Charleston, SC is such a lovely city, filled with splendid water views, historical landmarks, intricate architecture, nearby beaches, and a host of engaging activities. We moved from San Diego, CA to Charleston in 2004 and have enjoyed making this city our home. Charleston is one of the top tourist destinations in the country and it is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best cities by Conde Nast, and Travel + Leisure. If you’ve visited the area, you know why! If you haven’t or if it’s been a while since you’ve been here, it’s time to get reacquainted with all the city has to offer!
As a blogger, I was super excited to learn that the annual Haven Conference will be held in Charleston in July, 2018. I can’t wait to attend, to meet lots of my blogging friends, and to learn from some of the best!
I’ve learned that some attendees will be staying in Charleston to tour the city after the conference closes, so I thought it would be fun to put together a post that offers some suggestions for free things to do in Charleston, SC.
We’ve sorted through our old photos to find some of our favorite free places to take guests to when they are visiting us here. Links are provided for more information about each spot.
Before embarking on a walking tour of the city, I’d suggest stopping by The Charleston Visitor’s Center at at 375 Meeting St. in downtown Charleston.
There is an app available from Free Tours by Foot that would be a great way to take a self guided audio tour. The app is through Atlantis Audio Tours on itunes or adroid. It’s $1.99. The Free Tours By Foot website has tons of information about various structures in town.
My best advice for you while you’re touring Charleston is wear comfortable shoes! Charleston is very pedestrian friendly, but you can rack up some serious distances while meandering around the city. If you’re coming for Haven in July, plan to be hot. In fact any time from mid June through August is going to be hot. A water bottle is a must have for walking around the city. Also, pack an umbrella. We get lots of thunderstorms and pop up showers during the summer months.
Free Things To Do In Charleston, SC
I’d recommend beginning a tour of Charleston along the The Promenade at the Battery. It’s a wonderful walking area with gorgeous views of Charleston Harbor and stately mansions.
The gazebo at White Point Garden is the centerpiece of the garden. The name White Point is derived from the large amount of oyster shells that originally covered the land. It was originally called Oyster Point.
The garden is also home to various statues, monuments, and cannons of historical significance. This area has had quite a history. From serving as a fortress to being the spot for pirate executions to its current status as a park, this area has seen lots of history.
The Battery is a fortified seawall at the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula located where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form the Charleston Harbor. A walk along the promenade will give you beautiful views of the harbor.
From the Battery you can see the USS Yorktown which is part of Patriot’s Point Maritime Museum.
Rainbow Row is a series of brightly painted houses along East Bay Street. The houses were built in the 1740s and didn’t become a Charleston icon until after the 1930s when they were purchased by Dorothy Porcher Legge. She and other owners painted them their unique shades. Now, Rainbow Row is one of the most photographed spots in the city.
Stately mansions line East Bay and Murray Streets. The assortment of colors is eye catching. There are ticketed tours available for purchase for some of them. Simply strolling by them and admiring them from the outside is free though!
Dock Street Theater opened in 1736 and is the first building in America to be used solely as a theater. The current building is located on Church Street. You can look around the exterior of the building and admire the architecture. Performances require tickets.
US Custom House located on East Bay Street was completed in 1893. It incorporates both Roman and Greek architectural designs. The interior is not open to the public.
City Market which dates to 1804 is home to many shops, vendors, and local artisans. Look for the Certified Authentic Handmade in Charleston labels if you’re purchasing souvenirs. It recently underwent a huge face lift and is a can’t miss while you’re in town.
Most days, you’ll have the chance to see artists weaving sweet grass baskets. You’ll want to buy one, but keep in mind they are pricey. The craftsmanship that goes into making these is amazing. I always stop to admire them when visiting the Market. I have a couple of them that I enjoy using in our home.
Charleston is often referred to as the Holy City. There are varying ideas about how this moniker came to be, but the prevailing one is that it refers to the many steeples that rise into the air. St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s are the most prominent ones and both of these churches are not only landmarks, they have active congregations.
Charleston is well known for its cemeteries, too. There are a number of ticketed tours that you can take and the guides will tell you all about Charleston’s haunted history.
St. Michael’s Church opened in 1761. It’s located on Broad St at the 4 Corners of Law. God’s Law, City Law, State Law, and Federal Law are symbolically represented by the buildings on the corner of Broad and Meeting St.
