Charleston Museums: Where History and Culture Come Alive

Rich in American history and southern charm, Charleston tells its story through cultural attractions. While local ghost tours offer a sample of iconic figures and tales, the top Charleston museums dig deeper into the city’s heritage and influence on America. In addition, they have fun, interactive activities suited for all ages. To learn more and get ideas, read about these must-see museums.

Top 7 Charleston Museums for Culture, Fun and History

charleston museums family vacation

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

Known for hands-on history lessons, Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum hosts activities and programs aboard USS Yorktown. While visiting, learn about history, science, aviation and local wildlife. Topics include marine ecosystems, inner workings of aircraft carriers, flight simulators and hands-on wet labs.

In addition, guests can add on different adventures. Helicopter tours, scavenger hunts and audio tours are a few options for kids and adults. For the ultimate visit, check out Patriot Point’s Flight Academy and prepare for take-off.

Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter serves as the starting point of the American Civil War. Tour operators take guests to Fort Sumter where they spend 2.25 hours exploring and learning. At the fort, hear about Confederate and Union soldiers and see cannons. Then head to the museum, which houses exhibits about the fort’s construction and usage. Visitors can also shop for souvenirs at the bookstore.

Aside from the museum, most attractions at Fort Sumter National Monument are located outside. Plan to spend time outdoors, and wear sun protection and comfortable clothing.

charleston museums history culture

The Charleston Museum

This attraction ranks among the top Charleston museums due to its focus on local culture. Since 1773, The Charleston Museum has preserved and celebrated everything special about Lowcountry living. While touring, browse permanent and traveling exhibits. A few must-sees include fossils, Native American artifacts, artillery, war memorabilia and ancient civilizations.

At The Charleston Museum, kids have a section just for them. The Kidstory exhibit offers inactive displays that showcase Charleston and Lowcountry culture. Temporary exhibits range from pets and fashion to artifacts and art. Just don’t leave without touring Joseph Manigault House, which requires an additional ticket but is on museum grounds.

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

Guests with children younger than 10 years old can’t miss Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Even babies have fun things to do here. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry offers fun ways for children to learn and play while interacting with the world around them.

Exhibits are separated into large areas such as the art room, creativity castle, kids garden, pirates, grocery market, and infant/toddler play space. Kids love making masterpieces, watching puppet theater, picking goodies from the garden, and navigating Charleston Harbor. Other fun activities include battling sea monsters, shopping for groceries and dressing up in different costumes.

Charleston Old Exchange Provost Dungeon

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Those short on time should visit Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which dates to 1771. This top among our list of Charleston museums offers two floors of history and a 25-minute guided tour. Docents and staff members welcome conversation and help guests tour a bottom-floor cellar known as Provost Dungeon.

Most visitors spend 45 minutes to 1 hour at Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Throughout its history, the attraction has served as a commercial exchange, post office, city hall, military headquarters and museum. During the tour, learn about the American Revolution, George Washington, U.S. Constitution and architecture.

Gibbes Museum of Art

Gibbes Museum of Art operates as the city’s only visual arts museum and has galleries on two floors. Exhibits change often and aim to engage all visitors in new ways.

Gibbes Museum of Art houses permanent exhibits with 18th- and 19th-century American paintings, 20th-century American regionalism, Charleston Renaissance, and modern and contemporary pieces. Changing exhibits include British watercolors, special exhibits from other museums, photography and artists painting artists.

North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center

This museum sparks the firefighter in everyone. Doubling as an education center, North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center displays over 20 vehicles and has hands-on exhibits. While outdoors, see historic pumpers, chemical cars, water tanks and ladder trucks. Inside, enjoy activities that include a fire hose, fire fighting advancements and short movies.

Need a place to stay while touring the top Charleston museums? Check out these Charleston vacation homes.