10 Things to Do in Charleston in May

Traveling to Charleston in May and don't know what to do? This month is full of art, music, culture and sports festivals. Each week you will find a different activity to have an amazing month in America's Holy City.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Things to Do in Charleston in May

Downtown Charleston | ©Nick Amoscato

May is an ideal month to find many things to see and do in Charleston. This historic city is known for its emphasis on the arts, starting with its well-preserved old churches, museums and iconic French Quarter.

If you like to party with electronic music or experience new cultures, Charleston in May is the destination you've been looking for. This city's community has an admirable cultural diversity, so during the month you'll see a Caribbean festival, a Greek festival, international celebrations and more.

1. Visit Charleston's plantations

Charleston Plantations| ©AnubisAbyss
Charleston Plantations| ©AnubisAbyss

Spring is ideal for visiting Charleston's natural sites. Among them are its famous plantations, sites steeped in the history of colonization. At the plantations, you can walk along flower-filled paths, see lush trees and soak up the peace that only nature can bring.

Among the most popular plantations is Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. Here you can take a guided tour of the gardens, the house, a boat ride, learn about the fauna and flora of the site or enjoy a good cup of coffee. Tickets cost an average of €5.

Another similar site is Middleton Place National Plantation. In addition to a nice walk through the gardens, you can take a historical tour. It also has comfortable facilities where you can spend the night with access to a swimming pool. If there is an ideal time of the year to visit these plantations without suffering from cold or heat, this is it, so don't miss it.

Book an excursion to the Charleston Plantations

2. Take a cruise in Charleston Harbor

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

During the winter it is not recommended to take a cruise and in summer it can be a good plan, but with very high temperatures. Spring is the perfect season to take a cruise in Charleston Harbor. Take advantage of the cool breeze and clear skies in May and enjoy a different day in this city.

This plan offers different options for all tastes. If you are traveling as a couple and want something romantic, I recommend choosing a sunset cruise. Usually these trips last two hours and allow you to watch dolphins in the sea and birds in the sky. You will definitely fall in love all over again with this cruise!

Other cruises take place during the day and can focus on the history of the harbor and Charleston. Others even have fun themes, such as the ghost cruise or the pirate cruise for kids.

There is a perfect option for all tastes, the idea is that you will have a great time with these cruises.The prices of these cruises can vary, but are usually between 80 and 150 €. This will depend on the company organizing the event.

I recommend you to bring sunscreen for these tours as you will be exposed to UV rays for 2 or more hours, which is the duration of these tours.

Book a boat tour in Charleston

3. Go to the North Charleston Art Festival

North Charleston Art Festival| ©Ed Makense
North Charleston Art Festival| ©Ed Makense

During the first week of May, North Charleston celebrates the Arts Festival organized by the City of North Charleston's Cultural Arts Department.

During that week, the city's culture and music are promoted, giving opportunity to local artists who are engaged in dance, music, theater, visual arts or literature.

This festival has been held for more than 38 years and attracts both Charlestonians and tourists. Among the activities you will enjoy are a series of plays, workshops and exhibitions. You'll also have the opportunity to see concerts and outdoor art installations.

You'll also find activities for the whole family in public spaces such as libraries, community centers, schools, businesses and parks. The city becomes an ideal space for everyone to participate in art.

In this event you will be able to see different activities such as the National Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition or the South Carolina Palmetto Hands Craft Competition and Exhibition, as well as Art and Photography Competitions and Exhibitions, among others. These events are for invited artists who come from all over the country.

4. Participate in the Spoleto USA Festival

Spoleto USA Festival| ©ProfReader
Spoleto USA Festival| ©ProfReader

The Spoleto USA Festival is an annual celebration that takes place over 17 days in May in Charleston.

Theaters, churches and public spaces lend their facilities for theater actors, dancers, opera singers, jazz musicians, among others, to perform their works. The festival generally begins at the end of May and lasts until June.

