The Top 7 Things to Do and See in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

There's plenty of stunning architecture in Charleston, or you could always hang out at the beach
There's plenty of stunning architecture in Charleston, or you could always hang out at the beach | © Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Richard Tulis
18 August 2020

With a rich coast and varied landscape, Charleston, South Carolina, is no ordinary beach town. From the marshes on Shem Creek to the shores of Folly Beach, there’s plenty to explore. Travel inwards to King Street or George Street to find some of the best food the southeast US has to offer. And there’s plenty to learn from its antebellum architecture and significant historical monuments. We round up the best.

Fort Sumter

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Historic Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina.
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Enjoy the historical roots of this southern city by paying a visit to the foremost site of the Civil War, Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Opened as a tourist attraction in 1948, this national park is famous for having sustained the first shots of the war (by cannon fire), making the fortification a must-see for visitors. A guided tour, complete with narrated boat rides and walking sections, is available.

Charleston City Market

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The indoor Charleston City Market stretches the length of nearly two blocks. And if it’s handicrafts you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Browse the stalls for local artwork, woven baskets, antebellum apparel, candles, jewelry, pottery and more. The market is the perfect place to grab a souvenir and take in the cultural fabric of this charming town.

Joe Riley Waterfront Park

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Waterfront Park, Charleston, South Carolina
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Stretching 8 acres (3ha) alongside the Cooper River, the Joe Riley Waterfront Park features a 1,250ft (381m) pier over Charleston Harbor. Take a walk along the many pathways and witness the sights of nature – if you’re lucky, you may spot a crane taking flight by the oceanside. Two large fountains are the most decorative features of the park and the spectacular views and sea breeze give you a chance to unwind away from the city bustle.

Boat tours

As a coastal town, Charleston isn’t short of boat tour offerings, whether it’s on Shem Creek, Cooper River or other watercourses. For a historic tour, Charleston Harbor is the best option. If you’re in search of a deep-sea fishing adventure, several boat lines offer that too. And let’s not forget the availability of watersports such as jet-skiing and flyboarding.

South Carolina Aquarium

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Charleston Aquarium Charleston SC. Image shot 2004. Exact date unknown.
© Pat Canova / Alamy Stock Photo
This spacious attraction, on Charleston Harbor, featuring jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, sharks, birds and even snakes, will entertain all the family. The Touch Tank allows you to stroke Atlantic stingrays, crabs and other marine animals. Meanwhile, the Saltmarsh Aviary exhibit showcases features of the Charleston environment, allowing you to learn more about the city’s natural surroundings.

The Battery

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The Battery – a paved, public walk lined with many antebellum homes – offers a delight of pastel edifices, picket fences and gates. The scenic promenade features Southern mansions, old cannons and plaques denoting the historical significance. Rich in history, with a spectacular view of Fort Sumter, it is one of downtown Charleston’s most famous attractions.

Folly Beach

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Surfers walk along the beach at sunset, April 3, 2015, in Folly Beach, South Carolina. (Photo by Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright)
© Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright / Alamy Stock Photo
Folly Beach is one of the area’s best surf spots, with the waves teeming with watersport adventurers. A resilient survivor of hurricanes, it continues to attract crowds daily until the sun goes down. Check out the Folly Beach Sea and Sand Festival – think carnival games, a parade and live music by several artists.
These recommendations were updated on August 18, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.