Planning a vacation to Charleston? Here’s my list of favorite things to do in the Holy City that won’t cost you anything. Enjoy!
1. White Point Garden “The Battery”
If you only have one day in Charleston, make sure you visit White Point Garden. This is a great place to start your trip. Often referred to as “the Battery,” this area is a great place to get your bearings. You can see most of the Charleston harbor from here, including Fort Sumter, Sullivan’s Island, Castle Pinckney, Mount Pleasant, and James Island. You’ll also see some of the grandest and most ornate antebellum houses in Charleston lining East and South Battery Streets. Parking is free for either 2 hours or all day depending on what street you are on (there are signs that will tell you if it’s 2 hours only).
2. Night Market
The markets during the day can overwhelm even the most extroverted person. At night however, the crowds thin out, the temperatures drop, and the souvenir booths have been replaced by local artisans. On Friday and Saturday evenings (March-December), the markets reopen to a more laid back crowd, offering items such as handmade pottery, fiber arts, and paintings by local artists. The night market is free of course, just like during the day, and it’s a great place to stroll after you’ve stuffed yourselves with biscuits, pimento cheese, and shrimp and grits. The market extends along Market Street (go figure) from Meeting Street to East Bay. If you’re craving something sweet, check out Kaminsky’s for coffee and dessert (you may see Bill Murray there, I did!). Or if you truly want to freeload, get a free sample of the super rich pralines at River Street Sweets.
3. Ravenel Bridge
If you like mountains and enjoy hiking, you’ll quickly notice that the Lowcountry is really, really flat. The Ravenel Bridge is a great hike with awesome views of the Charleston skyline and harbor. Start from the Mount Pleasant side and see how far you get. I usually make it to the halfway point, enjoy the views from there, and then hike back down.
4. Walk Along a Cobblestone Street
There are several cobblestone streets in Charleston you can choose from, but I would recommend strolling down Chalmers. Not only is it the longest cobblestone street in Charleston, it’s also the prettiest in my opinion. Check out my self-guided walking tour for history and the best places to photograph.
5. Shem Creek
Mount Pleasant is an easy side trip from peninsular Charleston. Stop off at Shem Creek for some local flavor. Here you’ll see shrimp boats and sweeping views of the marsh landscape and harbor. The pier is a great spot to watch the sunset. There are several restaurants nearby that serve local seafood.
6. Colonial Lake
Located in Harleston Village, Colonial Lake is slightly off the beaten path from your typical touristy areas. This park recently been revitalized by the city with new landscaping and a larger path around the old rice mill pond. On the east side are a row of quintessential Charleston single houses. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
7. Angel Oak
This is one of my favorite places to take family and friends who are visiting from out of town. Located on rural John’s Island, you’ll turn off the main highway onto a dirt road that will lead you to this small city park. Mystery surrounds this old live oak tree, which some claim to be 1,000 years old, others say it is one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi River.
8. Morris Island Lighthouse
This is a hidden treasure. Located off the coast from the eastern end of Folly Beach, today the lighthouse is several hundred feet off shore. It was constructed in 1876, but when the jetties in the Charleston harbor were constructed a decade later, the ocean currents were forever altered causing rapid erosion of Morris Island. Street parking is available at the eastern end of the island, and it’s a short walk to the beach for a view of the lighthouse.
9. Go to Church (and see an 18th century grave, too)
Charleston’s nickname is the “Holy City” because the skyline is punctuated with steeples. Depending on the church and the time of day, you may be able to walk inside and take a free tour. Most churches open their cemeteries for visitors during the weekdays. Some of my favorite churches to visit include St. Michael’s Church, St. Philip’s Church, the Circular Congregational Church (pictured above), and the French Huguenot Church.
10) Visit America’s Only Tea Plantation
The south is famous for sweet tea served over ice. Take a scenic drive to Wadmalaw Island where you can visit a working tea farm. They have samples of both hot and iced tea that is cultivated on site. If you want to spend the day island hopping, check out my tips for a day trip of Kiawah & Wadmalaw Islands.