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Charleston’s Must See Museums

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Charleston, SC has some of the best museums in the world. Everything form historic museums, art museums, house museums and more. Below you’ll find our list of Charleston’s must see museums that can’t be missed!

International African American Museum

Charleston’s newest museum | opens January 2023! The International African American Museum will explore cultures and knowledge systems retained and adapted by Africans in the Americas, and the diverse journeys and achievements of these individuals and their descendants in South Carolina, the United States, and throughout the African Diaspora.

international african american museum
international african american museum

The Gibbes Museum enhances lives through art by engaging people of every background and experience with art and artists of enduring quality, by collecting and preserving art that touches Charleston, and by providing opportunities to learn, to discover, to enjoy, and to be inspired by the creative process.

The Gibbes Museum of Art is home to the foremost collection of American art that incorporates the story of Charleston. The Museum connects the city and region’s artistic past to a vibrant contemporary art scene. This is what we believe.

Gibbes Museum of Art
Gibbes Museum of Art

The Charleston Museum

Founded in 1773 and commonly regarded as “America’s First Museum,” The Charleston Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Inspired in part by the creation of the British Museum, the Museum was established by the Charleston Library Society on the eve of the American Revolution and its early history was characterized by association with distinguished South Carolinians and scientific figures including Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Reverend John Bachman and John J. Audubon.

The Museum continued to develop prominent collections of ethnological and zoological specimens, which Harvard scientist Louis Aggasiz declared in 1852 to be among the finest in America. Operations were temporarily suspended due to the Civil War, but began again shortly afterward. Progressively acquired since the late 18th century, the Museum’s collections now represent the most comprehensive assemblage of South Carolina materials in the nation. Focusing on the South Carolina Lowcountry, modern collecting emphases include natural history, historical material culture and both documentary and photographic resources.

The Charleston Museum

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon

Completed in 1771, the Old Exchange Building is a Charleston landmark and the site of some of the most important events in South Carolina history. Over the last two and a half centuries, the building has been a commercial exchange, custom house, post office, city hall, military headquarters, and museum.
Previously the property of the British, United States, Confederate, and Charleston city governments, the Old Exchange Building is today owned by the South Carolina State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and operated by the City of Charleston.

old exchange charleston
old exchange charleston

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

Patriots Point Development Authority was established in the 1970s to develop a naval & maritime museum on Charleston Harbor with the World War II aircraft carrier, USS YORKTOWN as its centerpiece. It’s also home to the Patriots Point Museum and a fleet of National Historic Landmark ships, the Cold War Memorial and the only Vietnam Experience Exhibit in the U.S., the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the agency’s official Medal of Honor Museum.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum serves as a national destination of excellence for the preservation and education of current and future generations about America’s history, traditions and values.

patriots point - uss yorktown - charleston sc
patriots point - uss yorktown - charleston sc

Old Slave Mart Museum

The Old Slave Mart is a building located at 6 Chalmers Street in Charleston, South Carolina that once housed an antebellum slave auction gallery. Constructed in 1859, the building is believed to be the last extant slave auction facility in South Carolina. In 1975, the Old Slave Mart was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its role in Charleston’s African-American history. Today, the building houses the Old Slave Mart Museum.

The Old Slave Mart was originally part of a slave market known as Ryan’s Slave Mart, which covered a large enclosed lot between Chalmers and Queen Streets. The market was established in 1856 by Charleston City Councilman Thomas Ryan, after a citywide ban on public slave auctions made private facilities necessary. Slave auctions were held at the site until approximately 1863; in 1865, the Union Army occupied Charleston and closed Ryan’s Mart. The Old Slave Mart Museum has operated on and off since 1938.

Old Slave Mart Museum
Old Slave Mart Museum

South Carolina Historical Society Museum

As the state’s oldest historical society, our mission is to expand, preserve, and make accessible our invaluable collection, and to encourage interest in the rich history of our state. SC Historical Society Museum

SC historical society museum

Visiting Charleston Just Got Way Easier!

