Discover Charleston

The Best Free and Cheap Things to Do in Charleston

A trip to Charleston can be an affordable adventure.

Charleston, South Carolina, is an amazing place combining today's modernities wrapped up in a beautiful historic package. 

From resplendent old buildings representing the city's past to free Wi-Fi in the park, Charleston's unique blend of old and new has something for everyone to enjoy. Head to the country's only tea plantation or get as much exercise as needed on greenways, bridges and in the water: all for free.

surfing at Folly Beach
Surfing is a popular pastime at Folly Beach. (©Ron Cogswell/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Folly Beach

It's all fun in the sun at the closest beach to Charleston. Stay at beachfront lodging and watch surfers take to the waves at a prime East Coast surfing location.  Once the day in the surf is complete, discover local historical sites and stay for dining and the nightlife.

Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market offers local food selections alongside arts and crafts. (©foto-select/Shutterstock)

Charleston City Market

Day or night, the Charleston City Market is a popular destination.

One of the nation's oldest markets, items from hats to caviar are sold in the Great Hall and from three open-air sheds. The night market, open Friday and Saturday, is the Southeast's largest market for handmade goods. Work up a hunger shopping? Don't worry, there are plenty of restaurants outside the market's walls in addition to a few food stalls within the market.

Angel Tree Oak

Angel Tree Oak

Travel to Johns Island to Angel Oak Park to marvel at the Angel Tree Oak. This southern live oak is thought to be more than 1,400 years old and is the place to get out of the hot sun under its 17,200-square-feet of shade. The park is open daily but times change with the season.

Dog walker on the West Ashley Greenway in Charleston
Run, bike or walk on the West Ashley Greenway. (©Jason Alan Layne/Flickr, Creative Commons)

West Ashley Greenway

The West Ashley Greenway is a multipurpose trail converted from an old rail line and attracts a wide variety of outdoor enthusiasts. Run, bike, walk—dogs included—on the 10.5 mile, wide trail that stretches from suburban West Ashley to Johns Island. It mostly follows State Highway 17 and recommended parking for access is just north of the South Windermere Shopping Center.

Charles Towne Landing

A cheap entrance ticket ($6-$10) gives visitors access to Charles Town Landing, the first English settlement in the Carolinas in addition to recreated sailing ships, an experimental garden and more. 

Charleston Tea Plantation
Tea plants stretch for as far as the eye can see at the Charleston Tea Plantation. (©Gabrielle Hovey/Shutterstock)

Charleston Tea Plantation

Out of hundreds of tea plantations around the world, The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only one in the United States. It is a major attraction on picturesque Wadmalaw Island as 65,000 yearly visitors can attest. In addition to seeing acres of tea plants, take a tour of the tea factory and discover the processes involved in making tea. The entrance to the plantation is free, in addition to the tour, but the trolley ride through the plantation grounds comes at a small fee.

The Battery waterfront in Charleston
(©Ron Rocz/Charleston International Antiques Show)

The Battery

At the tip of Charleston's peninsula during the Civil War there was a battery site bordered by the rivers on either side of the peninsula. This lower section of the peninsula has since been known as The Battery, famous for its antebellum mansions and historic points of interest. White Point Gardens is the famous municipal park within The Battery. The park was opened in the 1830s and is still open to the public today.

Cooper River Bridge (Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge)
Cooper River Bridge (©Chris/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge

Built in 2005, the single cable-stay Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge is popular for runners, walkers and pedestrians because of pedestrian lanes accompanying the eight-lane span. The bridge was originally called the Cooper River Bridge and some locals still refer to it as such. Get in a workout traversing the bridge's 2.7 mile length or come to town for the annual Cooper River Bridge 10K where hundreds of runners make their way over the bridge.

Rainbow Row in Charleston
Charleston's most photographed point, Rainbow Row (©David Shankbone/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Rainbow Row

"Charleston Row House" has its own place in architecture history because of houses like those on Rainbow Row. This ultra-photogenic neighborhood in Charleston features houses in the traditional Charleston Row House style, built before the Civil War and restored during the 1920s. As history would have it, at the time of restoration bright, Caribbean-inspired home exteriors were in style and this chic section of Charleston has remained popular ever since.

Charleston Waterfront Park
Charleston's Riley Waterfront Park (©Cvandyke/Shutterstock)

Waterfront Parks

Riley Waterfront Park is centrally located to The Charleston City Market and is an ideal spot for families to spend time together. The rectangular lawn is tailor-made for picnics and kids can cool off by playing in the park's fountains, which dazzle when they light up at night. There is no worry about being unplugged for too long, the park has free Wi-Fi Internet access.

To the north of Charleston Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park has a nautical-themed playground and shops. The Mount Pleasant pier, part of the memorial park, stretches out into the Charleston Harbor. The pavilion on the end of the pier is home to a full calendar of local events including favorites like the Shagging on the Cooper dance parties.

Fort Moultrie outside of Charleston, South Carolina
A reenactor at one of the barracks on Fort Moultrie (©Ron Cogswell/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Fort Moultrie

Pay the ferry fee to ride out to Fort Moultrie and then explore the island free of charge. During the Revolutionary War, this series of forts on Sullivan's Island was built to protect the city of Charleston and Charleston Harbor from British advances. Explore the recreated Palmetto log barracks and see what they would have looked like during the original 1776 construction.

Students at the Charleston Citadel Student parades
Citadel Student Parades are time-honored traditions in Charleston. (©His Noodly Appendage/Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Citadel Student Parades

Each year, Fridays in the fall and spring months mean daytime parades led by the Citadel students in uniform. These marches are based on historic military review policies and parading that began more than 100 years ago. There are awards ceremonies associated with many of these marches. The parades are held on Summerall Field and are open to the public. 

Pitt Street Bridge
Pitt Street Bridge (©Cvandyke/Shutterstock)

Pitt Street Bridge

The Pitt Street Bridge is imprinted on the history of Mount Pleasant's Old Village. Built in 1898, the bridge linked Old Village to Sullivan's Island and was once the lone avenue for getting to the beaches from Mount Pleasant. Today, it is a prime location for panoramic vistas of Charleston Harbor.