Experiencing Charleston by land is a sight to behold, but seeing it by sea? That’s a whole other story. Discover the history and natural splendor of Charleston from an alternative angle — the water. These boat tours offer visitors a view of the harbor and its waterways that isn’t accessible on land. Most offer guided narration of the surrounding sights, so you can gain a deeper understanding of Charleston’s geography and history.
One of the best reasons to get out on the water is to visit Fort Sumter. This fort was the official site of the start of the Civil War, and a visit to the fort offers insight into its history. The only way to reach Fort Sumter is by boat, and the only company that shuttles visitors to the island is Fort Sumter Tours.
Departing from two locations (one in Charleston and the other in Patriots Point), the tour ferries visitors to the island and helps them understand the events leading up to the Civil War and the role the fort played in its history. The fort also played a part in the War of 1812, and visitors can learn about this history through interactive exhibits.
Sometimes you simply want to sit back, relax and enjoy the water. Other times, you’ve gotta get in on the fun, too.
Saltwater Cycle offers passengers the opportunity to pedal along the boat’s route while enjoying a few drinks. Self-described as a boat tour that allows you to, “Float, pedal and party,” this tour offers great views of the harbor while keeping you entertained for a few hours.
Charleston Harbor Tours depart daily during high seasons and offers visitors the chance to see Charleston from a different angle. You’ll learn all about Charleston’s history from your USCG licensed captain while discovering little-known facts about the Holy City.
Some of the sights on the tour include:
Forts Moultrie and Johns
Harbor wildlife and animals
This 90-minute tour is perfect for those with limited mobility and still want to see some of Charleston’s most iconic sites.
Kayaking and Canoeing
When some people get out on the water, they really want to get out on the water. For these people, boating is not a spectator sport. Luckily, there are a few companies that specialize in kayaking, canoeing and other DIY boating in Charleston.
The best part is that this type of boating adventure will get you even closer to the wildlife and scenery.
Coastal Expeditions offers tours of Bulls Island and the harbor by way of kayak or paddleboard. Explore Shem Creek, Folly Creek or Isle of Palms by kayak. On the way, you’re bound to see dolphins, birds and other wildlife.
This company specializes in boat tours, paddleboarding and kayaking — as well as fishing packages. In addition to their dolphin and lighthouse tours, they also offer a fossil hunting tour that’s great for kids. The best part of this tour is that it’s offered on a motorized boat so you don’t need to worry about paddling the nearly 10 miles to Morris Island.
What’s better than getting out on the water in Charleston? Getting out on the water with food. Spiritline Cruises specializes in dinner cruises around the harbor that feature amazing views of the Ravenel Bridge, the Battery and Fort Sumter.
Included in the cruise is a three-or-four course tasting menu of locally inspired dishes. Live music accompanies the meal and features local acts.
If you’re more into seeing the water the way locals did back in the 1700s and 1800s, take a sail on the Schooner Pride. You’ll get a chance to see the Ravenel Bridge, Rainbow Row and some of Charleston’s many churches — all from a four-sail schooner.
If you want to see the Charleston waterfront at sunset, this is a great way to do so; the sunset sail is one of the most popular tours offered by Schooner Pride. They even offer a sunset wine tasting cruise in case you can’t decide if you want to sip vino or enjoy Charleston’s waterways. Like most other companies on this list, they also offer a dolphin sail that features some of the local wildlife.
Sometimes you want all the bells and whistles, and sometimes you just need to get from Point A to Point B. The Charleston Water Taxi will get you to the Waterfront Park, Maritime Center, Patriots Point and the Charleston Harbor Resort.
While the water taxi is primarily a way to get around Charleston, you can also expect to see all of the sights you’d expect on many of these other tours. It’s even common to spot dolphins and other wildlife while on the water taxi. Though the boat ride isn’t narrated by a guide, you’ll still see all of the main highlights from these smaller vessels.
Thanks to Charleston’s mild climate, it’s always a great time to get out on the water here. Though this list includes some of Charleston’s most highly rated boat tours, there are dozens of private charter companies and yachts that offer a great view of the mainland — and insight into some of the city’s less trekked areas.
Family owned and operated from the beginning, Walks of Charleston is passionate about the history, architecture and culture of Charleston and is dedicated to sharing it with you for a memorable experience on every tour.
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”
– Steven Wright