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My Top 4 Things to Do in Charleston, SC

Richard has been to Charleston more than 100 times, and he still manages to find something new to do on every visit.

Battery Park in the City of Charleston, SC

Battery Park in the City of Charleston, SC

My Favorite Things to Do in Charleston, SC

Charleston is the gem of the Low Country and the pride of the Palmetto state. The city was a favorite destination for most of our founding fathers, a final resting place for several signers of the Declaration of Independence, and today, three-and-a-half centuries later, people still come from all over the world to see what she has to offer.

It is truly a gem of a city, and you'll need at least a few days to sample all it has to offer. I've been here a hundred times and find something new each visit. Here are a few of my all-time favorite things to do in Charleston.

Note: You will find more on the history of Charleston at the bottom of this article.

1. Take a Walking Tour

It's worth investing a few dollars to take some of the guided tours that are offered. There is a tour for just about every taste: Pirates, Ghosts, Cemeteries, Churches, Plantations, Gardens, Parks, Museums, and Historical Homes are just a few of the tours you'll find on offer.

If guided tours aren't your cup of tea, you should still consider wandering the city on foot. Walking the city on your own can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, but it's well worth the effort.

I suggest walking the downtown after taking a guided tour or at least after going to the Charleston visitor center so you can purchase a map detailing the sites to see. Before taking off on your walking journey, I recommend planning out the sites you want to see. You should also bring plenty of water and batteries for your cameras.

2. Go Antiquing

As I stated earlier, Charleston is about as old an American city as you will find, so it should come as no surprise that the city is full of antique shops. Most are on King St., but there are others scattered throughout the city. If antiquing is your thing, then Charleston is the place for you.

3. Hit the Water or Grab Your Golf Clubs

If antiquing isn't your thing, Charleston also offers several beaches, and you'll find water parks in the surrounding suburbs. You can also choose from over 30 world-class golf courses or charter a deep-sea fishing experience. This city has it all.

4. Check Out the Nightlife

Charleston has a great nightlife scene. There is plenty to do for all ages and all tastes. Here are just a few things the city has to offer.

  • Live Theater: Charleston is home to the oldest theater in North America. It's called the Dock Street Theater. The building underwent three years of significant renovations and was reopened in March of 2010.
  • Concerts: There are several concert venues all over the city and the suburbs.
  • Restaurants: Every type of cuisine can be found here. There are plenty of guides and reviews online.
  • Pubs and Clubs: Just looking for a good place to hang and have a brew, or would you like to sample some fine wines and liquors? Maybe getting your dance on is what you seek. No matter what you're looking for, you're sure to find it in Charleston.
  • Sporting Events: Besides the Riverdogs minor league baseball team, Joe Riley stadium, and the ECHL Hockey team (the Stingrays), there are also major events like the Ryder Cup Golf and the Woman's Family Circle Tennis.

Tips for Visiting Charleston

  • Explore in the early evening. The best time of day to visit is in the early evening. This part of town is along the waterfront so it's usually a few degrees cooler, but the sun will still take its toll on you. Bring along a water bottle or canteen to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Most of the downtown area has uneven streets, sidewalks, and walkways.
  • Plan your trip in advance. You can't see everything in just two days, so if you're only in Charleston for a short time, it's essential that you decide what you want to see ahead of time. A little online research will give you an idea of costs for tours, restaurants, transportation, and everything else to make a great trip.
  • Take bug spray. There is a lot of standing water, especially in the parks and plantations. And where there is standing water, there are mosquitos, so bring bug spray.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. South Carolina is very hot and humid in the summers.
  • Take sunblock. That summer heat comes along with plenty of summer sun, so staying on top of your skincare is key. Apply plenty of sunblock throughout the day.
  • Check the weather. Hurricane season starts on the first of June and lasts until November, so watch the weather forecasts. Charleston hasn't been hit by a big storm in 20 years (Hugo) and all the locals say, "we're due."
  • Be aware of your surroundings. North Charleston is not the same city as Charleston. It can be a very dangerous place for unsuspecting tourists. Just like visiting any new city, use common sense.
  • Relax and slow down. You're in the South, where things move at a different pace than the rest of the world. Enjoy your time here.

Off the Beaten Path in South Carolina

By planning your trip in advance, you can sometimes find some great things to experience. Try conversing with locals in some travel forums or on social networks. Ask about the things that they do for fun. The locals visit the downtown area often, but they will also tell you that there is a plethora of fun outside the city.

Just recently, a Facebook group of locals organized what they called a Megafloat down the Edisto River. My sister and nieces insisted that I go along with them. I have to admit, it was fun . . . for the first few hours. But they called this the Megafloat for a reason: it lasted seven hours. The river was refreshing and I used some SPF 85 sunblock, which helped a lot. There were hundreds of floaters and all had plenty of beer and spirits to pass around. Below are some photos of my experience.

Blackbeard's treasure is said to be buried somewhere along the shores of Charleston. Care to come search for it?

Blackbeard's treasure is said to be buried somewhere along the shores of Charleston. Care to come search for it?

Charleston History

There aren't many other places in the United States that can claim historical importance like Charleston, which was founded in 1670 on the Charleston peninsula (now known to us as Downtown Charleston). She was one of the biggest ports in the colonial states. Plantations were prosperous and society was high.

Author John Milton Mackie once said of Charleston, South Carolina:

It was pleasant to find an American city not wearing the appearance of having all been built yesterday. The whole town looks picturesquely dingy, and the greater number of buildings have assumed something of the appearance of European antiquity.

The funny thing is, Mackie wrote this in 1864. 145 years later, the same can still be said of Charleston. It's about as old an American city as you'll find.

Charleston was a favorite playground of pirates in the early years, so to combat this, the King of England sanctioned the building of as many churches as the then-walled city could fit. Most of those churches are still here today. Charleston became known as the "Holy City"—a moniker it holds to this day.

The most well-known church is St. Phillips, which is also the tallest church in the city. Charleston is home to one of the few remaining Huguenot congregations in America and also home to Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the fourth oldest Jewish congregation in the continental United States, after New York, Newport, and Savannah.

Charleston is a direct reflection of her inhabitants—a survivor. She was a pivotal player in both the Revolutionary and the Civil War, with the first shot of the Civil War taking place in the Charleston Harbor. The city has survived hurricanes, city-wide fires, earthquakes, and wars, yet she still stands as proud as she ever was.

© 2009 Richard Bivins

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