If you’re looking to spend a memorable weekend in Charleston, SC, you’re in the right place. This three day Charleston itinerary will take you on a journey through this amazing city for the perfect weekend getaway!
There are different rumours about why Charleston is also known as The Holy City. Some say it’s to celebrate its many historic churches and long-living religious freedom. Either way, The Holy City has so much to offer travellers.
Known for its rich history, kind locals, incredible food, and beautiful beaches, Charleston has become one of the top travel destinations in the world. It’s the largest city in South Carolina, offering endless things to see and do. And it’s a favoured stop off for anybody travelling the East Coast.
In fact, it’s been named as the #1 top city in the United States by Travel + Leisure for nine years in a row. So, whether you’re looking for a relaxing or adventurous vacation, or something in between, Charleston is the ideal place to go.
As someone who lived in Charleston for about 10 years and continues to visit as much as possible, I’ve compiled all my favourite spots, hidden gems, and iconic experiences so that you can enjoy one of my most treasured places for yourself!
Let’s get to it and learn more about how to spend the ultimate weekend in Charleston.
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How Many Days in Charleston, SC?
Unlike other East Coast cities such as New York, covering Charleston in 3 days is totally doable. In fact, this three day Charleston itinerary has been precisely created to take you through different parts of the city to experience the best of the best.
While I went to Charleston for a weekend, then decided to move there and stay for almost a decade, you can certainly see and do the top things in 3 days.
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Where to Stay in Charleston?
One of the coolest things about Charleston is the various regions that make up the city. While you’ll probably want to explore at least a couple of areas, here’s a rundown of some of the best locations to call your home base during your Charleston weekend getaway.
Downtown Charleston is known as a lively, central area. It’s in close driving proximity to beaches, and there are tons of activities to do within walking distance.
It’s an excellent area to explore the history, food, shopping, and nightlife. I would recommend staying downtown if you like to be in the centre of the hustle and bustle.
Known for picture-perfect views and a tranquil vibe, Sullivans Island is the ideal place to get away from the hustle.
While you don’t find too many things going on, there’s a gorgeous beach and several restaurants for a perfect beach weekend. It’s also a close driving distance to nearby areas.
Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms is an upscale, family-friendly beach town. The beaches are beautiful and clean. There are many vacation rentals, including the elegant Wild Dunes Resort.
Along with ample beach activities, there’s great dining in the area and many other activities nearby. Isle of Palms is the best area to stay if you’re looking for a true beach vacation.
If you’re looking to stay close to the beach but want to spend a little less than you would in the Isle of Palms, Mount Pleasant is an excellent alternative. It’s also close to downtown.
Mount Pleasant is a large suburban town that’s conveniently located. You can find several hotels and many vacation rentals in the area.
Located between downtown Charleston and Folly Beach, I recommend James Island if you’re looking to spend a weekend in Charleston, SC, on a budget.
It’s in a very convenient location, and you can find several hotels and vacation rentals that are generally more affordable than other popular areas.
Personally, I think Folly Beach is easily one of the best areas in Charleston. This laid-back oceanside town offers the perfect beach vacation.
I find it more relaxed than Isle of Palms, and it has a quaint downtown area with restaurants, shops, and bars. It’s also conveniently located close to other Charleston areas.
Another unique area in Charleston is West Ashley. This vibrant district is primarily residential, but it offers a fun local experience for your Charleston weekend getaway.
You can find many restaurants, cafes, bars, and shopping centres in West Ashley. There are also historical sites and a popular greenway for exercising and staying in shape on your trip. There are several hotels and rentals throughout the area, too.
Best Hotels in Charleston, SC
As such a popular vacation destination, you can rest assured that there are tons of accommodations for your Charleston weekend trip. Now that you’re familiar with the best areas throughout Charleston let’s check out some hotel options.
Best Budget Hotel: Shem Creek Inn – Shem Creek Inn is in Mount Pleasant and sits directly next to a beautiful creek. And, honestly, this location can’t get any better for the price! The rooms are simple but perfect and offer a comfortable place to rest before exploring all the area offers. Best of all, you can find several waterfront restaurants and bars steps away from your hotel room.
Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hotel Bella Grace – If you’re looking to splurge a little, it’s totally worth it for Hotel Bella Grace. This charming boutique hotel is located in Downtown Charleston’s historic district. It boasts incredible architecture, modern guest rooms, and a fitness centre. Hotel Bella Grace is perfect for a weekend in Charleston, SC solo, with a group of friends, or a romantic getaway.
