Best Charleston Boat Tours

A boat ride is an ideal experience to do in Charleston. Do you want to know the options available? Here are the most interesting alternatives.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

11 min read

Best Charleston Boat Tours

Boat through Charleston | ©Andrew Shelley

Although taking a guided tour of Charleston is a basic experience that every traveler should do. It is also true that experiencing Charleston from the sea is taking things to the next level.

Take note that both adventures are not exclusive of each other but rather complementary; which is why I highly recommend all my traveler friends touring the city for the first time to consider both in their itinerary of things to see and do in Charleston.

If you are determined to go on this adventure, here is a list of the best boat tour options in Charleston. As you will see, the city offers a variety of alternatives, seeking to adapt the experience to different types of travelers. Read carefully the options presented and choose the one that most resonates with you.

1. Historical tour of Charleston by cruise ship

Fort Sumter| ©Bubba73
Fort Sumter| ©Bubba73

This experience will take you aboard a scenic cruise for a historic tour of Charleston Harbor.

Depending on the company you hire for the main route, it usually covers from the original location in the harbor to the Fort Sumter National Monument, where the ship turns around and returns to the starting point. Please note that this excursion does not include visits to the monument, so if you wish to see it, you will have to choose another option.

While on the tour you will learn about the history of the city and its strong link to the river that has played a key role in all the important moments including the American Civil War.

But perhaps the most interesting point of this experience is the number of schedules available. The tour takes place in the morning, in the afternoon and at the end of the day to watch the sunset.

Consequently, it is very easy to arrange a space in the itinerary to take this adventure; I personally consider a boat ride one of the best activities to do in Charleston at night if you have a tight itinerary.

Useful information about Charleston

  • Price: Approximately $45 for an adult ticket, children from 4 to 11 years old pay about $30 on average and children under 3 years old get in for free.
  • Duration of excursion: You should reserve about 2 hours for this experience.
  • Recommended if... you want to take a fun and interesting tour along the coast of Charleston to see the city from the sea; it is also a great opportunity to learn about some interesting aspects of the history of the city and its link to the Cooper River.

Book a boat tour of Charleston

2. Sailboat ride in Charleston

Boat in Charleston| ©allisonmseward12
Boat in Charleston| ©allisonmseward12

Sailboat tours in Charleston are another way to tour the old city's waterfront, admire the beautiful southern homes of The Battery area from a distance and enjoy a few hours at sea.

Although some specific details of the excursion vary depending on the company you hire for the experience, most companies in Charleston offer the traveler a similar dock-to-dock tour that includes passing under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Other experiences you can expect to enjoy include going to Fort Sumter Island for a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean or stopping for a moment in the area set aside for swimming. It's even possible to watch dolphins swim and play off the coast of Charleston.

The main advantage of these excursions is that they are conducted in small groups of approximately 6 people or less. The experience takes place at different times so it is possible to accommodate even if you are only in town for a few days, such as 2 days in Charleston or less.

If you are contemplating a short trip to the city, the main advice is to make your reservations in advance, as due to the limited number of spaces, the tours can sell out quickly in times of high tourist flow.

Useful info

  • Price: Approximately 80 € the quota to access the sailboat. If you want a private trip for you and your family the price to pay is around 500 € and can participate up to 6 travelers.
  • Duration of the excursion: Depending on the company you hire, the sailing time is usually about 3 hours.
  • Recommended if... You enjoy personalized, private or semi-private experiences. The group tour option may be the best alternative if you are on vacation with friends or family.

3. Pirate cruise in Charleston for families

Pirate Ship| ©Viator
Pirate Ship| ©Viator

Charleston is without a doubt the best place to have a pirate adventure. In the city you will find several tour operators that offer this type of experience focused on children and whose main objective is to offer a few hours of fun and a few lessons about the pirate history of Charleston and the post-conquest.

Some of the distinctive elements in this experience are: the possibility of dressing up the children as pirates with patches, hats and pirate flags. The pirate ship is equipped with several telescopes to look for dolphins in the distance making it one of the best activities if you go to Charleston with children.

