In a city known for being pedestrian-friendly, walking tours around Charleston are very popular. Many newcomers opt for horse-and-buggy tours, mostly on large wagons holding a dozen or so people, but private horse-drawn carriage trips by day or night are definitely a romantic option.
Charleston has relatively flat terrain—they don’t call this the Lowcountry for nothing—so a bicycle is a pleasant way to explore the region. The affable owners of Charleston Bicycle Tours lead a maximum of a dozen people on a variety of trips.
Charleston Bicycle Tours. 164 Market St., Suite 104, Downtown Historic District, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/881–9878; charlestonbicycletours.com.
Charleston Harbor Tours offers tours that give the history of the harbor. In business since 1908, the company offers a great overview of the areas. SpiritLine Cruises, which runs the ferry to Fort Sumter, also offers harbor tours and dinner cruises ($50 to $60). The dinner cruises leave from Patriots Point Marina in Mount Pleasant and include a three-course dinner and dancing to music by a local DJ. Sandlapper Tours focuses on regional history, coastal wildlife, and nocturnal ghostly lore. All harbor cruises range between $20 and $50. On the 84-foot-tall schooner Pride, you can enjoy an eco-friendly sail and the natural sounds of Charleston Harbor on a two-hour harbor cruise, a dolphin cruise, a sunset cruise, or romantic full-moon sails. Tours range from $28 to $46.
Charleston Harbor Tours. This company offers excursions that give the colonial history of the harbor and its forts. Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside St., Ansonborough, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/722–1112; www.charlestonharbortours.com. From $25.
Sandlapper Tours. These tours focus on regional history, coastal wildlife, and nocturnal ghostly lore. Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside St., Ansonborough, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/849–8687; www.sandlappertours.com. From $25.
Schooner Pride. On the 84-foot-tall schooner Pride, you can enjoy an eco-friendly sail and the natural sounds of Charleston Harbor on a two-hour harbor cruise, a dolphin cruise, a sunset cruise, or romantic full-moon sails. Aquarium Wharf, 360 Concord St., Ansonborough, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 800/344–4483; 843/722–1112; www.schoonerpride.com. From $30.
SpiritLine Cruises. Harbor cruises include a live narrator and include trips to Fort Sumter and a three-course dinner with a DJ and dancing. Aquarium Wharf, 360 Concord St., Ansonborough, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/722--2628; www.spiritlinecruises.com. From $23.
Adventure Sightseeing leads bus tours of the Historic District. The Historic Charleston Foundation pairs local guides with visiting tour groups. Gullah Tours focuses on sights significant to African American culture. Tour guide Alfonso Brown is fluent in the Gullah language.
Adventure Sightseeing. 375 Meeting St., Downtown Historic District, Charleston, South Carolina, 29403. 800/722–5394; 843/762–0088; www.adventuresightseeing.com.
Gullah Tours. 375 Meeting St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29407. 843/763–7551; www.gullahtours.com.
Historic Charleston Foundation. 188 Meeting St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/723–1623; 843/722–3405; 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 about $26 per person. Carolina Polo and Carriage Company, Old South Carriage Company, and Palmetto Carriage Works run horse- and mule-drawn carriage tours of the Historic District. Each follows one of four routes and 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 an authentic carriage that is sought after for private tours and wedding parties. Palmetto Carriage Works offers free parking if you book ahead online.
Carolina Polo and Carriage Company. DoubleTree by Hilton Historic District, 181 Church St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/577–6767; www.cpcc.com. From $26.
Old South Carriage Company. 14 Anson St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/723–9712; www.oldsouthcarriage.com. From $28.
Palmetto Carriage Works. 8 Guignard St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/853--6125; www.palmettocarriage.com. Evening tours $18, daytime tours $28.
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.
Barrier Island Eco Tours. Located at the Isle of Palms Marina, Barrier Island Eco Tours runs three-hour pontoon-boat tours to the uninhabited Capers Island. Isle of Palms Marina, 50 41st Ave., Isle of Palms, South Carolina, 29451. 843/886–5000; www.nature-tours.com. From $36.
Coastal Expeditions. This company has half-day and full-day naturalist-led kayak, SUP, and motorboat tours on local rivers, plus a ferry to Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. 514-B Mill St., Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, 29464. 843/884–7684; www.coastalexpeditions.com. From $40.
You can also fly high with helicopters, which offers exquisite views of the city. Tours with Fly In Helicopters start at $35 per person.
Fly In Helicopters. 40 Patriots Point Rd., Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, 29464. 843/373--8011; www.flyinhelicopters.com. From $35 per person.
The Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau has a lengthy list of Charleston's best private tour guides. Charleston’s Footprints tour routes can vary, but will wend approximately 16–18 blocks through the French Quarter, South of Broad, White Point Garden, and The Battery.
Charleston Footprints. At Meeting and Chalmers Sts., Downtown Historic District, Charleston, South Carolina. 843/478--4718; www.charlestonfootprints.com.
Walking tours on various topics—horticulture, slavery, or women's history—are given by Bulldog Tours, which also has walks that explore the city's supernatural side. Listen to tales of lost souls with Ghosts of Charleston, which travel to historic graveyards.
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.
Charleston Culinary Tours 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. 18 Anson St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/722–8687; www.bulldogtours.com. From $25.
Charleston Culinary Tours. A wide variety of "foodie" tours are offered in historic downtown Charleston, including culinary, mixology, and chefs' kitchen tours. Charleston, South Carolina. 843/259--2966 ; charlestonculinarytours.com.
Charleston 101 Tours. Powder Magazine, 79 Cumberland St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/556–4753; www.charleston101tours.com. From $20.
Tour Charleston. 2A Cumberland St., Market, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. 843/723–1670; www.tourcharleston.com. From $25.