To participate in any of the festival activities, it is necessary to check the dates and places where the events will take place. You can find the information on the website.

With accurate information you will be able to plan your experience. Although there is some activity every day, most of them take place on weekends, while others are only for one night.

Free parking is usually available in the avenues where the festival is held. Tickets can be obtained on the website or through a phone call. Ticket prices vary from year to year, so I recommend you check the website.

Also, if you are visiting just for the festival, you can buy a package that includes reservations at certain hotels. With this package you will get a voucher of approximately 50 € to buy tickets or posters of the festival.

5. Enjoy the 5 May Festival

5 May Festival| ©K Chanter
5 May Festival| ©K Chanter

Every May 5th commemorates the Battle of Puebla in which the Mexican army defeated the French military in 1862. To celebrate this date, the city of Charleston annually holds the 5 de Mayo Festival, an event where you will find music, food and shows with a Mexican theme.

Over the years, this Mexican celebration was taken to the United States, becoming an event that unites migrants with the inhabitants of this country. During the celebration , the cultural diversity of the city is honored. In addition, a portion of the money collected is usually donated to a non-profit organization.

The festival is held at the Visitor Center Bus Terminal. Local celebrities have the opportunity to compete in the "Dancing with the Local Stars" contest. In addition to watching the competition, if you attend this festival you will have the opportunity to sample authentic Mexican food, margaritas and Mexican beer.

To participate in the festival you need to buy your tickets. You can do so at the door of the event or on their website. Tickets are usually very affordable and children under 12 years old can participate free of charge.

Practical information

  • Location: Visitor Center bus terminal.
  • When to go: May 5th of every year.
  • Price: around 10 €.
  • Hours: 7:00 pm - 11:30 pm

6. Discover the art of the French Quarter

Outside the Atrium Art Gallery| ©clarissa:)
Outside the Atrium Art Gallery| ©clarissa:)

May is a great month to celebrate art in Charleston. It's springtime: what could go wrong? Within this artistic realm, it would be ideal for you to visit the French Quarter. You can stroll through its cobblestone streets and discover art in all the buildings and galleries tucked away on this iconic street.

I recommend visiting the Atrium Art Gallery, one of the largest art galleries in Charleston. There you will find a variety of works by local artists.

You can also stop by the Charleston Craft Cooperative, a gallery of handcrafted products made with fused glass, ceramics, wood, among other materials. In addition to the other galleries you can visit, I recommend exploring the Gibbes Museum of Art. Here you can take a tour of American art that in turn incorporates the history of the city of Charleston.

Since it is spring, it will be best to walk around in very pleasant temperatures, so don't hesitate at all to take this walk.

7. Enjoy the Greek Festival in Charleston

Greek Festival in Charleston| ©Brad Nettles
Greek Festival in Charleston| ©Brad Nettles

Charleston is characterized for being a city full of art and a variety of cultures among which the Greek culture stands out. Annually in this city the Greek Festival takes place during a whole weekend. If you travel to Charleston during the first week of May, do not miss the opportunity to attend this festival and take a tour of the church.

During the weekend the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church opens its doors to all who wish to celebrate Greek culture. Tickets are available on the festival website. Prices usually cost from 3 to 5 € and children under 12 years old can participate without paying tickets.

When you enter the festival you will be able to taste authentic Greek food. Try delicious pastries, authentic gyros, Greek coffee, beer and wine. For dinner or lunch you can have lamb and baklava, and much more!

Meanwhile, enjoy live Greek music, as well as traditional dances performed by groups such as Kyklonakia, Palamakia, Asteria, among others.

Practical Info

  • Location: 30 Race Street, Charleston, SC 29403.
  • When to go: first weekend in May.
  • Price: about $5.
  • Hours: Friday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm

8. Visit the Harleston Village

Harleston Village| ©Warren LeMay
Harleston Village| ©Warren LeMay

May is the ideal month to stroll through the streets of Charleston, so I invite you to visit the neighborhood of Harleston Village, originally from the eighteenth century. Here you will find numerous buildings with Italianate and Georgian style architecture. The area is also full of trees that begin to bloom at this time.

