Tours in Charleston run the gamut, from aerial tours to city and ecotours, and also numerous boat and harbor trips; in a city that is known as a walker-friendly destination, walking tours are numerous and popular. A large percentage of tourists opt for a horse-and-carriage tour, mostly on large wagons with a dozen or so other visitors, but private horse-and-buggy trips by day or night are definitely a romantic option. Whatever you choose, it is a good way to orient yourself in the city and best taken at the beginning of your stay.
Flying High Over Charleston provides aerial tours of the city and surrounding areas. A 60-minute, 50-mile tour is $190; a 40-minute, 30-mile tour is $150.
Charleston Bicycle Tours (164 Market St., Suite 104, Historic District, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/881–9878. charlestonbicycletours.com.)
LowCountry Helicopters (2742 Fort Trenholm Rd., Johns Island, SC, 29455. 843/580–6567. www.lowcountryhelicopters.com.)
Charleston Harbor Tours offers tours that give the history of the harbor; it's the oldest harbor tour boat company (since 1908) in Charleston and gives a good narrated tour of the harbor; however, these tours do not stop at Fort Sumter. Spiritline Cruises, which runs the ferry to Fort Sumter, also offers harbor tours and dinner cruises ($49-$55). The dinner cruises leave from Patriots Point Marina in Mount Pleasant and include a three-course dinner and dancing to music by a local radio DJ. Each table has a water view. Sandlapper Tours has tours focused on regional history, coastal wildlife, and nocturnal ghostly lore; you must make reservations by phone in advance since there is no ticket office where the harbor tours depart. All harbor cruises range between $22 and $30. On the authentic, 84-foot-tall schooner Pride (capacity 49 people), you can enjoy a diesel-free sail and the natural sounds of Charleston harbor on a two-hour harbor cruise, a dolphin cruise, a sunset cruise, romantic full-moon sails, and special events; tours range from $34 to $55.
Charleston Harbor Tours (Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside St., Upper King, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/722–1112 or 800/344–4483. www.charlestonharbortours.com.)
Sandlapper Tours (Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside St., Upper King, Charleston, SC, 29413. 843/849–8687. www.sandlappertours.com.)
Schooner Pride (Aquarium Wharf, 360 Concord St., Upper King, Charleston, SC, 29401. 800/344–4483 or 843/722–1112. www.schoonerpride.com.)
Spiritline Cruises (Aquarium Wharf, 360 Concord St., Upper King, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/881–7337 or 800/789–3678. www.spiritlinecruises.com.)
Adventure Sightseeing leads bus tours of the Historic District. The Historic Charleston Foundation pairs local guides with visiting tour groups. Doin' the Charleston, a van tour, makes a stop at the Battery. It leaves from the Visitor Center, but will pick up passengers from their downtown hotel 30 minutes before the tour. Native Charlestonian Marvin Katzen is a seasoned guide, journalist, and actor with Doin' the Charleston. Sites and Insights is a van tour that covers downtown and nearby islands and focuses on Black history. Al Miller, the premier guide, will even sing "Summertime" while giving the Porgie & Bess Tour. Similarly, Gullah Tours, which leave from the Visitor Center, focuses on sights significant to African-American culture. Tour guide Alfonso Brown is fluent in the Gullah language. Chai Y'All shares stories and sights of Jewish interest.
Adventure Sightseeing (375 Meeting St., Historic District, Charleston, SC, 29403. 800/722–5394 or 843/762–0088. www.adventuresightseeing.com.)
Gullah Tours (375 Meeting St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29407. 843/763–7551. www.gullahtours.com.)
Historic Charleston Foundation (108 Meeting St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/723–1623 Main office; 843/722–3405 Ticket office. www.historiccharleston.org.)
Sites and Insights (843/552–9995. www.sitesandinsightstours.com.)
Carriage tours are a great way to see Charleston. The going rate is $22 for an adult. Carolina Polo and Carriage Company, Old South Carriage Company (where drivers wear mock Confederate uniforms), and Palmetto Carriage Works run horse- and mule-drawn carriage tours of the Historic District. Each tour, which follows one of four routes, lasts about one hour. Most carriages queue up at North Market and Anson streets. Carolina Polo and Carriage, which picks up passengers at the Doubletree Guest Suites Historic Charleston on Church Street, has a historically authentic carriage that is sought after for private tours and wedding parties. Palmetto offers free parking at their big red barn and has combo tickets for harbor tours.
Carolina Polo and Carriage Company (Doubletree Guest Suites Historic Charleston, 181 Church St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/577–6767. www.cpcc.com.)
Old South Carriage Company (14 Anson St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/723–9712. www.oldsouthcarriagetours.com.)
Palmetto Carriage Works (8 Guignard St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/723–8145. www.palmettocarriage.com.)
Barrier Island Ecotours, at the Isle of Palms Marina, runs three-hour pontoon-boat tours to a barrier island. Coastal Expeditions has half-day and full-day naturalist-led kayak tours on local rivers. Coastal Eco Tours offers a wide variety of two- and three-hour water tours of the Lowcountry.
Barrier Island Ecotours (Isle of Palms Marina, 50 41st Ave., off U.S. 17, Isle of Palms, SC, 29451. 843/886–5000. www.nature-tours.com.)
Coastal Expeditions (514-B Mill St., Mount Pleasant, SC, 29464. 843/884–7684. www.coastalexpeditions.com.)
To hire a private guide to lead you around the city, contact Charleston's Finest Historic Tours. Janice Kahn has been leading customized tours for more than 38 years. She is well versed in subjects such as architecture, art, literary landmarks like those in Pat Conroy's South of Broad, and African-American history. She can give tours walking, in a private car, or as a step-on-guide for charter bus groups.
Charleston's Finest Historic Tours (Charleston Visitors Center, 375 Meeting St., Upper King, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/577–3311. www.historictoursofcharleston.com.)
Walking tours on various topics—horticulture, slavery, or women's history—are given by Charleston Strolls and the Original Charleston Walks. Bulldog Tours has walks that explore the city's supernatural side. Listen to the infamous tales of lost souls with Ghosts of Charleston, which travel to historic graveyards. They have expanded their offerings to include a sunset cruise and a culinary tour. They explore culinary strongholds where you can watch food artisans at work while sampling and shopping along the way.
Let Mary Coy, a fourth-generation Charlestonian and former teacher, bring the history and architecture of Charleston's back alleys and noble streets to life on her two-hour Charleston 101 Tour. Pay attention—there may be a quiz at the end.
Culinary Tours of Charleston is a foodie adventure that stops at a variety of restaurants in the Historic District, where you'll experience the area's rich culinary history and Southern hospitality.
Bulldog Tours (40 N. Market St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/722–8687. www.bulldogtours.com.)
Charleston 101 Tours (Powder Magazine, Cumberland St., 1 block from the City Market, Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/556–4753. www.charleston101tours.com.)
Charleston Strolls (40 N. Market St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/766–2080. www.charlestonstrolls.com.)
Culinary Tours of Charleston (40 N. Market St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/722–8687 or 800/918–0701. www.bulldogtours.com.)
Ghosts of Charleston (184 E. Bay St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 800/854–1670 Office; 843/606-6025 Reservations. www.tourcharleston.com.)
Original Charleston Walks (45 S. Market St., Market area, Charleston, SC, 29401. 843/408–0010. www.charlestonwalks.com.)