Founded in the mid-17th century, the historic port city of Charleston positively oozes southern charm. The largest city in South Carolina, it is dotted with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and pastel antebellum houses, and attracts significant numbers of visitors each year, encouraged by the regular surveys that name it as one of America’s most friendly and desirable destinations.
Among those who come to Charleston are families keen to introduce their children to the delights of an authentic southern city. There are plenty of fun things to do here, for families with toddlers or teenagers. We’ve dug deep and selected 12 of the best things to do with your family in Charleston.
Chow down on Charleston food
There’s no risk of going hungry on this unique Charleston walking tour, where guests can explore the best of the city while sampling some of its diverse culinary offerings. The tour takes around 3 hours, but there are plenty of stop-offs along the way as you get the chance to try regional classics in local delis, cafes and speciality food stores. Highlights include a private tasting at Lowcountry Olive Oil, Charleston’s oldest store for premium imported olive oil. In between each tasting locations your guide will treat you to engaging commentary that brings to life Charleston’s historical and architectural heritage.
Take an authentic Palmetto Carriage Works ride
One of the most unique things you can do in Charleston is take a Palmetto Carriage Works tour, which transports you by horse-drawn carriage through the city’s historic downtown district. As you clippety-clop along the charming streets, a friendly and knowledgeable guide will provide you with an engaging and informative potted history of Charleston, pointing out numerous landmarks of interest as you pass, including distinguished homes and churches, as well as other notable historic landmarks. Both public and private tours are available.
Celebrate Caribbean culture at Charleston Carifest
Hosted in conjunction with Caribbean American Heritage Month, Carifest is a fantastic way to introduce your kids to Caribbean culture. Each year the four-day festival is themed around a different Caribbean country, which then becomes the focus of a dedicated Symposium. Events include a colourful fete, a street parade, a party in the park, a church service and a Caribbean gospel concert. There’s also live Caribbean music performances by international artists and dancers, plus costumes, games and as much Caribbean food as you can eat.
LOCATION Brittle Bank Park and other venues across Charleston DATES June each year
Spook yourself out on a Ghost and Dungeon Tour
Charleston has a spooky underbelly which can best be explored on this popular tour. Running for 90 minutes, you’ll be taken after dark around the haunted historic district, visiting one of the region’s oldest graveyards, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, to unravel a history of voodoo and superstition. During the tour your guide will send shivers down your spine with chilling stories of Charleston ghosts, haunted houses, and voodoo magic. Tours can be booked at GetYourGuide.
Embark on a Scavenger Hunt Adventure
A great way to stretch your kids’ physical and mental muscles, this fun-packed scavenger hunt adventure challenges you to navigate the streets of Charleston solving clues, completing challenges and tracking down some of the city’s hidden treasures. Using a specially designed smartphone app, you’ll get to duck into churches, walk through cemeteries and explore parks and monuments in your quest to emerge as the winners. The adventure involves around 2.5 miles of walking. Tickets can be booked at Viator
Eat jerk-style food and dance at the SC Reggae Jerk Wine Festival
Held on the last Sunday in August, this festival celebrates the rich South Carolina heritage of Jamaican Reggae music and jerk foods paired with wine. Attracting visitors young and old, the festival features an action-packed day of reggae music, plus other fun-filled and quirky activities including a domino tournament, dancing, and even a pepper eating contest. There are also jerk workshops that invite people to learn how to make jerk foods so they can treat their family and friends to its myriad delights once they’re back home. Funds from the festival go towards local projects dealing with social issues.
LOCATION Magnolia Plantation and Gardens DATES August each year
Let loose at Waterfront Park
One of the region’s most visited parks, Waterfront Park has plenty to keep both kids and adults entertained for hours. Open every day of the week, there are pretty landscaped gardens and fountains, plenty of open space for children to play balls games and generally run riot, plus walking paths where they can cycle or scoot too. On a sunny day, you can bring a picnic and find one of the numerous spots offering superb views of the Charleston Harbor.
LOCATION 1 Vendue Range HOURS 24/7
Spot dolphins on a Charleston Water Taxi
One of the most unique ways to see Charleston is from one of the regular water taxis that traverse the north Atlantic waters off the city port. As well as offering a superb vantage point for enjoying views back across the city, there’s also a pretty decent chance of spotting some dolphins along the way too. Even better, the taxis are cheap at just 10 dollars for a ticket that remains valid for a full 24 hours.
Channel your inner pilot at Patriot’s Point
There are few kids who aren’t fascinated by aeroplanes and in Charleston there’s an attraction that will send them wild. Situated in the naval museum complex of Patriot’s Point on Charleston Harbor is the giant USS Yorktown, once a working aircraft carrier but now a war memorial that can be clambered upon and explored to your heart’s content. As well as the real thing, there’s also a thrilling flight simulator plus several interactive touch stations where kids can learn more about the fascinating world of aviation.
LOCATION 40 Patriots Point Road, Mt Pleasant HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-6.30pm
Explore the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Situated on Charleston’s “Museum Mile” in the heart of the city’s historic district, this children’s museum is ideal for catching your breath after a busy few days of sight-seeing. There’s a large arts room, a water room, puppets, a mock medieval castle, and an array of elaborate costumes for your little ones to try on. Most visitors find that their children have made friends within minutes, meaning you can enjoy some downtime while the kids keep each other entertained.
LOCATION 25 Ann Street HOURS Tues-Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 12pm-5pm; Closed Mon
Observe exotic sealife at South Carolina Aquarium
An ideal family activity for a rainy day in Charleston, South Carolina Aquarium offers fun, wonder and education with its diverse collection of exotic sealife. Located directly on the beautiful Charleston harbor, visitors can see a rare albino American alligator, get hands-on at the Touch Tank, marvel at the sharks in the Great Ocean Tank, and come face-to-face with sting rays in the Shallows. Other highlights include a state-of-the-art sea turtle hospital which helps rehabilitate and release sea turtles, plus interactive dive shows and other captivating animal programmes.
LOCATION 100 Aquarium Wharf Pleasant HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-4pm
Watch the shrimp trawlers come and go at Vickery’s Bar & Grill
Shrimps are stepped in South Carolina’s culinary heritage and along coastal areas shrimp trawlers are a regular presence as they carry their crustacean cargo to seafood shacks across the region. One of the best is Vickery’s Bar & Grill, located on Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, a quick drive east of central Charleston. Here visitors can not only tuck into delicious food plucked fresh from the sea, but also watch the shrimp trawlers come and go all day long. They can even walk the docks where they pull in to sell the seafood.
LOCATION 1313 Shrimp Boat Lane, Mt Pleasant HOURS Mon-Sat 11.30am-2am; Sun 11am-12am