For the Charleston first time visitor, the city has so much to offer that it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out what to see and do first. If you only have a short time to visit or if it’s your first time in the Holy City, there are few things you just can’t miss. We’ve compiled a list of the must-visit attractions along with an itinerary to visit and experience while you’re here.
Charleston, SC First Time Visitor Guide + Itinerary
1) CARRIAGE TOUR
Book a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown. Your tour guide is randomly assigned a route and will delight your tour group with stories and facts about Charleston from her earliest days to the present. A carriage tour is included on TourPass – view Charleston carriage tour
2) HIT THE BEACHES
There are amazing public beaches in Charleston:
- Folly Beach
- Isle of Palms
- Sullivans Island
- Kiawah Island.
For more info about the beaches, checkout this Ultimate Charleston Beach Guide post.
WANT TO TOUR WHILE IN CHARLESTON?
Travel Smarter With TourPass
If so, checkout TourPass Charleston which provides an all-access pass with full admission to over 40 top tours, attractions and historic sites. With a TourPass you can make reservations in advance, skip the lines and make your vacations a little more stress-free. Purchase online only at: https://tourpass.com/charleston
4) CHARLESTON PLANTATION TOUR
There are a number of great Charleston plantations that highlight the plight of African-Americans as well as the Plantation Owners. Visiting these picturesque grounds is a history lesson worth experiencing.
- Boone Hall Plantation (included with TourPass)
- Drayton Hall Plantation (included with Tourpass)
- McLeod Plantation (included with TourPass)
- Magnolia Plantation
- Middleton Place Plantation
5) GO TO FORT SUMTER
Easily visible in the center of the Charleston harbor, Fort Sumter National Monument is not only an interesting tourist attraction, but an important piece of American history. Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War at Federal troops at Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. Fort Sumter surrendered 34 hours later. Throughout the war’s duration, Fort Sumter would play an important role as Union forces spent nearly four years trying to take it back. (Included with TourPass)
6) GO TO FORT MOULTRIE
Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island has undergone numerous changes over the years. The first fort was still incomplete when Commodore Sir Peter Parker and nine warships attacked it on June 28, 1776. After a nine-hour battle, the ships retired. Charleston was saved from British occupation, and the fort was named in honor of its commander, Col. William Moultrie. After several years of neglect, little of the fort remained by 1791. At the end of the 18th century, a second fort was built – one of 20 new forts along the Atlantic Coast. But, once again, the fort was neglected and eventually destroyed by a hurricane in 1804.
By 1809, a third brick fort was constructed on Sullivan’s Island. When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, the Federal garrison abandoned Fort Moultrie for the stronger Fort Sumter. By the 1880s, Fort Moultrie was modernized, but ultimately became a small part of the Fort Moultrie Military Reservation that covered much of the island.
7.) WALKING HISTORY TOUR
To fully immerse yourself in Charleston culture and history, walk the historic streets on a history tour. These on-the-ground tours offer a whole new perspective on the Holy City and afterward you’ll feel like a local with all your newfound Charleston knowledge.
TourPass has a number of amazing walking tours that are included. To view them, visit this page
8.) VISIT HOUSE MUSEUMS
Visiting Charleston’s historic house museums gives you a glimpse into the Servants and Slaves that lived there along with the property owners. The architecture and craftsmanship and preservation are a testiment to Charleston’s focus on preserving the pas and telling the story of all involved.
House Tours Included on TourPass:
- Aiken-Rhett House Museum
- Nathaniel Russell House Museum
- Heyward Washington House Museum
- Joseph Manigault House Museum
13) CHARLESTON CITY MARKET
Explore Charleston City Market, one of the nation’s oldest public markets and the cultural heart of Charleston. It is home to more than 300 vibrant entrepreneurs, and we are open every day of the year except December 25th. No matter what time of day or season you plan to visit, there is something to see, do, taste, and take home as a souvenir from the Charleston City Market!
14) RAINBOW ROW
If you’re walking down Market or King streets, take a detour to Rainbow Row and Battery Park starting on East Bay Street. Rainbow Row includes a stretch of 13 brightly colored historic homes that you’ve probably seen in famous photographs. It’s definitely a sight to see for yourself. Rainbow Row also sits along the Battery, a Civil War-era defensive seawall and promenade along the Charleston harbor. Continue along the Battery to White Point Garden, a public park on the tip of the peninsula. Walk the park to see several statues and monuments. Watch this Rainbow Row video!
Additional Frequently Asked Questions
There are a number of places to start your Charleston vacation such as:
- City Market area
- King Street
- Charleston Visitor Center
- The Beaches
Or you can purchase a Charleston TourPass which includes all of the top things to do
The best times to visit Charleston are in the spring season from March to May.
The fall season is also a great time to visit from September – December.
Due to the hot weather in the summer months (July and August), these are the times when most people visit but go to the beaches.