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Best things to do in Charleston

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Where in the world: USA  /  South Carolina  /  Coastal South Carolina  /  Charleston

Top 15 things to do in Charleston

1. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

One of the country's oldest plantations, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens dates back to 1676, when locals Thomas and Ann Drayton built a house and a small formal garden on this site. The family owned the rice plantation for the next 15 generations, utilizing slave labor to build a network of irrigation dams and dikes. Today, the estate operates as a museum, offering an interpretive program designed to teach visitors about the history of both slave and free black workers at this site. Explore the plantation's natural setting by taking a marsh boat tour or strolling through the gardens, where you can see centenarian cypress trees and camellias dating from the 1840s.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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2. Middleton Place

Middleton Place once housed several generations of the Middleton family, including Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Now the plantation, which was built in 1755, has been named a National Historic Landmark and serves as a museum. Perhaps most impressively, the plantation is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America, where the staff takes care to ensure that there is always something in bloom year round. Enjoy U.S. history amid these tranquil gardens. Take a tour of the house, get a glimpse of colonial life by visiting the stable yards, or ask about guided kayak tours or horseback riding to see the grounds from a different angle.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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3. Fort Sumter National Monument

Explore the site where the Union and Confederate armies clashed for the first time in the American Civil War. Your visit to Fort Sumter National Monument begins at the education center, where you can study exhibits on the war and purchase ferry tickets to the sea fort. Once you arrive, a park ranger will give a short talk about the conflict between the North and South that led to the firing of the first shots. As you walk the area, examine the defenses and imagine the Confederates’ 34-hour bombardment until the Union forces surrendered. For more information, visit the fort’s onsite museum. Refreshments are available on the ferry, but it is a good idea to bring water.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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5. Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours

Embark on a journey back in time by taking a narrated tour through the heart of old Charleston on a horse-drawn carriage. The slow ride allows plenty of time to admire the city's colonial mansions, landmark churches, and verdant gardens. During the 60-minute tour, your witty guide will tell you stories from the Civil War and explain how this "Holy City" managed to remain practically intact during those trying times.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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6. Ghost & Vampire Tours

Follow in the footsteps of Charleston's most infamous characters and uncover the decadency that lies beneath the city's polished surface on a guided ghost and vampire tour. Stroll down murky alleys and haunted graveyards as your ghoulish local guide fills you in on macabre stories, historic scandals, and legends of murderers and thieves. Set foot in some of Charleston's most sinister locations, such as Provost Dungeon, as you relive past tragedies involving pirates, criminals, prostitutes, and slaves. Most of these 90-minute evening tours are for mature audiences only.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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7. Charleston City Market

Established in the 1790s, Charleston City Market is one of the country's oldest public markets and hosts more than 300 entrepreneurs. Begin your visit at the historic market hall, an impressive Greek Revival-style structure built 1841. Admire its brownstone stucco and green ironwork before shopping for souvenirs and treats. Items with the Certified Authentic Handmade in Charleston seal are entirely locally made. Market stalls extend four city blocks away from the hall and include an array of goods. You'll find about 50 artists with sweetgrass baskets, a traditional African-American craft. These tightly woven baskets have been made for centuries and are a popular--and useful--souvenir.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Battery & White Point Gardens

Once a weapon-filled defensive site, Battery & White Point Gardens is now designed for peace and tranquility. As you walk through the pleasant park and gardens, you can examine cannons, statues, and other monuments, including a bronze bust of famous poet, novelist, and historian W.G. Simms. Look for the commemorative marker for a pirate captain and his crew who were hung at the site about 300 years ago. All your wandering will be in the shadow of many large antebellum houses, surrounded by oak trees and overlooking the Charleston Harbor. The gardens are suitable for picnicking, recreation, photography, and other leisurely activities.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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9. Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

Spanning 471 m (1,546 ft) over Charleston's Cooper River, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge stands as one of the world's longest cable-stayed bridges. Two support towers extend 175 m (575 ft), holding up eight lanes of traffic, and have been designed to withstand earthquakes, hurricane-force winds, and other extreme weather and disasters. You can walk or bike across the entirety of the bridge on the dedicated footpath for a sweeping view of the river and the surrounding urban area.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant

A backdrop for celebration, military reenactments, and speeches from the nation's leaders, Patriots Point is home to several war vessels, including the USS Clamagore. The Cold War Submarine Memorial and a replica of a Vietnam support base give visitors a view into America's military actions. Honor heroes at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society museum on site.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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12. Aiken-Rhett House

Constructed in 1820 by Charleston merchant John Robinson, Aiken-Rhett House serves as a time capsule for 19th-century Southern architecture and the life of the Aiken family who took ownership of the property in 1827. Surrounded by palm trees and other greenery, the preserved, three-story home is on the National Register of Historic Places. The grounds were also home to a number of skilled African American slaves, who were freed after the end of the Civil War. You can wander the area and see their living quarters. The family passed the property down from one generation to the next until the house was donated to the Charleston Museum in 1975.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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13. Drayton Hall

See the oldest American plantation house still open to public--Drayton Hall--a typical Palladian style edifice, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman temples. It has remained in close-to-original condition, since the mid-18th century when it was built. Hear about seven generations of Draytons who lived on the property, about their servants, and about slavery. The teapots they used and the marble-topped tables are still there. So are the copper slave tags. Walk through the Victorian gardens and see the reflection pond. Take a guided tour, and have a camera ready.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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15. Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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