How to Spend One Charming Day in Charleston, SC (Itinerary + Tips!)

Planning a quick visit to the Holy City and need to make the most of just one day in Charleston, SC?

After many visits to the city–with many more to come in the future–we’ve designed this one day Charleston itinerary to help!

With its vibrant architecture, excellent food scene, water views, and compact historic center, Charleston is one of our favorite cities to visit in the US and an absolute delight to explore on foot.

While there’s also plenty to enjoy outside the center, from the beaches to the Angel Oak and well beyond, we’ve created this itinerary for Charleston to act as a self-guided walking tour of the city–after all, with only a day to work with, you don’t want to waste time sitting in traffic or finding parking to explore further afield!

If you have 24 hours in Charleston or less, here’s how to make the most of one day in Charleston, South Carolina!

kate storm near stolls alley when visiting charleston sc
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The Perfect One Day in Charleston Itinerary

Start your morning at the southern tip of historic Charleston: White Point Garden and the Battery.

If you look at a map of Charleston, you’ll notice that the historic center of the city is situated on a peninsula. Head directly to the southern tip of it, and that’s where you’ll kick off your one day Charleston itinerary.

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At the southern end of the peninsula, you’ll find White Point Garden, which is home to gorgeous oak trees and beautiful harbor views (though the views were disrupted due to construction during our recent 2024 visit).

You’ll also find the Battery, a defensive seawall that doubles as one of Charleston’s best promenades.

With views of the harbor to one side (including views of Fort Sumter in the distance), beautiful homes on the other, and a refreshing sea breeze that is more than welcome when visiting during one of Charleston’s many, many days of hot weather, it’s a must-see during your day in Charleston.

the Battery, the first stop on this 3 day charleston itinerary

Make your way up to Rainbow Row.

After walking the length of the Battery from White Point Garden to the end of the defensive wall, East Battery Street will turn into East Bay Street.

Head north up East Bay Street, and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with one of Charleston’s most iconic landmarks: the pastel-colored houses of Rainbow Row.

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Though these famous homes date to the 18th century, the bright colors only date to the 1930s and 1940s.

Speculation abounds as to why they were painted, with theories varying from simple aesthetics to coping with the summer heat to helping drunks find their way home at night.

Whatever the real reason is, there’s no doubt that they’re worth seeing during any trip to Charleston!

kate storm in a floral dress at rainbow row in charleston sc

Stroll over to Waterfront Park.

Beautiful Waterfront Park is one of the most popular places to visit in Charleston, known for its great views of the Cooper River and its charming pineapple fountain.

You won’t need long here, but a quick stop in Waterfront Park is a must when spending a day in the Holy City, and its location very close to Rainbow Row makes it an easy next stop.

Kate Storm sitting in front of the pineapple fountain in Charleston SC--choosing whether to visit Savannah or Charleston is no easy task, but we wrote this guide to help!

Head away from the river and seek out some of the prettiest spots in Charleston.

There’s no better way to explore Charleston’s historic center than wandering semi-aimlessly on foot… and as you turn away from the river, that’s exactly what you should spend some time doing!

A few places to be sure to see include cobblestone Chalmers Street (this is where you’ll find the famous Pink House, which is now a gallery), Church Street (which hosts some of Charleston’s most beautiful homes), Philadelphia Alley, St. Philip’s Church, St. Michael’s Church, and King Street.

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The French Huguenot Church and Dock Street Theater are worth a look, too!

For beautiful homes set along tree-lined streets and interspersed with interesting alleyways, the entire South of Broad neighborhood and French Quarter are both well worth a wander.

Further north, the Charleston City Market (whose roots stretch back to the 1790s, though the building itself is from the 19th century) is an excellent place to do some souvenir shopping–I bought some whimsical hedgehog bookends there years ago that I’m still obsessed with!

ranger storm in philadelphia alley when visiting charleston sc
Ranger loves Philadelphia Alley!

Visit a museum (or two).

When you decide it’s time for a break from the sun and heat (or rain, as the case may be), head inside for an afternoon visit to a museum!

Charleston has nearby museums for every interest, but some of the best to consider when exploring on foot in the historic district are the Old Slave Mart Museum (devastating, but extremely important history), the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (which focuses quite a bit on Charleston’s role in the Revolutionary War), and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Alternatively, you could opt to step inside one of Charleston’s many house museums–the Aiken-Rhett House is a great choice, and the Nathaniel Russell House is also popular (and a bit more geographically convenient).

