31 Free Things to Do in Charleston, SC & Budget Tips

Pineapple Fountain Waterfront Park Charleston

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Looking for free things to do in Charleston, South Carolina? This guide reveals the best free points of interest so you can get the most out of this lovely Lowcountry city.

This guide discusses free outdoor activities and indoor things to do, as well as free events and winter fun.

Whether you are a tourist on a budget or a local looking for something affordable to do, we’re confident you’ll find something new to do.

You might also like our guide on where to eat in Charleston.

Best Free Things To Do in Charleston

Rainbow Row

The pastel-colored historic homes on East Bay Street, just along the Battery, are known as Rainbow Row.

 As one of Charleston’s most renowned landmarks, you may visit on any given day and witness couples getting their engagement or wedding photos done, as well as a slew of tourists trying to capture a decent shot of the magnificent houses.

Though the row of vivid Georgian mansions is lovely, they draw visitors for reasons other than their aesthetic appeal. 

These unique residences, like other antique structures in the Holy City, have their own fascinating narrative to tell.

Rainbow Row Blue Pink House Charleston of South Carolina

Cobblestone Alleyway

Cobblestone Alleyway (9-99 Stolls Alley) is a secret street with cobbled stones.

Longitude Lane and Philadelphia Alley are other passages known for their cobbles.

Old Slave Mart Building

The Old Slave Mart Building is located at 6 Chalmers St in the former salesroom building of an antebellum slave auction gallery.

For less than $10 you can enter the museum and learn through displays that tell the story of the slave trade in Charleston.

Old Slave Mart Museum sign in Charleston, South Carolina

King Street Window Shopping

The King Street Historic District in Charleston is the definition of Southern charm.

 It is a busy road that connects Historic Charleston’s past and present.

King Street, Charleston, is the second most historically and architecturally significant street in downtown Charleston after Meeting Street, with a history of more than 300 years. 

Charles Towne was the major thoroughfare in the old city and was named for King Charles II of England.

It is divided into three sections: Lower King- the antique district; Upper King- the design and dining district; and Middle King- the fashion district. 

Kings Street Sign Charleston South Carolina

Charleston City Market

City Market (188 Meeting St) is a renowned tourist site with stores and eateries in 200-year-old brick market structures, known for its sweetgrass baskets and tons of other entrepreneurs.

Opening of City Market Charleston South Carolina

Mace Brown Museum of Natural History

Mace Brown Museum of Natural History is situated in the College of Charleston and is home to over 30,000 vertebrate and invertebrate fossils.

Great for budding geologists.

This is one of the very few free museums in Charleston!

The Battery

In Charleston, South Carolina, the Battery is a historic defensive seawall and promenade.

It spans along the lower coasts of the Charleston peninsula, surrounded by the Ashley and 

Cooper Rivers, which converges here to form Charleston Harbor, is named for a civil-war coastal defense artillery station at the site.

East Battery Street

At East Battery Street, you will see 2-3 story colonial houses painted in pale colors such as pink and yellow.

These houses are private residences, so be respectful as you walk along the street.

Check out our guide to boutique hotels if you fancy staying around here.

Huge white mansion called Porcher-Simonds House, 29 East Battery Street Charleston South Carolina

Charleston Waterfront Park

Charleston Waterfront Park is an eight-acre public park that stretches from Vendue Range to Adger’s Wharf along the Cooper River in downtown Charleston.

The park’s plans were first drawn out in the mid-1970s, and it opened to the public in May of 1990.

The park was honored with the prestigious Landmark Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2007.

Vendue Wharf, which contains family-sized swings for leisure and panoramic views of the park’s shoreline, and the distinctive Pineapple Fountain, which is placed in front of the City Gallery, are both public landmarks in the park today.

A 1,200-foot palmetto-lined esplanade leads to the water’s edge, and a floating dock provides unrivaled views of Fort Sumter, the USS Yorktown, and the surrounding area.

Some of the most romantic getaway accommodations are located around the waterfront.

Pineapple Fountain Waterfront Park Charleston

The Citadel

A historic military college best known for its Moorish-inspired architecture. 

Every Friday during the school year, 2,000 cadets participate in a military parade, complete with a regimental band and cannon fire. 

Sunset Park

Sunset Park, officially Melton Peter Demetre Park, offers a stretch of beach and a park area with benches.

Locals like this spot for sunrise and sunset.

It’s a good area for fishing, too.

Mother Emanuel AME Church

One of the oldest AME churches in the city, this was the site of the 2015 mass shooting massacre that took the lives of 9 congregants during bible study. 

Founded in 1817, it is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern US.

