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How To Visit Fort Sumter, South Carolina – A Guide

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 11:10 am

If you are planning a trip to Charleston then you should add a visit to Fort Sumter to your itinerary.

On 12 April 1861 the first shots in the American Civil War were fired by Confederate troops from Fort Johnson on the Union forces located at Fort Sumter. The Union forces led by Robert Anderson surrender the next day – the battle over, the war just beginning. 

The American Civil War would last 4 years, cost more than 620,000 lives and free nearly 4 million enslaved people.

Fort Sumter was built on an artificial island located in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Its significance in the history of the United States made it one of the first things I visited when in Charleston.

Fort Sumter national monument is open to the public as part of the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. Here’s my guide on how to visit.

Image of Fort Sumter

How to Get To Fort Sumter

Access onto Fort Sumter is only possible by ferry using Fort Sumter Tours. The ferry trip takes about 30 minutes. The ferry I took had 3 levels and some indoor seating. Drinks and snacks are available for purchase on board.

Don’t forget to look out for dolphins as you sail across Charleston harbor!

Image of ferry that sails across Charleston Harbor to visit Fort Sumter

How Much Does It Cost To Visit Fort Sumter

At the time of my visit, Fort Sumter tickets cost $35 for adults. Concessions for seniors, military and children are available. There are two departure points for the tours so be sure to buy the correct ticket:

  1. the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston – I joined a tour departing from here
  2. the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum at Mount Pleasant

You can purchase tickets on the day or in advance online. Check the Fort Sumter Tours site for up to date visitor information, ticket prices, the Fort Sumter ferry schedule and Fort Sumter Tours packages.

Image of a cannon which can be seen on a visit to Fort Sumter

Best Time To Visit Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Summers are hot and there is no real shade on site so you may prefer visiting during cooler months. If motion sickness is an issue for you, check for choppy seas! 

What Can You Expect From A Visit?

Before departing on the tour from Downtown Charleston you can watch a useful video in the outside seating area detailing the history of Fort Sumter.

The tour ticket price includes:

  • a narrated cruise to the Fort – the boat trip takes about 30 minutes
  • a short talk from a National Park Service Ranger on the history of the Fort and events there. For those on the last tour of the day, there’s an opportunity to take part in the flag lowering ceremony (I believe there is a flag raising ceremony for those on the first tour of the day)
  • free time to explore the Fort, visit the informative museum and speak to/ask questions of the National Park Service Rangers.

At the conclusion of the programme, the ferry will return to its initial departure point.

Image of visitors, National Park Ranger and the lowering of the flag of the USA experienced during a visit to Fort Sumter

My Tips For Your Visit

A visit to Fort Sumter only takes a little over 2 hours, however to get the most out of your visit here are my tips:

  • arrive at the visitors centre at the Downtown departure point early in order to have time to use the restroom facilities, look around the gift shop and watch a useful video in the outside seating area detailing the history of Fort Sumter
  • join the first/last tour of the day and participate in or watch the flag raising/lowering ceremony
  • note that your free time on the Fort is limited to 1 hour so if you want to maximise your time to look around then skip the flag raising/lowering and the gift shop
  • look out for the small hand prints left by the enslaved children who made the bricks out of which the Fort is built
  • look out for canonballs stuck in the walls!
  • take plenty of water – you can refill your water bottle at the visitors centre before embarking
  • wear sunscreen
  • carry bug spray
  • wear a hat – it’s hot on the Fort, particularly when standing on the battery
  • wear comfortable shoes

Is Fort Sumter Worth Visiting?

As someone who enjoys history, yes, Fort Sumter is worth visiting! Ticket prices are not too expensive and historical information and context is provided. The ferry ride there and back is a relaxing way to spend time and provides an alternative viewpoint from which to see not just the Fort but Downtown Charleston itself.

If however you prefer not to visit Fort Sumter, then consider doing the Charleston harbor cruise for a view of the Fort along with other landmarks.

In planning your trip to Charleston, do read my posts 12 of the Best Things to Do in Charleston, 10 Hidden Gems and Unusual Things in Charleston and 6 Excellent Reasons Why You Should Visit Boone Hall Plantation for more ideas, tips and inspiration for your visit!

Image of Charleston Harbor taken during a visit to Fort Sumter

Disclaimer – Information was correct at the time of writing but check before travelling.

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