Are you planning your next, or first, trip and wondering about the best walking tours in Charleston, SC.? Slow-paced and low-tech, the Lowcountry of Charleston is the perfect place to lace up your walking shoes and hit the cobblestone streets, hidden alleys, and historic landmarks.
Established in 1670, the city is brimming with history, stunning architecture, perfectly landscaped gardens, family-friendly attractions, and more. This Lowcountry gem begs you to leave the car at the hotel or parking deck (there are plenty in the area if you happen to be staying outside of the city center) and simply take a leisurely stroll past colorful townhouses, flowering window boxes, and intricate wrought iron.
Whether you’re into group tours or private tours, you’ll get a unique and entertaining perspective of this charming town in coastal South Carolina. Take in the aromas of amazing food prepared by chefs specializing in Southern and French cuisine.
This can easily lure you into an hour-long lunch or the most decadent dinner you’ll ever have. Spontaneous cocktail hours or brewery tours can turn into an all-day thing. You may even find yourself on a carriage tour of Charleston, if you want to get off your feet for a bit!
If you’re the independent type, decide on a free walking tour by picking a neighborhood – like the French Quarter, the Garden District, or Harleston Village – and exploring the city on your own. When you do self-guided walking tours, you can stop and read the plaques serving as markers to all the notable events of the past.
You can also make as many selfie stops as you like without worrying about holding up the rest of the group (or getting left behind). So get moving – or take it slow – with a few of these tours through the Holy City’s historic streets and neighborhoods.
Show Table of Contents
- Best Nature Tour of Charleston
- 1. Dolphin Paddle Safari
- Best Charleston Civil War History Walking Tour
- 2. Fort Sumter
- Best Historic Walking Tours of Charleston
- 3. Charleston Historical Walking Tour
- 4. Walking and Tasting Tour
- 5. Charleston French Quarter Tour
- 6. Charleston Footprints Walking Tours
- Free Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina
- 7. Free Walking and Shopping Tours on King Street
- 8. Nathaniel Russell House
- 9. Art Gallery Walking Tours of Broad Street
- 10. Walking Tours of Church Street
- 11. Charleston Walking Tours of the Cannonborough/Elliotborough Neighborhoods
- Best Ghost Tours in Charleston
- 12. Charleston: Haunted History Walking Ghost Tour
- 13. Ghosts of Charleston Night-Time Tour
- 14. 90-Minute Ghost & Graveyard Tour
- 15. 90-Minute Ghost and Dungeon Walking Tour
- 16. Self-Guided Ghost Tour
- 17. Patriot’s Point Haunted USS Yorktown Ghost Walking Tour
Best Nature Tour of Charleston
The Lowcountry offers a background filled with palm and palmetto trees, saltwater marshes, and unique marine life. Get out there and enjoy the natural side of the Holy City!
1. Dolphin Paddle Safari
Not technically a Charleston walking tour, per se, (but low-tech and slow-paced nonetheless), the Charleston: Folly Beach Stand Up Paddleboard Dolphin Safari is a two-hour-long paddleboard lesson among the dolphins and water birds of coastal South Carolina. Specially designed to get beginners standing up and paddling, this introduction to SUP will have you navigating along the picturesque Folly River in no time.
Your instructor will show you how to flow with the tide while looking for bottlenose dolphins and other wildlife. Equipment is provided. Just bring your swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, and a good attitude. SUP is fun but it does take a little getting used to. Balance is the biggest issue, but the boards are pretty wide. Once you get the hang (ten) of it, you’ll be a paddling pro.
Best Charleston Civil War History Walking Tour
If you’re into military and American history, the Holy City is the right place to start learning and discovering. Lowcountry walking tours take history buffs on a journey through the past while learning how those events impacted the future.
2. Fort Sumter
This is the only historic Charleston walking tour that includes a ferry ride, making it both and fun and informative experience. Fort Sumter: National Monument Entry Ticket & Ferry gives visitors a chance to walk in the paths of the Americans who changed the course of history.
Located at the strategic point of the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter is famous for being the site of the opening gunshots of the Civil War. Board the ferry at Liberty Square in downtown.
You’ll then cruise to this National Historical Park for a view of the monument. Along the way, you’ll have terrific views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Rainbow Row.
Along the way, you’ll see Charleston’s Rainbow Row and Battery houses along the waterfront. Once you’re at the monument, national park rangers are on hand to answer questions and tell the story of the first battle of the Civil War.
Spend some time learning about the fort’s importance in the war at the Fort Sumter Museum. You’ll have ample time to roam the very site that launched America’s bloodiest conflict. Admission on board the ferry and into Fort Sumter is included in the tour price.
Best Historic Walking Tours of Charleston
Searching for ways to see the city jail, city hall, historic churches, and other famous sites? Gather your crew and book any one of these tours for an in-depth and entertaining view of the area.
