Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. It’s no wonder it’s also home to some of the country’s best museums — including the oldest museum in the country, too.
Not only are there over 10 Charleston museums, but the Holy City itself is something of a living museum. One of the best ways to learn about the city’s history is on a Charleston walking tour or wandering the streets or visiting plantations.
Find out which Charleston museums are worth a visit and which ones you might want to skip.
Charleston Walking Tours: Living Museums
Before we delve into the best Charleston museums, let’s take a moment to talk about the fact that the city itself is a living history museum!
Why wander an indoor museum to learn about Charleston’s history when you can take a tour of the city and immerse yourself in more than 400 years of storied past?
Some of our most popular Charleston tours include our Charleston history tour, alleys and hidden passages tour, and our private tours.
Charleston History Tour
Want to learn the must-know secrets of Charleston’s history? Our Charleston history tour takes you Downtown and offers an overview of the city’s past.
Forget Charleston museums! You’ll get to immerse yourself in over 400 years of history and stories on this tour.
Just some of the sites you’ll see include:
- Rainbow Row
- French Quarter
- Old Exchange Building
- St. Philip’s Church
- St. Michael’s Church
- Views of historic Fort Sumter
- White Point Gardens
Our tours have been featured in Travel + Leisure, U.S. News, and USA Today.
Alleys and Hidden Passages
Our alleys and hidden passages tour is the perfect complement to our Charleston history tour.
This tour takes a similar route to our signature history tour, but it takes you through some of the city’s most storied behind-the-scenes areas: its alleys and hidden passages.
The alleys and hidden passages tour winds through Charleston’s back streets. Built for household staff to come in and out without using the front door, these days the back alleys are used by all societal classes.
You’ll see some of Charleston’s prettiest streets as well as some interesting architectural features, such as the city’s network of intricate wrought iron gates.
We currently offer two public tours, but we also offer a long list of private tours of Charleston. Some of our most popular private tours include Charleston plantation tours, a day trip to Savannah from Charleston, Charleston architecture tours, and more.
Private tours offer the freedom to do exactly what you want to do and see what you want to see. Our guides can create a private tour that’s tailored to your needs and focus on the Charleston history you’re most interested in.
Visit Charleston museums — or just visit the living museum of the Holy City itself.
Want to explore some of the best Charleston museums? These sites are a great way to get a little deeper into Lowcountry history.
The Charleston Museum
The Charleston Museum is the country’s oldest museum!
Founded in 1773, the Charleston Museum is dedicated to celebrating the history of one of the U.S.’s oldest cities.
It features exhibits on decorative arts, natural history, and historic structures. With a special combo ticket, you can also explore the museum’s two historic structures, the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward Washington House.
Gibbes Museum of Art
If you want to learn about the Lowcountry’s art history, the Gibbes Museum of Art may be the Charleston museum for you.
The Gibbes Museum of Art not only focuses on Lowcountry art history but also owns a large collection of American art in general.
Learn about Charleston’s history through its most celebrated artists, from the 1600s to modern-day times.
Old Slave Mart Museum
If you want to learn about the history of slavery in the U.S., the Old Slave Mart is the Charleston museum to do just that.
The Old Slave Mart tells the story of the slave triangle, the journey enslaved Africans took to the U.S., the slave marts in Charleston, and life for the enslaved once they were sold.
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
If you have little ones, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry should be a stop on your Charleston museums list!
This museum was created especially for kids under the age of 10. It offers nine stations of creativity, learning, and fun! It features a kid’s garden, a display about the Charleston Harbor, and four crafting stations.
Nathaniel Russell House
Another living museum is the Nathaniel Russell House. Once home to wealthy merchant and slave trader Nathaniel Russell. Built in 1808, this Charleston Museum offers a glimpse into the lives of the elite in the 19th-century Lowcountry.
Take a self-guided tour of this Federalist and Neoclassical home that has served both as a private residence and a school for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
Located all over the U.S. the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is home to more than 1 million manuscripts in the categories of literature, science, and religion.
North Charleston Fire Museum
Another Charleston museum great for kids is the North Charleston Fire Museum. This educational experience has a collection of fire trucks and fire-fighting vehicles that date back to the 1780s!
Kids can learn about over 20 fully restored vehicles. There are also plenty of hands-on exhibits for little ones that would rather play than “look” (and how many kids wouldn’t rather play?).
Exhibits include a functioning fire pole and an immersive theater.
The North Charleston Fire Museum is one of our favorite indoor activities Charleston, SC to beat the heat, rain, or snow!
International African American Museum
The much anticipated opening of the International African American Museum, scheduled to open its doors January 2023, will be dedicated to “telling the full story of the African American journey, from ancient African civilization to modern day” according to Dr. Tonya Matthews, the museum’s new head.
Charleston plantations are living Lowcountry museums. These properties were once where Charleston’s elite families lived — and the enslaved African Americans they owned.
Take a Charleston plantation tour, or wander these living museums on your own.