Best Luxury Hotel: The Dewberry – If you’re dreaming of a luxurious long weekend in Charleston, The Dewberry is precisely what you’re looking for! Enjoy Charleston’s classic southern charm and style firsthand in the heart of the city. The Dewberry has just about everything you could ask for, from elegant guest rooms and a day spa to dining experiences and a rooftop bar.
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The Best of Charleston in 3 Days, Weekend Guide
On this 3 day itinerary, you’ll find a wide range of activities that will allow you to experience Charleston like a local AND a tourist.
Here’s an overview if you’re interested in a quick list of fun things to do during your long weekend in Charleston:
- Hang out on the beach (Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, or Folly Beach).
- Take a tour of Fort Sumter, accessible by boat.
- Watch the sunset at The Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park.
- Bike around Downtown Charleston and explore museums, The Battery, Hampton Park, and The City Market.
- Explore King Street for shopping, dining, drinking, and nightlife.
- Go museum-hopping.
3 Day Charleston Itinerary
No matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for, you can probably find it on your Charleston weekend getaway. There’s something for everyone in Charleston, from vast outdoors and beautiful scenery to mouthwatering food and unique history.
Use this itinerary as your step-by-step guide or pick and choose what stands out to you!
Here’s a quick rundown of what your 3 day Charleston itinerary will look like:
- Day 1: Spend the day at the beach – Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, or Folly Beach.
- Day 2: Wander around Downtown Charleston.
- Day 3: Explore history (fun for non-history buffs, too).
Charleston Weekend Getaway: Day 1
Spend the day at the beach (Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, or Folly Beach).
Let’s start day 1 of your Charleston vacation with a fun-filled day at the beach and exploring Charleston’s iconic food scene. This can be a casual day to spend as little or much time as you’d like on each activity.
Appreciate a relaxing day on Sullivans Island, a family-friendly day on Isle of Palms, or a fun beach day at Folly Beach. You can easily head to one of the beaches when you’re ready to start the day and hang out until it’s time to chase the sunset and enjoy a night out.
The low-country flavour is no joke, and you can quickly eat your way through your long weekend in Charleston. That’s why we’re going to go ahead and start day one with a delightful breakfast.
Depending on where your accommodation is or which beach you go to, you’ll have various options. But here are some of my favourite breakfast spots close to the top 3 beaches in Charleston.
After your fill of breakfast and maybe some mimosas, head over to the beach. Charleston’s weather is great all year round, so a beach day is always possible!
Depending on the weather, you may want to bring some snacks and settle by the seaside for the day. Or, if you find it’s too cool for a long beach day, each beach is excellent for a stroll and some beach games.
If you’re looking to do some beach activities, Sullivan’s Island features an Instagram-worthy lighthouse at the end of Station 18 Half Street. Folly Beach is a great place to go surfing, and the Isle of Palms is perfect for all kinds of watersports.
There are lunch spots near each beach around Charleston. This makes it easy to take a midday break before heading back to the ocean or moving on to your next adventure.
Catch the Sunset
What’s a vacation without enjoying a beautiful sunset? Here are five picturesque places to catch the sunset around Charleston.
My personal favourite is Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park, where you can find bench swings along a pier that looks over the harbour.
Insider Tip: If you’re at Sullivans Island for your beach day, head to Station 19 (near the lighthouse) for sunset views.
Dinner & Drinks
Once you’re ready to enjoy Charleston’s food scene for dinner, the opportunities are endless.
I recommend checking out Folly Beach, King Street in Downtown Charleston, or Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, where you can find dinner and drinks at various walkable locations.
You can find vibrant nightlife in these areas, too!
Charleston Weekend Getaway: Day 2
Wander around Downtown Charleston.
Downtown Charleston is known for its cobblestone streets, historical sites, shopping, and dining. It’s the heart of the city and a must-visit for any Charleston itinerary.
You might want to consider a guided walking tour where you’ll learn about the cities fascinating and turbulent past.
The downtown area is 4 to 5 square miles and offers many things to see and do. The two farthest points you’ll see if you follow the itinerary below are 4 miles from the other.
Once you make your way downtown, you’ll see why I suggest spending your day here. And, there’s a good chance you won’t want to leave!
When you get to your first destination, Hampton Park, you may want to rent a bicycle which you can do at the park. In fact, there’s a Charleston bike share that makes this very convenient.
You’ll find several dedicated bike racks throughout the city to park your bike and explore the stops listed below.
As a Charleston local, Hampton Park was one of my favourite spots to get fresh air, relax, and people watch. Not to mention, the park is beautiful, and it’s away from the hustle, so many tourists don’t even come across it.