Here you can spend a quiet afternoon walking along the sidewalks or riding a bike under the shade of the trees of Colonial Lake. This park is known as "the pond" and locals often visit it to fish. Needless to say, walking around this place is totally free and you can do it on your own, as it is a small area.

To the east of this neighborhood you will find King Street, the center of Charleston's bars, restaurants and stores. If you're interested in checking out American college life, you can visit the College of Charleston campus.

9. Watch the Kentucky Derby at a bar or restaurant

Kentucky Derby| ©Cassara
Kentucky Derby| ©Cassara

The Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race in the United States.

On the first Saturday in May, this thoroughbred race is held in Louisville, Kentucky, during the two-week long Derby Festival. The whole country, but especially the south where the city of Charleston is located, gets caught up in the excitement of this event.

It won't be too hard to find a bar or restaurant where you can watch the race on TV. Meet up with the locals and enjoy a night of sports while enjoying dinner with your favorite beer. Equestrianism is really important in the south of the United States and if you go to Charleston around this time, I am sure you will be able to experience it.

Usually bars and restaurants announce if they are going to organize a Derby Party, so I recommend you to do some research and decide which restaurant is your favorite.

If you want to take a tour of the city and find out what are the best places to watch the sport or spend a nice evening, I recommend you to take a tour bus tour in Charleston.

Book your Charleston sightseeing bustour

10. Discover the natural parks of Charleston

In North Charleston Wannamaker County Park| ©Ian May
In North Charleston Wannamaker County Park| ©Ian May

Spring is slowly making its appearance in Charleston and if you visit this city in May, you will experience this season in all its splendor. That's why I recommend you to visit the natural parks that this city has. This is an ideal plan if you are traveling with your family, since children and adults can spend a pleasant time in nature.

One of the parks you can visit is the James Island Country Park. Here you can go fishing, biking or camping outdoors. You can also use the volleyball court or have a barbecue. The entrance fee to this park is less than 2 €.

For its part, the North Charleston Wannamaker County Park, in addition to having spaces like the park I mentioned above, has a golf course. Its large forest allows you to do many group activities.

Another park that you will love is the Palmetto Islands County Park, where you can enjoy a tropical environment and an observation tower.

You can also enjoy the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, considered a wildlife reserve. In the latter you will only have the opportunity to observe the animals and learn from them, as bicycles and other activities are not allowed.

What the weather is like in May in Charleston

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

If you travel to Charleston during the month of May you should be prepared for some rain, but with pleasant and stable temperatures. Daily temperatures vary between 4 °C, 25 °C and 29 °C. On a very hot day, 32°C can be recorded, but this is not common and it is best to pack moderately thick clothing.

Also, cloudy days can be very common, with the exception of the first few days of the month when the skies are usually somewhat clear. One of the advantages of traveling to Charleston in this month is that the day lasts longer compared to winter. Sunrise is usually around 6:12 am and sunset is around 8:30 pm.

If you travel toCharleston during winter, your plans will have to be adjusted, but in spring there is nothing to fear: just enjoy the good weather.

Traveller Tip

Always travel with a sweater to protect you from the cold. Bring an umbrella in case you get caught in the rain while visiting a festival.

What to pack for a visit to Charleston in May

Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes
Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes

To travel to Charleston in May you should not prepare for super cold or hot days, as the weather is mostly cool and calm. However, I recommend bringing cool clothes and sweaters in case you plan any evening activities in Charleston.

For outdoor plans it would be good to bring sturdy shoes and cool clothes that allow you to move to the rhythm of the music you will enjoy at the festivals. It is good to pack several changes of clothes as most festivals last two to three days.

If you plan to camp or picnic, be sure to bring a blanket or mat on which you can rest and organize your food. Chairs and tents are also items you will want to take with you. I recommend you go prepared for an unforgettable experience in Charleston.