Charles Pinckney Historic Site

Charles Pinckney was a key author and signer of the United States Constitution, as well as a long-serving political figure in South Carolina. 

Visitors can learn about the politician’s influences on Charleston, the African people he enslaved, plantation operations, and the legacy of Pinckney’s life at Snee Farm, one of his plantation sites.

Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge aka Cooper River Bridge

The Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge, which spans the Cooper River and connects the city’s downtown and Mount Pleasant areas, is the third-longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

The John P. Grace Memorial Bridge was built in 1929, and it was the first bridge built on the Cooper River.

The bridge began to disintegrate in the 1960s, necessitating its replacement by the end of the twentieth century.

The new Ravenel Bridge, built by architect Parsons Brinckerhoff and stretching 1,546 feet over the river, opened in 2005 along US Route 17.

The bridge’s two diamond-shaped towers rise 575 feet into the sky, with eight automobile traffic lanes and a 12-foot Wonders Way pedestrian lane running the length of it.

This is a lovely sunset photography spot.

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston during daylight in South Carolina

Pitt Street Bridge

The Pitt Street Bridge, once a trolley bridge connecting Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant, is now a place for entertainment and relaxation. 

From this hidden jewel within the Old Village Historic District, you may fish off the pier or kayak through Charleston Harbor.

Charleston Beaches

A short 30-minute drive from downtown in either the southeast or southwest direction.

You can choose from five beaches, each with a distinct identity: Kiawah Island, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Seabrook Island, and the most popular- Folly Beach.

Folly is also featured in our guide to unique attractions in Charleston.

Sea Oats of Folly Beach County Park South Carolina

Folly Beach

Folly Beach on Folly Island is located less than 12 miles south of Charleston, making it the perfect day trip from the city and vacation spot.

Things to do include sunbathing on the beach or checking out the pelicans at Folly Beach County Park.

Other activities include people-watching along Center Surf, and if you can budget for drinks, head to Pier 101 Restaurant on Folly Beach Pier.

Always Shining Folly Beach Mural

Morris Island Lighthouse

Located on Folly Beach, this lighthouse dates back to 1876, when the original one was burned down during the Civil War. 

After decades of service, it is literally sinking into the Atlantic Ocean via erosion. 

Efforts have been underway for several years to save it. 

Sunset over bridge at Folly Beach Charleston

Charleston Tea Plantation

The Charleston Tea Garden promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tea enthusiasts. 

The only tea garden in North America has hundreds of thousands of tea bushes and there is no entrance fee. 

The trolley tour is the only fee you’ll have to pay.

Angel Oak

Angel Oak, estimated to be at least 400 years old, is the oldest living organism in the American Southeast.

The live oak tree is a native species to the Lowcountry area of the coastal Carolinas, standing over 65 feet tall and shading an area of over 17,000 square feet.

Despite being destroyed by multiple major storms and natural disasters, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the tree has continued to grow and thrive into the twenty-first century.

It was called after its location on Justus and Martha Waight Angel’s Charlotte’s Angel Estate, which was portrayed in Emily Nelson’s novel The Heart of a Child.

For tree visitors, free parking is available near the estate.

Angel Oak Tree Landscape photo located at St. John’s Island South Carolina

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens is a little farther out at a 45-minute drive, but worth a visit to experience a swamp near the city!

Berkeley County residents and their dependents can enter Cypress Gardens for free on select Saturdays throughout the year.

Bald cypress swamp tree forest in Cypress Gardens, Moncks Corner, Charleston, South Carolina

Cheap Things To Do In Charleston

Charleston Harbor Cruise

This 1.5-hour cruise will show you the best of Charleston Harbor. 

With live commentary from a professional tour guide, see Fort Sumter, the USS Yorktown, and the Ravenel Bridge.

Historic Tour

This 90-minute walking tour visits over 100 points of interest in Charleston’s historic district, including High Battery and Rainbow Row.

This is a climate-controlled shuttle tour so you can stay cool while hearing more about the city’s history!

Middleton Plantation

Learn more about the Middleton family and the enslaved Africans and African Americans who lived and worked at this historic home and South Carolina’s oldest landscaped garden.

You can explore the grounds yourself or take part in a tour, some of which have themes such as Beyond the Fields: Enslavement at Middleton Place.

Residents of Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties can enter for half-price general admission on Juneteenth.

Fort Sumter

Take a ferry ride to the grounds of Fort Sumter, where America’s deadliest war began.

Explore the grounds at Fort Sumter National Monument and visit the Museum there.

View of Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston South Carolina from across the water

Free Events in Charleston

Piccolo Spoleto Festival

Since 1977, the Spoleto Festival USA has brought together known and new artists in the fields of dance, music, opera, and theater for a 17-day artistic festival in Charleston, South Carolina. 

