Three days in Charleston is the perfect way to get a taste of this beautiful city. You’ll leave with a whole list of places to eat and things to do on a return trip, but it’s long enough to get a feel for the city. I’ve included some options at the end for lengthening your trip. Check out our Things To Do in Charleston post for additional information about many of these places.
Where to Stay in Charleston
If possible, stay in the historic district. You’ll want to do all of your touring here on foot anyway, and you’ll love being in the center of it.
If you’d prefer accommodations at a lower price point, check out the hotels just over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Mt. Pleasant. We’ve also stayed at an Airbnb in John’s Island, so there are lots of options if you’re willing to drive a little bit. But either way, be prepared to pay for parking. Historic district hotels will charge for overnight valet parking and if you drive in, you’ll want to leave your car in a lot or garage for most of the day and walk.
If you’re visiting the Charleston area in your RV, the four closest camping options are the James Island County Park Campground (under 20 minutes to the city market), Oak Plantation Campground (about 30 minutes) Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA (about 30 minutes), and Lake Aire Campground (about 35 minutes).
Now let’s get to the itinerary!
3 Day Charleston Itinerary
With more than 1 day in Charleston, you have time to venture out from the historic neighborhood, but we’ll start there for day 1.
Day 1 – Historic District
Start the day at Palmetto Carriage Works or Old South Carriage Co for a carriage tour of the historic district. A carriage ride is the perfect way to kick off a multi-day trip in the city, because it gives you a fountain of Charleston’s history and some ideas of areas you might like to spend more time in.
Then take a stroll through City Market. I typically only buy 1 or 2 souvenirs, so I recommend getting a feel for the vendors today and coming back at the end of your trip to make purchases.
Have lunch at Fleet Landing* on the water, then walk south to Waterfront Park and take an iconic Pineapple Fountain photo. Then continue on to walk the Battery.
If you’d like, many homes in the historic district are available for tours, including the Nathaniel Russell House, the Aiken-Rhett House, the Heyward-Washington House, and the Williams Mansion.
Have dinner at Poogan’s Porch.
Day 2 – Johns Island and Folly Beach
Start the morning driving out to the Angel Oak Tree. This enormous tree is another iconic Charleston symbol.
Then spend a few hours at the McLeod Plantation Historic Site. This plantation focuses on the Gullah/Geechee heritage and the story of the enslaved people who worked there.
Have lunch at Boxcar Betty’s, a fun little fried chicken restaurant 15 minutes away. I highly recommend the Boxcar sandwich with pimento cheese and peach coleslaw.
In the afternoon, enjoy some time at the beach. Folly Beach is just a 30 minute drive away. And while you’re there, have dinner at Taco Boy. Be sure to order the street corn.
Day 3 – Fort Sumpter and Shopping
Take a morning ferry ride out to Fort Sumter. After a 30 minute ferry ride through the Charleston Harbor, walk the fort and see where the Civil War began.
Have lunch at Toast. Then spend the afternoon shopping on King Street.
A final stop for dinner (perhaps High Cotton or Magnolias?) in the historic district, but first, get to the market before 5 pm to make any final purchases.
Want to make the trip longer?
Here are some options to add on for a 5 day itinerary or even a full week in Charleston. Most of these can either be a full day or a half day activities.
Charleston Tea Garden – Visit the only tea garden in North America on day 2 after stopping at the Angel Oak Tree and move Mcleod and Folly Beach to its own day or even to 2 separate days.
Additional Plantation Tours – Charleston is known for their plantations. I recommend the McLeod Plantation site above, because it focuses most on the stories of the enslaved people, but many of the other local plantations are continuing to bring more attention to those who built these properties with their own hands. Three of the most well-known plantations around Charleston are: Boone Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place. Our What To Do in Charleston post shares more about each of those if you need help choosing.
Sullivan’s Island – Smaller and less populated than Folly Beach. You’ll find several restaurants on Middle Street, but this would also be the perfect place to bring a picnic lunch. Boone Hall Plantation is also on this side of Charleston so those can be combined together if you’d like.
Take a food tour – We have a non-adventurous eater in our family (not naming any names!) so a food tour hasn’t been a good fit for our own travel itineraries, but maybe someday!
*You can find additional restaurant suggestions here in our Things To Do in Charleston post.