As Charleston is a popular tourist attraction we all know things can get out of control price wise dealing a blow to keeping on a budget. And with the holidays upon us, friends and family that might be headed to town for a visit might be asking about budget friendly things to do around the area.
While hitting the beach is an obvious choice during the summer months, historic Charleston South Carolina features a unique blend of old and new and it guarantees there is something for everyone to enjoy. The good news is that there are some wonderful activities that won’t bust your budget, from the beautiful natural setting and parks, history and architecture to popular shopping and dining options. Head out, have fun, be cheap and remember to call ahead or check the attractions website for current hours.
The historic Charleston City Market is an easy walk from any hotel and is located in the heart of downtown Charleston between North and South Market Streets. Starting in Great Hall and then the three open air sheds you can buy hand-made items such as sweet grass baskets, jewelry, baked goods, blown glass, saltwater taffy, local artwork and food. The Charleston City Market is one of the nation’s oldest markets and is the southeast’s largest markets for handmade goods and admission is always free. The market is currently open from 9:30AM until 5:00PM but the night market hours are currently suspended.
Some believe this southern live oak is 1,500 years old but most experts feel 400 – 500 is more accurate. Either way it is just a short trip from downtown Charleston to Angel Oak Park on John’s Island to marvel at one of the oldest living things in the United States. Admission to Angel Oak Park is always free.
Located on a marshy point in West Ashley where English settlers landed and founded what would become the Carolina Colony, the Charles Town Landing is an immersive experience where you can learn all about the earliest history of colonial Charleston, South Carolina.
Charles Town Landing also features 80 acres of gardens, an Animal Forest natural habitat zoo and Charleston’s only 17th century replica sailing ship. Open from 9:00AM until 5:00PM daily tickets range from an affordable $7 -$12 making this a great adventure.
While there are hundreds of tea farms around the world, The Charleston Tea Garden is the only one located in the United States. Sitting on picturesque Wadmalaw Island visitors can see acres and acres of tea plants and take a tour of the tea factory and discover the processes involved in making tea. The Charleston Tea Garden promises a once in a lifetime experience for tea lovers and entrance and tour are free but the trolley ride through the plantation grounds comes at a small fee. Please check ahead for trolley ride hours and availability.
Originally opened in the 1830’s, this section of Charleston sits at the tip of Charleston’s peninsula and during the Civil War there was a battery site bordered by the rivers on either side of the peninsula. Famous for its antebellum mansions and historic points of interest it also features White Point Garden. The waterfront promenade offers spectacular views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan Island Lighthouse. Admission is always free.
Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge
While some locals still refer to it as the Cooper River Bridge, the single cable Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge was constructed in 2005 and is hugely popular with runners, walkers and pedestrians because of pedestrian lanes accompanying the eight-lane span. You will get in a great workout while and enjoy spectacular views traversing the bridge’s 2.7 mile length. There is no fee to walk or drive across the bridge.
Built before the civil war and restored during the 1920’s this instagramable and photogenic neighborhood in Charleston features numerous houses in the traditional Charleston Row House style and painted in bold Caribbean-inspired colors. Exploring the neighborhood is free.
Named after Colonel William Moultrie who along with his men defended Charleston from the British during a nine hour battle on June 28th, 1776, Fort Moultrie is a series of Revolutionary War fortifications located at the end of Sullivan’s Island. The park features a recreational area, visitor center, historic Fort Moultrie, picnic area, and public dock. While the fort and visitor center are currently closed, Fort Moultrie is still a wonderful area to explore as children 15 and under are free and adults 16 and older are only $10.
Award winning 8 acre park that stretches along the Cooper River that features a large lawn perfect for sunning or picnics and the world famous often photographed Pineapple Fountain.
The Citadel’s parades are used to present awards and recognize students, faculty, staff, and other notable people and are free to the public. These are a modern day take on a tradition that dates back to Alexander the Great. Parades are currently canceled due to COVID requirements. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know when these restart.
