I’m so excited to show you how to have an epic weekend in Charleston South Carolina. It’s a great place to see historic homes with amazing architecture, stroll the charming streets full of shopping boutiques and incredible restaurants, and have a perfect time at Charleston’s beaches!
Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and it is the 2nd most populated city. When people think of Charleston they mostly think of the downtown area located in the peninsula.
Historic downtown is only about 5 square miles, but the entire city is actually made up of a much larger area.
In addition to the downtown area, West Ashley, James Island, Johns Island, Daniel Island, and the Cainhoy Peninsula ALL make up Charleston.
I'm so excited to see Charleston, let's skip right to it!
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Best Time to Visit Charleston, SC
BEST: The best time to visit Charleston, South Carolina is from March through May, and September through November. This is the time of year when you will find the best weather for exploring and fewer crowds.
WORST: The summer months of June through August are very hot, expensive, and quite busy. It’s an ideal time to check out the beautiful beaches but the summer heat is pretty rough if you want to do other outdoor activities like exploring downtown.
SHOULDER SEASON: December through February is the least busy time and the most inexpensive because temperatures are much cooler. In the winter months, it’s a great time for enjoying the holiday season. Charleston’s mild winters are perfect for walking around and seeing the holiday festival of lights.
How to Get to Charleston, SC
LOCATION: 5500 International Blvd, North Charleston, SC 29418
If you’re flying directly to Charleston then you’ll fly into (CHA) the Charleston International Airport. It’s the busiest airport in South Carolina. The good news is it’s only a 20-minute drive from the Charleston Airport to downtown Charleston.
Another option is to fly into (MYR) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Quite the opposite of CHA, the Myrtle Beach Airport is a very small airport. It has the lowest average fares in South Carolina.
LOCATION: 1100 Jetport Rd, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
You can expect to pay around $100.00 less to fly into MYR. If you have time for the extra 2+ hour drive then add this awesome area to your trip itinerary.
The money you would save on airfare might compensate for one hotel night in Myrtle Beach!
Not far from the airport is the Charleston Amtrack train station. It is approximately 10 miles from downtown Charleston so if you don’t plan on renting a car you can easily grab a taxi or Uber.
LOCATION: 196 Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401
The Port of Charleston is on the eastern seaboard. The good news is it’s only a few blocks away from downtown Charleston. Most of the cruise ships are traveling to/from the Caribbean.
PRO TIP: You might want to check the cruise schedules to see if Charleston will be a port of call during your trip because that means it will be extra crowded.
Getting Around Charleston, SC
Charleston has public transportation through CARTA, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. The public bus is an economical way to get around the city, but it gets even better!
DASH is a FREE Downtown Area Shuttle. There are 3 different routes that take you to all the major tourist attractions and I’ll say it again… IT’S FREE!!
Parking can be hard to find and expensive so if you are able to take the DASH to get around, it’s helpful!
PRO TIP: Take the FREE Downtown Area Shuttle to get around and avoid paying for parking!
You might be wondering, “Is Charleston, SC walkable?”
Downtown Charleston is very walkable and there is plenty to do there, but if it’s very hot and/or you plan to see more than that area then you will need to rent a car.
PRO TIP: Check with your credit card when you rent a car because some of them automatically offer insurance coverage.
How to Spend 1 Day in Charleston, SC
Day trip to Charleston SC
If you’re only going to spend 1 day in Charleston, then you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. The best place to do that is in downtown Charleston. It is very walkable, there are plenty of things to do, and there are tons of great restaurants!
I’ll tell you how to have an epic weekend in Charleston, BUT… I’m giving you a TON of options so when you see this star-eyed icon, that means it’s a MUST-SEE ATTRACTION.
Things to Do in Downtown Charleston, SC
As I mentioned, the downtown area is about 5 square miles and it’s located on the peninsula. There are TONS of things to keep you busy for the day.
Here is a jam-packed full 1 day itinerary of all the best things to see in downtown Charleston.
