Whether you want to see gorgeous gardens, ghostly graveyards or historic homes decorated for the holidays, Charleston has it. This time of year is perfect for enjoying the cooler temperatures and strolling the streets of the Holy City on a home tour, ghost tour or holiday excursion.
Get started with one of these seasonal tours.
The Fall Tours: Homes, History & Architecture
The Preservation Society of Charleston hosts this annual event Oct. 6-30. Visitors can participate in a variety of activities and tour options, including self-paced walking tours of private houses and gardens, a “Living in History” lunch lecture, a plantation tour, or an “Up Close and Personal” tour.
The self-paced house and garden tours are $50 per person and are offered each Thursday through Sunday in October. Homeowners open the doors and garden gates to their private residences so visitors can see a few rooms of the house and personal gardens. Docents will share information about the houses, their periods and what makes each property unique. The tours cover several blocks so be prepared to do some walking.
The two-hour morning guided walking history tours are $25 per person and offered each Thursday to Sunday. Select from two options: The “Enduring Traditions: Ironwork of the Holy City” tour takes visitors past some the most significant ironwork in the city. Learn about the artists and craftsmen who created this magnificent masterpieces.
Another option is the “Invention of Wings” tour based on the novel by the same name written by Sue Monk Kidd. The tour follows the path of the Grimké sisters – early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements – and how both the privileged elite and enslaved masses lived. The tour highlights locations and events from the book while guides share untold stories and the tale of the Grimké sisters and how they shaped future generations.
Tours are limited; so make your reservations at TheFallTours.org.
Frighteningly Fun Tours
There’s something about walking through the darkest parts of Charleston on a fall evening that causes the hair on the back of your neck to tingle. Bulldog Tours has four nightly ghost tours available year round.
A favorite is the Ghost & Graveyard Walking Tour where visitors have the exclusive opportunity to walk inside the gates of one of Charleston’s oldest graveyards after dark. Explore the dark corners, inspect the headstones and step across the graves – if you dare. Learn about the history of Charleston’s graveyards and hear the stories of the famous individuals who found their final resting place in the Holy City. Tours are 7:30 and 9:30 nightly.
The Haunted Jail Tour is another popular tour (so book in advance). Guides take visitors behind the scenes of what just might be the spookiest place in Charleston, the Old City Jail. This jail housed some of Charleston’s most infamous criminals, 19th-century pirates and Civil War prisoners. The Old City Jail was in operation from 1802 until 1939 and most of the building’s original structures remain intact, including the cells and warden’s quarters. Tour the cells, hallways and creepy corners where Charleston’s worst criminals lived and died. Tours are at 7, 8, 9 and 10 nightly; may not be suitable for small children.
For information and tour tickets, visit BulldogTours.com.
Bring out your inner detective for the Murder Walk. Retrace the steps of a killer and unfold an unsolved crime in this whodunit on the streets of Charleston. Group size is limited and advance ticket purchase is required. This 60-minute tour is offered daily at 6 and 8 p.m. (ages 12 and up only).
Or book a 90-minute ghost tour that takes guests along gas-lit streets of Charleston. Chilling Charleston Macabre Ghost Walking Tour is offered at 7 and 9 p.m. daily. Purchase tickets in advance as this tour often sells out.
For more on these tours and others offered by Ashley on The Cooper Walking Tours, visit AshleyOnTheCooper.com.
After dark, board the USS Yorktown for a ghost tour. This 90-minute guided tour explores the unexplained mysteries of the USS Yorktown, the legendary WWII aircraft carrier docked in the Charleston harbor. Hear the stories of sacrifice and devastation that befell many who served as this tour ventures into areas normally restricted to the public. Check the website at YorktownGhostTours.com for a seasonal schedule.
Historical Walking Tours
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of historic downtown Charleston is to walk the city streets. You get an up close look at the architecture, the gardens and cobblestone alleyways brimming with charm.
Charleston Strolls offers a daily walking tour of Charleston’s historic district. See such landmarks as Rainbow Row, the waterfront Battery, antebellum mansions, hidden gardens and courtyards and historic churches and graveyards. Tours depart daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from the Mills House Hotel, 115 Meeting St. More details are at CharlestonStrolls.com.
Charleston Sole also provides walking tours of Charleston complete with colorful stories of this historic city. Pass by such landmarks as the Old Exchange Building, Dock Street Theatre, Old Slave Mart Museum, St. Michael’s Church, Nathaniel Russell House garden and waterfront mansions on the Battery and Rainbow Row. Daily tours are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and start behind the Old Exchange Building, 122 East Bay St. For information, visit CharlestonSole.com.
December Holiday Tours
Book a Holiday Walking Tour and stroll the streets of Charleston enjoying seasonal decorations and stories of the Charleston’s rich history and traditions. Throughout December, the finale for this special tour is at the Mills House Hotel, where visitors enjoy hospitality and holiday refreshments. For more information, visit CharlestonStrolls.com.
Stop off at the Joseph Manigault House, 350 Meeting St., to see this historic mansion decorated for the holiday season. The Garden Club of Charleston decks the halls of this house with arrangements made exclusively with live, historically accurate plant materials that would have cultivated in Charleston during the early 1800s. Learn about the holiday traditions enjoyed by the Joseph Manigault Family during special tours; details at CharlestonMuseum.org.
Don’t forget to visit the many plantations and historic homes that are dressed up for the holidays. Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Longpoint Road) is located in Mount Pleasant. Middleton Place (4300 Ashley River Road) and Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Road) are located near each other on the Ashley River. We also recommend visiting the Edmondston-Alston House (21 East Battery) and Calhoun Mansion (16 Meeting St.).
On Dec. 2 and 9 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston-Alston House celebrates a Victorian holiday season by candlelight decorated as it would have been in 1860. Costumed interpreters present dramatic scenes exploring Charleston’s last Christmas before the start of the Civil War.