Must-do's in Charleston, South Carolina

Beautiful historic Charleston, South Carolina, known for its’ charming inns, historic plantations, lovely gardens, colorful architecture, southern style cuisine, barrier islands, and historical attractions, draws history buffs and photographers from around the world. With so many historic attractions, Charleston is one of the best destinations in the South for history buffs and photographers.

A city for history buffs

Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina, was established in 1670 by English colonists. The city has preserved much of its’ quaint historical charm, and thus, is home to one of the most interesting downtowns in the South. Charleston’s historic district is the 2nd largest in the country. With so much to explore, it is the perfect destination for history buffs.

Visiting Charleston is like taking a step back in time as most of the city’s stunning old architecture still remains. Walking along historic cobblestone streets, alongside romantic carriages, you will notice the refreshing absence of big business and common chains. As you stroll around and immerse yourself in the city’s rich culture, gorgeous architectural wonders surround you in every direction.

Historic King Street in Charleston - famous for the Notebook movie scene
Gorgeous colorful architecture in downtown Charleston, South Carolina

From taking a romantic carriage ride amongst the city’s most prominent historical sites, to stepping your toes on the soft sands of a beautiful beach, to enjoying some Southern style shrimp and grits, to exploring Civil war history, to hiking amongst gorgeous Spanish moss trees while you take in incredible vistas of cypress swamps, there is something interesting to do for everyone in Charleston.

Here are the top 5 experiences for new visitors exploring the Charleston region

1. Take a horse drawn carriage ride

Carriage ride through beautiful downtown Charleston, South Carolina

The best way to learn more about Charleston’s rich history is by taking a carriage tour around the gorgeous downtown historic district. This is definitely the top thing to do if you are a newcomer to the area. Not only will you learn so much more about Charleston’s history and see so many gorgeous historic buildings, you will also save your feet some extra stress. As there is a lot to see downtown, any opportunity to cut down your walking a bit helps.

You will quickly find that there are numerous carriage options. Palmetto Carriage Works is the oldest running company and the best. Visitors have rated it number 1 for a reason. Tour guides are knowledgeable, entertaining, and personable.

One of 4 possible tours is available. Each tour is selected by random draw as a way to cut down traffic and congestion. Sights of interest could possibly include Rainbow Row (a gorgeous section of colorful row houses), historic churches, beautiful gardens, and historic mansions.

Carriage ride through historic downtown Charleston, South Carolina

The Holy City

Our tour took us past many of Charleston’s most architecturally gorgeous churches. One of Charleston’s nicknames is “The Holy City.” Charleston was a big supporter of religious freedom, as settlers of various religious denominations arrived from various parts of Europe. This diversity includes St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Charleston, and Beth Elohim, the oldest synagogue in America.

Another interesting site we came across, the Old Charleston Jail, once housed a number of infamous criminals. The jail operated between 1802-1939. Toady, it is considered a paranormal hot spot. You may have seen it featured on various TV programs like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. If you have the time, check out the Haunted Jail tour!

Historic haunted jail in Charleston, South Carolina

We learned so many interesting tidbits along this tour and our tour guide was beyond friendly and knowledgeable about the area. I would highly recommend this carriage tour to new visitors. Tickets are $50 per person. Check Groupon and hotel brochures for special deals.

More info on Palmetto Carriage Works

A brief tour of the historic district

2. Get back to nature at Palmetto Islands County Park

Beautiful marsh scenery at Mt. Pleasant County Park in South Carolina

The Low Country region of South Carolina is home to more salt marshes than any other Atlantic state. Numerous species inhabit these marshes including many interesting birds such as the Egret, Blue Heron, and Osprey. Any park in the area is a fantastic place to enjoy the incredible low country scenery, as well as birdwatch.

Serene views at Mt. Pleasant Community Park in South Carolina

Unfortunately, most tourists come and go without checking out any of the beautiful natural attractions in the area. Palmetto Islands County Park in the charming suburb of Mt Pleasant is a great place to escape the downtown congestion for a bit. Here, you can enjoy a nature walk or bike ride, watch for alligators, and explore the beautiful preserved wetlands found throughout this region.

