Charleston in 2 Days: everything you need to know

If your next travel adventure involves a 2-day stay in Charleston, congratulations! Despite the many interesting activities to do in this city, a well-organized 2-day itinerary is ideal for seeing a bit of everything essential. Here's how to do it.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

10 min read

Charleston in 2 Days: everything you need to know

Pedro de Carvalho Ponchio | ©Pedro de Carvalho Ponchio

As you may know Charleston is a city located in South Carolina famous for its rich culture, historic past and delicious food. As one of the most visited destinations in North America there is a lot to see and do in Charleston; so if you want to make the most of your time you'll need to prioritize what's most important.

Today I present to you my ideas for a 2-day itinerary in Charleston; the present travel plan includes two full days from morning to evening leaving out the arrival day and the departure day.

If you are looking for longer itinerary options, I recommend you to take a look at the itinerary of What to see in Charleston in 3 days or What to see in Charleston in 4 days.

Day 1: Tour Charleston on foot, horseback and boat.

Night Carriage| ©Ryan Johnson
Night Carriage| ©Ryan Johnson

The first day is all about seeing the highlights of the heart of Charleston, admiring the local architecture and learning a bit about its historic past. Don't forget to sample the delicious Southern food!

Start with a guided tour of Charleston

Charleston is a city rich in history and culture, so one of the best activities you can do on the morning of your first day is a guided tour of the city, so you'll learn a bit about the history of the city and its most emblematic corners from an expert guide.

You will find many local companies in Charleston that offer this type of experience. Generally, the tour lasts about 2 hours and costs from 30€ per traveler. They are conducted on foot, taking in the highlights in a leisurely stroll through the heart of the city.

Don't you feel like walking? Other alternatives for those who do not want to do a walking tour are the Charleston sightseeing bus or take one of the famous carriage tours where a guide takes travelers through the most beautiful streets and highlights of downtown Charleston.

Book a guided tour of Charleston

Drive to The Battery

Considered among the best things to do in Charleston, you can't leave the city without taking a relaxing stroll along the picturesque boardwalk located at the southern end of the city.

I recommend taking advantage of the end of your downtown tour to go to the South of Broad residential area and specifically to The Battery to enjoy one of the best views Charleston has to offer. Take your camera ready!

As you tour the area be sure to spend time in the White Point Garden one of Charleston's most important and beautiful public parks where you will find giant oak trees and beautifully preserved palm trees. Several American Civil War memorials are also located here.

  • Hours: Open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Admission: Free to the public.
  • Duration of visit: 1 to 2 hours may be enough to see the highlights of the site.

Visit the Nathaniel Russell House Museum.

Nathaniel Russell House Museum| ©Dima Sergiyenko
Nathaniel Russell House Museum| ©Dima Sergiyenko

Leaving the White Point Garden behind, the famous Nathaniel Russell House Museum is less than a 10-minute walk down Meeting Street in the heart of Charleston.

It is a visit I highly recommend to anyone interested in Charleston's historical past, the social dynamics and lifestyle of the people just a few centuries ago.

Nathaniel Russell was a famed and wealthy Southern merchant who, like other great lords of the time, amassed his fortune by relying primarily on slave labor and labor. The Russell family's slaves comprised at least 20 men and women who built and maintained the home and beautiful gardens.

If your trip to Charleston is of short duration and you don't have a chance to visit the plantations, a tour of the Nathaniel Russell House will help you understand the living conditions of these enslaved people.

Leaving aside the terrible historical context, the house itself is an admirable work of Southern architecture; on the tour pay special attention to the spiral staircase, the beautiful hand-carved furniture and the dreamy gardens.

  • Hours: The museum is open to the public from 10 am to 6 pm, every day of the year.
  • Admission fee: The museum visit costs about 15 € for an adult ticket and 7 € for children from 6 to 16 years old. Children under 6 years old are free.
  • Duration of the visit: The tour of the house and the different rooms will take just over 1 hour to complete.

Take a lunch break

As you will notice on your tour in the South of Broad area you will not find any commercial establishments, much less restaurants, but when you leave Nathaniel Russell House you are on the edge of the residential area and nearby there are several alternative restaurants where you can have a snack.

Below is a list of some options, but I recommend each traveler to do their own research based on their personal preferences.

  • The Establishment If you're craving seafood, this elegant seafood restaurant offers classic southern dishes.

  • Brown Dog Deli If you want to eat with the locals, Brown Dog Deli offers deli sandwiches in an eighties-inspired space.

  • Millers All Day Bistro, bakery and bar in a friendly, family-friendly space. They have an excellent collection of craft beer and desserts.

Stroll along and see the beautiful Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row| ©Cathy nickname
Rainbow Row| ©Cathy nickname "Cat

On the other side of the promenade and just a 5-minute walk from the museum is Rainbow Row. Here you will find a row of beautiful mansions built in the purest southern style, a type of architecture that arose from the mixture of several currents and became extremely popular during the seventeenth century.

The row of houses look directly onto The Battery waterfront and will take you back to the years when Charleston was the heart and soul of maritime and commercial activity throughout the area.

Today the houses on Rainbow Row are painted in a variety of pastel and tropical colors, so be sure to have plenty of batteries and take lots of pictures during your visit.

Take a boat ride on Charleston at sunset.

End your first day in Charleston by taking a sunset boat ride; this is one of the most relaxing activities you can do in this destination and also one of the most demanded by travelers visiting the city for the first time. Consequently, you will find several local companies that offer this experience.

While aboat tour of Charleston can be done at any time of the day, I personally recommend sunset to enjoy the sunset over Charleston's historic harbor.