It is often regarded as America’s most prestigious performing arts festival. 

From the historic Dock Street Theatre to the scenic College of Charleston Cistern Yard, more than 150 ticketed events fill Charleston’s historic theaters, churches, and outdoor venues, contributing to the city’s rich cultural tapestry.

City of North Charleston’s Harvest Festival

The Harvest Celebration in North Charleston is an annual fall festival hosted in the Olde Village of North Charleston each October, with free entry and parking for all participants.

Throughout the day, live musical performances by local and regional musicians are available, with past performers including the Spazmatics and Lindsay Holler.

Throughout the day, there will be an artist market, as well as Halloween-themed events including costume contests, a pop-up pumpkin patch, and a trick-or-treat on-the-street event.

A Kid’s Zone also features family-friendly musical performances by local musicians and arts organizations, as well as crafting activities, carnival games, face painting, and interactive seminars for young guests.

On the day of the event, numerous surrounding eateries provide food and drink promotions.

Sweetgrass Arts Festival 

The annual Sweetgrass Festival in Mount Pleasant is intended to promote and raise awareness of the Gullah Geechee people’s contributions to history, culture, traditions, and their sweetgrass basket art form, which originated in Mount Pleasant and is still practiced in our town and surrounding communities today. 

The Sweetgrass Festival gives a chance for local basket manufacturers to demonstrate, promote, and market their sweetgrass items to locals as well as cultural visitors from throughout the country, with free entrance, entertainment, and activities. 

The Sweetgrass Festival also gives an opportunity for involvement, interaction, and exposure to the customs of the Gullah Geechee people. 

Participants of all ages will benefit from informative and entertaining instructional sessions.

2nd Sundays on King

Every month, year-round, the second Sunday on King Street is the primary monthly event presented in historic downtown Charleston. 

From 1:00 to 5:00 PM, visitors and residents alike are invited to shop, dine, and enjoy Charleston’s “Main Street” on a vehicle-free, pedestrian-only afternoon. 

2nd Sunday King St Market sign in Charleston

Free Things To Do in Charleston in Winter

Festival of Lights

Enjoy the Festival of Lights, which transforms James Island County Park into a

three-mile-long winter paradise with over two million sparkling lights. 

The festival, now in its 33rd year, is open every night through December 31st, 2022. 

You can drive through or walk along the paths, stopping for things like marshmallow

roasting, train rides, and carousel rides, among other things.

Charleston Gallery Association ArtWalks

Association of Charleston Galleries The city of Charleston has acquired a reputation as a significant art destination along the American East Coast, and ArtWalks examines more than 40 prominent art galleries throughout the downtown sector.

In permanent and recurring gallery exhibitions across the city, local, regional, and national artists are shown, with a focus on Lowcountry artists.

ArtWalks are held on the first Friday of every month, except in January and July, and run around three hours.

They are free to all participants.

Many galleries provide complimentary wine and refreshments during walks through the city’s gorgeous old French Quarter.

Individual ArtWalks can be taken at any time during the year by downloading a free self-guided tour map from the Charleston Gallery Association’s website.

Mount Pleasant Tree Lighting & Christmas Light Parade

On the second Sunday in December, a parade of more than 100 beautifully decorated floats will parade down Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, just across the Ravenel Bridge from downtown Charleston.

The floats ‘sail’ past tens of thousands of residents and visitors who will be lining the street to enjoy the festive season.

This holiday float procession begins at 5:30 p.m., following the lighting of the Town of Mount Pleasant Christmas Tree and the Moultrie Middle School fireworks display.

This side of the Cooper, the Mount Pleasant Tree Lighting and Christmas Light Parade is a family-friendly event not to be missed!

How to Get Around Charleston on a Budget

Naturally, one of the best ways to get around Charleston while not spending a dime is by foot!

If you prefer to use a bus service, Charleston offers free Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) routes throughout the peninsula.

There is also a water taxi that departs from Waterfront Park, Maritime Center, Patriots Point (USS Yorktown), and Charleston Harbor Resort, and you can purchase tickets online.

Affordable Accommodation in Charleston

You can find a hotel room for just over $100 per night if you don’t mind traveling 12 miles into the center and if you can handle ‘passable’ reviews.

The next price range is around $180 per night. See reviews improve; check out Wingate by Wyndham as an example.

There’s a lot more choice if you can stretch to $250 per night, for example, Tru by Hilton.

Here are our guides to boutique hotels and romantic getaways for more.

Any recommendations for things to do in Charleston, SC, for free? Tell us in the comments.

Waterfront Park Colorful Houses in Charleston

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