Located on the edge of Downtown Charleston near the Citadel Military School, Hampton Park is one of Charleston’s largest parks.
The park boasts 60 acres of floral displays, paved walking or biking trails, a serene pond, and a playground. I recommend bringing breakfast to enjoy on a bench or in a grassy area (there are lots!) before taking a stroll.
After your quintessential morning in Hampton Park, you can rent a bike just by the pond and head over to your next stop!
Entry: free: Allow: 1-2 hours
The Battery and Rainbow Row
The Battery is one of the most visited historical landmarks in Charleston. This fortified seawall, named for a civil-war coastal defence artillery battery, stretches alongside the Charleston peninsula.
While there’s so much history to explore at The Battery, you’ll also find breathtaking homes along the water.
Rainbow Row is next to The Battery. This row of pastel-coloured homes makes for an unmatched photo backdrop, so go ahead and have your camera ready!
Entry: free: Allow: 1-2 hours
The City Market
If you prefer to stay away from spots that are ‘too touristy,’ you may want to skip this one. With that said, The City Market is a piece of history around since the 1800s.
It’s one of the oldest public markets in the nation and features hundreds of local entrepreneurs. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth quick a visit.
You can find all kinds of food and souvenirs at The City Market. However, I should mention that you can find those beautiful seagrass baskets (a Charleston staple) for a fraction of the price up Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.
Entry: free: Allow: 1-2 hours
As mentioned, King Street is the heart of the historic district.
This bustling street features Southern charm at its finest, with remarkable architecture, trendy restaurants, art galleries, top-notch shopping, and a vibrant nightlife.
There are three main districts, all with their own style, activities, and sights.
- Lower King Street is the antique district closest to your last stop at the City Market.
- Middle King Street is the fashion district with shopping galore.
- Upper King Street is the design and dining district, where you can find galleries, restaurants, and bars.
You can easily spend the rest of your afternoon and evening enjoying all that King Street has to offer. You can also park your bike in the area to turn it in and catch a rideshare back to your accommodation.
Entry: free: Allow 2-6 hours
Charleston Weekend Getaway: Day 3
Explore history (fun for non-history buffs, too).
On your final day in Charleston, it’s time to explore history. Charleston is known for its riveting past, and the sites listed below share good insights into how far we’ve come and how much work still needs to be done.
These activities aren’t all close to one another, so you’ll need to drive or use a rideshare service. I recommend the activities in the order listed below for time sake and to make the most of your last day.
Whether you’re a history buff or not, you’ll probably want to check out the iconic Fort Sumter. This national park and monument is a sea fort built on an artificial island to protect Charleston from naval invasion during the war of 1812.
Fort Sumter is only accessible by boat with two departures: Downtown and Mount Pleasant. Times vary between 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM. You’ll enjoy a scenic and informative ferry ride that lasts about half an hour before arriving at Fort Sumter.
Entry: $32.00 per adult; Allow: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Discover Charleston’s rich history with a tour of some of the best museums.
While there are tons of museums around the city, consider parking or being dropped off near Marion Square park to get the most out of your time.
You can find several museums nearby, including the following:
- The Charleston Museum: One of the oldest museums in the United States featuring decorative arts, historical artefacts, and natural history.
- Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art: The arts centre at the College of Charleston showcasing modern artists, lectures, films, and more.
- Aiken-Rhett House Museum: A historic home from the 1800s preserved to share its original state.
Entry: $12.00 each for 1st two museums & free for 3rd museum; Allow: 3-4 hours total for all
Sunset Dinner Cruise
One of the more unique Charleston experiences is hopping aboard a ship for a sunset dinner cruise.
Most of these cruises will offer cocktails, a delicious dining experience, and entertainment such as live music.
Join a cruise with other guests and make a few friends or enjoy a private cruise option.
Entry: Prices vary depending on tour (usually $75-$100 per person); Allow: 2-4 hours total
Tip: If you prefer to have dinner on the water without the cruise factor, there are tons of waterfront restaurants throughout the city!
Where to Eat and Drink in Charleston
While some great places to eat were shared above in your three day Charleston itinerary, I feel like food and drinks in Charleston deserve their own list.
Here are some top spots for dining and drinking:
- Brunch: Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar, Downtown Charleston ($$)
- Southern Fare: Revival, Downtown Charleston ($$)
- Casual Dining with Great Vibe: Taco Boy, Folly Beach or Downtown ($$)
- Fine-Dining: Halls Chophouse, Downtown Charleston ($$$$)
- Drinks and Appetizers: Tavern & Table, Mount Pleasant ($$)
- Rooftop Bar: The Rooftop Bar at Vendue, Downtown Charleston ($$)
- Brewery: Revelry, Downtown Charleston ($)
Budget for a Charleston Weekend Trip
Your budget for a weekend in Charleston, SC, will vary based on several factors, including the time of year you go and what kind of traveller you are.