3. Charleston Historical Walking Tour
The Charleston Historical Walking Tour gives you a two-hour overview of North America’s only English-walled city. Al Ray, a knowledgeable guide with deep family roots, takes you step-by-step through Charleston’s controversial past and how it has shaped the city today. Learn about pirates, rice plantations, and ancient tombstone symbols as you walk around Charleston’s historic district.
Historic homes, tombs, churches, and storefronts are on the list of sites you’ll see on this historic sightseeing tour. Your experienced guide entertains with stories of the disasters, colorful characters, and notorious pirates that have left their mark on this old port city.
Charge up your smartphones and camera batteries, wear your walking shoes, and bring some water to completely immerse yourself in Charleston’s history and lore.
4. Walking and Tasting Tour
If you like your walking with a side of tasting, this is the tour for you. This Charleston walking-with-tasting-added-in tour lets you explore Charleston while allowing your tastebuds to lead the way.
Enjoy Lowcountry specialties like Carolina-style BBQ, fried green tomatoes, and stuffed peppadews (we had to look that one up too). Of course, there’s plenty of sweet tea to go around.
This tour starts at the U.S. Customs House and passes by the City Market and the Dock Street Theater. Along the way, you’ll learn about the city’s history and how the slave trade introduced new cuisine and cooking methods to the region.
5. Charleston French Quarter Tour
Charleston’s French Quarter is the oldest in the US, and this French Quarter Walking Tour is the best way to see it all. The oldest French Huguenot church in America is here in all its Gothic Revival glory.
Other significant churches, many of them established in the 1600s, are included in Lowcountry walking tours of downtown Charleston. Turn your gaze and your camera lenses to St. Michael’s Church (circa 1752), the Federal Building (circa 1896), and the Charleston County Courthouse (circa 1790).
Situated on an old cobblestone street in the Quarter is the Old Slave Mart, now a National Park. An actual site of slave auctions, it stands as a museum dedicated to African-American history and art and serves as an important reminder of the past.
You’ll also see the Dock Street Theater, the headquarters of General Robert E. Lee, and the 4 Corners of Law with St. Michael’s Church, which was attended by George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.
6. Charleston Footprints Walking Tours
Charleston Footprints Walking Tours offers private and group tours led by Alfred Ray. This two-hour tour meets at the Charleston Foundation Gift Shop on Meeting Street. You’ll walk 16-18 blocks through historic downtown and areas like the Battery, the French Quarter, South of Broad, and White Point Garden.
Check out historic parks, monuments, wrought iron architecture, warehouses, alleys, and the harbor on these fun and informative tours designed by founder Michael Trouche, a seventh-generation Charleston native. Charleston Footprints tours are led by entertaining and licensed tour guides.
Free Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina
Guided walking tours are a wonderful way to see the sites. But sometimes you just want to be free to explore at your own leisure. And we get that.
So, here are some of the best free tours you can take on your own. Best of all, free tours start wherever you want.
Charleston has a wonderful array of parking decks and garages around town. It’s easy to park and walk all around town after planning your own city tour agenda.
7. Free Walking and Shopping Tours on King Street
Busy, but in a friendly and non-chaotic kind of way, King Street is a 300-year-old downtown boulevard named for England’s King Charles II. It was originally designed for people arriving into town at the port. Today, it’s a major retail district filled with exclusive boutiques, antique shops, interior design stores, restaurants, and cocktail lounges.
King St. is actually made up of three districts that include the Lower King St. Antiques District, the Middle King St. Fashion District, and the Upper King St. Design and Dining District.
Pick one end and then shop and dine your way to the other end. This is an excellent tour and a fun way to spend a day on foot as you explore Charleston.
8. Nathaniel Russell House
One of the best free walking tours is that of the grand neoclassical home of merchant, businessman, and slave trader Nathaniel Russell. He arrived from Rhode Island in 1765. The home was built in 1808 and has been preserved to look as it did when Russells lived there.
Located at 51 Meeting Street, the Russell mansion has been meticulously preserved as a National Historic Landmark with the purpose of shedding light on the lives and times of the Russell family, the slaves who allowed them such a luxurious lifestyle, and the artisans and who built and decorated the home. There is a nominal fee to enter the home, but you can download the free app to take a detailed self-guided tour. The app includes other points of interest and hidden gems for fun free tours on foot.
9. Art Gallery Walking Tours of Broad Street
In addition to history, food, and shopping, Charleston offers an amazing array of art galleries and cultural centers. Broad Street features approximately 70 galleries perfect for wandering in and out at your leisure.
Just a few you might want to add to your free tours itinerary include the Mary Martin Fine Art Gallery, the George Gallery, the Edward Dare Gallery, and Ellas Walton Richardson Art Gallery.
10. Walking Tours of Church Street
Take a self-guided tour of Church Street for a quick dose of American history. See the first permanent playhouse, Dock Street Theater, and the historic St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, which was built in the 1830s.