Shopping on King Street
LOCATION: King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
This is a great area to start exploring Charleston. On King Street, you will find amazing antiques, quaint boutiques, and high-end brand-name stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
GOOD TO KNOW King Street is divided into 3 sections:
- Lower King Street – Antiques
- Middle King Street – Boutiques
- Upper King Street – Brand name stores, gift shops, and dining
LOCATION: 446 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
While you are on King Street, make sure you check out the American Theater. It’s where a famous scene from the movie The Notebook took place.
PRO TIP: There are restaurants and cute coffee shops all along King Street. Get coffee here because it's MUCH less crowded than at City Market.
Charleston City Market
LOCATION: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
Not far from King Street is even MORE unique shopping. Charleston is well known for its HUGE city market.
The popular market takes up about 4 city blocks and is the #1 most visited attraction. There are areas to shop outside and inside and you can expect to see a TON of different local vendors. You can find clothing, jewelry, artwork, food, and more!
HOURS: The open-air market and Great Hall are open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The Night Market is open on Friday and Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
This was our first stop and I made sure I got my traditional Christmas ornament at the market. Aside from all of the cool vendors, it’s great to visit because this building that was established in the 1970’s is a National Historic Landmark!
PRO TIP: Bring cash because some vendors give a cash discount.
LOCATION: 188 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
The Confederate Museum of Charleston is located just above the Market Hall building so if you’re at the City Market you will see the Museum. If you love architecture then you’ll love seeing this 1841 building.
Confederate artifacts and other Civil War memorabilia and relics can be seen in the museum.
HOURS: Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Circular Congregational Church
LOCATION: 150 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
The Circular Congregational Church is currently on its 3rd sanctuary. (Third time’s a charm?)
The first church was hit by a cannonball, the second one was destroyed by fire and the third has been going strong since 1890. It’s one of the oldest continuously functioning congregations in the South.
The Circular Congregational Church was declared a National Historic Landmark. Make sure you walk around to get all the stunning views of the church building and check out the old graveyard in the back.
FUN FACT: Charleston, SC is known as the Holy City because it has numerous places of worship.
The Powder Magazine
LOCATION: 79 Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The Powder Magazine is Charleston’s oldest public building. This colonial military history museum is a fun place for history buffs and should take you less than 1 hour to visit. It’s ranked #28 out of 228 things to do in Charleston, SC.
St. Philip's Church
LOCATION: 142 Church Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Admission is FREE
HOURS: M, Tu, W, Th from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Wed 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Fri from 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., and Sun from 8:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
St. Philip’s Church is the holy city’s second most prominent church. It’s located in the French Quarter and worth the visit. It might surprise you to know that St. Philip’s Church is one of South Carolina’s most photographed buildings.
French Huguenot Church
LOCATION: 44 Queen Street, Charleston, SC 29401
A short walk just across the street is the French Huguenot Church. It’s one of the oldest congregations in Charleston. The building is stunning! It’s free to look inside so have a peek and check out the Gothic architecture.
Tours are FREE and run Monday – Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. You can catch these tours in the Spring and Fall.
Pink House Gallery
LOCATION: 17 Chalmers Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Spring and Fall, Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday afternoons
PRO TIP: Chalmers Street has a TON of cute spots to get pictures and it's less crowded than other areas.
Old Slave Market
LOCATION: 6 Chalmers Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Old Slave Market was a former slave auction gallery in the mid – 1800’s. Today it’s a museum with an educational glimpse of the city’s slave trade past. It offers a sobering look into a slave jail, kitchen, and morgue. Plan to spend approximately 1 hour touring the Old Slave Mart Museum.
LOCATION: Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Joe Riley Waterfront Park has been awarded the Traveler’s Choice Award. It also received the Landmark Award and is best known for its large (picturesque) famous Pineapple Fountain.
This public park is one of the best places to have a picnic or watch the sunrise or sunset. You can relax and watch the ships in the Charleston Harbor. Waterfront Park is a “must-see” when you visit Charleston.
