Charleston is definitely one of my top five favorite cities in the US and one place that continually pulls me back. I went for the first time in fall of 2015 and have returned almost every year since then for long weekends because two days is just never enough. This city layers the new with the old so seamlessly and for a history geek like me is an absolute gem.
Charleston is perfect for a girl’s weekend, couples retreat, or even multi-generational trips, trust me I’ve been on all three types. Whoever you’re going with there is never a shortage of activities and adventures, so here’s your guide all about what to do in Charleston on a long weekend.
The Battery/White Point Garden
If you’ve never seen million-dollar mansions lined up against the ocean, then head straight here and be ready to see some jaw-dropping houses. Along East Battery Street you’ll find historic homes of Charleston and beautiful views of the Charleston Harbor. This is the perfect introduction to Old Charleston and the architecture is astounding. While you’re there, meander through White Point Garden where the old oak trees provide plenty of shade. If you’re into history you can inspect the civil war cannons they have lined up facing the Battery. Depending on how much you like architecture or people watching I’d spend about an hour here walking the length of the Battery and then hanging out in the park.
I don’t travel anywhere without checking to see if they have a food tour in the city. This is my absolute FAVORITE type of tour and yes, I am completely obsessed with food. But Charleston food is something else. This city is a foodie haven! They consistently have restaurants that rank in the top 10 in the United States. A food tour gives you the perfect glimpse into their culinary scene and is great for first-timers and returning visitors alike. For first-timers I’d recommend this one and for all you returning travelers I’d say go with this one. Usually food tours last about three hours.
South Carolina Aquarium
Okay, don’t judge me here, but this turned out to be one of my favorite things we did in Charleston. My family (dad, mom, brother, & sister) took a weekend trip to Charleston and it ended up raining all day the first day. But you can always figure out what to do in Charleston even in the rain! We decided to go to the aquarium and pretty soon after we got there were approached by a volunteer who offered to give us a behind the scenes tour. I was a little skeptical at first, but it turned out to be such a cool experience. We got to see where all the animals’ food was prepared, the top of the huge tanks that they keep multiple species of fish in, and learned about the work the volunteers and aquarium employees get to do each day. If anyone from the aquarium ever reads this, let me know if you’re hiring.
If the volunteer hadn’t approached us, we would never have known about this tour and they may just take families with older kids or older couples. I could see a child falling in one of the big tanks. If you’re interested though I would definitely ask if they are offering the tour on the day you visit. It took us around three hours to go through the aquarium including the surprise tour.
Another one for us history fanatics. Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service and was the site of the opening battle in the Civil War. It sits out in the Charleston Harbor so be sure to check the boat shuttle times when planning your visit! The port is right beside the aquarium and there’s another one over at Patriot’s Point where the ship, the Yorktown, is located near Mt. Pleasant. You can walk through the fort and they have many informational signs about what life used to be like for the men living there. I can’t remember the exact times, but I think it was about a 30 minute boat ride, we got an hour at the fort and then a 30 minute ride back. We may have gotten a bit more time at the fort.
Tip: If you can swing it, splurge on Hall’s Chophouse for dinner. You’ll spend at least $50 per person, but you will be dreaming about that meal for years after.
City Walking Tour
Charleston has an incredible selection of walking tours with a variety of different topics covered. Many of the odd walking tours like Food and Ghost tours I’ve included as separate, but it’s still fun to take a general history tour. I highly recommend Free Tours by Foot and they have a Civil War Tour and a tour that focuses on architecture. The length of this activity will depend on who you book with, but it will be somewhere around two hours.
The part about the graveyards may sound incredibly strange, but Charleston has some famous people buried in its city limits. The graveyards are also beautiful though. Many of them are a little grown up with the old oak trees scattered around. It almost transports you to a different time if you let it. The churches are works of art especially the stained glass. Some of the churches I’ve visited are St. Michael’s, St. Philip’s, and the Circular Congregational Church. This can take as much or as little time as you’re interested in spending.
Charleston has many old plantations you can tour to get an idea of what life was like back then. The one I chose to visit was the Magnolia Plantation that has beautiful gardens, a very unique house that doesn’t match the time period, and a petting zoo. Other popular ones are Boone Hall, Drayton Hall, and the Charleston Tea Plantation that still produces tea. Between touring the house and the grounds this will take at least half a day if not more. If you like touring sites like this then be sure to set enough time aside so you aren’t rushed when walking around the grounds. There is SO much to see.
It is so important that you book with a highly rated company for a ghost tour. It’s all about the story-telling! The first time I ever did one was with Bulldog Tours and it was a ton of fun. Two of the stops on the tour were our hotel and one of our favorite restaurants. Creepy. These are always done at night and plan to spend about two hours walking the city.
Historic Homes Tour
I did my first Historic Home tour this summer when I returned to Charleston. Two of the most popular ones are the Nathaniel Russell House and the Aiken-Rhett House. The main thing you want to think about here is whether you want to see a restored house or a preserved house. The difference is that a preserved house has been maintained just as it was found and a restored house has been brought back to that state it was in during a certain time period. The Nathaniel Russell House has been restored and the Aiken-Rhett house preserved. Depending on your interest these could take between one and two hours.
When determining what to do in Charleston this is a must to add to your list. Unless you absolutely hate shopping. But King Street near downtown has some of the best shopping in the United States. There are boutiques lining the street and be sure to watch for the ones that are a little hidden. Sometimes there will just be a hanging sign on the street for a boutique. Then you walk through a little alleyway or up a staircase and there is the most adorable little shop you’ve ever seen. Depending on your budget you can shop for 30 minutes or all day.
Can you figure out what to do in Charleston yet?
This itinerary doesn’t leave much time for rest, so by all means lay at your hotel pool or check out one of the local beaches if you’re visiting during summer. Hang out at a park downtown with a good book. There is just so much to see and do in Charleston. One trip likely won’t be enough!
Many of these activities do cost money so depending on your budget be sure and check out the cost of what you’d like to do before you visit. If you’re looking for free things to do around Charleston spend more time at the Battery and White Point Gardens, go to the beaches, visit the Angel Oak, or explore the art galleries downtown.
When trying to figure out what to do in Charleston it can definitely be a little overwhelming. Hopefully this gives you a few ideas for your trip and helps to plan out the timing of each! Have fun exploring one of my favorite cities in the US!