With its fine dining, historic mansions and pristine beaches, Charleston often gives visitors the impression of being an opulent city. While it’s true that many locals and visitors take advantage of Charleston’s more luxurious offerings, there are also plenty of ways to enjoy the Holy City on a budget.
In fact, one of the best things about Charleston is that many of its attractions are free. Rather than burn a hole in your wallet, consider this list of free things to do in the Holy City.
Walk Through White Point Gardens
Affectionately called “the Battery” by locals, White Point Gardens is jam-packed with history and scenic views. Originally a defensive seawall and promenade, the Battery has survived numerous wars, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Today, this 5.7-acre park is beautifully landscaped and features many historic monuments and war cannons. It also features stunning views of Charleston’s antebellum mansions, the Ravenel Bridge and Fort Sumter.
Charleston Tea Plantation
Just Southwest of downtown Charleston is the country’s only large-scale, commercial tea plantation. Located on Wadmalaw Island, the Charleston Tea Plantation features hundreds of thousands of tea bushes on its 127-acre plot.
There is no admission charge to tour the plantation. However, there is a small charge for the trolley tour. Still, the educational tour is worth the small charge. You’ll get the chance to hear about the history of tea in America and learn how it is grown and processed for consumption.
If you’re a history buff, nature lover or simply a fan of ghostly graveyards, you will love strolling through Magnolia Cemetery. The oldest public cemetery in Charleston, this hauntingly beautiful park is the final resting place of many prominent Charlestonians.
It’s quiet beauty and Victorian-era tombstone art also attracts photographers. Pack a lunch and take your time exploring the massive mausoleums and gravestones of Confederate soldiers.
Cool Off in Charleston’s Water Fountains
Looking for something free and fun to do with the kids? If you’re visiting Charleston in the summer, consider taking the kids to the waterfront to play in the water fountains.
Most people have heard about Charleston’s iconic Pineapple Fountain, but there are plenty of other fountains and waterworks for the whole family to enjoy. The fountain located at the intersection of Concord Street and Vendue Range is particularly popular with the little ones. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!
Each year, millions of tourists flock to Charleston to enjoy one of its pristine beaches. Folly Beach is one of the city’s most family-friendly beaches and can be enjoyed for free, except for a small parking fee.
If you plan on spending a lot of time at the beach and want to avoid the cost of parking, consider getting a beach vacation rental for the entire family. A beach vacation rental allows you to stay right on the beach while being within minutes of downtown Charleston.
Charleston Farmers Market
If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir to bring home, the Charleston Farmers Market is a great opportunity to find a local treasure. Held every Saturday in downtown’s Marion Square, the Charleston Farmers Market has a wide variety of interesting wares from local artists and vendors.
Shop for one-of-a-kind works of art, jewelry and clothing as you munch on crepes and freshly-squeezed juice. Searching for one of Charleston’s famous sweetgrass baskets? You’ll find plenty here, each one hand-made by locals.
Charles Pinckney Historic Site
Located in Mount Pleasant, this historic plantation was once home to Charles Pinckney, a key author and signer of the United States Constitution. Now a National Historic Site, this coastal plantation is free to visit and offers an interesting glimpse into this forgotten founder.
Explore the 28-acre Snee Farm and enjoy the free films, exhibits and displays that can be found on the plantation. There are also nature trails and spots for picnics.
Bike Wonders’ Way on Ravenel Bridge
Charleston’s Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge has a 12-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path called “Wonders’ Way” that offers stunning views of Charleston Harbor, Patriots Point and Fort Sumter. Visitors can walk or bike the entire bridge (2.5 miles) or reach the halfway point (1.2 miles) and loop back.
Park your car on the Mount Pleasant side — the waterfront has paid parking — and rent some bicycles from a bike rental located near the base of Ravenel Bridge. Make the most of your time and explore Mount Pleasant’s Memorial Waterfront Park.
The Angel Oak
This isn’t just any old hardwood. Located on John’s Island, the beautiful Angel Oak Tree is estimated to be around 500 years old and stands over 65 feet tall.
Situated in a charming park, the Angel Oak is free to visit and is the perfect place for a picnic. Pack a lunch, relax in the shade from the towering tree and enjoy the escape from bustling downtown Charleston for an hour or two.
Free Guided Tour
Want a tour of Charleston without paying a steep price? Take a Charleston walking tour from Free Tours by Foot.
This tour company offers to take you on a free, self-guided tour of Charleston and lets you pay what you think the tour was worth at the end. Choose a type of city tour and a local expert will answer all your questions — including where to eat.
Whether you enjoy learning about the Civil War or you’re mainly interested in the city’s architecture, exploring the city on foot will suit any interest and budget.
Having fun in Charleston doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune. From plantation tours to beach day trips, there are endless ways to experience Charleston to its fullest.
Plus, taking advantage of its many free attractions means that you can put your money towards the things that matter the most. With the money you’ve saved, you can treat yourself to one of Charleston’s hottest restaurants or splurge on your accommodations.