With that said, you can plan to spend $130 – $300 per day. This includes accommodations, transportation, food, and activities.
With so many parts of the city to stay in and explore along with various activities, you can choose the experience that best suits your style and budget. That’s one of the best parts about a Charleston weekend trip.
It’s easy to splurge in Charleston. If you’re looking for a fancy vacation, there are many upscale accommodations, restaurants, and more.
If you’re looking to enjoy your vacation on a budget, you can certainly do that, too. Here are some tips for saving money in the Holy City:
- Travel during the off-season (February and August). These months are also cooler.
- Grab meals to go and enjoy picnics around the city. There are so many great spots!
- Take advantage of free activities like hanging out on the beach and visiting The Battery.
- Stay in more affordable areas of town such as James Island and West Ashley.
Tips & Advice for a Weekend in Charleston
It’s hard not to have an amazing weekend in Charleston. But, these tips and advice from a local can really take your adventure up a notch and make the trip even better!
When to Visit Charleston
Charleston is beautiful and exciting all year long. The weather is usually pleasant, aside from some heavy rain during August and a cooler climate during the winter (usually).
One rule of thumb with travelling to Charleston is that you may want to look out for any big events when you plan to visit.
Events like The Cooper River Bridge Run and the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition bring in a lot of tourists, and prices skyrocket. But, if you’re visiting for one of these events, it’s probably worth all the hype.
February and August are the slowest months in Charleston, so this would be a good time to visit for fewer crowds and affordability.
Summers are exciting in the city, with events, beachgoers, and more. However, summers in Charleston do get hot, so be prepared for that. Perfect for those beach days, though!
Getting Around Charleston
When it comes to getting around the city, this will depend on what area you’re staying in and where you want to explore. Cars, bicycles, and walking are your best modes of transportation.
Many areas are easy to explore on foot or by bicycle. In other areas, you’ll need to catch a ride or drive. If you don’t want to deal with parking or navigating a new city, I recommend rideshare services like Uber or Lyft.
This 3 day Charleston itinerary has been thoughtfully created so that you can explore the same area over a longer period, which will make getting around much more straightforward.
If you’re planning to do some walking, especially downtown, where you’ll come across lovely cobblestone streets, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Good footwear will be your best friend in Downtown Charleston!
Many people want to visit plantations for their beauty and history when travelling to the South. I haven’t listed plantations on this Charleston itinerary as I don’t prefer to visit them myself and feel that this experience should be entirely up to you.
Most plantations in Charleston have been restored and are located on gorgeous grounds. However, many don’t fully expose the painful truth of their past.
If you choose to visit plantations, I highly recommend not using it as a photo-opp but as a place to learn more about the tragedies that enslaved people suffered.
While there are several plantations throughout the city, Drayton Hall, located in West Ashley, is known as one of the more preserved ones. You can also find Magnolia Plantations and Gardens just next door.
Is Charleston LGBTQ+ Friendly
Charleston is known as one of the most gay-friendly cities in South Carolina. You can certainly feel safe in Charleston as an LGBTQ+ traveller.
While some old-school Charleston natives aren’t LGBTQ+ friendly, Charleston’s growing diversity is partly why it’s known as one of the best US cities. The city attracts travellers from all walks of life, and the relaxed vibe of many locals creates a welcoming atmosphere.
Charleston Pride has worked to create a strong and thriving community over the last decade. To look into the history of Charleston’s LGBTQ+ community, Bulldog Tours sets up customized tours and welcomes all groups of people.
There’s also a gay-friendly nightlife scene in Charleston. Dudley’s on Ann is an energetic LGBTQ+-friendly hangout and the oldest gay bar in Charleston. Enjoy drinks, karaoke, dancing, and drag performances.
Enjoy Your Charleston Weekend Getaway
I hope this 3 day Charleston itinerary has inspired you and that you’re ready for a fantastic trip. Charleston holds a special place in my heart, and I think you’ll love it just as much as I do!
Have you already been to Charleston? Is there anything you’d add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Stay adventurous and happy, travels.
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Polly is a freelance writer from the US. She loves to explore and spent over a year living in and traveling around Southeast Asia. Polly has many more places on her bucket list and currently travels around the United States. Along with writing and traveling, she loves coffee, craft beer, and spending time outdoors. You can see more of Polly at pollycloverwrites.com.