TourPass includes all the top tours and attractions & historic sites. Save up to 40% or more on admissions + skip the lines

Charleston FAQ's

Choosing a hotel and where to stay in Charleston all depends on your budget and goals. Do you want to stay Downtown, at the beach or in the outer areas such as North Charleston where you have to drive to get everywhere? For more help on deciding: https://travelerofcharleston.com/articles/hotels/

Charleston has 3 main public beaches which are: Folly, Isle of Palms and Sullivans. Each beach has it’s own atmosphere. The most common beach that people visit is Folly Beach and then Isle of Palms followed by Sullivans Island. For more info on Charleston’s beaches visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/guide-charlestons-beaches/

Charleston, SC is full of historical things to do. Everything from museums, to public sites and free landmark sites such as Rainbow Row and the Battery can be seen. For more info on Charleston’s top historical sites visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/places-to-learn-about-charleston-sc-history/

There are many things that will keep the kids and family entertained and educated in Charleston. There are historic sites such as Fort Sumter, a Children’s Museum, Aquarium and the USS Yorktown…a WWII era aircraft carrier you can tour. For more info visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-family-fun-activities/

There’s so many  things you could do in Charleston it can be overwhelming. We recommend that first time visitors, checkout the ultimate first-time visitor guide here: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-first-time-visitors-guide/

Spring in Charleston, SC is an amazing time of year to visit. The flowers are blooming and the weather is mild and sunny. For more info, check-out our spring guide to Charleston here: https://travelerofcharleston.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-springtime-in-charleston/

Summer in Charleston is a great time to visit. There’s plenty of things to keep you busy and visiting the beach will probably….or should be on your short-list. Also water-based activities and tours are popular. Checkout this summer guide to Charleston for more info: 

Our 10 Favorite Summer Activities in Charleston

Fall is one of the best times to visit. The weather cools down a bit and the skies are typically blue and clear. In addition there are many great events, festivals and the large crowds of summer have gone back to school or work. For more info on visiting in the fall, checkout this article: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-12-things-to-do-fall/

There are so many great things to do that it’s difficult to narrow the list down. This article does a great job with figuring out the must do things to do in Charleston

7 Can’t Miss Reasons to Visit Charleston, SC Now

The consensus is a minimum of 3-days is needed to settle in and experience Charleston. For instance, many people take 2 days exploring downtown and another day visiting sites outside of downtown such as the plantations, Angel Oak Tree or beaches. Checkout this page for a list of tours and attractions: 

Charleston’s Top Tours & Attractions | Things to do

Downtown Charleston was made for walking and for sure one of the best way to soak up and experience the history first-hand. This article goes over getting around Charleston with and without a car as well: 

Getting Around Charleston, SC

We’re of course partial to Charleston, but here’s the truth. There are many similarities however there are some differences in our opinion: 

  • Both cities are historic and beautiful. 
  • Both cities are extremely walkable. Savannah, with it’s park-like squares maybe more walkable than Charleston. 
  • Charleston has a more established and food scene with many more options. 
  • Charleston has better hotels and shopping.
  • Both cities have equally good tours.
  • Charleston has better beach options. Savannah has Tybee which is great, however it’s 1 beach vibe versus Charleston which has 3 beaches with different vibes. Checkout this Charleston beach guide article: https://travelerofcharleston.com/guide-charlestons-beaches/
  • In Savannah you can walk with alcoholic beverages on the street. This is not allowed in Charleston. This can be good or bad depending on your stance. 
  • Savannah is more affordable.
  • TourPass offers all-inclusive passes in both cities: https://tourpass.com

There are always great and world-class events happening in Charleston. For a calendar of events and things to do in Charleston, checkout our online calendar of events: https://travelerofcharleston.com/events/

Of course there are free money-saving coupons that you can use. Visit the coupons page for a bunch of ways to save: https://travelerofcharleston.com/coupon/

Charleston has some fantastic can’t miss tours such as Fort Sumter, carriage, ghost, harbor, historic and culinary tours. For a full list with more info visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/attractions/

Checkout the Charleston Relocation Guide page which will guide you during your move: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-sc-relocation-guide/

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