Known for its brimming restaurants, cobblestone pavements, ancient buildings, and lush greenery, Charleston is the largest city in the South Carolina state. A single peek into the picturesque city is enough to tell why some of the best shows and movies like The Notebook, The Patriot, and Outer banks were shot there. Along with its historic structures and palatial hotels, the city offers sublime landscapes for exercise and relaxation.
Moreover, the horse-pulled carriages add an element of romance and southern charm to the buzzing city and make it a perfect destination for people of all ages. So, whether you are an art admirer or a thrill-seeker, you can always pack your bags and drive through this beautiful city to witness some of the most spell-bounding sights ever.
Aptly named the hub of art and history by locals and tourists, Charleston attracts thousands of visitors every year. Parks like Magnolia, Middleton Place and Waterfront treat nature lovers. At the same time, the Charleston Museum, USS Yorktown, and Old Slave Mark Museum offer a striking glimpse of the city’s rich history.
Top 10 attractions in Charleston, SC
This guide features the top 10 attractions in Charleston, which you must include in your travel itinerary to make your trip more memorable. So, read through them and mark your favorite spot!
1. Waterfront Park
Get lost in the calmness of the city and stroll through the Waterfront Park spread over 12-acre land, presenting a spectacular view of Charleston Harbor. The park consists of three distinct sections; Northern, Middle, and Southern.
The northern side entertains the visitors with a large Fountain, which has remained a center of attraction for its photogenic sights. Going further from the fountain, you will find wooden piers with heavily feathered pelicans resting on them. The piers meet the Cooper River, where a bunch of triangular shelters and a floating dock is installed to sit back and enjoy the vivacity of the sea. Sitting at the edge of the dock, the visitors can get clear views of Castle Pinckney, Fort Summer, and the Ravenel Bridge.
The middle portion of the Waterfront Park consists of dense oak trees and antiquated benches. Large palmetto trees lined the shore of the Waterfront, making it the crowd’s favorite for photography. Furthermore, a unique pineapple-shaped Fountain is located in the park’s center, which is famous for its vibrant flora and well-lit view at night.
Salt marshes and reinstated fishing piers make the southern side of the park. The shore ends here and returns to Concord Street.
The park opens up daily at 6 in the morning and entertains visitors until 9 p.m. You can tour the park as part of an official walking group, or you can explore the impressive sights alone or with family.
2. The Battery
Extended over the southern end of Charleston, The Battery is a must-visit attraction to recharge your mood. You might consider it an electronic items shop from its name. However, the site got its name from the heavy artilleries during the Civil War days. Along with the aesthetic visuals that the promenade offers, you will find a lot to explore on your visit to The Battery.
Visitors can get an unobstructed view of Charleston Harbor, famous for its warfare history and ancient architecture. The quaint-styled mansions built adjacent to The Battery also gravitate hundreds of vacationing shutterbugs.
White Point Garden is the most common stop for tourists willing to learn more about the place’s historical significance. The garden pays homage to the Civil War heroes and highlights the city’s contribution to the historical war.
After exploring the Waterfront Park, the White Point Garden should be your next stop as it is close to the Pineapple Fountain. While the best way to tour the place is on foot, you can also take a bus ride to your destination or become a part of guided walking tours to learn about the phenomenal past of this attraction from experts.
3. Magnolia Plantations and Gardens
If you are a nature lover, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens are a must-see attraction. The Gardens features dense trees and unique wildlife and is the perfect place to bring out your curious child. From turtles and alligators to beavers and foxes, the attraction homes hundreds of local animals and birds.
It dates back to the 1870s, and a single-family has been taking care of the Magnolia Plantations and Gardens since then. Amidst a wide variety of flora, the one that stands out are the brightly-colored Camellia shrubs that give a refreshing odor and sight to the Gardens. In addition to enjoying the picturesque scenes of the Magnolia Gardens, you can also bike along several trails or walk around the zoo to befriend your favorite animals.
Although the place has a lovely, welcoming feel to it, no one could deny the fact that it was once a terrible place where many African-American families were forced into slavery. Therefore, the attraction offers tour guides, which take the visitors through the well-preserved compartments and educate them about the enslaved families.
You would need at least an hour to explore this extensive property. Like the Waterfront Park and The Battery, you can take a guided tour of the park too. However, the opening hours of the Gardens differ throughout the year.
4. Kiawah Island Golf Resort
After touring most places on foot, you might feel a bit exhausted and want some cool place to rest. For this, we highly recommend you to visit Kiawah Island Resort, which is the only Five-Star resort in the S.C. State. Since it is situated in the southwestern part of Charleston, you will need a vehicle to drive to the resort.
The island provides numerous recreational activities and is the perfect destination for golfing, beach weddings, and festival dinners. The diverse and savory cuisine with the option of both indoor and outdoor seating and dining reservations makes it an ideal eating place for everyone.
Other fun activities that interest tourists visiting the Kiawah Island Resort include the pool complexes, tennis centers, and nature programs.
5. King Street
One of the most loved attractions in Charleston, South Carolina – King Street is famous for some great clothing outlets like Hampden, M. Dumas & Sons, and Ibu Movement. You can also shop your favorite accessories from Finicky Filly and Croghan’s Jewel Box to create a distinctive and classy look for any event. Apart from these fashion stores, you can also visit perfume shops like Blue Mercury to immerse yourself in some mesmerizing fragrances.
Furthermore, plenty of shops and art galleries display aesthetic artworks for styling your home. In short, King Street is a heaven for people who love collecting souvenirs and shopping while vacationing.
