All Articles 15 fun and unique things you can only do in Charleston, South Carolina

15 fun and unique things you can only do in Charleston, South Carolina

Southern charm, custom hats, hip Lowcountry cooking and plenty of ghosts.

Janis MVK
By Janis MVK23 Apr 2024 5 minutes read
Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina
Church Street in Charleston, SC
Image: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Charleston is topping many travelers' lists for a reason right now. The always charming city is booming with new restaurants and shops with cuisine and local goods you won't see anywhere else.

Whether it’s immersing yourself in the city’s rich history or designing a custom hat that everyone will drool over back at home, there are plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Charleston, SC. Entertaining tourists and residents alike, Charleston offers plenty of fodder for an itinerary packed with things you just can't do anywhere else.

1. Spend a day on Sullivan’s Island with the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe

Panoramic view of Sullivan’s Island coast
Panoramic view of Sullivan’s Island coast
Image: Derek Slagle/Getty Images

The backdrop of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Gold-Bug,” Sullivan's Island was also the author’s home while he was stationed at Fort Moultrie.

As Poe describes the island in his story: “The island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime…”

Today there is a bit more to recommend it. It's also home to the Charleston Light, a unique, modernist lighthouse that’s been guiding mariners into the harbor since it was built in the ‘60s. Away from the city bustle, spend the day lounging or kiteboarding—and afterwards saddle up at Poe’s Tavern, a local watering hole just off the beach where the walls are plastered in images of the famous storyteller's likeness.

2. Make your own custom hat

Custom hat making bars are popping up all over historic downtown Charleston. Marsh & Magnolia offers both felt and straw hats that you can have fitted to your head and customized in their gorgeous shop. Or book an appointment at Southern Ruetz where they'll hand you a drink and help you imagine the perfect design. Many of their elements and patterns comes from local vintage shops and markets. Everything in these hat bars is one of a kind and the experience is great for groups and couples.

3. Snap your Charleston ‘gram

Colorful buildings on Rainbow Row in Charleston
Colorful buildings on Rainbow Row in Charleston
Image: debi W/Tripadvisor

There are two main spots to visit if you’re on the hunt for perfect pictures that you can only take in Charleston. Start at Waterfront Park, a local fixture known for its spunky pineapple fountain. Overlooking Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River, it has 1,000 feet of coastline, making it the perfect place to people-watch (and also pelican-watch). Then, head to the famous Rainbow Row. There, more than a dozen historic homes have been restored and painted in a beautiful array of pastel hues that make for the perfect backdrop.

4. Say boo(ze) on a haunted walking tour

Want to take a historic walking tour of Charleston with a spooky twist? These old cobblestone streets have stories to tell. With Nightly Spirits, a pirate guide—yes, you read that right—takes your group on a two-and-a-half-hour walking tour that begins and ends at a bar. You’ll get to imbibe libations while learning about the city’s most famous haunted tales.

5. Take a ferry ride to Fort Sumter

Known as the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, Fort Sumter National Monument is a must-visit for history buffs. Starting with a relaxing ferry ride, where you may even spot a dolphin or two. Once you get to the fort itself, explore its thick stone caverns and Civil War-era cannons. Be sure to stop by the fort’s small yet informative museum; the knowledgeable volunteer guides there are well-equipped to answer all your questions.

6. Get a taste of the South in a small-batch distillery

Wall of whiskey and gin at High Wire Distilling Co.
Wall of whiskey and gin at High Wire Distilling Co.
Image: dgbg100106/Tripadvisor

For almost a decade, High Wire Distilling Co. has been serving its award-winning drinks to tourists and locals alike. Be sure to try cocktails featuring the house-made Hat Trick gin and New Southern Revival whiskey. If you have time, tour the distillery and witness the entire distillation process, from milling and mashing to fermentation and barrel aging. Then, get a front-row seat with a drink in-hand overlooking the production area after taking your tour.

7. Treasure hunt at Charleston City Market

Open every day of the year except December 25, Charleston City Market is a shoppers’ oasis. One of the nation’s oldest public markets, Charleston City Market has more than 300 craftsmen and artisans. From jams, grits, and teas, to sweet-grass baskets, trinkets, and candles, this three-and-a-half-block market is a popular destination. Set in 200-year-old brick market buildings, this shopping sanctuary is surrounded by restaurants to keep you fueled for your adventure. And if you plan on visiting from March to December, there’s live music every weekend.

