Cool and Unusual

The Thrifty Traveler’s Guide to Charleston

Cheapskate Your Way Through Chucktown with This Low-Cost To-Do List

A row of multicolored apartments well decorated with colorful flowers and small iron balconies


Are you looking to hit up Chucktown without suffering a devastating blow to your wallet? We found the best places to include in a budgeted tour of the city, including . . . 

Charleston, South Carolina, is a historic city that’s practically overflowing with fun stuff to do and cool things to see. And yet, while the memories may be priceless, there’s no denying that traveling can cost a pretty penny—unless, of course, you plan ahead.

  • Free and low-cost attractions 
  • Reasonably-priced restaurants 
  • Money-saving travel tips

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Free and Low-Cost Attractions in Charleston

Don’t fall for expensive tourist traps—Charleston has plenty of free and low-cost attractions that you can enjoy without having to shell out a large chunk of money.

Rainbow Row

Rainbow row at twilight

Source: Adobe Stock

Add a Pop of Color (and History) to Your Visit
East Bay Street 83–107 | Downtown|

Icon for Rainbow Row

This collection of row homes is famous for boasting a variety of unconventional paint jobs. Similar to San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies,” the Rainbow Row houses are, as the name suggests, a rainbow of colors!

Because it’s such a popular spot, Rainbow Row isn’t exactly ideal for parking. Luckily, Charleston is an extremely walkable city, and this neighborhood is right in the downtown area and a close walk from City Hall. The architecture found on Rainbow Row dates back to the pre-Civil War era. Many myths have infiltrated the backstory behind Rainbow Row, including the tale that the homes were painted with different colors so that drunken sailors could find their way back to the right house. 

Sullivan’s Island

A beach view from Sullivan's Island

Source: Sullivan’s Island

Wander in Wonder Along This Secluded Beach
2101 Pettigrew Street |

Sink your toes in the sand and explore the delightfully quaint Sullivan’s Island, a close drive from Downtown Charleston (Hint: You’ll find free street parking close to the bridge!). The island is home to the Revolutionary War’s Fort Moultrie—later used in the Civil War—as well as the Sullivan Island Lighthouse. The Sullivan Island Lighthouse, also called “Charleston Light,” is known for its modern-look and, having been built in 1960, is one of the newest lighthouses in the country.

Sullivan’s Island is a picturesque getaway for those looking for a break from the city, and while quiet in nature, the beach town has a variety of locally-owned restaurants and art galleries. Look out for sand dollars on the shoreline—you can keep the smooth, white ones but are asked to throw back the fuzzy, grey ones, which are actually still alive.

White Point Garden

A gazebo surrounded by big green trees in a park

Source: Sullivans Island

Take a Stroll Through This Gorgeous Public Park
2 Murray Boulevard | The Battery |

Logo for Charleston Parks ConservancyYou know the city planning office has struck success when people start booking a park as their wedding venue. Situated at the southern point of the Battery, White Point Garden is one of the most beautiful spots in Charleston and perfectly free to the public. 

For all of its idyllic refinement, White Point Park—like many sites throughout the city—has a rather dark history and as a result, is even thought by some to be haunted: the grounds were once used for hangings. So, feel free to enjoy the views of the green space during the day, but beware of walking the area at night (unless you’re in the mood for a good spook!).

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

A woman examines an exhibit at the Halsey Institute

Source: Hasley Institute

Get a Healthy Dose of Culture at This Free Art Gallery
161 Calhoun Street | East Side |

A woman examines an exhibit at the Halsey Institute

Free to enter, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is an awesome way to incorporate some art your visit to the city and admire the talents of emerging artists. With mediums ranging from painting and drawing to sculpting and photography, you’ll have access to an eclectic range of artwork that’ll impress and astound you. 

Named after the Charleston artist William Halsey, the Institute has been bringing modern art to the surrounding community since 1984. With pieces from local, regional, national, and international artists, the Institute provides visitors with diverse number of works from all over. The Institute hosts as many as seven exhibitions every year as well as a slew of events, so much sure you check to see if anything’s going on during you visit!

