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25 Free Things to Do in Charleston — Traveler Magazine

Palmetto waterfront

Whether you love history, nature, architecture, dining or shopping, you won’t have any trouble finding plenty to do in Charleston. And the good news is there are some terrific attractions and activities that won’t bust your vacation budget. We’ve put together a list of 25 free things to do in Charleston. All activities are free unless otherwise noted. A few have an admission fee, but we’ve stuck to things that are $5 or less.

  1. Riverfront Park sits on the bank of the Cooper River in North Charleston RiverfrontPark. Stop by and see the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial honoring the many military personnel and civilians who served our country and the Charleston region at the former Charleston Navy Base.
  2. Dip your toes in the Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or sit in the bench swings and take in the views of the Charleston harbor.
  3. Mace Brown Museum of Natural History at the College of Charleston. This museum is home to 3,000 fossil specimens, including dinosaurs, cave bears, Pleistocene mammals of the Carolinas, fossil plants and more. Geology students work at the museum and can give guided tours.
  4. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site’s well preserved archaeological remains give visitors an up close glimpse into the early history of colonial South Carolina. (Admission: $2/adults; free for ages 15 and under)
  5. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge spanning the Cooper River has a more than 2-mile bike/pedestrian lane called Wonders’ Way. It is accessible from East Bay Street in downtown Charleston and on the Mount Pleasant side. Be sure to stop at the top for a bird’s eye view of Charleston.
  6. South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail is the state’s largest bicycle and pedestrian project that runs from the sea to the mountains. Locally, hike the 7-mile Awendaw Passage accessible in the Francis Marion Forest. (Daily parking: $5)
  7. For iconic Charleston views, walk the Battery. Once a defensive seawall, the area is now known for its historic homes and nearby White Point Garden and Battery Park at the intersection of Murray Boulevard and East Battery Street.
  8. Charleston his home to numerous art galleries and several regular walks that are free to anyone wanting to browse the paintings, sculptures and photography. Visit for a printable map.
  9. The Charleston Farmers Market is open Saturdays April through November with a special holiday market in December. Browse crafts, artwork, veggies and enjoy entertainment in Marion Square.
  10. Admire the majestic Angel Oak tree, part of a public city park. Its canopy of branches spans 17,000 square feet.
  11. Stop by the Red Barn at Palmetto Carriage Works to visit the horses, mules and other animals. (Fee for tours but no charge to visit the barn.)
  12. Visit Irvin-House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island (Taste five wines and get a souvenir glass for $5.)
  13. See Charleston’s historic City Hall (80 Broad St.), constructed in the early 1800s. Also, the picturesque Washington Square Park is located by city hall and features beautiful architecture and ironwork.
  14. The Charleston County Parks system has more than 10 terrific park spaces, some of which have dog parks, waterparks, trails, bike paths, green space and beach access. (Admission: $2/person at James Island County Park, Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park, North Charleston Wannamaker County Park, and Caw Caw Interpretive Center.)
  15. Visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island for a look a history from the American Revolution through World War II. (Admission: $3/adults; free for ages 15 and under)
  16. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site highlights the work of Charles Pinckney, a principal author and a signer of the U.S. Constitution. This remnant of his coastal plantation is preserved to tell of life of public service and to highlight the lives of enslaved African Americans on Lowcountry plantations and their influences on Pinckney.
  17. Summerville’s town square is a picturesque downtown lined with boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and antique stories. Go window shopping before stopping in Guerin’s Pharmacy – the oldest pharmacy in South Carolina – for an old-fashioned ice cream float.
  18. Visit the Charleston City Market, which stretches from Meeting Street to East Bay Street. Dozens of vendors showcase their crafts, artwork, jewelry and sweetgrass baskets.
  19. Magnolia Cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in Charleston. Founded in 1849, it is listed on National Register of Historic Places.
  20. Visit the cemetery at the Circular Congregational Church, likely the oldest English burial ground still in existence in Charleston. The earliest unmarked grave dates from 1695.
  21. Charleston is home to America’s only tea garden. Visit the Charleston Tea Plantation and take a complimentary factory tour and browse the gift shop.
  22. Stop at the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston to view the collection of items that highlight the African-American history and culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
  23. Watch the cadets at The Citadel conduct a dress parade. At various times throughout the year, the cadets parade the grounds, also using the time to present awards and recognize notable individuals. See the parade schedule.
  24. Memorial Waterfront Park is at the base of the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant. Enjoy the large lawn, pier and nautical-themed playground. Also stop by the Sweetgrass Basket Pavilion, a cultural arts exhibit on the history of sweetgrass basket making.
  25. Head out to Folly Beach to admire the Morris Island Lighthouse, built in 1876. Situated about 300 yards off the shore, the lighthouse is visible from the northeast end of the island.

What would you add to this list?