When you’re planning to be in Charleston, South Carolina there are so many things to do that you won’t run out of amusement, good food or entertainment. Even if you’re going there on a tight budget, Charleston offers a lot of freebies that won’t cost you a cent. Here are 20 free things to do when you’re in the city, to help you maximize your total enjoyment of the time that you spend there and you can have the time of your life without breaking the bank. Thanks to Traveler of Charleston and Southern Savers for inspiring many of these picks:
1. Walk the Palmetto Trail
The Palmetto Trail of South Carolina is the largest pedestrian and bicycle trail in the State. It starts at the ocean and it runs into the mountains. In the Charleston portion, you’ll find a trail that is 7 miles long which starts at Awendaw Passege, where the head of the trail, or access point is located. You can walk the length into the Francis Marion Forest where you’ll have the opportunity for some amazing views along with glimpses of the local wildlife, flora and fauna. It’s a wonderfully healthy and relaxing experience and it doesn’t cost anything to hike the trail, however, there is a daily parking fee of $5.
2. Picnic at Riverfront Park
At the North part of Charleston, you’ll find Riverfront Park and access is completely free. The grounds are beautiful and the park is right next to the Cooper River, so you might get to see some wildlife while you’re there. You can enjoy a leisurely picnic, and close to the park is another free amenity. Visit the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial. This site was built in honor of the Charleston natives who served the country. There are some amazing views at Riverfront Park and you may want to bring your camera or smart phone to capture the scenery.
3. Stroll through the Farmers Markets
Charleston is well known for its Saturday weekly Farmers Market. You can find local fruits and vegetables for reasonable prices, but there are also lots of other vendors who set up shop at the market. It’s a great place to browse through unique artwork and crafts from local artisans. If you’re in the mood for some free entertainment, there’s usually some kind of show going on in Marion Square, which is at the heart of the market. There is also a Farmers Market held at Mount Pleasant on Tuesdays so you might want to check out the calendar of events before you arrive in Charleston to better plan your itinerary. If you need to pick up souvenirs for family back home this is the perfect place to find some truly unique items because there are so many different vendors to browse through.
4. Visit the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History
The College of Charleston is home to the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History. You don’t need to pay a fee for admission. If you’re a fan of Pleistocene mammals, you won’t want to miss out on this opportunity. The museum has more than 3,000 specimens of fossils on display from cave bears, dinosaurs and a variety of Pleistocene mammals as well as fossil plants and other items which were discovered in the regions of the Carolinas. The knowledgeable tour guides are students who are studying in the geology program at the college, and they provide you with an education of the various artifacts that are displayed at the museum and it’s a great tour for both young and old alike.
5. Tour the Avery Research Center
While you’re at the College of Charleston visiting the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History, why not make a day of it and also see the Avery Research Center? It’s also located at the College. They have an amazing collection of museum pieces that feature African American culture and history from the Low country of South Carolina. It’s truly an educational experience for all and there is no admission to take a tour.
6. Go to Waterfront Park
It’s free to visit the Waterfront Park in Charlotte. Here you’ll find the Pineapple Fountain and you’re welcome to dip your feet in its cool water or enjoy lounging in the bench swings that they provide for the public. There are some amazing views of the Charleston harbor and you’re welcome to bring your lunch. This is another place that is free to go and it’s ideal for spending a relaxing afternoon with the family.
7. See the Friday Cadets Parade
The Cadets at the Citadel conduct their dress parades on selected Fridays throughout the year. Check the Citadel schedule to see if they’ll be having an awards and recognition parade at the time you’re going to be there. It’s a grand event and the public is welcome to attend with no charge.
8. Tour the Charleston Tea Plantation
One of the most popular attractions in Charleston is the Charleston Tea Plantation which is the home of the only tea garden in the United States. Tours of the factory are complimentary so they won’t cost a thing and you’ll learn some interesting facts about how the tea we consume is grown and processed. There is also a lovely gift shop to browse through and while you’re there, Wadmalaw Island not only offers this attraction, but several others so you can make a day of it. Near the Tea Plantation is also Firefly Distilleries and the Angel Oak Tree, and there is no charge to see it all.
9. View the Circular Congregational Church Cemetery
There is a great deal of history tied up in the oldest English Burial ground in Charleston. If you’re a history buff, then you’ll likely be impressed with the earliest unmarked grave which dates back all the way to 1695. The old cemetery gets a lot of tourist visits because it marks the earliest history in the United States with those who came before the rest of us to build this great nation.