It is an all-ages tour in which children of any age range can participate but always accompanied by a responsible adult. Although the specific details vary slightly depending on the company you hire for the experience, local companies put extra effort into making the experience educational and fun for everyone.

Useful information for families

  • Price: Each crewmember over 1 year of age must pay about 38€ on average; some companies allow babies under 1 year of age to participate free of charge, others charge a reduced rate of about 10€.
  • Duration of the excursion: The tour of the Cooper waters will take approximately 90 minutes to complete.
  • Recommended if... You want to take a boat tour to see dolphins and the Charleston coastline but are worried your kids will get bored on a traditional tour. This kid-focused experience guarantees a few hours of fun for everyone.

4. Cruise to Moris Island in Charleston

Sunset and Boating at Sullivans Island| ©Steve Hammer
Sunset and Boating at Sullivans Island| ©Steve Hammer

Located just off the entrance to Charleston Bay Moris Island is an uninhabited land area of approximately 2.5 square miles accessible only by boat that connects the Charleston County area to the waters of the gigantic Atlantic Ocean.

Moris Island is also an important historical site that played a key role in the conflicts of its inhabitants, including the American Civil War and occupation struggles.

From the city of Charleston it is possible to visit Moris Island to see the beach, the coastline and the famous Moris Island lighthouse and admire the marine life of the area, including sightings of turtles, dolphins and other majestic creatures.

Depending on the company you hire, the tours to Moris Island can be done in medium size boats, with capacity for 12 crew members or less, or they can be done in larger boats with capacity for 30 crew members.

A tour to the Island is ideal if you have time to spend or if you are planning to stay 4 days in Charleston or more as, due to the rise and fall of the tide, tours often change departure times. Making your reservation online is usually the best way to avoid this type of mishap.

Useful info

  • Price: The Moris Island tours have an approximate cost of 55€ per traveler.
  • Duration of the excursion: The tour usually takes about 3 hours to complete. Take into consideration that you should be at least 20 minutes before the agreed time at the port of departure.
  • Recommended if... You want to experience the nature of the Charleston coastline in its purest and most undisturbed state. Moris Island is an ecological and natural enclave that has not suffered human intervention with spectacular natural wonders.

5. Ghost ship tour from Charleston.

Charleston Ghost Tour| ©Viator
Charleston Ghost Tour| ©Viator

In the city you will find numerous companies that offer this type of experience; the tours take place at night to hear the ghost stories of Charleston under the moonlight.

Charleston Harbor is an area filled with forts, ships and old antebellum homes. These spaces not only have significant historical value, but also served as the setting for the most lurid and terrifying stories you can imagine, making Charleston one of the most haunted cities in America.

Additionally, and due to the geographic constitution of the place, access on foot to some of these places is quite complicated; so a boat ride is the ideal alternative to enjoy the ghostly stories in conjunction with the incredible landscapes of the port.

If you want to take the experience to another level, and you have enough time to do both activities, I recommend taking a ghost and mystery tour in Charleston. This experience is offered in different schedules and formats; it is also considered one of the best experiences to do in this destination.

Useful info

  • Price: You will have to pay about 38€ for an adult ticket; children under 12 years old pay about 28€. Most companies do not allow children under 3 years old.
  • Duration of the excursion: You should reserve at least 2 hours for the boat tour. Make sure you are at the departure point 20 to 30 minutes before the agreed boarding time.
  • Recommended if... you love ghost stories and are always looking to enjoy this type of experience; I recommend it especially if you are going to Charleston with friends and want to have a fun night out of the ordinary.

Book a ghost tour in Charleston

6. Combined experience: Plantation tour and boat tour of Charleston

Charleston Plantations| ©AnubisAbyss
Charleston Plantations| ©AnubisAbyss

One of the best things about visiting Charleston is the possibility of being able to enjoy combined experiences in many of its main tourist activities.

One of the most interesting is the alternative of combining a traditional boat tour with a tour of the plantations from Charleston The plantations, located just outside the old town, represent an important part of the economic development and history of the city.