In addition to seeing numerous sights from the waterfront, with this tour you will also have the opportunity to learn about the maritime history of the city, to make it even more enriching and interesting. If you go to Charleston in July or August, taking the boat ride at the end of the day is the best alternative to escape the heat.

  • Hours: Sunset tours take place around 6 or 7 pm depending on the season.
  • Price: From approximately €45 per traveler. Minors will pay reduced rate.
  • Duration: The tour takes about 2 hours to complete, you must be at the port 20 minutes before minimum to board.

Book a boat tour of Charleston

Day 2: Visit the markets and national landmarks.

Charleston City Market| ©Historic Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market| ©Historic Charleston City Market

Take advantage of your second day in Charleston to visit the local markets and learn about the dynamics of its citizens. I also recommend touring the war sites located just beyond the heart of the city and learn a bit about Charleston's connection to the war against slavery.

Wake up early and visit the Charleston City Market

Wake up early the morning of your second day of exploration to check out Charleston's City Market. Located in the heart of the city, this is a highly tourist-oriented market where you can see firsthand what life is like in the Old South; it has been in operation since the 19th century and is one of the oldest urban markets in the United States.

Some of the things you will find in the stalls of the Charleston City Market are: toys, clothing, art, leather goods, local crafts and much more. Consequently, a visit to the market is an excellent opportunity to purchase travel souvenirs and gifts.

I recommend paying special attention to the artisans of Gullah, African-American hand-woven baskets, a tradition that originated in West Africa and has been kept alive in this area by passing the knowledge from one generation to the next.

  • Hours: Monday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 6 pm. Friday and Saturday evenings from 18:30h to 22:30h.
  • Admission fee: Free for the general public.
  • Duration of the visit: I recommend booking at least 1 hour to visit this attraction.

Break for lunch

Leaving the Charleston City Market behind you head towards the waterfront to find restaurants and some of Charleston's best dining options. Use the following list as a reference but I recommend doing your own research.

  • Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar Seafood restaurant with fabulous views of the Cooper River.

  • The Griffon American cuisine restaurant specializing in burgers and craft beer, the ambiance of the place resembles an elegant English pub.

  • Poogan's Smokehouse Industrial-style restaurant serving traditional southern barbecue and signature cocktails.

Walk to Joe Riley Waterfront Park

Pineapple fountain in the park| ©charlee955
Pineapple fountain in the park| ©charlee955

The Waterfront Park is just an 8-minute walk from Charleston's waterfront. Here you will find another of the city's most important parks and gardens and one of the most loved and visited by tourists and locals alike.

Founded in 1990, the most prominent and photographed site is the famous pineapple-shaped water fountain. I recommend taking the obligatory photograph of this important site as a testament to your visit to Charleston and then spend some time strolling the beautiful walkways where you get spectacular views of the Charleston waterfront.

You will find the walk relaxing, especially after the hustle and bustle that characterizes the Charleston market.

  • Hours: Generally from 07:00 am to 9:30 pm. Closing time may vary especially during the winter season in Charleston.
  • Admission fee: Free for all visitors.
  • Duration of visit: I recommend booking between 1 or 2 hours to enjoy the view and the nature of the place.

See Fort Sumter National Monument.

On your second day in Charleston take some time to visit Fort Sumter National Monument, which stands on a small man-made island in Charleston Harbor a short distance from South of Broad.

The main way to access it is by taking the Charlestone ferry or Water cab line which, although not the main attraction, is a short ride across the waters that you will enjoy immensely.

In the enclave you will find caves with stone caverns that today house several cannons from the Civil War era. It is a highly recommended visit especially if you go to Charlestone with children, as the war stories and the opportunity to see old armaments up close is very entertaining for them.

The attraction is free and open to the public, however, the Charlestone Ferry service obviously has limited numbers per trip. I recommend purchasing tickets in advance to ensure space on the day and time you want to visit.

  • Hours: Open to the public daily from 09h to 18h.
  • Entrance fee: The entrance to Fort Sumter is free, however the cost of the ferry to get to the island is around 30€ per passenger.
  • Duration of visit: You should reserve 3 hours or more for this adventure.

In the evening: take the Charleston Ghost Tour

Make the most of your time in the city and conclude your last day in Charleston by doing one of the best things to do in Charleston at night: A ghost and mystery tour to learn about the dark past of the southern city.

Charleston is considered one of the most haunted cities in the United States, which is why this activity is highly demanded by tourists looking to learn firsthand the stories that gave birth to the myth.

In the city you will find numerous companies offering the Charleston ghost tour in different formats, with different themes and visiting different locations. You will find from family tours that can be attended by children to tours exclusively for adults due to the content of the stories.

  • Hours: You will find ghost tours at different times, but I recommend doing them at dusk.
  • Price: Around 35€ per traveler.
  • Duration: You should reserve at least 2 hours for the tour.

Enjoy a dinner to say goodbye to the city

At the Pour Taproom| ©Jeannie
At the Pour Taproom| ©Jeannie

Once the Charleston ghost tour is over, take advantage of your proximity to the historic area of the city to enjoy a delicious dinner and relax.

The old town is filled with many small restaurants and bars with a lot of personality so I recommend spending a little time before your trip to find the best one for you.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Gaulart & Maliclet Fast and French Inc. French bistro style restaurant that during the day and night offers quality beer and a collection of French wines.

  • Queen An elegant terrace bar whose selection of artisanal coffees, Southern desserts and teas is among the best in the area.

  • The Establishment If you want to enjoy typical southern dishes The Establishment has a varied and delicious gastronomic offer. Their meals are served with a variety of classic beers, wine and bourbon drinks.

Book a ghost tour