Built in 1898, the bridge linked Old Village to Sullivan’s Island and was once trolley bridge and the lone avenue for getting to the beaches from Mount Pleasant. Today, it is a prime location for panoramic vistas of Charleston Harbor, recreation and relaxation. The area is free to enjoy.
On the second Sunday of every month, King Street in Charleston is closed to all vehicles from Queen Street north to Calhoun. This event includes live music, sidewalk sales, giveaways, artist demonstrations, and more. Enjoy a day of shopping and socializing on one of the best streets to shop. Occasionally a voucher for free parking for the event will be published on their website.
Located at the base of the Ravenel Bridge, the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park features a 1,250 pier perfect for an evening stroll or fishing. There is also a cafe, gift shop (where you can rent a rod & reel), fountains, a nautical themed playground and plenty of green space. Admission is free.
Shem Creek is a great place to stop in for a drink or a bite to eat. Start with a walk down the 2,200 foot long pier where you might get an up close view of dolphins swimming by the shrimp boats or kayakers enjoying the panoramic views of the marsh or Charleston harbor. Several great restaurants are right in the area as well where you can take in the sunset while dining outdoors and feast on fresh local seafood.
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is dedicated to interpreting the life of Charles Pinckney, his role in the development of the U.S. Constitution, his plantation, and the transition of colonial America to a young nation. Admission is free and the park is open from 9:00AM until 5:00PM Wednesday through Sunday. Currently the historic home is closed.
This 48 acre vineyard is located on Wadmalaw Island (about 22 miles SW of Charleston), features daily self guided wine tours from Tuesday through Saturday (10:00AM – 5:00PM) where you select your own adventure for $10 and get to sample six types of wine and keep a commemorative wine glass.
Landscape architect Loutrel Briggs designed the Gateway Walk after visiting a garden in Paris and it gets its name from the 10 wrought iron gates along its course. This free self-guided walk goes through old cemeteries, secluded gardens, and moss-covered oaks. It begins at the gates of St. John’s Lutheran Church on Archdale Street, crosses King Street and Meeting Street, and concludes at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.
Home to thousands of fossil specimens, including dinosaurs, cave bears, Pleistocene mammals of the Carolina’s, fossil plants and everyone’s favorite, the reconstructed jaw of a Megalodon. Geology students work at the museum and can give guided tours. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is a non-profit, non-collecting contemporary art institute within the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. The HICA presents contemporary art exhibitions by emerging or mid-career artists. The exhibits are always free and open to the public. Hours are Thursday and Friday from 11:00AM until 4:00PM during exhibitions which can be found on their website.
The Colonial Dorchester Historic site is a well preserved and working archaeological site that gives visitors an up close glimpse into the early history of colonial South Carolina. Admission for adults is only $3.00 and $1.00 for children ages 6 – 15. Hours change based on time of year so be sure to check the website or call ahead.
Magnolia Cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in Charleston. Founded in 1849, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many famous Charlestonians are laid to rest here along with the crew of the H.L. Hunley.
The current version of the Morris Island Lighthouse was built in 1876 but records show it has existed in some form since 1673. To see the lighthouse situated about 300 yards offshore you will need to drive as far north as possible on East Ashley Ave on Folly Beach, park, and then prepare for a 1/4 mile walk while following the signs.
West Ashley Greenway
This trail stretches 10.5 miles from the South Windermere Shopping Center on Folly Road to Johns Island. Parking is available at either end and the trail is open from dawn to dusk. It’s 100 feet wide and mostly hard-parked dirt. Plus, the trail is flat so it’s great for beginning bikers and kids. For the most part, the trail runs parallel to U.S. Highway 17 past neighborhoods, parks and marshes so there’s plenty to see.
Charleston Postal Museum
Discover the fascinating history of the postal service in Historic Charleston. This small but charming museum is located on the corner of Broad and Meeting streets in downtown. Enter the Post Office and follow the signs that point to the museum. The museum is open during normal business hours, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.