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
LOCATION: 122 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Also known as the Customs House and The Exchange, this is another National Historic Landmark that can’t be missed. The purpose of this building has changed over the years but it is well known as the place where the US Constitution was ratified. It currently operates as an entertaining and educational museum.
LOCATION: 83-107 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401
If you’ve seen a picture of Charleston then you saw Rainbow Row. It’s a colorful row of pastel-colored historic Georgian row homes and one of the most photographed locations in the south.
It’s unknown why the row homes were painted in different colors. One theory is so drunken sailors could remember which home was theirs.
Another theory is that when the buildings were used as stores the owners could easily tell illiterate slaves which building to go to shop.
TIP: Do you like this cute "Charleston hat"? We got it at the City Market for $10.00.
LOCATION: 21 East Battery Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sunday – Monday from 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The Edmondston-Alston House is currently a family home and museum. The three-story home is one of Charleston’s oldest historic sites. It gives a look into the lives of the free and enslaved people who lived and worked at this home.
The Battery & White Point Garden
LOCATION: East Battery Street & Murray Boulevard, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sunday – Monday from 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The Battery is also known as White Point Gardens. This famous Charleston landmark is a perfect place to take in the beautiful scenery and see the cannons and statues of military heroes.
LOCATION: 16 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
HOURS: March – November, Daily from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and December – February from 11:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The Calhoun Mansion is now known as the Williams Mansion. It’s a 24,000-square-foot home that was also featured in the movie The Notebook.
If you think exploring historic mansions is fun then you will think the 35-minute interior tour of this unusual home is worth the visit.
Horse-drawn Carriage Tour
Honestly, this option is a bit controversial. The horse-drawn carriages run year-round and it’s difficult to watch the horses carry around a carriage full of tourists in the awful heat of the summer season, but they do monitor the horses closely. If daytime temperatures get hotter than 95 degrees they will shut down the rides.
How to Spend 2-3 Days in Charleston, SC
Weekend in Charleston SC
If you only have 1 day in Charleston, then make the downtown historic district your priority. If you are spending the weekend in Charleston, then check out some of these other fun things to do.
Fort Sumter National Monument
Your Fort Sumter ferry ride and entry ticket includes tickets to Fort Sumter and a ferry ride.
First, enjoy a ferry ride to Fort Sumter, then explore the grounds where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War. National Park Rangers will share historical information about the heroes in action. You should plan for about 2 hours total for your boat tour and time to explore the grounds.
Food and Drink Tours in Charleston, SC
Add a food or drink tour to your weekend in Charleston SC
I think one of the best ways to make memories when you travel is to take fun guided tours.
A great way to see the city, meet new people, AND try some of the southern restaurants is with food and drink tours! These types of tours are perfect for couples or solo travelers who are spending the weekend in Charleston!
Food Tours in Charleston, SC
Food tours are such a good time! Below are 4 great options for sampling food at a variety of local eateries, culinary landmarks, restaurants, and bakeries in Charleston.
These tours are approximately 2-3 hours long. I honestly think it’s one of the best things you can do when you travel somewhere new.
Drink Tours in Charleston, SC
We had SO much fun on our Speakeasy Prohibition Walking Tour. If you’ve never tried a drink tour NOW is the time to do it! This was my favorite thing to do during our weekend in Charleston.
It was a great way to learn about the rich history of Charleston while exploring a few different pubs and enjoying really great cocktails.
Your tour guide will share interesting insights about the history of Charleston while you visit a few different places. Below are 3 fun drink tours for sampling cocktails or beers at a variety of awesome places. The tours last 2 hours and you have enough time to enjoy one drink at each stop.
Beaches in Charleston, SC
Beach Weekend in Charleston SC
One of the reasons why I love Charleston so much is because there are so many different things to do. I feel like you can have it ALL here.
If you’re looking to get out of the city and find some cheap things to do in Charleston then I’d suggest a beach day. There are some pretty cool nearby SC beaches where you can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean.
