Charleston has upped its game. Carriage tours still clip-clop through the historic district and ferries still shuttle crowds to Fort Sumter, but new attractions and revamped old favorites are keeping the Holy City relevant – and fun.
Rooftop bars, innovative breweries and small-batch distilleries keep opening their doors while plantations and historic homes are digging deep into Charleston’s diverse and complicated history. And foodies take note: Debates about the city’s best barbecue are just as passionate these days as debates about shrimp and grits.
This list of Charleston’s best things to do offers a mix of the old and new.
Explore the gorgeous architecture in the historic old city of Charleston ©Alex Potemkin/Getty Images
Stroll the Historic District
Historic Charleston feels like one big living museum, and it’s easily explored by foot. Antebellum homes, grand churches, weathered cemeteries and brilliant gardens – often tucked behind wrought-iron gates – hug the straight and narrow streets, which were laid out in the 1670s. Highlights include the colorful homes of Rainbow Row and the Battery and White Point Gardens on the waterfront at the southern tip of the peninsula. Pick up a map at the visitor center.
With its seafood shacks, quirky mainstays and a dizzying array of “must-try” restaurants from wunderkind chefs, Charleston has enjoyed a culinary hot streak for a decade. Many menus are built around Lowcountry dishes and seafood, but creative interpretations of old favorites keep the dining scene fresh. Beyond shrimp and grits, top regional fare includes oysters, pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, she-crab soup, and a Lowcountry boil (shrimp, corn, potatoes, sausage and seasoning).
Tried-and-true stalwarts include Mike Lata’s FIG, oysters at the Ordinary and food that’s both fast & French at Gaulart & Maliclet. Barbecue is also hot, with Home Team BBQ and Lewis Barbecue getting consistent local kudos. Top-notch International options are plentiful too.
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Immerse in Gullah Culture
Enslaved people brought from West Africa to the Lowcountry held onto many of their homeland traditions after slavery ended. The resulting Gullah culture (Geechee in Georgia) has its own language and traditions, including amazing storytelling, art and music. Learn their history at McLeod Plantation on James Island, where tours describe the daily lives of enslaved people on a cotton plantation and trace the emergence of the Gullah culture. Their culture is celebrated annually in late May at the Gullah Festival in nearby Beaufort. Gullah Tours visits historic sites in and around Charleston.