St. Philip’s Church and Cemetary, is located on Church Street. This structure was completed in 1835.
The flag of South Carolina is emblazoned with a crescent and a palmetto tree. As you tour the area, you’ll see lots of palmetto trees- the state isn’t called the Palmetto State for no reason! It looks like a palm tree, yes, but it’s the size that makes it a palmetto.
Palmetto Trees are steeped in the history of our state with references to the American Revolutionary War.
Chalmers Street is one of the few remaining original cobblestone streets in the city. It has been preserved by the city and is charming to see.
The Pink House was built in 1690 and is the second oldest structure in Charleston. It’s located on Chalmer’s Street and has served as a tavern, a brothel, a home, and an art gallery. Currently, it is not open to the public.
College of Charleston was founded in 1770 and is the 13th oldest educational institution in the country. This is Gloria’s alma mater and it’s located in the heart of the city. Randolph Hall is the main academic building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Strolling through the campus you’ll see lots of intricate architecture.
The Citadel, Military College of SC, founded in 1842, was originally located in Marion Square. Its current location is on Moultrie Street.
Waterfront Park is a wonderful area of the city. The views are spectacular. You can rest on one of the swings and enjoy the water view. It is also home to the Pineapple Fountain. On hot days, you’re bound to see children and some adults enjoying the cool water of the cascading fountains that dot the park.
It’s also lovely to see at night. This is one of my very favorite photos that Gloria has taken in the city.
The Arthur Ravenel Bridge was completed in 2005. It’s the main passage from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. You can take the pedestrian path for terrific views of the Cooper River.
If you venture just outside of the city, you’ll find yourself on your way to the wonderful local beaches.
Folly Beach is the closest beach to downtown Charleston. Local newscasters often refer to Folly as “the edge of America.” Walk along the pier or underneath it for some gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean. There are restaurants and shops along Center Street.
Isle of Palms (IOP) is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. It has lovely beaches, fun restaurants and wonderful resorts.
Sullivan’s Island is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and near IOP. You’ll see more gorgeous beaches here. There are shops and restaurants including Poe’s Tavern, a restaurant devoted to Edgar Allan Poe who spent time stationed at Fort Moultrie.
The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse is fenced off and is not open to the public, but the grounds around it are open.
Morris Island Lighthouse was erected in 1767 and can best be viewed from the northeast end of Folly Beach.
Other points of interest:
King Street is the heart of the downtown shopping district. You’ll find designer shops, specialty shops, and some antique shops as well. Seeing the architecture is worth a stroll down the street.
Circular Church is on Meeting St and is one of the oldest continuous worshiping congregations in the south. It was founded in 1681. The graveyard has markers dating back to 1695. The current structure was built in 1892.
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon on East Bay Street at Broad Street. Ticketed tours are available for purchase.
The French Huguenot Church, located on Church Street was completed in 1845.
The Old Powder Magazine in Cumberland Street is the oldest building in South Carolina.
Other Nearby Points of Interest:
Angel Oak Tree is a Southern live oak and is estimated to be is estimated to be in excess of 400-500 years old. It’s located on John’s Island. From downtown Charleston, it’s about a 20-25 minute drive.
Charleston Tea Plantation is located on Wadmalaw Island and it’s about a 40 minute drive from downtown. It’s definitely worth the drive. It’s the only tea plantation in North America. The factory tour is free and you can purchase a trolley tour to see the acres of tea bushes, hear about its history, and stop in to the green house.
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If you’re attending Haven Conference, I hope to meet you there! Let me know in the comments if you’ll be at the conference!
I hope this gives you some ideas of how to see some of the wonderful areas of Charleston without spending lots of money. Leave us a comment if you have questions. We’re happy to try to answer them.
You can’t visit Charleston without experiencing some Lowcountry cuisine. Expect prices to range from moderate to pricey. If you’d like some recommendations, we’d be happy to share ours with you, just leave us a comment with your question.
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Free Things To Do In Charleston, SC
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*Update: I was so happy to meet Michelle from Our Crafty Mom at Haven. She spent some time touring Charleston while she was in town. Check out her post about her experience and her sight seeing jaunts.