Charleston is a charming and historic Southern city to explore. It is also just 30 minutes off the highway, which makes it a very convenient city to visit on a Southeast road trip. Our family enjoys road trips, and since we often drive up and down the East Coast to visit family, we have stopped in Charleston with kids (and without) multiple times to enjoy all the city has to offer. There are many things for kids to do in Charleston, SC that a weekend or even a day stop can be filled with plenty of great food, shopping, charm, and history. Here is a list of some of our favorite things to do, places to eat, and recommendations on where to stay if you’re planning a visit to Charleston with kids.
Things to Do in Charleston with Kids
Charleston is truly one of our favorite Southeast cities to visit. There is so much to see and do in Charleston, SC with kids. Here is a list of some fun activities to do in Charleston and things to do in Charleston with kids.
Visit the Charleston City Market
This city was the heart of the South for many years. There is a great deal of history everywhere you turn, so we decided to start our tour by parking near the Old City Market. The Charleston City Market is a covered “open-air” market with local shops and restaurants. As touristy as this sounds, it was a great place to visit. You can see the architecture of the colonial houses as you walk by, and see people taking carriage rides down King Street as well. This is definitely a top thing to do when visiting Charleston with kids.
Take a City Tour, Harbor Cruise, or Carriage Tour
There are tons of tours to do in Charleston with kids. Depending on the ages of your kids, some options include a harbor cruise, a carriage tour, a historic walking tour, or a combination of the two. Check out some potential options below:
Walk the Charleston Waterfront
After the city market, we walked towards the Charleston Waterfront area (try to take side streets as they are loaded with charm). Along the way, we saw old mansions, a former slave market, and gorgeous fountains. Once you arrive at the waterfront, there is a covered pier and some swings that the kids enjoyed relaxing on. We spend about 20 minutes hanging around and taking in the views of the harbor. The iconic Pineapple Fountain is also here, which symbolizes Southern hospitality. Be sure to take a picture of or in front of the fountain and explain to your kids how the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality.
We continued our walk down to the Battery (which is a nice waterfront area with a park). The walk is picturesque with so many historic homes, small alleys, and side streets. In this area is where the famed Rainbow Row of houses are. Once you get to the Battery, if it is a clear day, you will be able to see Fort Sumter in the distance. The walk is stroller friendly, although some of the narrow streets are paved in cobblestone which can make for a bumpy ride.
Take a Ferry to Fort Sumter
If you have children that enjoy history or have already learned about the Civil War, then visiting Fort Sumter is one of the best things to do in Charleston with kids. This was a highlight for me (since I have taught American History for many years). To be standing in the place where the first shots of the Civil War were fired was a great history nerd moment!
In order to get to Fort Sumter, you need to take a ferry (it is located on an island). Fort Sumter Tours is the only form of transportation available. While it is free to visit the National Monument, the ferry does cost $24 per adult and $16 for kids. The ride is very short (about 10 minutes) and there are many ferries departing Fort Sumter to Patriot’s Point, in Mount Pleasant, or in Liberty Square.
Once you are there, the views of Charleston are pretty nice. The fort itself is in good shape and there are many artifacts from the time (including cannons and artillery). The rangers here are very helpful and explained how the war started in a very kid-friendly manner. The kids also enjoyed completing the activities from the Junior Ranger booklet. It was a great learning experience for the kids and an educational thing to do in Charleston with kids.
Visit Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Another one of the fun things for kids to do in Charleston, SC is to visit Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant (across Charleston harbor). For about $20 you can tour an old World War II Aircraft Carrier, a fighter ship, and a submarine. Our kids absolutely loved this! There were many World War II-era planes and historical artifacts on the ship. There was also a Cold War Era and Vietnam outdoor exhibit, which the kids were able to explore and learn about.
Take a Ghost Tour
Like many colonial cities, Charleston has a haunted past. If your kids are a little older, tweens or teens, and they do not scare too easily, then consider taking a ghost tour for a fun evening filled with spooky, strange tales and laughs. There are a variety of options, so be sure to read carefully to see if you think it is an appropriate activity for your kids.
Visit a Historic Church – St. Michael’s
Located on the corner of Meeting and Broad Street, St. Michael’s Church is the oldest church in the city of Charleston (1752). You can check out the inside of the church and visit the graveyard behind the church where tombstones from two of the signers of the U.S. Constitution are buried. After visiting the church, take a walking tour of Charleston’s most photogenic neighborhood. Navigate some of the narrow streets and alleyways along Church Street to see some picture-perfect homes.