Beautiful bike path at Mt. Pleasant Community Park in South Carolina
Bird watching at Mt. Pleasant County Park in South Carolina

Lush tropical plant life and bird watching will keep you busy as you get in a refreshing workout. Be on the lookout for gators – most commonly sighted in the spring and summer months!

Up close view of a gator

More info on Palmetto Islands County Park

3. Explore Rainbow Row & The Battery

Beautiful Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina

Because these 2 architecturally amazing streets are located so close together, you can conveniently plan to visit both at the same time. If your carriage tour does not include a tour of this beautiful area, I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.

Rainbow Row, aka as Painters Row, is an aptly name block of historic brightly colored pastel rowhouses near the waterfront. Although there are a number of colorful buildings scattered about downtown, this is the main area that draws so many photographers. Really, it is a one-of-a-kind photo opp. And, if you time your visit just right, you can catch a glimpse of a historic carriage making its way down this iconic street.

Horse drawn carriage making its' way down historic Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina

From here, you can take a short stroll over to a waterfront area known as “The Battery.” This area, named after civil-war coastal defense artillery battery, is located at the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers meet. This is a gorgeous area for a stroll as palmetto trees and multi million dollar houses (the largest home is 20,000 sq feet!) line one side and the water on the other.

Additionally, you will find pretty fountains, tree-lined paths, and plenty of places to sit and enjoy the Southern sunshine.

Serene tree-lined path near the Charleston waterfront
Beautiful fountain near the Charleston waterfront
The gorgeous Battery area of downtown Charleston, South Carolina

4. Spend the night at a charming inn

Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt Pleasant, SC

Do a quick search on and you will notice dozens of generic hotel chains and timeshare resorts comprising the majority of lodging choices in the Charleston area, as they do in most cities across the country today. Skip these in favor of spending the night at a historic inn. The inns in downtown Charleston are quite pricey, although convenient to nearby attractions.

If you feel like saving a few bucks, there are numerous budget friendly options around the vicinity. One of the best B&Bs in the area is Plantation Oaks Inn in the quaint suburb of Mt. Pleasant, a convenient 20 minute drive from Charleston. Not to mention just 10 minutes from Mt. Pleasant County Park and gorgeous Isle of Palms beach. As a bonus, you are basically forced to take a tech break as there are no TV’s and Wi-Fi is limited.

This historic property was originally part of the Snee Farm Plantation, owned by Charles Pinckney, signer of the United States Constitution. This inn is limited to just 5 guest rooms, so the ambiance is extremely laid-back and quiet. Beautiful oak and Spanish moss trees, as well as fantastic views of the tide creek and marsh, allow you to truly soak in the Southern sunshine and scenery.

Gorgeous plant life surrounding the grounds of the Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Relaxed nature setting at Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Serene nature setting at Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina
Pretty views at Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt. Pleasant, SC
Pretty natural scenery at Plantation Oaks Inn in Mt. Pleasant, SC

The owners are super friendly and will accommodate special dietary requests. Breakfast varies by day and is always filling and delicious. However, the best part is the incredible ambiance. Enjoy your food as you gaze at the beautiful marsh. Their coffee is fantastic too so no need to find a Starbucks!

5. Take a stroll along the beach

Isle of Palms beach near Charleston, South Carolina

There are numerous beaches within close proximity to Charleston. Not surprisingly, these beaches are extremely popular during the summer season, when the heat and humid soars to intolerable levels. While Folly Beach is great, it’s also the most crowded of the bunch.

Isle of Palms is a nice quiet alternative. Whether you feel like sunbathing, collecting seashells, dipping your feet in the water, or simply taking a nice stroll, Isle of Palms offers a nice long shoreline to do so. There’s plenty of room here so it never feels overcrowded. After a few days on your feet exploring Charleston’s historic sights, it’s nice to rejuvenate and reconnect with nature.

Jellyfish at Isle of Palms beach in South Carolina
Isle of Palms beach in South Carolina