Have you always longed to tour the streets of the port city of Charleston with your family? If you’re based in Atlanta, getting to Charleston by car is easier than you may think.
What should you know as you plan this road trip?
Driving from Atlanta to Charleston is a straight-across shot that will take you and the family through much of Georgia before reaching South Carolina and eventually, Charleston. The whole drive takes about five hours and can be done in one day.
If you’re looking for a short but rewarding road trip that won’t leave the kids antsy, driving from Atlanta to Charleston could be it!
In this guide, I’ll provide a great route for travel, tell you how long it takes to arrive, and recommend some can’t-miss destinations along the way.
The best route from Atlanta to Charleston
As I alluded to in the intro, road-tripping to Charleston from Atlanta is very much feasible. If you and the family have never taken a long drive before and you want to ease them into it, go here!
You won’t have to worry about any overnight stops. Not only will you save money on lodging, but you’ll also have more time to enjoy Charleston and all the other sights and destinations along the way.
Here is the route I’d recommend when embarking from Atlanta to Charleston.
Atlanta to Madison
You and the kids are ready to leave home. You’ll stay in Georgia for most of your trip but explore various parts of the state that perhaps you’ve never seen before.
The first of these is Madison. The drive from Atlanta to Madison takes about an hour. It’s a straight shot east that hopefully will not be marred by too much traffic.
Madison in Morgan County is largely known and beloved for its history and culture, both of which are proudly on display as you explore this part of Georgia.
For the history buffs, Heritage Hall, the Madison Morgan Cultural Center, and the Madison Historical District are sure to delight.
There are town parks and animal exhibits too if your kids aren’t so much into history.
Madison to Thomson
The next part of Georgia that you and the family will get to witness on your route is Thomson.
It’s about an hour between Madison and Thomson without too much traffic. You’ll again continue directly east.
Nicknamed “The Camelia City of the South,” Thomson in McDuffie County doesn’t get so many tourists that you’ll be shuffling slowly through crowds all day.
You and the kids can stop by antique shops, check out history museums, go to markets, visit art galleries, and even go canoeing or kayaking.
Thomson to Augusta
From Thomson, you’ll traverse more of Georgia by car, driving for about 40 minutes (barring heavy traffic) until you get to Augusta.
The route is, as you may have guessed, still a straight shot east.
Overlooking the Savannah River, the beautiful city of Augusta affords many activities for visitors.
You and the kids can witness the American South exhibits at the Morris Museum of Art, stroll The Augusta Riverwalk and take in some stunning views of the Savannah, pop into the Augusta Museum of History, or visit a park.
Augusta to Williston
Augusta was your last stop in your home state of Georgia. Next, you’ll make your way to South Carolina.
Before you get to Charleston, you’ll reach Williston. This drive takes about 50 minutes without much traffic.
The town is part of the Charleston-Hamburg railroad line where the Best Friend locomotive used to travel.
With state parks, art galleries, healing springs, and wildlife and nature areas, if you and the kids want to take a load off here, you certainly won’t be bored!
Williston to Santee
I hope you took a refreshing break, as the drive from Williston to Santee lasts about an hour and a half if you can avoid congested roads.
You’re still driving east, which at least makes this part of the voyage easy!
Santee is a town in central South Carolina that features the Santee River. It’s known as a resort town and could be another great place to vacation someday!
If you’re into golf, you’ll find no shortage of golf courses and villas here.
Of course, that’s not really the kids’ style, but they will like the water parks and state parks here.
Santee to Middleton Place
If Charleston is on your mind, worry not, as you’re getting closer and closer.
The next part of your journey will take you from Santee to Middleton Place.
This time, you want to drive straight south from Santee for an hour and you’ll get there.
Middleton Place is a plantation that’s only about 15 miles from Charleston to the northeast.
This Dorchester County location has incredible views of the nearby Ashley River.
The gardens here are some of the oldest in the United States and thus are worth seeing with the kiddos.
Middleton Place is also a great way to drink in South Carolina’s rich culture!
Middleton Place to Charleston
From Middleton Place, drive southeast for about 25 minutes (without too much traffic, that is), and you’ll reach Charleston. You did it!
How long does it take to reach Charleston from Atlanta?
That sounds like a really easy drive, so you’re more excited than ever to take the kids to Charleston.
How long will it take you to reach your destination?
The drive from Atlanta to Charleston takes approximately 4 hours and 42 minutes.
As I mentioned before, what’s so convenient about this road trip is that it’s not very difficult.
You’re not driving for so long in one stretch that you’ll be too fatigued to enjoy your time in Charleston.
The kids won’t spend too much time in the car, which means that trip-related tantrums will be kept to a minimum.
You can especially make the trip memorable by stopping off to see various sights along the way before reaching Charleston. Why not since it’s such a short trip, right?
