A magnetic town for tourists with better prices than many other Eastern Seaboard destinations, Charleston, South Carolina, offers plenty of ways for families, couples, and singles to take a nice vacation on a modest budget. These free or cheap things to do balance historic sites and quaint streets with modern centers for education, entertainment, and outdoor recreation.
19 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Charleston
Like the Painted Ladies in San Francisco, the houses on Rainbow Row on East Bay Street between Tradd and Elliott streets are iconic symbols of Charleston. These dozen-plus Georgian homes, featuring pastel-painted facades, date to the 18th century and were restored throughout the 20th century. Legend says the colors varied so drastically to signal to intoxicated or disoriented sailors which ones were their homes.
South Carolina's Battery is an underrated, gorgeous, historic lookout that's free and not to be missed. Antebellum mansions dot the shoreline, from which tourists can see the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse and Fort Sumter. Another don't-miss: White Point Garden, where visitors can look for the pirate statue among the war heroes and try to identify which Revolutionary War cannon is the fake once dragged in by pranksters.
This adorable salmon-colored structure at 17 Chalmers St. is known as "The Pink House." It was built in 1688 as a tavern for sailors home on leave. Its last public use was as an art gallery with paintings and antique photographs, but for now it can be appreciated only from the outside. The cobblestoned street is charming to see and filled with interesting places to visit, including another art gallery and Old Slave Mart, a former slave auction site from 1859 converted to a museum ($7 admission).
The Dock Street Theatre hosts productions throughout the year -- as it has since 1736. It reopened in 2010 after a $19 million renovation. Guests can walk around the grounds and theater for free to appreciate the gorgeous building and stage, famous for premiering the very first opera performance in America. Tickets to actually see a show can break the bank, but book well in advance for the fall and winter season, and prices fall as low as $27.
Charleston and the surrounding area were known as the "Cradle of Secession" during the Civil War. While in Charleston, travelers can name their price to visit landmarks associated with General Robert E. Lee, Secession Hall, old slave auction locations, and other markers of that period in the country's history.
The tree dubbed the "Angel Oak" has lived more than 1,500 years. The limbs are said to resemble the spreading wings of an angel, and the longest stretches 89 feet. The oak is 25.5 feet wide and 65 feet tall. How about a picnic in Angel Oak Park? The tree offers 17,000 square feet of shade.
This breathtaking bridge, which many locals know as the Cooper River Bridge, connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant along Highway 17. It's one of the largest cable-stayed bridges in the Western Hemisphere. Pedestrians and bikers can cross on designated walking and cycling paths, taking in views as impressive as the structure itself.
Folly Beach offers free seaside entertainment. Watch the waves, wander the piers, swim, and soak in the sun at this relaxed, family-friendly beach retreat. Fully half the land on the 12-square-mile barrier island is devoted to waterfront activities, surrounded by small shops and restaurants.