10. You must see Memorial Waterfront Park
Located at the base of the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant. Enjoy the large lawn, pier that stretches out into the Cooper River and nautical-themed playground. Also stop by the Sweetgrass Basket Pavilion, a cultural arts exhibit on the history of sweetgrass basket making.
11. Charleston City Market
Another totally free and fun thing to do when you’re visiting Charleston is to go to the Charleston City Market. You’ll find dozens of street vendors with their stands and displays set up, showing their jewelry, crafts, works of art, sweetgrass baskets and much more. You’re free to browse through this large and interesting collection of vendors which line up starting at Meeting Street, all the way to East Bay Street.
12. Visit the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site provides highlights of the work of this early US Constitution signer and principal author of the historic document. The site is located on the property that is the remains of his coastal plantation and it has been gently preserved to tell his story and to educate the public about the lives of African Americans who were enslaved in the plantations of the Low country and the influences this had on Charles Pinckney.
13. Go to the Morris Island Lighthouse
The Morris Island Lighthouse is a historical site that was built in 1876 and it has been marking the passage of time in South Carolina. There is no charge to visit and to get there, you’ll need to go North on East Ashley Avenue and drive as far as you can. Park your vehicle and hike 1/4 mile in and you’ll see the signs that lead you to the site. The lighthouse rests 300 yards off shore and you can see it from the Northeast side of the island.
14. Visit the Magnolia Cemetery
Another historical site to visit is the old Magnolia Cemetery. This is the oldest public cemetery within Charleston, dating back to 1849. Here you’ll find the graves of the crew of the L.L. Hunley as well as other famous Charlestonians who have passed on. Magnolia Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
15. Take a drive to the Town of Summerville
When you’re in Charleston, South Carolina, there is a small town not far away that is an absolute must-see. Summerville is a picturesque little town with an old fashioned town square that features streets which are lined with antique stores, art galleries, boutiques and some amazing restaurant. There are also historic buildings and businesses located in Summerville worth visiting including the oldest pharmacy in the State Guerin’s Pharmacy. You can buy an old fashioned ice cream float.
16. Visit Charleston’s Historic City Hall
Another popular tourist attraction is Charleston’s City Hall. This building is located at 80 Broad Street and it was built in the early 1800s. While you’re viewing the City Hall building, you’ll also be near Washington Square Park which is located right beside the building and there you’ll find some really cool ironwork, memorials and lovely architecture. This is a great place for anyone who is interested in the history of Charleston, in architecture or ironwork because there are some spectacular examples found here.
17. Tour Deep Water Vineyards
Deep Water Vineyards is found on Wadmalaw Island. This is an interesting winery to tour and it doesn’t cost a cent to go through and see how they make their amazing wines. If you have a few extra bucks on hand you can purchase a souvenir wine glass for just $5 and taste up to five wines. They offer tours and tasting on nearly every day of the week but it’s a good idea to check the schedule to make sure you go on the right day and at the right time because the schedules are subject to change. If you are interested in the wine making process or do so at home on an amateur basis, you might even pick up some handy tips on the tour.
18. Visit the Palmetto Carriage “Big Red Barn”
Here is another popular free attraction that you can visit and it’s a great place to take the kids. You can visit their herd of mules ,horses and there are a variety of other animals on the site. There is absolutely no charge to visit the barn, but if you decide to take the formal tour, there is a fee charged. The “Big Red Barn” can get busy during peak tourist season because it’s a place that kids love to visit.
19. Go for a Walk/Run or Bike the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The Arthur Ravanel Jr. Bridge offers a lovely trail spanning the Cooper River for a distance of 2 mils for walkers, runners or bikers. They call the lane Wonder’s Way. You can park for free on East Bay Street which is downtown in the city of Charleston, on the Mount Pleasant portion of Memorial Waterfront Park. You can get an amazing view of Charleston Harbor from various points on the trail and you can walk, run or bike and it’s all free.
20. Walk the Battery
The Battery is a walk that offers some of the most iconic views of the city of Charleston and there is no charge at all. There are a lot of great things to see while walking the battery, which was once a defensive seawall. It’s located at Murray Boulevard where it intersects with East Battery Street, hence, the name. Some of the most historic homes in the city are found in this area and for more scenic and historic views you can also visit the nearby White Point Garden and Battery Park. While you’re at it, you should also consider visiting the Charleston Gallery Association’s online page to find a map of the local Art Walks which are also great tourist attractions in Charleston. These Art Walks are free for those who enjoy browsing through photography, sculptures and paintings and they are sponsored by a variety of different galleries.