Of course, I do have to talk about traffic.
You won’t be able to avoid all traffic when driving through Georgia into South Carolina, but your short stretches on the road do make it less likely that you’ll get caught in major congestion.
Just make sure you don’t leave too early in the day and that you’re not on the road too late. If you can dodge rush hours, you’ll be in good shape!
Kid-friendly destinations on the road to Charleston
What kinds of activities and sights should you add to your road-tripping itinerary? I’m so glad you asked!
The following destinations on the road to Charleston are sure to delight you and the entire family.
- Madison Town Park
Conveniently located in Downtown Madison, Madison Town Park is a beautiful green space that’s often the site of events for locals.
You can always rent sections of the park, including the plaza and promenade (Cooke Fountain is included), the Upper Terrace (with the Pennington Victorian Gazebo), and the Great Lawn (with the Harris Bicentennial Pavilion).
- Madison Historic District
The Madison Historic District is one of the city’s most beloved historic areas.
In 1975, the Madison Historic District officially entered the National Register of Historic Places. The district has since been expanded.
Here is an overview of everything the Madison Historic District has to offer:
- Madison Graded School: This two-story building from 1895 features Romanesque Revival architecture and a red brick exterior. It was the first southeastern graded schoolhouse. Today, it’s the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center. The school bell still rings here!
- First Baptist Church: Another piece of Madison’s long-running history, the First Baptist Church was constructed in 1858.
- Joshua Hill House: Joshua Hill was a Reconstruction and Civil War-era Georgian who built the eponymous Joshua Hill House. The house with Greek Revival architecture was completed in 1840.
- Heritage Hall: The 1811 Heritage Hall house also features a Greek Revival style. The home was later owned by Dr. Elijah Evans Jones, a Madison physician, who requested the addition of columns and a front porch.
- Boxwood: Before the war, Wilds Kolb was the richest man in Madison. He commissioned Boxwood in the early 1850s. The home features Italian stylings, a cottage flavor, and a suburban edge.
- Carter-Newton House: A grand house featuring a Greek Revival Style, the Carter-Newton House was completed in 1849 by cotton grower Carter Sheppard. The home has since been lightly modified.
- Bonar Hall: Bonar Hall is an 1839 Georgian-style home in brick that was one of the original grand homes. The Victorian side and front porches were an addition built onto the house later.
- Morgan County Courthouse: The Morgan County Courthouse in its Beaux Arts-inspired style was built in 1905 in limestone and brick.
- Georgia Safari Conservation District
A stop at the Georgia Safari Conservation District will surely make the kids’ day!
You and the kids can opt to walk through or drive for an amazing outdoor experience.
Well, you wouldn’t drive. Rather, you’d ride a customized safari vehicle.
As you venture through the savanna, you can witness animals that are endangered and exotic.
The walk-through experience allows the kids to encounter large land tortoises, squirrel monkeys, meerkats, and birds. They can even feed the birds in the aviary!
The children’s zoo on the grounds includes nature play areas and an international farmyard.
- Georgia’s Little River Water Trail on Clarks Hill Lake
Paddle along the Little River and enjoy a beauteous day in Thomson.
The river is home to a variety of stunning wildlife, from bald eagles to river otters, beavers, turtles, wood ducks, fox squirrels, eastern wild turkeys, and whitetail deer.
You can also spot Quaker settlements once occupied by the Native American Indians as well as old gold mines.
The river is open for sailing, boating, canoeing, and kayaking.
- McDuffie Museum
You and the kids can get up to speed on the history of McDuffie County by spending a few hours at the McDuffie Museum.
The exhibits here showcase Civil War confederate belt buckles, artwork, American history, and more.
The museum’s exhibits are frequently changed out, so a visit to the McDuffie Museum is always a unique experience!
- Aunt Tique & Uncle Junk’s
A beloved Thomson shop, Aunt Tique & Uncle Junk’s is an antiques and art store that lets you experience life as an American picker.
The selection of goods is always changing, but the store promises folk art, iron fencing, stained glass, and, as they say, unusual antiques.
- Augusta Museum of History
Since 1937, the Augusta Museum of History has been a premier destination for those passing through or living in Augusta who want to learn more about the city.
The two-floor museum has a series of Signature Exhibits and Special Exhibits.
Some of the Signature Exhibits that may be on display at the time of your visit include the Transportation Corridor with a Ford Model T, Celebrating a Grand Tradition: The Sport of Golf, and The Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.
The Special Exhibits include A Quilting Legacy, A Few of Augusta’s Ways of Worship, and Augusta 1875-1900.
- Augusta Riverwalk
The kids will appreciate the breath of fresh air that is traversing the Augusta Riverwalk.
On the 8th Street entrance, there’s a playground and a play fountain, but the fountain is only open in the summer.
