Charleston Historic Sites: 10 Musts for Photography and Tours
Steeped in culture and rich Southern character, the top Charleston historic sites honor heritage while welcoming guests to learn and explore. The city houses dozens of historical attractions, however many don’t have time to see them all in one trip. To help narrow the selection, here are the top places to visit, take memorable photos and tour.
10 Charleston Historic Sites for Photos and Tours
Riley Waterfront Park
Measuring 12 acres, this park once included merchant homes and storerooms dating from the Colonial period. Today, the park welcomes visitors to enjoy nearly 200 trees, 750-plus azaleas, and thousands of boxwoods and annual and perennial flowers.
The waterfront park offers families a place to relax, admire nearby sites and people-watch. Riley Riverfront Park also houses the famous Pineapple Fountain, one of the most photographed sites in Charleston. Those looking for a quick walk also enjoy the half-mile hiking trail, which has bricked and paved surfaces and a pier.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Middleton Place houses America’s oldest landscaped gardens. Guests will find 65 acres packed full of tress, shrubs, blooming flowers and history. Admission ranges in price and includes full access to the grounds, live history, and seasonal activities.
The site offers free tours on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., however guests should spend a half-day at this Charleston attraction. Also located on the grounds, guests visit House Museum, stable yards, and on-site restaurant for lunch or dinner. Middleton Place Restaurant specializes in Lowcountry cuisine in an elegant setting that overlooks Mill Pond and azaleas.
Fort Sumter National Monument
Civil War buffs can’t miss Fort Sumter National Monument, known as the ‘where the war began’. This national monument features several Charleston historic sites around the harbor, including cannons and structures used during the Civil War.
Fort Sumter is accessible by boat only, and the Education Center ranks as a top spot to create adventures. The center houses exhibits that showcase history and has boats traveling to Fort Sumter. Other family-friendly activities include picnicking, taking photos and birding. Leashed pets are allowed in the outdoor areas but are not permitted inside the Education Center.
Drayton Hall dates back to the 18th century and is one of the oldest preserved plantation houses open to the public. The houses showcases Georgian-Palladian architecture, a historic African American cemetery, manicured grounds and museum shop.
Open daily, except on five major holidays, visitors take a guided tour through the home. Tours last about 50 minutes, and visitors learn about the family who resided in the house for 200-plus years and how the home withstood both the American Revolution and Civil War. Future plans include new facilities, added programs and historic resources. Read more about Drayton Hall.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
One of Charleston’s most visited plantations, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens dates from 1676 and was also founded by the Drayton family. As one of the top Charleston sites with one of the oldest public gardens in America, this attraction has earned accolades from Travel and Leisure among America’s most beautiful gardens. Depending on the season, visitors see camellias, daffodils, azaleas and more, all showcased in a romantic setting.
The site is in proximity to Drayton Hall and welcomes visitors to tour gardens, a plantation home, zoo and nature center, and other attractions. Basic admission costs around $15 for adults, offers a garden tour and stops at the petting zoo, conservatory, theater, cafe, and gift shop. Families also have the option to book additional tours, including the house, nature train or boat, and special exhibits.
As the name suggests, Rainbow Row houses a colorful collection of homes that date to the 1800s. Located on East Bay Street, these 13 row houses have been restored to their original pastel colors and represent one of the longest clusters of Georgian row houses in the U.S.
When visiting, guests are welcome to photograph the homes’ exteriors and surrounding areas. However, these are residential homes that do not allow tours.
Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
Charleston features several religious and faith-based attractions, but top sites include Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. The original cathedral was consecrated in the 1850s, and today’s church was built on that foundation after a fire destroyed much of the area.
The cathedral features stained-glass windows over each entrance, Flemish oak pews and three original alters made from Vermont marble. In addition to its rich history and architecture, the cathedral hosts regular mass and special clubs for all ages.
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church dates as the oldest church in Charleston and first Anglican Church built south of Virginia. The original church was built in the 1680s, and over time has grown to accommodate congregation growth while preserving its original structure.
St. Michael’s features several historic architectural features, including a 186-foot steeple, pews that once sat President George Washington and General Robert E. Lee, stained glass windows, the restored original organ, and bells imported from England. The church hosts regular services, but visitors are welcome to take photos of the outdoor structure.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
One of the newer sites in Charleston, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge ranks as a must for photography. Even though the bridge only dates to 2001, the structure ranks as a must-visit for those sightseeing in the area.
The eight-lane cable bridge features two diamond-shaped towers that provide ocean freighters access to Port of Charleston. In addition to great photo opportunities, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge has a bike and pedestrian lane and hosts the signature Cooper River Bridge Run. Fun Facts: The bridge connects travelers from downtown Charleston to Mt. Pleasant and measures 180 feet above the water.
Charleston City Market
Charleston City Market ranks among the top Charleston historic sites and shopping venue. Dating from 1807, the market ranks as one of the oldest public markets and supports more than 300 local vendors.
Visitors enjoy admiring the outdoor architecture and details before going inside to explore the shops and history. Once indoors, head to the Great Hall, which features Greek Revival style and vendors. Charleston City Market also houses three open-air structures that date more than 200 years old. These ‘sheds’ have survived several extreme weather and Civil War events, and today operate as one of the city’s most vibrant local business venues. The market also hosts special nighttime events.