While we’ve opted to center this one day Charleston itinerary around the historic center of the city, if you’d like to hop on a ferry (or in your car), this would be a great time to add in a visit to Fort Sumter or Patriot’s Point.

front facade of the old slave mart museum on chalmers street in charleston sc
The Old Slave Mart Museum

Enjoy a delicious Low Country dinner (possibly on the water).

Before closing out your time in Charleston, there’s one more thing left on the list: having an over-the-top, indulgent, delicious Lowcountry supper.

Charleston is positively covered in fantastic restaurants, but for a memorable experience, consider Husk (the original location is in Charleston!), FIGSlightly North of Broad, or Magnolia’s.

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All are extremely popular, well-reviewed options worthy of a special occasion dinner (and places that you should make reservations in advance for).

Looking for something much more casual? Grab some soul food to go from Dave’s Carry Out.

Want to prioritize having dinner with a water view? If so, you can’t beat the views from a dinner cruise on the harbor!

Close up of meatloaf, mac n cheese and sweet potatoes, classic lowcountry foods

Close out your one day in Charleston with a ghost tour.

Charleston is widely considered one of the most haunted cities in the USA–but you don’t need to believe in ghosts to appreciate a ghost tour in Charleston!

In addition to legendary hauntings, a good tour will also provide you with stories from the city’s history–consider it a nighttime walking tour through the more colorful parts of history (for example, dueling).

This ghost tour gets fantastic reviews and is a great option.

Alternatively, consider touring the haunted city jail, or for those who simply aren’t into ghost tours, heading out on a Prohibition-era pub crawl!

Book your Charleston ghost tour today!

close up of charleston old city jail at night

Where to Stay in Charleston, SC

Spending a full 24 hours in Charleston and looking for a great place to spend the night?

If it works with your budget, we recommend staying within walking distance of popular sights in the historic center of Charleston, which will put you in a great position for both sightseeing and reaching many of the best restaurants in the city on foot.

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Charleston is far from the most budget-friendly destination in the south, however–hotels tend to be pricier than even nearby Savannah.

Also, keep in mind that parking is generally not included in the stated rate at most downtown hotels in Charleston, so be sure to check the fine print before booking.

Here are a few well-located properties that make great places to stay during your time visiting Charleston!

view of st philips church in charleston sc from church street, with a woman crossing the street in the foreground of the photo

Budget

SpringHill Suites by Marriott (Mount Pleasant) — Located just over the bridge from the historic center in Mount Pleasant, the well-reviewed SpringHill Suites offers a pool, an included breakfast, and included parking–all for a fraction of what you’d pay in the center of Charleston.

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Unfortunately, with the closure of the longstanding Days Inn, the Historic District lacks any properties that could be remotely considered “budget”, but staying over the bridge is an easy way to stay in a well-reviewed property for much, much less–and luckily, daytime parking rates are very reasonable in Charleston.

Just be sure to get an early start to your day in order to beat the traffic when driving in!

Check rates & book your stay at SpringHill Suites today!

front facade of the french huguenot church in charleston, painted pink, with a palm tree visible on the left
Charleston’s French Huguenot Church is eye-catching!

Mid-range

The Jasmine House — This stunning boutique inn is housed in a Greek Revivalist home dating to 1843, and decorated to the nines!

This is exactly the kind of property visitors dream about planning a trip to The Holy City, and the impeccable reviews and fantastic location make The Jasmine House the perfect place to stay when spending 24 hours in Charleston.

Check rates & book your stay at The Jasmine House!

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Luxury

Harbourview Inn — For charming luxury in the heart of historic Charleston, check into the gorgeous Harbourview Inn, located just steps away from Rainbow Row and Waterfront Park.

The inn features excellent views from its rooftop, a phenomenal included breakfast, and excellent reviews.

Check rates & book your stay at the Harbourview Inn!

Pineapple Fountain, as seen during a long weekend in Charleston South Carolina

What About Visiting Fort Sumter?

As one of the most famous and consequential forts in US History–the American Civil War officially kicked off here in 1861–visiting Fort Sumter is one of the top things to do in Charleston for military history buffs and general visitors alike.

However, as it is located on a small outlying island, the only way to visit Fort Sumter is via ferry, making it a bit of a commitment for travelers with only one day in Charleston!

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If you’re particularly interested in visiting, it’s certainly worth your time (which is why I mentioned it in the museum section above), but with such limited time to work with, we chose to structure this recommended itinerary as a walkable route focused on the center of the city.

