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Things To See and Do in Charleston, South Carolina

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Charleston is one of those rare places where you can spend an entire week and only see a small percentage of all the cool places and attractions.

Whether you are interested in the historical sites, the plantations and gardens, or the beaches, there is something for everyone in Charleston.

We were only able to go to Charleston for three days, so we crammed in as much as possible in that short time period. We stayed in the heart of the historic district at Belmond Charleston Place.

The Charleston Place Hotel

Things to Do in Charleston’s Historic District

It was an easy walk to the famous Charleston City Market. The City Market was first established in 1807. With over 300 vendors, it’s a great place to find some unique artwork and lots of cool keepsakes and souvenirs to take back home with you.

Charleston City Market

The City Market will keep you busy for quite a while and there are plenty of other interesting things to see and do within walking distance from there. One thing on our MUST SEE list was Rainbow Row. It was originally built in the 1700s.

It began with 13 town houses but the buildings were used for different purposes over the years. When they eventually began to deteriorate a preservationist saved them and restored them to the originally glory with their unique pastel colors.

In 1931Rainbow Row officially became a historic landmark. It’s much more than a row of colorful houses. It is a symbol of Charleston’s rich history and charm.

Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC

We also walked over to The Battery at Cannon Park. The park is almost three aces on a peninsula where you can look over and see Fort Sumpter.

It has beautiful live oaks in the middle, really cool statues, and some large cannons that were used in the defense of Fort Sumpter.

After that, we seeked out the famous Pineapple Fountain. The pineapple fountain at Riley Waterfront Park is not actually historic. It was brought in in 1990.

However, as you will find out on many guided tours of Charleston, pineapples are symbolic of Southern legends in Charleston. When sea captains came home from long voyages they would display an impaled pineapple on their fence posts (typically wrought iron) to let all the neighbors know they had returned.

The Pineapple Fountain at Riley Waterfront Park in Charleston

Many tours are available in Charleston. We chose to do a horse and carriage tour with Palmetto Carriage Works. They offer historical tours, evening haunted tours, and combo tours.

The one we did was a regular historical tour. It was very informational about the history of Charleston and the customs and culture of the time. There was lots of information about the architecture, the wrought iron fences, etc.

carriage ride tour in Charleston, SC

During our tour we learned that much of Charleston is built on top of mass graves and is considered by many to be haunted. In the evenings there are lots of haunted history tours.

You can choose to tour in a carriage or by foot. Ghosts aren’t really our thing, so we didn’t engage in any of those tours. We decided to visit some of the famous plantations and historical sites instead.

Charleston Plantations and Historical Sites

If you don’t have time to go to all of them, these are the top four historical sites you absolutely must visit. They are all very worthwhile.

  1. Middleton Place – Middleton Place is absolutely beautiful. There are over 100 acres including gorgeous gardens, stable yards, and the house museum. It is a sight to behold as you watch sheep grazing on the grounds. The gardens are unbelievable and we also saw many live alligators swimming in the waters as we strolled around the walking paths.
  2. Magnolia Plantation – The beautiful gardens at Magnolia Plantation are jaw dropping. There are 66 acres including some landscapes that have been growing for nearly 200 years. You’ll see majestic live oaks and romantic bridges you can cross. There is also a really cute petting zoo that the children will love. This one is highly recommended.
  3. Cypress Gardens – If you want to take some beautiful pictures you need to go to Cypress Gardens. There are miles of garden trails, greenhouses full of butterflies, and beautiful flowers everywhere.
  4. Drayton Hall – If you are a historical buff, Drayton Hall is for you. It’s America’s oldest unrestored plantation.
  5. Boone Hall Plantation – Boone Hall provides a nice combination of beautiful gardens and historic information. Guided house tours are available as well as exhibits of the cabins that used to be occupied by the enslaved.

live oaks at a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina
Majestic Live Oaks at a Charleston Plantation
sheep grazing at Middleton Place in South Carolina
Sheep grazing at Middleton Place
a romantic bridge at Magnolia Plantation
A romantic bridge at Magnolia Plantation

Is Folly Beach Worthwhile?

My rule of thumb is “if there is a beach near you, you go to it at least once”. I’ve been to lots of beaches and I’ve got to say, Folly is not one of the nicer ones. The sand is dark and the water is dark.

The beaches are very hard and flat. We saw the Folly Beach Fishing Pier and searched for sea shells up and down the shoreline.

What IS neat about Folly Beach is the cool little beach town. It is very charming with some nice little restaurants and souvenir shops. There’s a really good coffee and ice cream shop that makes great milk shakes.

Southern Charm Locations in Charleston

After we left Folly Beach we didn’t have a whole lot of time left in our trip. My wife is a big fan of the Bravo show Southern Charm, so we spent some time looking for Patricia’s house and a few other locations from the tv show.

If you’re interested in that sort of thing there are several places you can visit that you will recognize from the show. Patricia Altschul’s house (mansion) can be found in Charleson’s Battery.

King Street is a popular shopping and dining destination that has been featured on Southern Charm many times. Several Southern Charm cast member have businesses there including Craig Conover’s Sewing Down South. Leva Conaparte’s Republic Garden & Lounge is also on King Street. Sullivan’s Island also contains a few places seen on the show including Home Team BBQ and Poe’s Tavern.

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