Top Attractions in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina is one of, if not the best, jewel of the American South. The city often referred to as the “Holy City” because of the number of churches whose steeples dominate the city skyline, is embedded in American history. It was a major port city during the Colonial period and was featured prominently during the Civil War. Today, remnants of its rich history remain and can be seen through the city’s well-preserved architecture, its amazing culinary creations, and its hospitable people. When you do decide to visit, consider these top Charleston attractions in South Carolina.

View from Battery Park
View from Battery Park

South Carolina: Top Charleston Attractions

The Battery

If you wanted to picture what it would have been like to be an audience to one of the country’s busiest ports, head towards the Battery. This area of the city once house a defensive port that was in operation until the late 18th century. Fragments of the sea wall built are still visible today. The area also would have been the core operations center for all maritime trade, which included that of slaves. Today, its streets are lined with gorgeous antebellum homes and parks containing a number of Civil War relic and memorials. The Battery also provides visitors staying in Charleston with plenty of scenic views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse.

top Charleston attractions: Charleston Mansions on The Battery
Mansions on The Battery

Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter National Monument is perched on a small island in Charleston Harbor several miles southwest of the city. It came to be known in American history as the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Take a 15-minute ferry from Liberty Square or across the bridge in Mount Pleasant’s Patriot’s Point to explore and read about the fort’s history including that fateful day in April 1861. There’s a small museum in the fort and a ranger-led history discussion (though no official tours) that you can take. There are also a number of Civil War era cannons on display and of course, incredible views of downtown and the surrounding harbor, making the fort one of the top Charleston attractions.

Pro tip: If visiting with children, drive your rental car across the beautiful Arthur Ravanel, Jr. bridge towards at Patriot’s Point where you can combine your visit with a tour of the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier known as the “Fighting Lady.”

top Charleston attractions: Fort Sumter Approach
Fort Sumter Approach

Charleston City Market

There’s a good reason why both locals and tourists still come in throngs at the Charleston City Market, located in the heart of historic downtown. The market was the center of trade in the city during the 18th and 19th centuries, where farmers from nearby will bring their crops to sell, and where slaves will come to purchase food for the families they served. Today, however, most of the fresh market is gone and have been replaced with local vendors selling clothing, arts and crafts, as well as a number of food stalls offering typical Southern cuisine.

top Charleston attractions: City Market
Charleston City Market: Image via Flickr by Wally Gobetz, CC-BY-NC-ND, 2.0

Plantation Homes

Charleston has three plantation homes worth checking out that’s within a 30-minutes drive of downtown. Two of them were primarily cotton plantations (Boone Hall and Magnolia) while the other was a rice plantation (Drayton Hall). Deciding on which one to visit can be a tough choices considering each one of them has their own unique features. Below are in-depth descriptions of each location, which will hopefully aid you in your decision making.

Boone Hall Charleston South Carolina
Boone Hall, Charleston: Photo on Flickr by Angi English / CC BY-NC 2.0

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens should be atop your list of top Charleston attractions if you’re an avid nature lover. Despite its beautifully preserved mansion and interesting tours about slave history, the plantation’s best feature is the surrounding nature. Wildlife is part of the charm at Magnolia where birds come in flocks as well as otters, turtles, and alligators. There’s a petting zoo as well that makes it one of the top Charleston attractions to bring children. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is open 365 days a year and admission prices begin at $10 for children, $15 for adults for the basic garden admission.

top Charleston attractions: Magnolia Plantation
Magnolia Plantation via Flickr by M Fletcher, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Drayton Hall

Not too far from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is Drayton Hall. Visitors opting for this plantation do so to view the oldest and best-preserved plantation house in the country. The McRae family, who now owns the land, takes extra steps to ensure that every detail that provides an insight to the families who once lived there are maintained just as they are, without embellishments. Some of the highlights include the family’s growth chart that dates back centuries. Drayton Hall is open seven days a week with the exception of holidays. The ticket price range from $6-22 and includes a 45-minute house tour and 30-minute slave history program.

Top Charleston Attractions Drayton Hall Staircase
Drayton Hall Staircase: Image via Flickr by Wally Gobetz / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Boone Hall Plantation

The closest plantation to downtown sits just 10 miles southwest, in the town of Mount Pleasant. Most people opt to visit Boone Hall Plantation because it’s the only one of the three that features an authentic Gullah culture presentation. Also it’s dramatic Avenue of Oaks, which is lined with Spanish oak trees, is enough to make this place one of the top Charleston attractions. It’s open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Admission prices are $12 for kids and $24 for adults.

top Charleston attractions: Avenue of Oaks Boone Hall
Avenue of Oaks, Boone Hall

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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