Things to Do in Downtown Charleston

Last updated: January 9th, 2024 | Originally published: March 10, 2023

Charleston, South Carolina was the wealthiest of all the colonial American cities. Because these affluent citizens desired culture, it is here you will find our nation’s first museum, (The Charleston Museum), city college (The College of Charleston), golf club (Country Club of Charleston), and theater (Dock St. Theater). In this article we will discuss things to do in historic downtown Charleston SC.

The cultural ambitions and tastes of Charleston’s founding families have been wonderfully preserved for Historic Charleston SC visitors today. The streets are from another time, lined with stunning homes, grand cathedrals, old-time storefronts, weathered graveyards, military relics, and tree-filled parks.

Some of the streets have maintained their original cobblestone. Horse-drawn carriages are visible all throughout the day.

Charleston SC Things to Do

Tourists from all over the world bask in the marvelous sights of Charleston. The city itself is like a museum without admission, and every moment in Downtown Charleston feels stolen.

We want to run through the layout of historic downtown Charleston and highlight the major parks and attractions in conjunction with their street location. Knowing the layout ahead of time is very helpful when visiting Historic Charleston SC.

The four most significant streets are Broad Street, King Street, Meeting Street, and East Bay Street — Each will have their own section.

We will also include the waterfront and the battery as separate locations.

Related Article: The Complete Guide to Charleston.

Below is a crude but thoughtful map of historic downtown Charleston to get you started.

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston map
Map of Historic Charleston

Meeting and Broad Street

The intersection of Meeting and Broad is the most famous in historic downtown Charleston. The iconic Saint Michael’s Church rises from this junction and is visible from all over the city.

Starting at Broad Street, walk south down Meeting Street a half-mile to White Point Garden and The Battery. Along the way you will pass by the St. Michael’s cemetery (linger a moment here), the South Carolina Society Hall, The Williams Mansion (photo below), a couple of churches, and a handful of historic homes.

The last house on the left, at the intersection of Meeting and Battery, is the Two Meeting Street Inn, an absolutely stunning hotel.

This stretch of road is not to be missed. Take your time and read the placards on the houses; some houses are from the late 1600’s.

We will discuss the White Point Garden and The Battery in another section.

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston map
Calhoun-Williams Mansion

Walking north from Meeting and Broad you will immediately find Washington Square on the right. Be sure to stop here — its an underrated thing to do in downtown Charleston.

Shop Historic Charleston is a terrific gift shop at Meeting and Chalmers (the first intersection north of Broad). You’ll see the attractive shop isolated on the right side of the street.

If you turn right at Chalmers, the original cobblestone road will take you to the Old Slave Mart Museum in about two blocks. If learning about the history of slavery in the US is on your agenda, this is the single best place to get an education — outside of a kindergarten class in San Francisco.

The street following Chalmers is Queen St.

If you turn left on Queen Street you will quickly arrive at famed restaurants Poogan’s Porch and Husk, as well as a parking garage highly convenient for downtown exploration.

Related Article: Best Restaurants in Charleston

The next block is home to the Gibbes Museum of Art (photo below), and across the street is the photogenic Circular Congregational church and graveyard.

See the historic Charleston map at the top for reference.

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston map
things to do in downtown Charleston

After crossing Horbeck Alley you will arrive at the Charleston City Market on Market Street.

A former slave market, the Charleston City Market now specializes in local arts and crafts. Be prepared for sticker shock — the price for a sweetgrass basket is set to myocardial infarction.

The City Market is definitely one of the best things to do in historic downtown Charleston.

Terrific shops line both sides of Market Street. We happen to love Byrd Cookies.

If you like seafood, another block up Meeting St. is Hyman’s Seafood (since 1890). Hyman’s is always a good time.

The Charleston Museum is our nation’s first museum, founded in 1773. Lots of interesting stuff. To get there, continue north on Meeting 0.7 miles past the Historic City Market.

If you love to travel, we have something we would like to give you. It is our professionally designed e-book and it is FREE of charge. We think it’s pretty great, and we’re hopeful you’ll like it, too. It’s called, “Cultivating a Lifetime of Travel”. Click HERE. and we’ll send it on over!

East Bay Street — Things to Do in Downtown Charleston

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston map
Rainbow row in Historic Charleston SC

East Bay Street runs parallel to the water on the NE side of town. Because of the restaurants and access to attractions like Rainbow Row and The Battery, East Bay Street is the most heavily foot-tracked street in historic downtown Charleston.

The action starts on the opposite end of the Charleston City Market, parallel to Meeting Street.

Within the next three blocks (heading South on East Bay St.) you will find highly favored restaurants such as High Cotton, Slightly North of Broad, Fleet Landing (waterfront dining), and more. It’s hard to mess up your dinner plans here.

When East Bay intersects Vendue St., turn left to see Joe Riley Waterfront Park (more on that later).

At the intersection of East Bay and Broad St. the building on your left is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon where slaves were auctioned on the street. This market was later moved to the indoor Old Slave Mart Museum because the slave auction crowd created traffic jams.

Rainbow Row is a stretch of colorful houses (two photos above) that has gained notoriety as a Historic Charleston landmark. The homes are pleasant and their doorways are wonderful for photographs.

Shortly after Rainbow Row ends The Battery begins. More on that later.

US Custom House — things to do in downtown Charleston

King Street — Things to Do in Downtown Charleston

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston map

King Street is known for shopping, restaurants, and clubs. This is one of the most popular parts of historic downtown Charleston.

