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10 Not To Be Missed Activities in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina has been around since 1680. It is a pre-planned city with wide streets creating fire breaks, something learned from the Great London Fire of 1666. At one point it was the fourth largest city in America. Now it’s the 227th largest.

Other interesting facts about Charleston – all gleaned from the marvelous Tommy Dew walking tour; it was the number one slave trading place until 1808 when the slave trade ended. Rice and cotton were the two biggest crops grown on the plantations with some tobacco and indigo thrown in for good measure. And for 15 years in a row Charleston has been named the Number One Mannered City in America.

Here are what I think are 10 not to be missed activities in Charleston, South Carolina.

1. Walk the Battery

This walk starts in the heart of Charleston’s historic district by the pineapple fountain at Waterfront Park. Look one way to enjoy the beautiful mansions, and the other to take in the view of Charleston Harbor.

"Walking along the East Battery beside the Cooper River"

Walking along the East Battery beside the Cooper River

2. Head to Sullivan’s Island and walk the beaches.

Don’t miss a trip to Sullivan’s Island, just a 15 minute drive by car from the historic district. You can spend hours walking the extremely clean beaches while keeping an eye out for birds, dolphins and people. And if you’re into forts, explore the grounds of Fort Moultrie.

Once you’ve had enough of the beach, head for the hopping Poe’s Tavern, founded to preserve the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe. You can’t miss it on Sullivan Island’s main street.

"Watching the world go by from the beach on Sullivan's Island"

Watching the world go by from the beach on Sullivan’s Island

"Lots of bird, dolphin and people activity while walking the miles of beach"

Lots of bird, dolphin and people activity while walking the miles of beach

"Walking the beaches on Sullivan's Island - though much of the water is out of bounds because of currents and riptides"

Walking the beaches on Sullivan’s Island – though much of the water is out of bounds because of currents and riptides

3. Learn the history of Charleston with a Tommy Dew walking tour.

Tommy Dew is the equivalent of a walking, talking history book. For $25 he’ll take you on an easy walking tour of the historic downtown, beginning at the market and ending on the waterfront. It’s interesting and entertaining, a tour you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Fire away with your questions and you’ll get thoughtful answers.

"Tommy Dew in action"

Tommy Dew in action

4. Take a Garden or House Tour

Every year the Historic Charleston Foundation runs a series of house and garden tours. We did the garden tour – which took us behind the front gate of eight historic properties (unfortunately no photos are allowed). You’re given a wristband as your ticket to enter, and then, at your own pace, you walk from house to house over a three hour period. Finish with a class of wine at the main building on Meeting Street. Tours began on March 22nd this year and end on April 21st. If you miss this year, don’t worry – they’ve been going on for 65 years.

"Passion flower in bloom in April"

Passion flower in bloom in April

"Colourful hat sported by one of the docents on the garden tour"

Colourful hat sported by one of the docents on the garden tour

5. Wander the Streets in the Historical District

You could wander the streets and admire the architecture for hours in Charleston’s historic district. Do make sure you allow yourself enough time to get lost on some of the cobbled back streets of the city.

"Exploring the streets in the historical district"

Exploring the streets in the historical district

"Shady streets of historic Charleston"

‘Shady streets of historic Charleston

7. Kayak to Botany Beach and Watch for Dolphins

Have you had enough of poking around downtown and you want to do something a little different? Then call up Sea Kayak Carolina and ask if you can join them on a paddle. We were lucky to connect with them on a delightful mid-afternoon kayak to the uninhabited Botany Island. We had enough time on the island to walk and explore the beaches, followed by an hour’s paddle back – and all for only $3o per person. You can count on seeing lots of dolphins, and if you’re really lucky, a spotted ray.

The drive to the kayak launch is worthwhile in itself – it takes you past tea plantations and down country roads that have a lot of character.

"Botany Island is an important nesting area for loggerhead turtles"

Botany Island is an important nesting area for loggerhead turtles

"Loads of dolphins around Botany Island"

Loads of dolphins around Botany Island

"Pretty roads on the drive to the kayak launch"

Pretty roads on the drive to the kayak launch

8. Visit Charleston City Market and Window Shop on King Street

The Charleston City Market is worth a quick wander through, though much of what was on offer was pretty touristy. I thought some of the artwork looked interesting – especially the handwoven sweet grass baskets (you can watch them work), and I always love to check out the local foods for sale.

"Dried okra anyone?"

Dried okra anyone?

"Flowers made from sweet grass"

Flowers made from sweet grass

King Street has loads of beautiful shops and galleries – just wish I’d had more time for browsing. Every second Sunday, King Street closes to cars, making it especially nice for walking.

9. Have a Roof Top Drink at the Vendue Inn

Arrive early if you want to nab a prime spot with a view on the roof of the Vendue Inn. If you happen to stay at the inn, you don’t have to wait in line. Be sure to bring a sweater because it’s windy and much chillier up there.

10. Dine Very Well

Charleston has become a foodie town with many delicious offerings. We all had an excellent dinner at Magnolias and though noisy, Pearlz Oyster Bar. Blossoms was fine but not memorable. Do make reservations unless you’re okay with dining at 9 pm.

And be aware of portion sizes – they’re huge. Consider splitting dishes if you don’t want to pack on the pounds.

"Alligator for those more adventurous than me"

Alligator for those more adventurous than me

Other Things to do in Charleston

  • Take a low country cooking class.
  • Ride in a horse drawn carriage. Palmetto Tours offer some of the best, at least according to CNN, and they sampled the lot.
  • Visit a plantation. One friend suggests visiting Middleton Place over the overgrown Magnolia and Drayton Hall Plantations.
  • Take a ferry ride over to Fort Sumter.
  • Visit the South Carolina aquarium, home to several shark species, sea turtles and an albino alligator.
  • Take a tour of historical houses – for example the Heyward-Washington House or the Joseph Manigault House.

Do you have any other not to be missed activities in Charleston, South Carolina?

Leigh McAdam


Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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