To appreciate everything that Charleston offers, you must explore the city’s history. From art museums to ancient plantations, there are so many ways to delve into the Holy City’s past. Elevate your Lowcountry experience with a trip to one (or all) of these Charleston museums and historic plantations.
Below, you will find an extensive guide to Charleston’s best historic sites, museums, and plantations, but if you are looking for more, simply download your free Charleston Sea Island Vacation Guide. Our Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island guides include over 100 recommendations for tours, galleries, theaters, restaurants, and things to do in the area.
Charleston's Museums & Historic Plantations
Downtown Charleston houses 15 museums and historic sites along a one mile block of the French Quarter neighborhood. Dubbed "Museum Mile", this area offers an impressive amount of culture and history in just one tiny section of the city. Popular sites include:
- The Aiken-Rhett House Museum is an 18th century home where many slaves lived.
- The Charleston Museum is one of the oldest museums in the United States.
- The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry is full of hands-on exhibits for children under 10.
- Joseph Manigault House is an 18th century home of a wealthy rice-planting family.
- Washington Light Infantry is one of the nation’s oldest militia units.
- Confederate Museum is a Greek revival landmark offering Civil War history and tours.
- The Powder Magazine is South Carolina’s oldest government building and is home to a gunpowder magazine and museum.
- The Gibbes Museum of Art was built in 1905. It houses both historic and contemporary Lowcountry artwork.
- Old Slave Mart Museum is the only known extant building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina.
- South Carolina Historical Society is a private library that houses historical state photos and documents.
- The Postal Museum focuses on the history of the postal service in South Carolina, where you will find old stamps, newspaper clippings, and more.
- Heyward-Washington House is a 17th century double-house that was home to one of four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr.
- Nathaniel Russell House was built in 1808 and is recognized as one of America's most important Neoclassical houses.
- Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon served many civic functions, including as a prisoner of war facility operated by British forces during the American Revolutionary War.
- Edmondston-Alston House is an 18th century historic home that was one of the first to be built along Charleston’s sea wall. Today, it operates as a fascinating museum full of much of its original furnishings!
Historic Places of Worship
The Holy City is thought to have earned its nickname from the religious freedom that took place here several hundred years ago. Many of the city’s churches and places of worship were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Explore brilliant architecture, stained glass, rich history, and more with a tour to these historic places of worship.
- 2nd Presbyterian Church
- Citadel Square Baptist Church
- Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
- Trinity United Methodist Church
- First Baptist Church
- First Presbyterian Church
- St. Michael's Episcopal Church
- French Huguenot Church
- St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
- Circular Congregational Church
- St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
- Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
- View our map of Charleston's Historic Museum Mile to help you navigate the city during your trip!
Charleston’s plantations are impeccably preserved and the perfect way to delve into the city’s pre- and post-Civil War era. Wander the gardens and immerse yourself in history with a trip to these ancient Charleston plantations.
- Boone Hall Plantation: Explore Gullah culture and take a house tour or a plantation coach tour at this 17th century Lowcountry plantation.
- Magnolia Plantation & Gardens: Founded in the late 16th century, Magnolia is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public garden in America.
- Middleton Place: Take a trip back in time at the House Museum, explore the lives of the enslaved and freedmen, and meet different heritage animal breeds at Middleton Place.
- Drayton Hall: Drayton is home to the oldest preserved plantation house in America that is still open to the public. Explore the history of the Drayton family and the slaves and freedmen who shaped the plantation.
- Hampton Plantation State Historic Site: Discover the remote, final remnants of a colonial-era rice plantation.
More Significant Historic Landmarks
There is a story behind every corner and every building of the Holy City. Other historic and significant landmarks that you shouldn’t miss include:
- Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
- The City Market was built in the 18th century. This historic market complex in downtown Charleston still operates to this day! It is the perfect place to find Lowcountry artwork, gifts, and more.
- The Calhoun Mansion is a late 18th century Victorian-style plantation house in the heart of the historic district.
- Avery Center for African-American History & Culture is a research center that collects and documents the history, traditions, legacies, and influences of African Americans.
- Fort Moultrie was originally built from Palmetto logs and sand (hence the Palmetto tree on South Carolina’s state flag). It was the first fort built, although incomplete, on Sullivan’s Island to protect the city of Charleston from Great Britain.
- The Morris Island Lighthouse is a 17th century lighthouse that was built to guide ships approaching the Charleston harbor. Today, the historic lighthouse is stranded off the coast of Charleston. Boat tours are a great way to explore!
- The Historic Dock Street Theater opened in the early 17th century and was the first building in America built exclusively for theatrical performances.
Now that you've found Charleston's greatest museums, plantations, and historic sites, remember to download your free vacation guide to discover the Holy City's greatest art galleries, theaters, and tours.