When you stroll south of Broad St. you will enjoy one historical home after another. There isn’t much action or commerce between Broad and the Battery waterfront, which makes for a fine and leisurely evening stroll. We highly recommend walking this stretch of King St.

Heading north of Broad on King St. you will find an assortment of shops and eateries. Millers All Day is a popular restaurant just north of Broad (on the right).

At the intersection of King and Queen you will find a first-rate gift shop, the Preservation Society of Charleston, that should not be missed.

Charleston SC Things to Do

Clothing stores, jewelry stores, antique stores, and art galleries are found in frequent rotation along here. If you’ve come to shop, King Street will be one of your favorite Charleston SC things to do.

Somewhere around Clifford or Market Street the green awnings arrive and the milieu gets uppity. Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade are found across from the Riviera Theater. You will find countless shops full of artwork, cosmetics, jewelry, etc., rinsing and repeating until you reach Calhoun Street.

Across from Calhoun Street is Marion Square

Home to the Charleston Saturday Farmer Market. Across from Marion Square is a towering cathedral, St. Matthews Luthern Church (photo below).

Related Article: The Best Beach in Charleston

American Theater with St. Matthews Church in the background

The vibe of King Street changes here. You will find a vast assortment of bars, pubs, jazz joints and night clubs within the next few blocks.

Hall’s Chophouse, the famous Charleston steakhouse, is one block north of Marion Square. If you’re hankering for a $135.00 Tomahawk ribeye steak, this is where you put your hanker.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is just north of there, a great place for a quick bite.

Between the two restaurants are the American Theater and the William Aiken House, both stops on The Notebook Tour of Charleston.

The Battery & White Point Garden

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston SC map
historic Charleston map

Historic Charleston’s most impressive attraction is The Battery, a seawall built along the NE side of Charleston, along which stands a magnificent row of southern mansions.

I’m sure a lifetime of visits could make The Battery seem quotidian, but we’ve visited a dozen times and it’s still amazing. When it comes to the Charleston SC things to do, the Battery is top of the list.

Related Article: The 25 Best Things to do in Charleston

Any time of day you will find folks walking along the seawall.

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston SC, map
Charleston SC Things to Do

Some historic estates are grand. Some could use a bit of help. This is where we like to play Downtown Charleston Real Estate Fantasy.

In this game you buy fixer-upper property and spend a lifetime trying to repair it (if the historical society will allow). Imagine the struggles you’ll face trying to assert your will against the dour, unsympathetic faces of the Charleston nobility.

East Bay turns right at Oyster Point (above photo) and White Point Garden. The road changes names here, becoming Murray Boulevard. Murray Blvd. continues along the seawall for another mile of ocean view homes.

White Point is a magical park full of oak trees and historical markers (below photo). This is a terrific place to lay down a picnic blanket beside a stack of cannonballs for sunset date night.

White Point Garden — things to do in downtown Charleston

The gazebo in the middle of the park is perfect for family photos, wedding photos, etc. We really love White Point Garden. It is one of our favorite things to do in downtown Charleston.

South Battery St. runs along the north side of White Point Garden (opposite the water). Along here are some of the most beautiful homes in all of Charleston, including the William Washington House, Two Meeting Street Inn, and 20 South Battery. See the historic Charleston map at the top for reference.

Two Meeting Street Inn

Waterfront Park — Things to Do in Downtown Charleston

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston SC, map
Pineapple Fountain in Historic Charleston SC

Joe Riley Waterfront Park is found at the end of Vendue Range, one block off East Bay Street. You’ll be greeted by a splash fountain when you arrive.

A few steps past the splash fountain (two photos below) is Waterfront Pier, a wood and concrete prominence lined with a series of swinging benches.

If you turn right at the splash fountain, a tree and bench-lined path will lead you to the iconic Charleston landmark, the Pineapple fountain.

Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality in Charleston. Sea captains in the colonial days would spear a pineapple outside their home to let friends know they had returned home safely, and that they could come over to hear stories of their seafaring travels.

Related Article: The 4 Best Plantations in Charleston

Charleston SC Things to Do, historic Charleston map
Charleston SC Things to Do

The pineapple fountain is a charismatic meeting place, excellent for photographs or letting the children get their feet wet.

From the pineapple fountain, you will instinctively want to walk south along the salt marsh. There are nice flower arrangements along this path and benches for sitting and making empty promises.

You will find another public pier on the bay, an excellent place to spot dolphins and sailboats.

Continue walking south to the Battery. See the historic Charleston map at the top for reference.

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston SC, map
historic Charleston map

An Honest Conclusion for Things to Do in Downtown Charleston

Things to do in downtown historic Charleston SC, map
Charleston SC Things to Do

Few places in the United States can contend with the beauty of historic downtown Charleston. It is one of our national treasures, voted best city in the US multiple times over.

For whatever reason, Charleston doesn’t top most folks lists of places to visit in their lifetime. We don’t understand it, though you’ll get no argument. The less the livelier!

If you stay for a weekend, you’ll be back; if you stay longer you might shop for a house. You know you’ve found a good place when you find yourself looking at the cost of housing. However, the benchmark of a great place is when you look at which neighborhoods suit your budget and personality.

James Island would be a wonderful place to live, as would West Ashley. If you can’t afford to live that close to the city, Summerville is clean and only 20 miles away. If you have the money, Folly Beach is incredible.

You now know your way around the city! To learn more about all the things to do, see, eat, and experience in greater Charleston, be sure to read our Complete Guide to Charleston.

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Free E-Book!

Learn our skills for traveling as a family. Get our free e-book PDF and jumpstart your family's journey.