the continental breakfast and fuel yourself up for a perfect Charleston day!
Budget: The Comfort Suites at Isle of Palms Connector is less than two miles from Isle of Palm beaches and an easy drive into downtown Charleston. Guests appreciate the location and included breakfast.
Tell me—have you visited Charleston, South Carolina and loved it as much as me? If not, what’s your favorite southern city? Let me know in the comments!