The Jessye Norman Amphitheater showcases live music, and the Augusta Museum of History and the Morris Museum of Art both offer great doses of local culture.
In the autumn, spring, and summer months, the Augusta Market on the Riverwalk is the place to be every Saturday for finding new wares!
- Harrison-Caver Park
Aiken County’s Harrison-Caver Park is a great place for some relaxation with the children if you only have a bit of time to spare before leaving Augusta.
The park features tennis courts, softball fields, soccer fields, a walking track, a playground, picnic areas, fishing, concession stands, a basketball court, and a baseball field.
- Imagination Station Children’s Museum
To expand your children’s horizons, a trip to the Imagination Station Children’s Museum is in order.
This nonprofit museum makes learning hands-on and fun.
The Art Museum encourages art exploration, the Pre-Literacy Room can get the young’uns ready for reading, and the Sensorimotor Corner for babies and toddlers allows them to develop sensory skills via rattles, slides, and soft blocks.
The Fixer-Upper & Train Table is a multi-story playhouse that teaches design and mechanics. Oh, and don’t miss the Health & Science Corner with the Science of the Senses exhibit.
- Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery
The adorable Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery was once the Leigh Banana Case Company Commissary, a general store.
Today, the gallery showcases the finest pottery, antique and custom-crafted furniture, jugs, and more!
- Aiken State Park
In nearby Windsor, Aiken State Park is a great place for letting all your troubles melt away.
The state park offers freshwater fishing, boating, kayaking and canoeing (with boats for rent), playgrounds, swimming (only in the summer), bird watching, geocaching, biking, and hiking.
The recommended trail to explore here is the three-mile Jungle Trail, which is a giant loop. It’s impossible to get lost even if you and the kids are novice hikers.
- Santee State Park
Overseeing Lake Marion, which expands 110,000 acres, Santee State Park is another must-visit park if you want to explore the best of South Carolina’s outdoor beauty.
You and the kids will find no shortage of activities available at the park, from hiking to walking, cycling, bird-watching, tennis (there are courts available), geocaching, bird-watching, swimming (at your own risk), a playground, and fishing.
The hiking and cycling trail is an expansive 7.5 miles!
- Santee Recreation and Water Park
In the summer, the Santee Recreation and Water Park fills with kids.
The park has a pool, cabanas, a water slide, and water guns. The park never gets too crowded, and the admission prices aren’t bad either.
- Friends of Santee National Wildlife Refuge
At the Friends of Santee National Wildlife Refuge, the goal is to promote appreciation, awareness, and conservation of the precious creatures that occupy our earth.
The refuge is 15,000 acres in all and includes open water, impoundments, old fields, croplands, marshes, pine plantations, and hardwoods.
You can see all sorts of creatures here, from ducks to birds and more.
What to do when you get to Charleston
Now that you’re here in beautiful Charleston, you and the kids need something to do, right? Fortunately, you have no shortage of options!
The first of the area attractions I recommend is Rainbow Row, which includes 13 beautiful and historic homes all in a row between 79 and 107 Bay Street.
As the name Rainbow Row suggests, the homes are about as colorful as houses can be in hues like pink, green, orange, and blue.
You can’t go in the homes, but you can always drive or walk by and snap some photos!
North Charleston Fire Museum and Educational Center
The North Charleston Fire Museum and Educational Center is a great place to take the kids on a rainy or slow afternoon in Charleston.
The exhibits showcase the lives of firefighters, including how firefighting has evolved over the centuries.
The Home Fire Hazard Theater produces real smoke so kids understand when to evacuate.
An Are You an Escape Artist live show further complements one’s knowledge of firefighting.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
The Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a wildlife sanctuary with more than six miles of trails.
Boardwalks will take you and the kids over the wetlands, and you could just spot a rice field from the 18th or 19th century as you walk.
Deer, otters, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, and American alligators all call this place home.
South Carolina Aquarium
Treat the kids to an exciting day at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston.
The exhibits here run the gamut, allowing you to see native plants, pet or feed a stingray, learn about sea turtle recovery, or touch a starfish!
The Kids’ Coast exhibit is a hands-on children’s area that teaches kids the importance of water filtration at the aquarium.
Charleston Pirate Tours
Arrgh! Who’s ready to walk the plank?
At the Charleston Pirate Tours, you and the kids can learn about the history of Charleston from pirates!
The tours are customizable, so whether you’re into Civil War history, the Revolution, or Colonial history, just mention it and the pirates are happy to accommodate.
Charleston Pirate Tours last about 90 minutes each. These are walking tours, so wear comfy shoes.
Road tripping from Atlanta to Charleston takes less than five hours by car, so there’s no need to stop overnight.
With such an easy drive, why not visit Charleston today?