Charleston’s history dates back to 1670, when it was founded by English colonists. Luckily, it has retained much of its culture, monuments and original architecture over the years. Walking down the streets of Charleston, you feel as though you’re walking back in time. This free self-guided walking tour of Charleston details the city’s history from its conception to modern-day Charlestonian life.
Learn about some of Charleston’s most historically important sites, such as the Charleston Market, Fort Sumter and Patriots Point, Rainbow Row and the Old Slave Market. Should you get hungry along the way, you can always stop at one of the restaurants on our free self-guided food tour of Charleston.
You can’t visit Charleston without stopping at its historic market. The market’s history dates back to 1788 when Charles Cotesworth Pickney gave up a plot of land to the City of Charleston for use of a public market. The market was finally built between 1804 and the 1830s. Today visitors can browse the stalls, get a quick bite to eat and check out the market’s most famous wares — handmade sweetgrass baskets.
Walk east on Market St., and take a right on Concord St; you’ll hit the Waterfront Park in a few blocks. Walk until you see the Pineapple Fountain.
Stop 2: Waterfront Park/ Fort Sumter
Charleston’s Waterfront Park offers one of the best viewpoints in the city — and some of the best photo opportunities. The park runs half of a mile down the Cooper River. The focal point of the park is the famous Pineapple Fountain, which was built in 1990 and symbolizes the Charlestonian love of hospitality. From here, you can see the Ravenel Bridge, Patriots Park and Fort Sumter — the location where the Civil War began.
Walk two blocks east of the park, and take a right on Church St. St. Philip’s Church is located between Cubmerland and Queen Sts.
Stop 3: St. Philip’s Church
St. Philip’s Church is where you can find the oldest congregation in Charleston — and South Carolina. Established in 1680, St. this church is the mother church of the Diocese of South Carolina. The current structure was built in 1838, and the tower served as a lighthouse for Charleston’s harbor. Several notable Charlestonians are buried in its cemetery, including Charles Pickney and Edward Rutledge.
Head south on Church St., and stop outside the French Huguenot Church at Church and Queen Sts.
The French Huguenot church was built in 1845 — and is the third church to stand on this site. It’s nickname is the “Church of Tides” thanks to its original service schedule that revolved around the tide schedule as most attendees arrived by boat. Today services are held in French.
Across the street from the French Huguenot Church is the Dock Street Theatre. Opened in 1736, this theater was the first that was built solely for the purpose of theatrical performances. The first performance was The Recruiting Officer, and the first opera, Flora, was the first ever performed in America. The Dock Street Theatre is a public building, and visitors can enter the lobby and public areas during the day.
Head south on Church St., and take left on Chalmers St. The Pink House is on the south side of the street.
Stop 6: The Pink House
Though no longer a gallery open to the public, the Pink House is still delightful to see from the outside. Historians believe it is the second oldest structure in Charleston — built in 1712. It has lived many lives and seen many decades of Charleston’s history. In the 1700s, it was a tavern and a brothel. It has also housed a publishing house and law office before becoming a gallery. It is now a private residence.
A few doors down from The Pink House sits the Old Slave Mart Museum. Once an antebellum slave auction gallery, the Old Slave Mart is now a museum dedicated to teaching the history of the slave triangle, slave boat conditions and the path of the enslaved once they reached the market and plantations.
Head east down Chalmers St., and take a right on State St. Take a left on Broad St. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is just across East Bay St.
Stop 8: Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
By the late 1700s, enslaved African Americans made up half of Charlestons’ population, though the city wasn’t usually their final destination. Many were here only long enough to be sold to owners in other areas of the American colonies. The Old Exchange is where many of the slave auctions took place.
The Provost Dungeon was where American soldiers were held prisoner by the British in the American Revolutionary War.
Head south one block on E. Bay St., and take a left on E. Elliot St.
Stop 9: Coates’ Row
The buildings at 114-120 East Bay St. are known as Coate’s Row and were built between 1788 and 1806. Originally owned by Thomas Coates, the structures were once commercial buildings, homes, a tavern and a coffee house. 120 East Bay St. was once a meeting place of the Jacobin Club.
Head south on E. Bay St. to N. Adgers Warf.
Stop 10: Rainbow Row
Possibly one of the most famous and picturesque rows of homes in Charleston, Rainbow Row shows off the Caribbean influence on lowcountry homes. Built in the 1740s, these brightly colored homes were once owned by elite Charleston merchants. Though the rainbow colors have made these homes famous, historians can’t seem to agree why these exact colors were chosen.
Head north on E. Bay St., and take a left on Broad St. City Hall is at Broad and Meeting Sts.
Stop 11: Charleston City Hall
The building that became Charleston’s City Hall was built from 1800 to 1804 and is a great example of the Adamesque style. Originally the Bank of the United States, the building was transformed into City Hall in 1818. Visitors can head into the building for a free tour.
Head west on Broad St., and take a left on Legare.
Stop 12: Legare Street
Many of the buildings that sit on Legare St. are of historic significance, including the Robert Trail Chisolm house at 23 Legare. This house survived an earthquake and was once owned by George A. Trenholm, who is considered by some to be the “real” Rhett Butler.
You can discover the history of many Legare Street homes like this on our Secret History of Charleston tour, where you’ll see everything you would on our regular History of Charleston guided tour — just with a little “extra.”
Head south on Legare, and take a left at S. Battery. You’ll see White Point Gardens a block down the street.
Stop 13: White Point Gardens (The Battery)
First built as a public garden in 1837, White Point Gardens was converted into a battery during the Civil War. From here, you can get spectacular views of the Ashely and Cooper Rivers, Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor.
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