What makes Charleston, SC unique?
Over the years I have visited Charleston, SC it has morphed from a city known for its antebellum south to a hip and cultured city full of life, great food, and one of America’s most beautiful cities. Unique things to do in Charleston abound, the “Holy City” as it is known has an expansive historic district that has preserved Charleston’s southern charm.
While there are many things to do in Charleston, my favorite thing to do in the city is explore the Charleston Market, shop on Kings Street, take in the historic monuments on a leisurely walk, and take in the ambiance of the charm of Charleston. I have been many times, but below is a list of unique things to do in Charleston, SC that will make your experience in Charleston special.
1. Historic Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market is a vibrant historical marketplace that is 4 blocks long. Here you can get your low country souvenirs, sweet sawgrass baskets, art, jewelry, and other local artisan products. The market is open from 9am-6:00 pm daily. The city market was established in 1807 and also has a night market on Friday and Saturday evenings!
2. Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is one of the most photogenic spots in Charleston, South Carolina. Pastel colored and lined up leading towards the Battery and waterfront Rainbow Row is a beautiful spot in Charleston. The thirteen colorful homes are the longest row of Georgian homes in the United States and have been around since the mid 1800s. I would definitely not miss taking a photo here before you leave Charleston!
3. King Street
What is a vacation without some shopping for souvenirs and supporting the local economy? Charleston’s King Street may not be the most unique thing to do, but it is definitely a part of what makes Charleston unique. However, for 200 years this street has been one of the cultural hubs of the city, with easy access to restaurants, eclectic local shops, and the Marion Square Farmer’s Market this street stretches through the Charleston Historic District.
Some spots to check out on King’s Street:
Charleston Music Hall: This c. 1849 Gothic Revival building was originally a train station, but now houses a live music venue.
American Theater: A perfect spot for your next photo for Instagram is the beautiful Art- Deco building that opened in 1942 as Charleston’s movie house and is now open for hosting events.
3. The Charleston Museum
Come to America’s oldest museum! The museum was founded in 1773 it is the first museum in the USA. The museum’s collection, events, and exhibits is all about sharing the rich culture of South Carolina’s Low Country.
4. Coastal Expedition
Want to feel like you’re in the Outerbanks? Well you won’t have to worry the hit show was filmed in Charleston. So, rent a paddleboard, kayak, or charter a boat with Coastal Expedition and enjoy the pogue life! There are a few ferries offered by Coastal Expedition to Morris and Bulls Island and guided tours of Sham Creek, Isles of Palms, and Kiawah River. There are many options for you to enjoy the Charleston area by water with tours offered on Viator as well. Explore Shem Creek, Isle of Palms, Kiawah River, Bulls Island
5. Mrs. Whaley’s Garden
One of the most unique things to do in Charleston is step back in time in Mrs. Whaley’s Garden. If Charleston is known for something across the USA, it is for having some of the best manicured window boxes and colorful homes filled with flowers. Mrs. Whaley opened her garden up to the public and it has become a Charleston tradition to visit her home. While she may not be alive today her legacy carries on in her memoir Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden and for a $10 donation you can slip it through the front door and enjoy a classic Charleston home garden.
6. Visit the Charleston Tea Plantation
Who knew Charleston is home to America’s largest tea plantation? Come to Charleston Tea plantation to take a tour, learn how tea is grown and made as well as get some to bring home with you!
7. Old Slave Mart Museum
The dark history of slavery in the south is one that is not to be forgotten. The Old Slave Mart has been reminding Charleston of its’ past since it opened in 1938. Located in the site of Ryan’s Mart a four-building complex that was known during the slave trade as one of the largest live public slave auctions.
8. Mcleod Plantation Historic Site and Boone Hall Plantation
A great way to explore the past of Charleston is head to a plantation to see first hand what the antebellum south looked like. Here you can explore the lives of the slaves, the plantation owners, and how the cotton industry and plantations shaped the complex past of Charleston.
Hours: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm Tuesday thru Sunday
Boone Hall Plantation has recently been named the #1 Plantation to visit by USA Today 10 Best. The plantation has been around since its’ establishment in 1681. This is definitely a unique spot to stop and learn the history of the area.
Hours: 9am- 5pm Monday- Friday
9. Take a Ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter is a sea fort in Charleston, South Carolina, notable for two battles, the first of which signified the start of the American Civil War. Fort Sumter Tours offers limited tours to the Fort Sumter National Historic Monument, but the 2.5 hour tour is well worth it. The tour includes a 30-minute ferry ride to the fort and a 60 minutes to explore the fort after a 10 minute overview by a park ranger.
- $24 for Adults
- $22 for Military/Seniors
- $16 for Children (ages 4-11)
- Children under 3 ride for free with parental guardian
10. Go Horseback Riding on the Beach- A Unique Experience in Charleston
The Seabrook Equestrian Center is one of the only places in the Charleston area to have a horseback ride on the beach. They offer beach rides as well as trail rides, however the most romantic thing to do is ride on the beach. Definitely check out their offerings while you are in town!
