Charleston is one of America's most historic cities. Learn about the city's rich past by visiting one of the many Charleston SC Museums.
Discover maritime history aboard a WWII aircraft carrier at Patriots Point, experience Charleston's rich history through paintings and sculptures at The Gibbes Museum of Art, or learn more about the Civil War at the Charleston Museum.
The USS Yorktown at Patriots Point is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. The Yorktown was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy. The carrier was commissioned in 1943 and participated significantly in the Pacific offensive that began in late 1943 and ended with the defeat of Japan in 1945. Yorktown received the Presidential Unit Citation, and earned 11 battle stars for service in World War II. The Carrier was later used off Vietnam and then recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule before being decommissioned in 1970.
Just about the entire ship is open to the public. Tour the huge flight deck and then go down and sit in the captain’s chair. Pictures and exhibits give a true glimpse into what life was like on the ship. After the tour, enjoy a hot lunch in the aircraft carrier's C.P.O. mess hall or grab something at one of the two snack bars. In addition to the Yorktown, there are also several other small planes and a submarine to tour. Expect to spend about 3-4 hours to see everything and plan to do a lot of walking and climbing steep stairs. Admission is $24 for adults and $16 for children. Free parking is provided at Patriots Point.
The Charleston Museum was founded in 1773 and is America’s first museum. The Museum tells the history of Charleston and the Lowcountry by showcasing hundreds of items ranging from ancient fossils to Civil War artifacts. The museum also owns two historic houses, the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward Washington House, that are open to the public. Admission for each is $12 or save money by purchasing combo tickets. Limited free parking is available and paid public parking is available across the street. Allow approximately 2 hours to tour the entire museum.
The Old Exchange was built from 1767-1771 and was originally used as a customs house. Around 1780, the British began using the building as a prison during the Revolutionary War. In later years, the building was the site of the ratification of the Constitution of 1788 and was also used to host a ball attended by George Washington. The building is now open to the public and has a museum on the top two floors and the dungeon in the basement. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
The Hunley was a Confederate submarine and the first submarine to sink a warship. The submarine was on one of its first training missions on August 29, 1863 when it sank, killing five crew members. The submarine then sank again two months later, killing eight more crew members. On Feb 17, 1864 the Hunley rammed a spar with an attached torpedo into the USS Housatonic, a Union ship in the Charleston Harbor. The Housatonic sank in about five minutes killing 5 of its 155 crewmen. Damage from the torpedo explosion also caused damage to the Hunley, causing it to sink and killing all eight crew members on board. The sub was lost for 136 years and was not recovered until 2000. The remains of the crew were laid to rest in a large ceremony in 2004. Tours are only offered on Saturday and Sunday so scientists can continue to work on preserving the Hunley during the week. Tickets are available at the entrance on a first come first serve basis, but quickly sell out so buying tickets online in advance is highly recommended. Admission is $16, free parking is offered on site, and you should allow about an hour and a half to tour everything.
The United States Constitution had a provision that banned the import of African slaves after 1808. Since slaves could no longer be brought in, a domestic slave trading system was organized and Charleston was a major slave collecting and reselling center. The Old Slave Mart Museum is likely the only building still in existence in South Carolina that was used for slave auctioning. The museum has photos, artifacts, and interactive exhibits that recounts Charleston’s role in this interstate slave trade. The museum is located on a cobblestone street a few blocks from the battery. Admission is $7 and it normally takes about an hour to tour the museum depending on the crowds. On-street metered parking is available and several public parking decks that charge a fee are located within walking distance.
The Confederate Museum exhibits Confederate memorabilia from the Civil War including uniforms, flags, swords, diaries, and cannons.The museum is located inside Market Hall above the Historic Charleston Market. The museum is owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. Street Parking is available around the Historic Charleston Market.
The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry will be closed for renovation January 7, 2019 - March 1, 2019.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry has nine different exhibits including a two-story Medieval Castle, a pirate ship, and an art room. The museum is self guided and allows children to explore with hands on exhibits. Admission is $10 for South Carolina residents and $12 for non-residents. Allow about two hours to explore all the exhibits in the museum. Guests can either use metered parking around the museum or park in one of the two parking decks on either side of the museum for a fee.
The Gibbes Museum of Art, located in Charleston’s historic district at 135 Meeting St, opened its doors to the public in 1905. Explore Charleston through paintings, sculptures, photographs, and miniature portraits. The museum houses over 10,000 works of art and presents special exhibitions annually. Admission to the museum is $15 for adults and $6 for children and each paid admission receives a complimentary cell phone audio tour. Allow 1 1/2 - 2 hours to tour the entire museum depending on the number of visitors at the time. Parking is not available at the museum but on-street metered parking is offered throughout downtown. Parking is also available in the parking deck on Cumberland St and Queen St for a fee.
The Powder Magazine is the oldest public building in South Carolina. Built in 1713, the building was used as storage for gunpowder during the colonial days and the American Revolution. The Powder Magazine is the only standing structure of the original fortification that once surrounded Charleston. The building is now a National Landmark with exhibits that focus on South Carolina’s colonial military history. The building is very small but exhibits are informative and well presented by a friendly and helpful staff. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children. Visitors should allow about 30 minutes to tour the museum and gift shop and can park along the street or in one of the nearby parking decks for a fee. The parking decks are located on Cumberland St. and Queen St.
The Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences on the College of Charleston campus is home to the museum that displays almost 1,000 fossils. The displays includes: dinosaur bones, crinoids, Oligocene mammals of North America, mosasaurs, cave bears, Pleistocene mammals of the Carolinas, ocean life through time and fossil plants. A favorite exhibit for many is the reconstructed jaw which houses real teeth from the giant extinct shark Megalodon. The museum is open to the public and manned by geology undergraduates who work as student docents. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Visitors are also asked to remember that classes take place immediately next door to the museum so please be respectful and remain as quiet as possible.
The Postal Museum is a small but interesting museum located in the post office at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets. In 1896 the post office moved to the new building which was erected over the old police station when it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1886. The building is the oldest continuously operated post office in the Carolina’s. The museum tells the areas postal history and how 18th and 19th century mail was handled. The one room museum is free and can be toured in about 20 minutes.
An architectural treasure in its own right, the South Carolina Historical Society Museum is housed in a National Historic Landmark building and features interactive exhibits on the people, places, and movements that shaped the state and nation. Pairing personal manuscripts, maps, and artifacts with innovative technology, visitors experience illuminating moments in our country’s past. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for children and tickets are valid for two consecutive days. The museum has metered street parking and is close to nearby public parking garages.
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum has the largest private collection of original documents and manuscripts. Over 1 million documents are rotated between 13 libraries across the country. The exhibits change four times a year so check the libraries website to see what is currently being displayed. The library is located on the outskirts of the historic district and has free on site parking. The library offers free admission and is less crowded compared to other museums and attractions in Charleston. This museum is really enjoyable for history buffs but not recommended for young children.
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is a non-profit, non-collecting contemporary art institute within the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston. The HICA presents contemporary art exhibitions by emerging or mid-career artists. The Halsey is housed in the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts at 161 Calhoun Street, in the heart of downtown Charleston. The Halsey features two gallery spaces, the Deborah A. Chalsty Gallery and the South Gallery, which include a total 3,000 sq. feet of exhibition space. The vision of the HICA is to provide a comprehensive contemporary-art program that is committed to providing a direct experience with artworks in various media, in an environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and learning. Check the gallery's website for current exhibitions.