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Free or Cheap Things to Do in Charleston
Entertain Yourself on a Budget in Charleston, SC
Charleston, South Carolina has been a favorite spot for tourists for many years. Now that Southwest flies into the Charleston International Airport, the city is even more accessible. But if you're in town for a few days or more, you may find yourself opening your wallet again and again for admission to museums, historic homes, plantations, and the like. As a local, I would like to offer you some suggestions for free (or super-low cost) attractions that will satisfy your need for history, beauty, scenery and more. The picture to the left is a glimpse of Charleston Harbor and the historic Battery and is from my personal collection.
Here are a few freebies.
1. WALK THE ARTHUR RAVENEL BRIDGE.
Finished in 2005, this is the longest suspension bridge in North America. It is 2.5 miles long and the towers, at 550 feet tall, cast a long shadow over Charleston Harbor. Whether you enter from the Charleston side or the Mount Pleasant, SC side, you can walk, run, or bike the entire length of the bridge. Hovering above the water, views of downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant, the USS Yorktown, Sullivan's Island, Castle Pinckney and other spots are unequalled.
2. HAMPTON PARK.
Near The Citadel, South Carolina's military college, this park offers botanical beauty at almost every time of year. Walking the trail in the park will give you a mile of gazing upon a few historic homes and stables for the city's Mounted Horse Patrol.
3. WHITE POINT GARDENS/THE BATTERY.
Giving yourself a walking tour of downtown Charleston is always free, and sometimes the most enjoyable activity for tourists. Don't forget to make your way down to the Battery to see historical markers and cannons. The sidewalk is an elevated concrete bank where Charleston Harbor's waves lap gently below. This is the tip of the peninsula where the city sits, and features some of Charleston's most beautiful homes along with historic Fort Sumter Hotel. Don't forget to make your way back up the peninsula to the Waterfront Park for additional views of the USS Yorktown, sailboats, ferries, and cargo and cruise ships coming and going.
4. THE BEACHES.
If the beach bum life is for you, there are plenty of beaches from which to choose. Folly Beach offers some of the area's best surfing. Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island offer wider swaths of sand at low tide for walking, playing or sunbathing. Some areas on Folly and Isle of Palms now have parking meters, but there are still plenty of spots near beach access to park for free. Of course, the county parks offer easy beach access with convenient parking lots, showers, and bathrooms, but they charge $7 per car.
Angel Oak Tree
Thought to be one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi River, the 1,400-year-old Angel Oak Tree is worth a little drive to Johns Island, due south of Charleston.
- Find the Angel Oak Tree
Free to see it. When I was a child, you could access it and climb all over it, if you wanted. They now have it more protected, as they should.
Charleston Tea Plantation - Very close to the Angel Oak Tree
Just around the corner, you will find America's only working tea plantation! It's worth a stop as well, as the factory tour is free! Owned by Bigelow, it's a great place to buy or sip local tea. There is a trolley tour for a fee, but it's nice just to drive through one of the tea fields on your way in to the factory/gift shop.
Take a short trip to Summerville - Free walking tour of this historic village.
Summerville is a short distance from Charleston - just the other side of the plantations. Make your way to the Visitor Center and pick up a free brochure to guide you on the walking tour. The lovely old homes, beautiful trees and flowers, and grand history of what used to be a summer retreat from Charleston is definitely worth it!
- Visitor Center for Summerville, the Birthplace of Sweet Tea
Click here for information on the Birthplace of Sweet Tea, Summerville. The town was founded as a summer retreat from Charleston, to escape mosquitoes, malaria, and humidity.
Not free, but close to it!
1. FORT MOUTRIE/FORT SUMTER.
Fort Moultrie (located on Sullivan's Island), until not too long ago, had free admission. Still very close to it, they now only charge $3 per person age 16 and older. Those who are age 15 and younger are free. This fort holds a wealth of military history ranging from the Revolution to WWII. Seeing the actual fort itself, along with the artifacts and information available in the museum, is well worth the measly $3 per adult. Fort Sumter (located on a small island in Charleston Harbor) offers free admission to those arriving by private boat, if you have the opportunity to get out there in such a manner. Otherwise, the tour boat fare is a little pricey at $10-17.
2. CAW CAW INTERPRETIVE CENTER.
Only $1 per person at the gate, this county park gives you 6 miles of walking trails with historic stops along the way. This park consists of lands formerly belonging to rice plantations, so education on wildlife preservation and the history of slavery is an opportunity at this site. http://www.ccprc.com/index.aspx?NID=53
For more information on Charleston, South Carolina and its attractions, visit the CVB's website at http://www.charlestoncvb.com/
Travel Guides About Charleston
If you haven't bought yourself a tour, then a travel book is a good idea. Tours can be very personal and helpful, depending on which one you choose. But if you are one of those people who likes to go it alone, then you probably already know which guide books you prefer! I personally think Moon, Fodor's, and Frommer's are always winners.
Charleston maps - Getting around
Getting around in Charleston can be tricky for someone not familiar with the one way streets and strangely-shaped blocks. Getting from Point A to Point B can be hard enough, but the way back is rarely the same as the way there! Be prepared with your own street map before you arrive in the Holy City.
Bicycle Tours - Not free or cheap, but definitely worth it!
Are you a cyclist? My friends Karen and Alex Graham own this upscale bike tour company. They are fantastic people and dear friends. They have pre-set itineraries, but are also willing to work with you and your group if you have specific themes or destinations in mind. They provide you with a package that includes your accommodations, van transportation where necessary, the tours, rental bikes if needed, and delicious gourmet meals. They can tailor your tour to what you want.
Again, not free or cheap, but if you are looking for a vacation where everything is included, this is a great option.
- Charleston Bicycle Tours
Contact Alex and Karen, and tell them Perrin sent you!
I'm a South Carolina lowcountry author
Check out my collection of short stories, and you will find some Charleston area references!
An elderly sweetgrass basket maker is forced from her home by real estate development.
A shrimper faces losing his father's boat to a tax lien.
A truck stop waitress has a grisly secret that will make you die laughing.
Available in paperback and e-book formats.