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 and one of my favorite places to visit. The USS Yorktown was the tenth air craft 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 for you to tour. You can walk up to the top and see the huge flight deck and then you can go down and sit in the captain’s chair. There are lots of pictures and exhibits that will give you a true glimpse into what life was like on the ship. There are also several other small planes and a submarine for you to tour. You should expect to spend about 3-4 hours to tour everything and you should also plan to do a lot of walking and climbing steep stairs. Hot lunch is served in the aircraft carrier's C.P.O. Mess Hall and there are also two snack bars. Admission is $22 for adults and $14 for children. Free parking is provided at Patriots Point.
The Gibbes Museum of Art, located in Charleston’s historic district at 135 Meeting St, opened its doors to the public in 1905. You can 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 $12 and with the paid admission you get a complimentary cell phone audio tour. You should allow about two hours to tour the entire museum. Parking is not available at the museum but on-street metered parking is offered throughout downtown. You can also park in the parking decks on Cumberland St and Queen St for a fee.
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 and you can save money by purchasing combo tickets. Free parking is available on a first come first serve basis and paid public parking is available across the street. You should allow approximately 2 hours to tour the entire museum.
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 offers free on site parking. The library offers free admission and is not as crowded as other museums and attractions in Charleston. If you are a history buff then you will really enjoy this library but I do not recommend it for young children.
The Unites 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 inter-state slave trade. The museum is located on a cobblestone street a few blocks from the battery and admission is $7. You should allow about an hour to tour the museum depending on the crowds and how much reading you do. On street metered parking is available and there are several parking decks within walking distance that charge 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 the exhibits are informative and well presented and the staff is always friendly and helpful. The museum is child friendly and the admission is $5. You should allow about 30 minutes to tour the museum and gift shop. Street parking is available or you can park in one of the nearby parking decks for a fee. The parking decks are located on Cumberland St. and Queen St.
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 you can tour the museum on the top two floors and the dungeon. Admission is $10.
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 Post Office 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 museum is free and since it is only one room, you should only allow about 20 minutes.
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 the admission is $5. Street Parking is available and you can also take the free Trolley that stops at the Historic Charleston Market.
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 $12 and you should allow about two hours to explore all the exhibits. Metered parking is available around the museum or you can park in the two parking decks on either side of the museum for a fee.
The Hunley was a Confederate submarine and was 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 sank again two months later, killing eight more crew members. On Feb 17, 1864 the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic, a Union ship in the Charleston Harbor. A short time later the submarine sank killing all eight of her crew members. The sub was lost and was not recovered until 2000, 136 years after she sank. 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, so I highly recommend buying tickets online in advance. Admission is $16, free parking is offered on site, and you should allow about an hour and a half to tour everything.