11. Folly Beach and/or Sullivan’s Island Beach
After sightseeing every corner of Charleston’s historic sites, it is important to take some time to sit back and relax. There are a few amazing beaches near Charleston for some R&R. Luckily a mere 12 miles away from Downtown Charleston is Folly Beach. What is a vacation without a trip to the beach? Whether you want to lay out on the beach to enjoy the sun or you want to ride some waves surfing, there are many ways to enjoy Folly Beach. A great place to watch the sunset is the pier where you can watch people fish and overlook the Atlantic.
Sullivan’s Island Beach is perfect for those that want a little history with their beach day. Here you find a beach community with character. Gingerbread cottages, and a beautiful beach that has been loved by all for generations.
12. Go on a Site seeing tour!
Walking through Charleston and its’ cobblestone streets, is like walking through a living breathing museum. If you are history buff like me you may enjoy learning about the many landmarks and historic homes on a walking tour of Charleston. One of the most unique tours to do in Charleston is learning about the ghosts of the city or taking a carriage ride on the cobblestone streets full of southern charm! However, if the weather isn’t good no need to worry there are plenty of amazing food tours to taste the south in the comfort of one of Charleston’s many eateries.
13. Visit the Battery and White Point Gardens
The Battery may now be known as a beautiful promenade for an afternoon walk, however its main purpose is being a defensive seawall for Charleston. It first became a public park in 1837, and the large park is called White Point Gardens, which was used for artillery storage during the Civil War.
14. Free Tours by Foot Free Audio Guided Tours
Pre Covid-Free Tours by Foot offered great pay what you wish walking tours, and they are still sharing their love of the Charleston’s rich history with audio guided tours that you can download. It is a great way to learn about the history of the city and Charleston during the Civil War.
The tours can be downloaded and you can view the map with the audio of each walk without needing to be online.
Here is how it works:
- Download our Charleston walking tour app on (iTunes) or (Android).
- Download any audio tour(s).
- Enjoy the tour(s).
15. Waterfront Park
Take a relaxing stroll along the revitalized waterfront in Charleston, and take in the award-winning views of the Cooper River along the promenade. Waterfront Park was restored in the 1990s and won recognition from the American Society of Landscape Architecture.
Where to eat ?
Queology BBQ- The Best BBQ in Charleston, SC!
Charleston restaurants have become known across the country for their culinary expertise and unique southern dishes. Charleston has become a foodie heaven in the South.
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit- $ 476 ½ King St. Did someone say biscuits? Did someone say homemade biscuits? Well come here to get some satisfying savory items before you begin exploring Charleston!
5Church Charleston- $$ 32 North Market St. This Charleston establishment is located in an old church and the manuscript of the Art of War is located on the ceiling!
Husk- $$$ 76 Queen St. If there is one break the bank experience you need in Charleston, SC it is a meal at Husk. The locally sourced low country delicacies are made with a modern twist at Husk.
Know Before You Go
Do I need a car in Charleston?
The short answer is no. If you want to rent one to get to some of the plantations a rental is an option. However, Charleston is a walkable city. Most attractions can be reached on foot or bicycle. I don’t believe it is necessary to have a car there. However, most times I have been I have driven there during a road trip.
What’s the best time of year to visit Charleston?
My favorite time to visit Charleston is in the spring or during the jasmine blooms. Also, it is still not absurdly hot and humid like it is in the summer.
Why is Charleston called the “Holy City”?
Charleston is known as “The Holy City” because of all the churches in the city, the different faiths and denominations that call this city home, and the history of religious tolerance.
Is Charleston, SC safe?
Charleston, SC is one of the safest cities for visitors. Part of the reason for that is the local government wants visitors to feel safe on their vacations.
Where to stay in Charleston?
NOTSO Hostel $, 33 Cannon Street
King Charles Inn, $$, 237 Meeting Street
Belmond Charleston Place, $$$, 205 Meeting Street
The Dewberry, $$$, 334 Meeting Street
What are some unique things to do in Charleston, SC have you done? Tell me in the comments!
Trying to choose between visiting Charleston vs Savannah? Well check out my travel guide to Savannah, Georgia. There are many reasons to visit both of these cities known for their beauty and history, but you will have to make the decision yourself!
This is such a great list! I lived in Charleston for years and it’s an amazing city. One of my favorite things to do was walk the bridge–the view is awesome! And I got married at the Battery, though that turned out less awesome, lol.
This is such a detailed and thorough list of things to do and see! I might just have to stop here on my next road trip out that way!
I love Charleston! I’ve always wanted to go to the Slave Museum but never had the chance. We usually just go to the beach and to the market but that’s it. I’m saving this for the next time I go!