Reasonably-Priced Restaurants in Charleston

Charleston at night

Source: Adobe Stock

We all know that the quickest way to a traveler’s heart is through their stomach—but does that mean you have to dine at the fanciest joints in town? Of course not! These are some of the best cheap eats to sample during your time in Charleston.

Early Bird Diner

No Worms in Sight at This Local Jewel
1644 Savannah Highway | West Ashley |

Logo for the Early Bird DinerWho doesn’t love delicious diner fare at a price that makes it taste even better? The Early Bird Diner serves breakfast all day, as well as lunch and dinner. Not only can you order pancakes, steak and eggs, French toast, biscuits and cream, and grits, but you can also dig into hoagies, burgers, fried pickles, meatloaf, fried chicken, and plenty more.  

Basically everything on the menu at the Early Bird Dinner is under $20, which means you can fill up without breaking the bank. Between the food and the prices, this place is a certified Charleston favorite.

Dellz Uptown

Vegan-Friendly Restaurant with Takeout and Sit-Down Meals
511 Rutledge Avenue | Peninsular Charleston |

Dellz Uptown LogoNot sure what you’re in the mood for? Head over to Dellz to browse tons of options at affordable prices. With pizza, wraps, burgers, tacos, salads, and smoothies, Dellz is a place that’s sure to satisfy any craving. You can go to Dellz for brunch, lunch, and dinner—it’s open from 11 am to 8 pm most days. 

Dellz is known for its large portions and creative but healthy dishes. Whether you dine-in or take out, you’ll quickly understand why this is a restaurant that everyone’s talking about. Plus, most of the menu items are under $20!

City Lights Coffee

Sip Espresso at This Trendy Cafe and Coffeeshop
141 N. Market Street | Downtown |

City Lights LogoWith its reasonable prices, high-quality drinks, and an inviting atmosphere, City Lights Coffee is frequented by locals and visitors alike. Satisfy your caffeine craving at this local coffee shop that has drip coffee, espresso, French press, and more. You can also enjoy pastries and biscotti if you’re in the mood for a light breakfast or lunch. 

Get an authentic taste of Charleston—and can’t-beat coffee—when you walk through the doors of City Lights Coffee. Even if you don’t get a chance to sit down, you’re sure to love the vibe of this delightful spot in a convenient location. 

Cupcake DownSouth

Follow Your Sweet Tooth to This Beloved Charleston Dessert Shop
433 King Street | Upper King |

Logo for the cupcake storeVoted the “Best Cupcakes in South Carolina,” Cupcake DownSouth is a sweet treat that—quite literally—cannot be beat! Every day of the week, this Charleston-original bakery whips up a daily menu of more than a dozen cupcake flavors. 

Prices vary on the menu, but regular cupcakes are $3.50 each. Everyday flavors include black and white, chocolate, red velvet, and vanilla bean. Special flavors range from maple sweet potato, snickerdoodle, and mint to pumpkin, salted caramel, and more. If you get a chance, try the cake shake—it’s ice cream combined with a cupcake. (You can also get regular milkshakes, if you want to be boring.)

Money-Saving Travel Tips

Trees and purple flowersa, a beautiful Charleston walk

Source: Adobe Stock

Headed to Charleston? Check out these money-saving travel tips!

  1. If you flew into town and plan on exploring every inch of the city, rent a car to avoid the huge expenditure on cabs and driving services. 
  2. Nix the hotel, and stay at a hostel. (Hotels in Charleston are notoriously expensive, but you can find cheap, clean hostels all throughout the city.) 
  3. Don’t pay for a tour—it’s easy to DIY! 

Traveling on a budget doesn’t have to mean missing out! These are just a few of the budget-friendly places in Charleston—but a quick search will show you just how many others there are. After all, the prices shouldn’t the main thing that you remember from your trip!


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