Walk Down King Street
King Street is Charleston’s main downtown thoroughfare. There are many retail and local shopping opportunities and some delicious restaurants. I recommend walking down a section of King Street but venture a block or two off the main area to experience more local flair. Upper King Street is home to most bars and restaurants, but the lower part of King Street (from Calhoun to Market) is where to go for shopping.
Visit a Plantation nearby
The city of Charleston gained its wealth due to its location as a port city and the acres of cotton plantations nearby. There are still many plantations in operation today (Boone Hall, Magnolia, Middleton Place, and McLeod are all 10 minute drives from Charleston). Your family can tour the grounds, the mansion, and slave quarters. If you have time, this is one of the many historical children’s activities in Charleston SC that is quite an experience for the whole family.
Visit the South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium is a great place to visit in Charleston with kids. This aquarium is a great place for kids of any age, but especially for toddlers and younger children under 10. Almost every young child loves to see marine life and visiting the South Carolina Aquarium is the perfect location for fun. The whole family can see alligators, sharks, stingrays, turtles and more. The aquarium has a touch tank, daily animal shows and interactive programs for kids.
Take a Tour of The Citadel
The Citadel is a military college located right in downtown Charleston. For a unique activity, consider taking a tour of the campus or visiting during their Friday parades. You can often see cadets wandering the streets and the campus is generally open to the public, as is the museum located in the library.
Visit The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Another idea for things to do in Charleston with kids is to visit a children’s museum. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is an inexpensive way for younger kids to get their energy out with many hands-on and interactive exhibits. Areas include a Publix market, pirate area, medieval castle, kid’s garden, and art room.
Charleston with Kids: Other Ideas
While Charleston has plenty to do year-round if you are planning a visit during the holiday season, check out this guide – Charleston at Christmas. If you have teens or young adults who enjoy food, consider visiting in early March for the Charleston Wine & Food Festival or check out some of these food tour options.
Best Restaurants in Charleston
Charleston has become a food mecca in the South. There were no shortages of “foodie” restaurants here. Many of them are just fine for kids, but be sure to check the menus first. Below is a list of places we have visited on our trips to Charleston:
- Fig and Husk (delicious, but pricey and not very kid-friendly)
- High Cotton (great all-around)
- Hominy Grill (highly recommend the shrimp and grits)
- Slightly North of Broad (many options of classic Southern dishes with a twist)
Some Great Snack Options
Getting Around Charleston
We have always been on a road trip when visiting Charleston, therefore, we had a car with us; however, it really is not needed. Charleston is a very walkable city and if you are traveling from one end to the other, you can easily take an Uber or Lyft for cheap. Their free public transportation bus, DASH, is a clean and efficient way to get around the city if you or your kids get tired. We used this on a number of occasions after we parked the car.
Best Places to Stay in Charleston
Staying near the Historic District is a great idea if you can. Charleston is a walkable city and staying nearby can be quite convenient, especially if you are visiting Charleston with kids. A couple of boutique options include The Francis Marion and The Quarters on King. All of the major hotel brands have properties located in downtown, North Charleston, or Mount Pleasant. Staying at a local Airbnb is another idea that may be worth a shot as neighborhood stays are always unique and often cheaper than a hotel stay. It can also be very convenient to have a full kitchen and have more of a neighborhood feel. Check out some of these Charleston Airbnb’s for families.
Our family has only stayed overnight once at a Hampton Inn across the river in Mount Pleasant. I am a loyalty rewards member of Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG, and this property offered the best value. I am always trying to save money when we travel and even though it would have been nicer to have stayed in the downtown area, I chose free! Click to see how to use credit cards to save on family travel and how we get free hotel stays. Check out the rates to popular Charleston hotels by clicking the picture below.
Heather from Trimm Travels recommends:
The Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District is the perfect place for families. For starters, every room is a suite giving that extra space a family needs. It’s conveniently located right in the heart of Charleston and is within walking distance to so many area attractions. Throw in a complimentary made-to-order breakfast and nightly cocktail/hors d’oeuvres receptions and it’s perfect! Oh, and kids will love its castle-like exterior. It was once the location of the original Citadel Military College!
Nearby Outdoor Adventure
Bottom Line: Why You Should Visit Charleston with Kids
Charleston is a lovely city to visit with (or without) kids. From historical museums to markets, there is plenty for kids to do in Charleston SC. If you happen to be on a road trip visiting other Southern cities, consider stopping in St. Augustine, Atlanta, Helen, Greenville, Williamsburg, and Pigeon Forge. If you are planning to visit with a pet, fun fact – Charleston is considered one of the top 10 dog-friendly cities in the US. Check out even more unique ideas about visiting Charleston from a local’s perspective.
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