While today, King Street is known for all the nice things and fashion stores, it went through many tough times during the American Civil War. Hence, it’s one of the city’s widely visited and significant attractions.
6. The Charleston Museum
Like every U.S. state has a museum dedicated to preserving its historical artifacts, the South Carolina state holds the honor to host the “America’s oldest Museum,” The Charleston Museum. Established in 1773, the museum exhibits Civil War relics, ancient tools for plantations, portraits of Native Americans, and strange badges and souvenirs collected by archeologists.
The art galleries feature different categories according to the artifacts they are housing. For example, an Early Days Gallery features an Egyptian mummy and a bizarre collection of items from Greek and Roman travelers.
The Historic Textiles Gallery presents antique textile fragments of the earlier century representing different cultures. City Under Siege is undoubtedly one of the remarkable exhibits of the museum displaying items from the Civil and Revolutionary wars. All the objects are well-described by posters and images. Some noticeable items include a prosthetic arm of an injured soldier, military weapons, and swords.
Remember the enslaved family of the Magnolia Plantations and Gardens? You can get more insight into their lives and uncover other myths by visiting the Joseph Manigault House located inside the Charleston Museum. The best part about visiting this historical museum is that it offers an education program for kids that lets them study fossils, play scavenger hunts, and try dresses from the colonial era. Hence, making it an ideal stop for kids and adults alike.
7. Sullivan’s Island
Located at a distance of only 6 miles from the Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island makes one of the best picnic spots for locals and visitors. With modern cottages, delectable dining options, and an impressive beach view, the attraction is perfect for some leisure time with your loved ones. Moreover, visitors can also engage in fun sports like Rugby, Sand Soccer, and fishing.
Since it is home to over 1700 residents, you can interact with some locals to learn about the beautiful past of Sullivan’s Island. For example, Fort Sullivan, now known as Fort Moultrie, was the earliest Fort on Sullivan’s Island. It has been said that the Fort remained a resting place to the famous American writer Edgar Allan Poe between the years 1827 to 1828. The writer has also mentioned the same in his story “The Gold Bug,” where he meticulously recreates a picture of Sullivan’s Island during his stay.
Apart from the historical significance, the island also offers an intimate dining experience at The Obstinate Daughter, which you can enjoy after witnessing the staggering sunset view at the beach.
8. Old City Market
While the city boasts tons of local and international shops, nothing beats the homely atmosphere of the Old City Market. Everything is available in this buzzing market, from traditional clothing and toys to handcrafted products and food.
The Greek-styled marketplace built from red sandstones and complemented with a bronze-green ironwork staircase was first founded in 1841. Later the place went through significant restoration resulting in the building of an observation tower over the market’s outhouse.
Mostly you will see tourists rummaging through artworks and crafts for souvenir shopping. However, one of the most common stops for tourists in the Old City Market is the basket weavers. The handmade baskets made from Gullah sweetgrass and other materials symbolize African culture. Hence, they make a suitable choice for decoration pieces.
9. South Carolina Aquarium
Just 15 minutes drive from Charleston Harbor lies the South Carolina Aquarium. Like Aquarium of the Smokies in Tennessee, South Carolina also features a rich marine life in the form of a two-story Aquarium, which houses more than 4500 animals.
Along with the usual sea creatures like starfish, turtles, and rays, you will also see some terrestrial reptiles, mammals, and birds like Yellow Rat snake, River Otter, Bald Eagle, and Northern Pintail.
If you are curious to learn about underwater species, you should visit the aquarium since it features educational shows on marine life preservation. Some popular shows include “The Shallows” and “Touch Tank,” which allow visitors to touch and pet their favorite animals.
The “Backyard Habitat” also provides a learning environment and educates visitors regarding different plant species.
Families accompanying kids must tour the “Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery” center to instill a sense of compassion in the youngsters. The place is an actual recovery facility for aged, sick, and wounded sea turtles. As you go through each aquarium, the staff/nurses will unfold the incredible story behind the rescue and treatment of every animal.
Starting from 9 a.m., the fun and interactive attraction remain open for nine hours every day.
10. Calhoun Mansion
Till now, you might have understood the city’s role in warfare and its glorious history. Like other magnificent mansions and museums in Charleston, Calhoun Mansion also contributes to the art and history of the place. However, unlike other attractions, the Calhoun Mansion dates back to the 19th century. The gigantic mansion spanning 24,000 square feet and housing 35 spacious rooms got its name “The William Mansion” from its American owner George Walton Williams.
Later on, his son-in-law Patrick Calhoun acquired the mansion and turned it into a hotel. Finally, in 2004, Howard Stahl, an attorney by profession, bought the mansion and put his vast collection of relics from the Gilded Era on public display.
More than half of the rooms display decades-old tiffany ornaments, while its baronial architecture reflects the magical grandeur of the historic property. The mansion is open for the public tour from 11 in the morning to 5 p.m.
Whether you are a solo traveler or prefer traveling with family, Charleston is a city that provides countless fun opportunities to people of all ages. The well-kept museums and mansions of the town reflect important events that made Charleston one of the most historic sites in the country.
Along with delectable food, exceptional beach views, and traditional markets, you can also enjoy some heartwarming music at the Charleston Music Hall. However, remember to reserve a hotel before starting your trip since the city is overcrowded during vacations.
If you are a fan of luxury hotels, you can consider booking a room in either French Quarter Inn or The Restoration. On the contrary, some budget-friendly hotels include Indigo Inn, Sleep Inn, and the newly built Hyatt House Charleston.