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What to do, what to see, and how to do it leisurely without running yourself ragged.
A time consuming activity, but it's well worth it. The aquarium is huge and has activities for the whole family (my favorite is the remote controlled sub in the lobby fishtank). The aquarium has all sorts of animals too, from sea creatures (naturally), to birds(mostly local seabirds), reptiles and amphibians (snakes, frogs, and even aligators!), and mammals (the otters are always fun to watch). In fact, it's more of a zoo than an aquarium. I highly suggest going, you don't want to miss it.
Many people want to see Fort Sumter when they come to Charleston; and why not? It's a part of history and actually pretty cool. However, plan to devote plenty of time to it. The only way to reach the fort is by boat, which takes a while to get to, and they don't constantly run, so you might have to wait. Water- take a lot of it, and sunscreen. There is very little shade on the fort and it can get quite hot in the summer. There is a museum-type building with A/C if it gets too hot. I suggest doing it once, just because it is cool and enjoyable.
I myself don't really like taking the carriage tours, but if you want to, I suggest Palmetto. It's a nice way to relax, see most of the city, and learn about its history. The guides tell interesting stories, and most are funny and friendly. It's also a good way to see some of the beautiful houses in the residential district.
If you're interested, and brave enough, you can take one of Charleston's many ghost tours. They're an interesting way to learn about the darker side of the city's history, and a good way to get your adrenaline pumping. Bulldog is one of the best in the business, and offers a variety of tours. If you don't mind walking, the Ghost and Graveyard and Dungeon tours are great, and if you don't have kids, the Dark Side tour (18 and older) is also available. If you're really daring, you can take the Jail tour and venture into the old city jail after the sun goes down. Whether you see anything or not, I guarantee you'll have a good time.
If you've got the time, you can go a few minutes outside the city to Patriots Point. Walk through the hanger and halls of the USS Yorktown or climb through the cramped body of a submarine, this place is fun for the whole family. I strongly suggest taking out a few hours to experience maritime history.
For Civil War buffs, this is a great way to kill an hour or two. The sub is preserved, but you can still get pretty close to it.
Pretty easy to find, it's basically in the middle of everything. An open-air market where locals come to sell homemade crafts daily. They sell everything from t-shirts and crafts, jewelry, and art (YES! Even those famed sweet grass baskets), to homemade spices and sauces. They have recently added an enclosed "high end" section in the middle (not too crazy about that). Make sure you visit early, most vendors tend to leave around 4-5 P.M.
You can't miss it, it's right off the slave market in a big pink building (where Bulldog Tours is located). There are some cool little stores and restaurants back in there, my favorite is The Brass Pirate. Make sure you check it out.
The higher end shops are located here. I tend to avoid this area because it is mainly tourists, but if you're in to shopping, this is the place for you. Handbags, designer clothes, art galleries, home appliances, etc. Located near the college (CofC, Go Cougars!)
I cannot stress this enough. AVOID EATING AT CHAINS. Fleet Landing is a good place to get fresh, local seafood. It is built on an old dock in the harbor, and looks, well... old. But that just adds to its charm. It has great water views, and the food is always great. Make sure you make reservations for dinner; it's always crowded.
I know what you're thinking, "An Irish Pub?" To which I reply, yes. Don't let it fool you, it's more than just a bar. The food is great, the servers are friendly, and there's always a cool breeze on the back deck. Live music most nights as well. I highly recommend the Cheddar Ale Dip and pretzels, it's... life changing. Located next to the French Quarter Inn.
Walk by this place any time of day and you'll see a huge crowd of people waiting ouside the door. The food is pretty good, but it's more of the experience. Every seat in here has at least one plaque with the name of a celebrity who has sat there (the biggest name I've ever gotten was Samuel L. Jackson). Probably the most famous restaurant in the city. Complimentary "goober peas" (that's boiled peanuts to those of you who aren't from the south) as an appetizer, and homemade ice cream for sale in the gift shop (yeah, gift shop) after dinner. But be warned, all that fame comes with a price $$$. If you do go here, I recommend the fried lobster tails.
My FAVORITE place in Charleston. It's located right off the market. It's a great place to come in later at night and get some coffee and dessert and just relax and talk about the day. You might have to wait on a table because there are only about 7 or 8, but most people just get their food to go. The servers are always friendly, and most are willing to chat if they're not too busy. If I'm in Charleston, chances are I'll be in Kaminsky's every night at some point.
Quite a walk from the center of it all, but well worth it. Some of the most beautiful houses in Charleston. You'll know you're there by the huge cannons everywhere
Towards the harbor, right by the Harbor View Inn, you'll see a boardwalk with covered swings (try to get one, it took me three trips before I got to swing on one). Just before that, you'll see a huge fountain spraying water into the middle with little kids playing in it (great for kids on a hot day). Further down the boardwalk you'll see a giant fountain shaped like a pineapple that you can wade knee deep into. Two "must sees"