In the surrounding area, not far from the heart of historic Charleston, are 3 awesome South Carolina beaches.
TIP: Street parking is very limited so you will probably have to pay to park in a parking lot if you don't want to walk.
Folly public beach is the closest beach to downtown Charleston. The small town of Folly Beach is adorable and it’s filled with some of the best restaurants.
GREAT NEWS: This public beach is very clean and has public restrooms and outdoor showers. It’s a perfect beach town for family fun!
Check out the East Coast’s second-largest fishing pier. Hopefully, you will see bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles when you are on Folly Island.
Restaurants in Folly Beach:
There are several restaurants that have great food and fun live music. I got my first real taste of Charleston at a delicious seafood restaurant The Folly Beach Crab Shack. It was some of the best seafood I’ve ever had!
FUN THINGS TO DO:
- Morris Island Lighthouse
- Live Music & Entertainment
- Ride Bikes
- Folly Beach Pier
- Boat Tours
FUN FACT: Folly Beach is also known as the "edge of America".
Sullivan’s Island area is one of the best ways to spend warm days by enjoying the perfect water temperatures. Located in Charleston Harbor, it’s known to have wide beaches, water sports, great local restaurants, and shopping. This beach is tiny but mighty at only 3.3 miles.
FUN THINGS TO DO:
Can’t decide between Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island Beach? Check out this cool 4-hour tour that takes you to BOTH! You will get round-trip transportation from the Charleston Visitors Center to see 2 beaches, 2 lighthouses, and forts.
Isle of Palms
The Isle of Palms Beach is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. The island lifestyle can be laid back or as active as you’d like. It’s a great spot to relax on the sandy shores and listen to the beach waves.
FUN THINGS TO DO:
- Cypress Gardens
Things to Do at Night in Charleston, SC
There are lots of things to do in Charleston during the day but the entertainment doesn’t stop there! Here are a few suggestions for fun things to do at night in Charleston, South Carolina.
The original improv skits can be seen on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The audience can participate in shouting out suggestions, but don’t worry you won’t be heckled or included in the show.
Tickets will sell out so make sure you get yours in advance!
LOCATION: 280 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
The Riviera Theater is a really great theater in the heart of Charleston that has live music and comedy shows.
Tickets in this small theater will sell out quickly so make sure you go online and get yours in advance!
Taking a ghost tour has become more popular and Charleston has several options for you. Honestly, I’m not into ghosts but I did a “dark side tour” when I was in Philadelphia, PA and it was really interesting.
They told you about the parts of the city’s history that aren’t very pretty. These types of walking tours are typically limited to adults only and last approximately 1 – 1.5 hours.
Haunted Pub Crawl
If you love haunted tours AND pubs then here are some Charleston nighttime activities for you!
You will spend 2 hours walking to popular tourist destinations, hearing stories about Charleston’s grim history, and of course, stopping at 4 different pubs to grab some drinks. This is a fun evening tour to get a drink and learn some history.
Where to Stay on your Weekend in Charleston
If you opted not to have a car then you definitely want to stay in the downtown area. Keep in mind that this is the most expensive area to stay in. It might actually be more cost-effective to stay outside of the downtown area and rent a car to get around for the weekend in Charleston.
I live near Atlanta, Georgia so it was only a 5 hour road trip. As a Hilton Honors member, I was able to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront/Downtown Charleston for FREE. It was beautiful and about 10 minutes from the downtown area. The free shuttle is available at many of the hotels so make sure you check that out before you book!
There are TONS of other hotel options all around Charleston. Depending on your budget, you can find a boutique hotel or stay at one of the amazing luxury hotels. Just make sure you read 5 Things You Need to Know When Finding a Hotel before you finalize your selection.
Day Trips From Charleston, SC
There are tons of things to do in Charleston, SC but there are also some pretty cool full-day trips if you have more time on your Charleston vacation.
