Our Charleston Visitor's Guide is packed full of fun Charleston SC Attractions. Charleston is one of the most historic cities in the United States and boasts over 1400 significantly historic buildings. You can shop at the Old City Market, tour historic homes and antebellum mansions or visit 17th century plantations.
The Old City Market is one of the most visited places in Charleston. You may here people refer to it as the “slave market” but no slaves were ever bought or sold here. This was actually the market where slaves bought things like meat, vegetables and seafood for the plantation. Today visitors and residents flock to the market to buy souvenirs, crafts, woven baskets, jewelry, clothing, sweets, and artwork to name a few. Take a stroll through the market to experience Southern charm or to just people watch. If you get hungry while you are shopping, there are numerous restaurants around the market. In 2011 the market underwent a five million dollar renovation and now part of it is air conditioned. The market is opened 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day) and operates from 9:30am - 5:30pm daily. From March - December the market is open until 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Street parking is available around the market.
The house was originally built by John Robinson in 1820 and then sold to William Aiken Sr. in 1827. Aiken died a few years later and the house was left to his son William Aiken Jr. who was the former Governor of South Carolina from 1844 -1846. William Aiken Jr. renovated and expanded the house in the 1850’s. The house was passed down and remained in the family for 142 years until it was bought by the Charleston Museum and opened as a house museum in 1975. The Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the House in 1995. Much of the original style of the house has been preserved and it is one of the few houses that has not been restored. You will see the original wallpaper, original paint colors, and some original furnishings. In the back of the house, the slave quarters, kitchen and yard remain as they were when the original occupants lived here. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door. You can also purchase combo tickets for the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House for $18. Allow 2-3 hours to tour the house, slave quarters and kitchen.
The house was built in 1808 by Nathaniel Russell, one of Charleston’s wealthiest merchants. The antebellum townhouse is located in Downtown Charleston a few blocks from the Battery. The Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the National Historic Landmark in 1955. The Foundation began restoring the house in 1995, and the interior now reflects the way it looked in the early 1800’s furnished with fine and decorative arts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The house is best known for its “free-flying” staircase that spirals up three stories with no visible supports. When you visit, you will learn about the Russell family and the enslaved African Americans who were responsible for maintaining this antebellum townhouse. An exhibition in the original kitchen displays artifacts found during an archaeological dig on the site. After touring the house and kitchen, you can take a stroll through the formal gardens. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door. You can also purchase combo tickets for the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House for $18. Allow 2 hours to tour the house, kitchen, and gardens.
The Calhoun Mansion was built in 1876 and has been called one of the greatest post-Civil War houses on the Eastern Seaboard. The Calhoun Mansion is the largest single family residence in Charleston. It has 35 rooms, a grand ballroom, Japanese water garden, 23 period fireplaces, 75 foot high domed stairhall ceiling, khoi ponds, private elevator, a music room with a 45 foot covered glass skylight, and three levels of piazzas. Before you tour this house, please be advised that this is a private residence and the entire house is not included in the regular tour. The admission is $16 and you should allow about 30 minutes to tour the house. Tickets may be purchased the day of the tour in the Museum shop which is located up the rear stairs to the Mansion. A grand tour is offered for $75 and it includes the entire mansion but you must make reservations in advance.
The Edmonston-Alston House was one of the first houses built on the Battery in 1825 by Charles Edmonston, a merchant and wharf owner. Edmonston later sold it to Charles Alston, a lowcountry rice planter. General Beauregard watched the bombing of Fort Sumter from this house on April 12, 1861 signalling the start of the Civil War. Later the same year, General Robert E Lee sought refuge in the house when his uptown hotel caught fire.The house is still owned by the Alston family and the first two floors are open for guided tours. The house is one of the few house museums to contain original family furnishings not reproductions or period pieces. You will also find books, silver and paintings. Admission is $12 and you should allow about an hour to view the house and take pictures. Tickets to the Edmonston-Alston House may be purchased online or at the door.
The house was built in 1772 by Thomas Heyward Jr., one of the signers of the declaration of Independence. The city rented the house from Heyward for President George Washington’s week long stay in Charleston in May 1791. The home is furnished with period pieces and the original kitchen is still present and open to the public. You can also tour the formal gardens featuring plants commonly used in the South Carolina lowcountry in the 18th century. Admission is $12 for the Heyward Washington House and tickets can be purchased at the door or online. If you plan on visiting the Charleston Museum or the Joseph Manigault House you can buy combo tickets and save money. A combo ticket for 2 sites will be $18 (a savings of $6) and a combo ticket for 3 sites will $28 (a savings of $8). Allow about an hour to tour the house and gardens.
The Joseph Manigualt house was built in 1803 and was designed by Joseph’s brother Gabriel who also designed Charleston’s current City Hall. Joseph was a wealthy rice planter who inherited several rice plantations and over two hundred slaves from his grandfather. Joseph also married into a family with lots of money. His wife's father was Arthur Middleton who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As you enter the house, you will encounter a magnificent “flying” staircase in the hall and the interior of the house boasts an exceptional collection of American, English and French period furnishings. Admission is $12 for the Joseph Manigualt House and tickets can be purchased at the door or online. If you plan on visiting the Charleston Museum or the Heyward-Washington House, you can buy combo tickets and save money. A combo ticket for 2 sites will be $18 (a savings of $6) and a combo ticket for 3 sites will $28 (a savings of $8). Allow about 30 minutes to tour the house.
Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 by Major John Boone and purchased by the McRae family in 1955. The Plantation is one of America’s oldest working, living plantations. They have been continuously growing and producing crops for three centuries. As you enter Boone Hall Plantation, you will travel down the avenue of oaks. The oaks are over two centuries old and they are draped in Spanish moss. This is one of the most picturesque spots on the plantation. The Georgian designed house on the plantation was built in 1936 and guided tours of the first floor showcase what a house would have looked like back in the 18th century. One of the most unique features of the plantation are the eight original slave cabins on the property. The cabins have artifacts and audio exhibits that help depict the aspects of daily life for the slaves on the plantation. In addition to the house tour and the slave cabins, you can also take a 40 minute ride around the plantation in an open air coach, and then take a self guided garden tour that showcases the beautiful roses that are over 100 years old. Admission is $24 and you should allow about 3 hours to view everything on the plantation. There are a number of special events that take place at Boone Hall each year that effect the normal plantation tour operations so you should always visit the plantations website and check the calendar of events before planning a visit.
The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was founded in 1676 by the Drayton Family. This is the oldest tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public gardens in America. The Drayton family home dates back to 1873 and is the third home on the site. The two former homes were destroyed by fire during a raid on Union troops. The plantation has remained in the same family for three centuries. Ten rooms of the house are open to the public and the house is furnished with early American antiques, porcelain, quilts and other Drayton family heirlooms. Basic garden admission is $15 and gives you access to the historic gardens, petting zoo, conservatory, theater, Peacock Cafe, Old African American Cabin and gift shop. Additional paid guided tours include plantation house tour, nature train, nature boat, slavery to freedom tour, and the self guided Audubon Swamp Garden tour. Each tour is an additional $8 or you can purchase an all inclusive pass for $47 a person. You should allow about 4-5 hours if you plan on doing everything.
Middleton Place is an 18th century rice plantation comprised of 65 acres and birthplace to Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The plantation is now a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as the gentlemen’s guest quarters and is the only structure still standing of the original three building residential complex. The buildings were all burned by Union troops two months before the end of the Civil War. The building that is still present today was the least burned and was restored to provide living quarters for the family. The house tour gives you insight into the Middleton family and the slaves that helped maintain the plantation. General admission is $28 to the plantation stable yards and gardens and admission to the museum house tour is an additional $15. The plantation has a very good restaurant and an Inn with 55 rooms on the property. Allow about two hours to tour the house and gardens.
Drayton Hall is one of the only pre-Revolutionary houses that remain in close original condition and one of the oldest surviving plantations. The plantation was built in 1738 and owned by the Drayton family until it was sold to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974. When you visit Drayton Hall you will learn about the Drayton family along with the seven generations of the Bowen family that were brought to Drayton Hall as slaves. When you visit, be advised that the house looks much the way it did in the early years and it is displayed unfurnished. While at the plantation, you can visit one of the oldest African American Cemeteries still in use. Admission is $22 and you should allow about 2 hours to tour the house, the yard and the cemetery.
The Charleston Tea plantation, originally a 127 acre potato farm, is a living piece of American History. In the 1700’s the Camellia Sinensis plant first arrived in the United States from China. Over the next 150 years, many unsuccessful attempts were made to propagate this plant and produce tea. In 1888, Dr. Charles Shephard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, SC and for the first time, tea was being grown in the United States. Dr. Shephard died in 1915 but the tea continued to grow wild for the next 48 years on the Pinehurst Tea Plantation. In 1963, the tea plants were transplanted to the Charleston Tea Plantation. Today when you visit the Charleston Tea Plantation you can take a factory tour and learn about the history of tea, take a scenic trolley ride around the 127 acre farm, stroll around the grounds, and visit the gift shop. The Plantation also has a picnic area with picnic tables. Admission is free but the trolley ride is $10 and you should allow about an hour and a half to tour the plantation.
CYPRESS GARDENS IS CLOSED INDEFINITELY DUE TO FLOOD DAMAGE
Cypress Gardens is a 163 acre swamp garden located about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston in Moncks Corner. The gardens were originally used as a freshwater reserve for the nearby rice plantation, Dean Hall. When you visit the gardens, you can visit the Butterfly House where you can observe the different stages of a butterflies life cycle or you can visit the Swamparium where large tanks feature fish, amphibians and reptiles native to the South Carolina Lowcountry. You can also use a swamp boat to paddle along a marked trail looking for alligators, birds and turtles or take a stroll along the 3.5 miles of walking trails that loop through the swamp and gardens. These amazing gardens were used in filming scenes from the The Notebook, Cold Mountain and The Patriot. Admission is $10 and you should allow an hour and a half to two hours to tour the gardens.
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is located on about 28 acres of land that was formerly Snee Farms. Snee Farms was a 715 acre rice plantation that Charles Pinckney inherited from his father in 1782. Charles Pinckney was one of four representatives from South Carolina that attended the Constitutional Convention and also served four terms as South Carolina’s Governor. None of the original structures remain from when Pinckney lived on Snee Farms. The current structure is an 1820’s cottage built of local cypress and pine. Exhibits give insight into Charles Pinckney, his role into the development of the Constitution, his plantation, and the changing role slavery had on the country. Admission is free and you should allow about an hour to view the exhibits and walk on the trail.
Charleston is a beautiful, charming city which dates back to the late 1600’s and contains many Historic Churches. The majestic steeples and spires are visible throughout the city. Regardless of religious affiliation or denomination, these beautiful buildings inspire millions of visitors every year. You can see many of these churches by taking narrated walking and carriage tours but if you wish to see them on your own, here is the list of Charleston SC Historic Churches.