A guide to the best Charleston SC Attractions. Visit the site where the Civil War began, stroll through the historic City Market, or bike across the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
When you visit Charleston, the list of things to do is almost endless. Visitors can view over 5,000 aquatic animals at the Charleston Aquarium, take a boat ride to Fort Sumter, or shop for souvenirs at the historic City Market.
The Charleston Aquarium is located on the Charleston Harbor at Aquarium Wharf. The aquarium has over 10,000 aquatic animals from across the state of South Carolina with 60 displays and exhibits along with a touch tank that allows you to interact with star fish and horseshoe crab. As you enter the aquarium you will see The Great Ocean Tank which holds over 385,000 gallons of water and 10,000 species of marine life. From my experience, the aquarium is usually a very fun place for small children and adults but it may not be as exciting for older kids and teens. The staff and volunteers are friendly and helpful and the aquarium is fairly small so you can view all the exhibits in about an hour. Admission is about $25 for adults and $18 for children, and for an additional fee you can watch a movie in the 4-D theater or tour the hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. I highly recommend buying advanced online tickets to avoid waiting in long ticket lines or missing the hospital tour which often sells out early. The aquarium also has a gift shop and a cafe that serves pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, chips, and cold drinks. A deck that projects out over the Copper River provides awesome views of boats and dolphins in the Charleston Harbor. You can park in the city parking garage at 24 Calhoun St for $2 an hour or metered parking is offered along Washington St and Concord St. The CARTA Dash Trolley also stops at the aquarium.
On April 12th, 1861 the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter which led to the outbreak of America’s bloodiest war. Fort Sumter is a historic, interesting place to visit and is only accessible by taking a 30 minute boat ride through the Charleston Harbor. Once you arrive at the fort, you will learn about the major events which led to the outbreak of the American Civil War. At Fort Sumter National Park, historians will provide detailed information about Fort Sumter and its pivotal role in the War between the States. There is a museum with fascinating exhibits and a small gift shop for your enjoyment. After one hour at the Charleston Fort, you will cruise back to port, enjoying panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Charleston's bustling harbor. The Fort is quite large and requires a significant amount of walking and climbing stairs so make sure you wear a comfortable pair of shoes. You should allow a minimum of one hour travel time and another hour to tour the fort. I highly recommend buying tickets in advance either online or at the departure locations. Fort Sumter Tours departs from Liberty Square next to the Charleston Aquarium and also from Patriots Point Maritime Museum. Admission is $20 for adults and $12 for children.
Fort Moultrie is accessible by driving to Sullivan’s Island. It is not as big as Fort Sumter but it’s still an interesting place to visit if you are a history buff. The fort has a visitors center that shows a short film and features a small museum detailing Moultrie's history. For a small fee, you can then tour the fort itself as five different sections of Moultrie are preserved to look as they did in five different historical eras. Fort Moultrie is not as popular as Fort Sumter so you will not have to deal with the large crowds. Admission is $3 for adults and children get in free.
Old City Market
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 Cooper River Bridge also called the Arthur Ravenel Bridge is an eight lane cable-stayed bridge over the Cooper River connecting downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant. The bridge opened in 2005 and is the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. The bridge has a bike and pedestrian lane and parking is available on either side of the bridge. If you want to walk or ride your bike on the bridge, my suggestion is to park on the Mount Pleasant side and walk or ride to the halfway point and back. This will take you to the highest span on the bridge and give you the chance to take some really awesome pictures. If you have time, there is a really nice park on the Mount Pleasant side called Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. It offers really good views of the bridge from below.