Angel Oak Tree
LOCATION: 6617 Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
Get ready for one of the biggest live oak trees you’ve ever seen! It might sound like an odd tourist attraction, but seeing the famous Angel Oak Tree is the #1 thing to do on John’s Island.
It’s FREE and it’s unique so if you want to venture out about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston then add this fun day trip to your itinerary!
Charleston Tea Garden
LOCATION: 6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
Visiting Angel Oak Tree doesn’t take very long so you might want to also visit the #1 thing to do on Wadmalaw Island while you are in the area. Visiting the Charleston Tea Garden is a fun and educational experience. The best part is both of these attractions are FREE to visit on your own. Horray for cheap things to do in Charleston!
If you like tea then you will LOVE checking out the 127 acres of tea plants, visiting the tea factory, and enjoying a complimentary tea tasting at the Charleston Tea Plantation!
COMBINATION TICKET: Angel Oak Tree, Wadmalaw Island Wine Tasting, and Tea Garden Trip
If you’re looking for transportation from Charleston, with a guided tour, then this combination 1/2 day tour is a PERFECT option! You will get to see Angel Oak, drink all the tea you want with your trolley ride, get a factory tour at the Charleston Tea Garden, and wine taste at Deep Water Vineyard.
Visit a Plantation
There are a few options to visit plantations in Charleston, but the most popular tour to experience living history is at the Magnolia Plantation.
This unique 1/2-day experience includes a 45-minute house tour and a 45-minute garden tour. The gardens are AMAZING! This tour is a “must-see” on your Charleston itinerary.
Great news, transportation to/from Charleston and the plantation is included!
PRO TIP: Make sure you get your tickets early because they are likely to sell out.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
DISTANCE: Myrtle Beach is a 2-hour drive from Charleston, SC
I’m not denying that Charleston is an expensive place to visit. If you are on a tight budget you can fly in/out of the Myrtle Beach airport to save money.
While you are there, you can take advantage of all the cheap and free things to do in Myrtle Beach. From there, you can take a 1 or 2-day trip to Charleston since it’s only 2 hours away.
Get Your Guide has a really great full-day trip from Myrtle Beach to Charleston with all your transportation and tours included!
FUN FACT: Charleston is located between Myrtle Beach, SC and Savannah, GA.
DISTANCE: Savannah, Georgia is a 2+ hour drive from Charleston, SC.
Can’t get enough of that southern charm? Savannah is a great southern city with beautiful historic buildings, rich history, and some of the best restaurants in the south.
It has a similar southern vibe but without the Charleston price tag. You won’t be disappointed by adding it to your Charleston weekend itinerary.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Charleston walkable?
Downtown Charleston is definitely walkable! Make sure you pack comfortable shoes to navigate the cobblestone streets.
If you want to explore some of the other amazing attractions outside of the downtown area then you can use the bus, Uber, or rent a car.
I’ll warn you that I found it hard to see when I was walking at night because the old sidewalks are very uneven and they don’t have much lighting.
Charleston is a very safe place to explore at night, but I LOVE having this tiny high-powered flashlight for safety when I travel.
Which is better Charleston or Savannah?
Charleston vs Savannah
While both locations have that great southern charm…
BIGGEST PRO: In my opinion, Charleston is better than Savannah simply because it has so many more options for things to do.
BIGGEST CON: Charleston is more expensive than Savannah, (but I think it’s worth it)!
Is a weeked in Charleston enough to see everything?
As I’ve said a bunch of times now, there are TONS of things to do in Charleston, SC. You’re probably wondering, “Are 2 days enough to see Charleston”?
We spent 2 days in Charleston, but I really wish we had more time.
You can hit the “must-see” attractions in a long weekend trip, but if you can spend a week in Charleston, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
If you liked An Epic Weekend in Charleston South Carolina, then you might also want to read 10 Unforgettable Things You Need to Do in Savannah Georgia.
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LET’S CONNECT: I’ve given you more than enough things to do for a weekend in Charleston. How long do you plan on staying in Charleston, South Carolina? Comment below!