Charleston Walking Tour: Self-Guided Tour of the Holy City
Charleston is full of history and culture. You might not be able to see the entire city during your visit, but we’ll be darned if we let you miss out on some of our most famous sites. Whether or not you have a car, you’ll be able to trace the history of Charleston — from the original settlers to contemporary residents — on our self-guided Charleston walking tour.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #1: Historic Downtown
Most visitors head straight to our historic neighborhoods when their planes land in Charleston. We can’t blame them, either. Our downtown has some of the most beautiful buildings and informative museums in the South.
Visitors also love the fact that they can get around Downtown without a car. It’s easy to get to some of Charleston’s most famous sites in under a 30-minute walk.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #2: Charleston’s Churches
Charleston’s nickname is the Holy City, so it probably comes as no surprise that there are dozens of churches here. You could spend your entire vacation visiting these structures and enjoying their architecture — and never see all of them!
If you want to check out a few of the most stunning and historically important churches, check out our guide to the churches of the Holy City.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #3: King Street Shopping
Even if you don’t plan on leaving Downtown, you can still plan on doing some shopping. King Street is one of the most famous shopping districts in Charleston. Here, you’ll find locally owned boutiques, designer shops and chain stores.
Since Charleston’s weather is fair all year long, you can also enjoy the sunshine while you shop — no malls for Charleston, thank you very much.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #4: French Quarter
Charleston’s French Quarter might not be as popular as the one in New Orleans, but it’s just as beautiful. You could spend an entire day wandering the streets, visiting the museums and browsing the shops here. It’s probably one of the most famous tourist destinations in the historic downtown area.
Some of our favorite French Quarter attractions are right here on this list, including Rainbow Row, the Historic Charleston Market and the Old Slave Mart.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #5: Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row is one of the most stunning sights in the city. It consists of an entire street of candy-colored houses that have been beautifully restored.
There are a lot of rumors going around about the history of these pastel homes. Spoiler alert: they weren’t painted these colors until the 1920s! Even though the colors aren’t historically accurate, you’ll still want to swing by. They make for great photo opportunities.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #6: Historic Charleston Market
The Historic Charleston Market is one of the most popular spots for lunch, a light snack — and souvenir shopping! It takes about an hour to wander through all of the stalls here, and it ranks at No. 1 on Charleston’s ‘most visited attractions’ list.
You can find all types of hand-crafted gifts here, including sweetgrass baskets and kids’ clothes. On Fridays and Saturdays during the spring, summer and fall, the market also hosts a nighttime version of its popular day market. Open until 10:30 p.m., you can check out all your favorite vendors by the light of the moon.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #7: Old Slave Mart Museum and Provost Dungeon
The Old Slave Mart was once where African-American slaves were bought and sold before the end of slavery in 1865. This museum does a great job of explaining the Transatlantic Slave Triangle, the conditions on slave ships and the gravity of the life of an enslaved person in America.
Across the street is the Old Provost Dungeon. This dungeon was used by the British during the Revolutionary War and is now owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Head here to learn about Charleston’s Revolutionary history.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #8: Waterfront Park
This park runs along the eastern coast of Charleston’s downtown neighborhood. You can get great views of the harbor here — and awesome photos of our famous Pineapple Fountain.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #9: The Battery
The Battery is one of the most picturesque spots in Charleston. Right on the tip of the downtown peninsula, this park has great views of the harbor, Mount Pleasant and Fort Sumter. The name ‘Battery’ comes from an old battery that was built to defend the Charleston Harbor.
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #10: Alleyways and Passages
While you’re on your Charleston walking tour, you might want to pause at a few alleyways and passages that aren’t quite as famous as our Pineapple Fountain. Our alleyways and passages aren’t world famous (although they should be!) but offer insight into the lives of Charleston’s most famous residents.
If you love traveling off the beaten path, you’ll want to pass through a few of these hidden gems. If you need a little help finding them, our Hidden Alleyways and Passages tour will show you some of our favorites!
Charleston Walking Tour Stop #11: Mount Pleasant and Beyond
If you happen to have some extra time, rent a bike and head out to Mount Pleasant. This residential area will make you forget that city life is merely a bridge away. There’s plenty of shopping and restaurants out here — and some of the best beaches in South Carolina are accessible by this neighborhood.
You might also want to take a tour of Fort Sumter (where the first shots of the Civil War were fired); boats to the island leave from here every day, year-round.
Food and Drink on Your Self-Guided Tour
Charleston is known for its famous lowcountry cuisine. Our food is probably the biggest tourist attraction in the city (but don’t tell that to the Historic Charleston Market!). Here, you’ll find all your favorite southern dishes, including fried chicken, grits, shrimp, oysters, Frogmore stew and much more.
If you want to grab a light bite to eat and a cocktail, we recommend heading to the Planters Inn, where Planter’s punch was invented.
Or, if you’re craving something a little more substantial, you might want to head to the High Cotton Restaurant or the Lowcountry Bistro for some quintessential Charleston cuisine. Hungry for more? Check out our self-guided food tour or take a guided food tour of the city.