The church’s graveyard is the burial place of several prominent figures in the nation’s history. Secretary of War and Vice President John C. Calhoun was originally buried here in 1850. Here’s an interesting fact to wow your friends: The tomb was exhumed in 1865, hidden, and then returned after the Reconstruction around 1879.
St. Philip’s is also the burial place of Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution. For lovers of literature, DuBose Heyward, who wrote the 1925 American classic Porgy, is buried here too. This is one of the best city tours for those who enjoy English Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, and Romanesque architecture (as well as many others).
11. Charleston Walking Tours of the Cannonborough/Elliotborough Neighborhoods
The most fun part of free walking tours is that you can easily blend in and pretend to be a local. The Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhoods of Charleston allow you to do just that.
They’re mostly residential, so you’ll get a nice local vibe. Upper King St. lines one side, and the medical district is on the other.
First settled in 1785, the neighborhoods are a unique blend of historic houses, cool boutiques, trendy restaurants, and funky bistros and bakeries. The College of Charleston, established in 1770, sits in Harleston Village in the center of downtown. You’ll feel that hip collegiate vibe as you meander around the area.
Best Ghost Tours in Charleston
Charleston’s past is riddled with accounts of pirates, so, of course, there are ghosts hanging about the charming walkways. Let’s pay them a visit with Charleston walking tours.
12. Charleston: Haunted History Walking Ghost Tour
Get frightened in the city’s Haunted History Walking Ghost Tour when you spend over an hour or so learning about the dreadful souls skulking through Charleston’s city streets. The rivers and dark corners of this charming town contain many secrets and mysterious tales.
Discover what skeletons remain in Charleston’s closets and which ones roam free in this spooky walking ghost tour. It’s a fun evening of storytelling from knowledgeable guides. You’ll learn all about the pirates and other baddies that have left their stamp of terror in the Lowcountry.
13. Ghosts of Charleston Night-Time Tour
The Ghosts of Charleston Night-Time Walking Tour takes you to some of the spookier spots in the Holy City. You’ll visit the Unitarian Church Graveyard (exclusive after-hours access), which is said to be haunted by wandering spirits.
Led by professional storytellers, you’ll hear stories from “The Ghosts of Charleston” by Julian Buxton as well as other entertaining tales. The meeting point is at Buxton Books on King Street.
14. 90-Minute Ghost & Graveyard Tour
What’s scarier than a walking ghost tour in a graveyard? Not much, if you ask us. Spend a ghastly evening roaming Charleston’s graveyards while reading headstones and hunting for spirits.
Hear tales of the undead and other fun folklore and urban tales about the history of those who should’ve departed this realm a long time ago. Search gravestones for hidden meanings and decide for yourself who is dead and buried and who … may not be.
15. 90-Minute Ghost and Dungeon Walking Tour
Dungeons are fun places for walking ghost tours, right? See for yourself on this Ghost and Dungeon Walking Tour.
Voodoo is a mysterious spiritual belief system, and you’ll learn all about it on this tour of the city’s scariest regions. Decide for yourself whether it’s fact or fiction.
You’ll get a sun-down perspective of town as you’re led down back alleys and cobblestone roads, through graveyards, and past ancient churchyards. Explore the historic district and one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Hear stories of priests, priestesses, pirates, and other practitioners of voodoo as you experience Charleston SC from the dark side.
16. Self-Guided Ghost Tour
This Self-Guided Ghost Tour of Charleston lets you be your own city guide. Simply download the app and follow as you explore the charming streets of the French Quarter and the other haunted sites and alleys of downtown.
Tours include haunted pubs where you can take a break and drink with the spirits (See what we did there?). You’ll also walk past sites like the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, Washington Square Park, and St. Michael’s Church on this foot tour.
This tour starts at the corner of Bay Street and Broad Street. You’ll want to wear comfortable shoes and bring along headphones.
Don’t forget to charge the smartphone for this trip. This is one of the best tours for those who like to go at their own pace.
17. Patriot’s Point Haunted USS Yorktown Ghost Walking Tour
This fascinating Haunted USS Yorktown Tour tells the shipside tales of the mighty vessel that once housed 3,000 people. Commissioned in 1943, she was a defender during WWII. Many aboard made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of duty.
During your visit, you’ll hear spooky tales of Captain Jocko Clark, an unusual ship christening, and the mysterious disappearances of sailors.
Some of their spirits may still linger on deck. Hear the ghost stories and see what life may have been like for these men in this exclusive after-dark tour that includes areas that are normally closed to the public. This is one of the best walking tours for those who like to feel like they’re sneaking into somewhere they shouldn’t be (but would rather not end up in jail by doing so).
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Sandy is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia. Her specialties range from hotels, dining, beaches, and yacht charters to theme parks, urban settings, mountain getaways, and other fun spots. In addition to Via Travelers, her work appears at AFAR, PierShare, Cozymeal, and more.