If you would like to add a visit to Fort Sumter to your Charleston itinerary, we recommend booking your ferry tickets in advance and planning your day around your departure time!

Book your trip to Fort Sumter today!

Fort Sumter as seen from above with a ferry parked at its dock

More than 24 Hours in Charleston, South Carolina?

If you’re lucky enough to have more than a day in Charleston, you’ll have time to cast your eye further afield!

While Charleston’s historic center is beautiful and worth exploring in-depth (you could easily spend more than one day there), Charleston also has lots to offer in the surrounding area.

Beach fans will love visiting Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palms–just to name a few of the many nearby options.

ranger storm running along the beach at isle of palms near charleston sc
Ranger is a big fan of Isle of Palms!

Patriot’s Point and the Angel Tree are popular side trips, as are, of course, the many plantations surrounding the city (the McLeod Plantation has a good reputation for putting the lives of people enslaved there front and center in their exhibits).

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If you want to live out your inner Allie-and-Noah romance with your partner, consider heading out to Cypress Gardens, where the famous boat scene in The Notebook was filmed (and yes, you can rent your own rowboat).

There are also plenty of additional day trips to take from Charleston!

You can even day trip to beautiful Savannah, which is only a 2-hour drive away!

kate storm and ranger storm in front of the pink house at 17 chalmers street, one of the best photo spots in charleston

Getting Around During One Day in Charleston

This one day Charleston itinerary, as written, is completely walkable (admittedly with a few breaks here and there to soak up air-conditioning if you’re visiting during the summer–or let’s be real, many days in the spring and fall).

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That being said, if you’re not spending the night in Charleston, you’ll still need to find somewhere to park when arriving!

Parking lots and street parking do fill up, so the sooner you can arrive, the better.

For a large, reliable garage, we like the Queen Street Parking Garage, and the East Bay Parking Garage is another great option.

view from the queen street parking garage during a day in charleston sc
The Queen Street Parking Garage has a lovely view of St. Philip’s Church, too!

Quick Tips for Seeing Charleston in a Day

Plan to spend most of your time in Charleston’s historic center.

I mentioned this way up in the introduction to this blog post, but with only a day in Charleston to work with, we highly recommend sticking to the historic center!

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Not only is there more to enjoy there than you can hope to explore in one day, but Charleston is a bit (in)famous for its traffic, and heading out to visit one of the beaches, plantations, or even Fort Sumter is bound to eat up a solid chunk of your limited time in the city.

If you’re visiting Charleston on a day trip (perhaps from Savannah?), you can take a look at the map and see if it makes sense to stop somewhere outside the center on your way into or out of town, but beyond that, you’ll see far more of the city by sticking to a smaller footprint.

Old Exchange Dungeon, an interesting part of a 3 day Charleston Itinerary

Consider signing up for a food tour.

Taking a food tour when you only have a day to explore Charleston is a bit of a trade-off: on the one hand, you’ll likely need to skip any museums, hurry through some aspects of this itinerary, and only be hungry enough for one sit-down meal at a restaurant.

… On the other hand, you’ll get to sample a much wider variety of Lowcountry foods, try more restaurants on for size, and learn plenty of local history along the way!

We adore food tours and have taken them all over the world, and believe you’ll have a fantastic day in Charleston with or without one.

If a food tour sounds right for you, this popular tour is a fantastic option!

Book your Charleston food tour today!

Plate of pimiento cheese with benne cracks stacked on top enjoyed one day in charleston sc

Make restaurant reservations in advance where possible.

Charleston is famous for its food scene, and as a result, its most popular restaurants can be quite competitive to get into!

If you have your heart set on eating at a particular place or at a particular time, we recommend making reservations as soon as possible–especially since with a 24-hour-or-less trip, you only have one chance to get in.

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Embrace the journey: meandering through Charleston is half the fun!

There’s a reason this Charleston itinerary is heavy on walking: it’s the best way to enjoy the city!

While you can see plenty of sights and attractions throughout the day, be sure to also take plenty of time to meander down beautiful alleys, duck into random galleries and boutiques (map nerds like us will enjoy places like Carolina Antique Maps and Prints–one of our favorite stops on our most recent visit) and admire gorgeous architecture.

Charleston’s beauty is a large part of its charm, and taking plenty of time to slow down and enjoy it is an essential part of any one day trip to Charleston!

4 photos of charleston sc colorful buildings, church, pineapple fountain. black and pink text reads "how to spend 1 day charleston itinerary travel tips"
About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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