8. Experience Southern hospitality at French Quarter Inn

View of downtown Charleston from a room at The French Quarter Inn
View of downtown Charleston from a room at The French Quarter Inn
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

The French Quarter Inn, a boutique hotel located right off Market Street in downtown Charleston, gives guests and visitors a taste of the Historic District’s finest. Combining Southern charm with modern touches, this hotel makes you feel right at home with personable touches like a Champagne welcome, warm cookies and milk, turndown service, and a pillow menu.

9. Taste fresh Lowcountry seafood

Seafood spread at 167 Ray Oyster Bar
Seafood spread at 167 Ray Oyster Bar
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

What’s a trip to the coast without fresh seafood? 167 Ray Oyster Bar serves some of the freshest catches that Charleston has to offer. The New England–style oyster bar has seafood sourced from the local waters of Charleston to New Brunswick, Canada, and beyond. Besides the obvious, the oyster bar also serves shrimp, caviar, ceviche, tuna tataki, fish tacos, and po’ boys. No reservations are taken at this pearl of a restaurant, so be prepared for a wait.

10. Visit the Nathaniel Russell House Museum

History buffs, as well as architecture fans, will find the Nathaniel Russell House Museum supremely interesting. This opulent, neoclassical home is recognizable by its spiral staircase, detailed furnishings, and manicured gardens. Be sure to take the guided audio tour of the home, which delves into the lives of the nearly 20 enslaved men and women who lived and worked here in the mid-1800s.

11. Set sail to Morris Island

Morris Island lighthouse
Morris Island lighthouse
Image: Daniela Duncan/Getty Images

Escape the bustle of downtown Charleston with a boat ride to the uninhabited Morris Island with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. The boat cruise is a fun-filled voyage with marine life and lighthouse sightings, inlets, salt marshes, and estuaries. Go shell-seeking at this old battle site or just relax on the 840-acre island.

12. Walk along the Charleston Peninsula at the historic battery

What was once a civil-war coastal defense artillery battery is now a fortified seawall and promenade. The battery is famous for its spectacular views of Fort Sumter, the USS Yorktown, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse. The harbor-side promenade has oyster-shelled pathways and borders White Point Garden, surrounded by oak trees draped in Spanish moss, with a picturesque gazebo.

13. Go all in at tea time

Make a day trip out of the 40-minute drive to Wadmalaw Island, home to the Charleston Tea Garden, the only working tea garden in the U.S. (now part of the Bigelow Tea Company). Book the trolley tour for a highlight reel of the grounds, which opened in 1963, with stops at the greenhouse and factory. Meanwhile, within the Charleston city limits, Camellias, the ultra-Instagrammable pink champagne bar at Hotel Bennett, serves up a stellar afternoon tea on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Expect assorted finger sandwiches, scones, and at least a dozen teas to choose from.

14. Experience Southern culture with a Charleston Harbor Cruise

Charleston Harbor Cruises offer various themed cruises that combine great music with great food on the scenic waters of the Charleston Harbor. The Sunset Blues & BBQ Dinner Cruise features live music from local musicians, a Southern-style BBQ buffet, and close-up views of some of the city’s most famous and charming sights—at sunset no less. See Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, the USS Yorktown, St. Michael’s Church, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, with a state of the art span that accommodates the largest shops in the world, and many of the most stately homes on the Battery.

15. Have a proper drink

Strawberry Fields cocktail at The Gin Joint in Charleston
Strawberry Fields cocktail at The Gin Joint in Charleston
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Ready for a nightcap? The mixologists at The Gin Joint have a lengthy list of handcrafted classic, creative, and seasonal cocktails, as well as bar bites to keep the night going. But we recommend requesting the bartender’s choice. You state two adjectives to describe your craving, which they transform into your ideal treat.

Janis MVK
​​Janis MVK is a content writer and manager, journalist, marketing and communications professional, and a former sales and marketing executive. But first and foremost, she is the mother of two beautiful and intelligent girls. Follow her on Instagram @momumentalthing.