On the plantations you will find old manor houses belonging to the wealthiest families of the southern United States; famous for amassing great fortunes through the buying and selling of slaves.

Keep in mind that even if you purchase the tours together, you will almost certainly need to book the activities separately. You will also need time to do them, so I recommend purchasing this package if you are going to be in Charleston for at least 3 days and you can reserve one of them to visit the plantations.

Useful information about Charleston

  • Price: Available from 55€ per traveler, please note that the price increases depending on the number of plantations you will visit on the tour.
  • Duration of excursion: The boat tour will take at least 2 hours, while the plantation tour can take from 5 hours to a full day.
  • Recommended if... You are looking for a way to save time, money and effort in scheduling your vacation, as this package includes two of the best activities to do in the city.

Book a plantation tour from Charleston

7. Combined experience: car tour and boat tour of Charleston.

Boats in Charleston| ©Arturo Nahum
Boats in Charleston| ©Arturo Nahum

Another combination experience that I recommend considering when you go Charleston for the first time is one that includes a drive through the city followed by a boat tour of the waterfront. Combining the two experiences allows the traveler to get a very comprehensive view of Charleston's environment by touring it by water and by land.

As you will see upon your arrival, car tours in Charleston are very popular tours in which the traveler gets to know the old part of the city from the hand of an expert guide who explains the most outstanding places.

For its part, the boat ride allows you to know the strong link of the city with the waters of the Cooper River, as well as the important role it plays in the historical development of the city.

The programming of both activities together is ideal for all those travelers with short stays in the city, for example 1 day to get to know Charleston, and are looking to save planning time by doing some of the activities.

Please note that although the experiences are purchased together, they are done separately and can be scheduled on the same day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) or on different days.

Useful information

  • Price: From 75€ per adult ticket.
  • Duration of excursion: For the boat tours you must reserve at least 2 hours, while for the car tour you must reserve 1 hour of your itinerary.
  • Recommended if... You are looking for alternatives to organize your excursions in a simple way and without the need to research more alternatives. Besides helping you save money with this combined experience you only need to be at the agreed day and time.

Tips for an excursion to Charleston

Getting to know Charleston| ©robynfreaks
Getting to know Charleston| ©robynfreaks

If you have already decided to take your Charleston boat tour, take into consideration the following list of tips in order to make your experience as pleasant as possible.

  • Be on time: Boat tours, as well as other Charleston experiences, always depart at the time indicated on the itinerary. Additionally, travelers are asked to arrive 15 to 20 minutes before boarding. It is important to organize your itinerary to be on time at the time and place indicated and not miss your reservation.
  • Book in advance: This point is especially important if you are traveling to Charleston during peak tourist seasons such as the summer months, specifically Charleston in July or Charleston in August. A reservation in advance will ensure that you get a seat on the day and time that is most convenient for you.
  • Bring water and snacks: Boat tours in Charleston usually take more than 2 hours so bringing snacks and water is always a good idea.
  • Beware of seasickness: If you are one of those people who get seasick on boats, take the necessary precautions and follow the tips to avoid getting seasick on boats.

Why is it advisable to take a boat tour in Charleston?

Charleston Boat Sunset| ©Dave Stauffer
Charleston Boat Sunset| ©Dave Stauffer

A boat tour of Charleston is an excellent way to experience the culture and history of the city.

Unlike other tours and experiences in Charleston that focus almost exclusively on the old town, the boat tours travel through several important landmarks of American history such as the USSYorktown, Fort Sumter and Pinckney Castle; additionally you will have the opportunity to see very close to wonderful works of engineering and modern architecture such as the Arthur Ravenel Bridge.

Be aware that Charleston boat tours do not stop at these sites but you will have the opportunity to see them up close.

All cruises offer a narrated tour where interesting facts about the city and its most emblematic points are shared; additionally, the adventure is usually combined with other experiences such as the option to enjoy lunch or local food on the boat; in short, if you are passionate about history, architecture, and urban planning, this is an experience you should add to your list.