Charleston Attractions


Charleston's Old City Market

The center of downtown Charleston revolves around The Old City Market. A great starting point for visitors seeking tours or for those wanting to shop for souvenirs.

Dock Street Theatre

The first performance at the Dock Street Theatre was in 1736. Known as "America's First Theatre," this historic building is an attraction for both history buffs and culture afficianodos.

Drayton Hall Southern Plantation

One of the gems of the preservation movement in Charleston is the Drayton Hall Home. It stayed in the Drayton family until 1974 when it was transferred to a trust dedicated to preserving the past.

Morris Island Lighthouse

Just off Folly Beach is the lighthouse that guided ships safely to shore as they journeyed towards Historic Charleston in the days before GPS navigation when sailors relied on the stars in the sky and the lights on shore for safe travels.

The Old Exchange / Provost Dungeon

The location of one of the earliest customs houses, this building also later served as a military prison. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973, this historic site is now a museum.

The Powder Magazine

This historic building is on the National Historic Landmark list and it is the oldest building in either North or South Carolina. It stored gun powder that was critical to the defense of the city of Charleston in the early 18th century.

Historic Churches

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

In 2007, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston celebrated its centennial! Learn the history of South Carolina's only Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Circular Congregation Church

One of the oldest congregations in North America, the Circular Congregational Church dates back to 1681. It was known as a church for "dissenters" as the confounding groups included English Congregationalists, French Protestants, and Scottish Presbyterians.

First (Scots) Presbyterian Church

Established as a worship community in 1731, First (Scots) Presbyterian today occupies a church building constructed in 1814. This community of believers was established when a dozen Scottish families withdrew from the Circular Congregationalist Church more than 280 years ago.

First Baptist Church

Established in 1682, this congregation of Christians is recognized as one of the oldest Baptist churches in North America.

Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church

This congregation grew as one of three historic black churches in Charleston that became affiliated with the Free African Society in the early 1800s. Eventually, 
its leaders were suspected of planning a slave revolt. The congregation went underground when all black churches were outlawed and wasn't publicly reconstituted until 1865.

Old St. Andrew’s Church

Step back into history with a visit to Old St. Andrew's Parish Church. The church building was constructed in 1706 -- making it one of the oldest church structures still standing in the United States.

St. John's Lutheran Church

Their motto is "serving Christ through the centuries" and this group of believers traces its legacy in Charleston back to Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who arrived in 1742 and spent a brief time here teaching the Lutheran doctrine of faith.

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church

St. Mary's is the oldest congregation of Roman Catholics in either South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia.

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

German immigrants founded this congregation in 1840 with the intent on being a worship community of Lutherans, Reformed and Catholics who preferred speaking in their native German language. This early ecumenical effort failed to gain traction and the group aligned itself exclusively with the Lutheran denomination.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church

St. Michael's was built in the mid 1700s and is centrally locoed in Charleston at the corners of Meeting & Broad Streets. It was named a "National Historic Landmark" in 1960.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

In the late 1600s, with no Anglican church in the southern colonies, St. Philip's Church was established (330+ years ago). At the time of its constituting, it was the only Anglican parish south of Virginia.

The Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul

The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul is the seat of the Episocpal Bishop of South Carolina. Built in 1810, it was originally a church dedicated to the memory of St. Paul. Another Episcopal parish, St. Lukes, was absorbed into the chuch in 1949. It became a Cathedral in 1963 and suffered damage during 1989's Hurricane Hugo.

The French Huguenot Church

French Protestants were known as Huguenots and nearly four dozen arrived by ship at Charles Town in 1680. These refugees, fleeing France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, are the forefathers of the very historic French Huguenot Church in Charleston.

The Old Bethel Methodist Church

Only two buildings in the city of Charleston, South Carolina are older than the Old Bethel United Methodist Church. Learn more this fascinating church with its history of the interracial membership of this congregation long before it was fashionable.

The Second Presbyterian Church

This congregation grew out of First (Scots) Presbyterian in the early 1800s. The church has survived several hurricanes and an earthquake but today remains a vibrant Christ-centered worship community in the heart of Charleston.


Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site

Come to the very site where English settlers first stepped of the boat from the Old World to establish Charles Town in 1670.

Children's Museum of the Lowcountry

This museum is dedicated to kids and features 9 exciting areas kids will love!   Inside you'll find the "Art Room," a place where imaginations can create all kinds of interesting things out of egg cartons or cardboard boxes.  The Art Room is where kids paint and make things in a fun setting right next to other kids making what springs to mind.   In the Medieval Creativity Castle kids don costumes of princes and princesses and experience what life was like centuries ago living in a castle.   Features a puppet show and there are hidden passageways awaiting discovery.   Outside in the Kid's Garden there are waterfalls, butterflies, and edible fruits ready to be tasted.   Kids can learn about plant life and enjoy the great outdoors in a safe environment. 

Also outside is an antique 1939 Fire Truck ready for your kids to climb on, blow the horn and even pull the hose off and pretend to put out a fire.  And to make the experience more real, kids can try on fire fighter uniforms!

Spend a half hour to learn about gravity and the laws of motion in the Raceways Exhibit.  In this interesting room kids are given golf balls to put into chutes and encourages to watch where they go!

WaterWise teaches children all about the important of water.  In a dedicated room, children can engage in so many activities relating to water including racing boats down the rapids, operating a model damn that simulates providing electricity to Charleston, plus splash around a bit and even paint (with nothing but) water.

The Pirate Room gives boys and girls a chance to step onto a pirate boat and imagine anything.  Whether its outmaneuvering sea monitors or battling other pirate ships, this is the highlight of the Children's Museum for many kids.  They also learn about Charleston Harbor and see how it looked in the late 17th century.

In the kids market area, children can push grocery carts up and down aisles and learn about choosing the nutritious foods.  The carts are made just for kids so even the smallest child can take part in the fun.

A play space is also available for children under 3 years old.

Edisto Island Museum

For twenty years, The Edisto Island Museum has been showcasing the history of the island, gathering plantation artifacts and working at preserving history.  This intimate museum showcases history with lots of artifacts that were in use on the nearby plantation homes such as tools.  Many photos of what 19th Century Edisto Island looked like and of many of the people who lived in the time period of the late 19th century. Learn about period furnishing and browse the gift shop for an ample selection of books about the region. 

Friends of the Hunley

Naval warfare remembers the Confederal Submarine Hunley as the first sub to sink an enemy ship (in 1864) during combat operations.  Although The Hunley was lost soon afterwards, the search for finding this Civil War relic took 136 years and in the year 2000, the historic submarine was recovered from Charleston Harbor. Tours are currently available on Saturday and Sundays only.

Gibbes Museum of Art

A gentleman who loved the arts and died in 1899 is responsible for the premier art museum in Charleston, South Carolina.  The Gibbes Museum of Art is the legacy of James Shoolbred Gibbes.  Upon his death just before the end of the 19th century, Mr. Gibbes bequeathed $100,000 for the purchase of a building in downtown Charleston to be used to showcase fine painting.  A notable architect who had designed several courthouses was contracted to design the gallery that today sits at 135 Meeting Street.   The Gibbes Museum presently hosts more than a half dozen rotating exhibitions annually.  Permanent displays include a significant collection of local art representing historical Charleston.

Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Based at the College of Charleston, this museum features the work of daring artists who's originality is unquestionable.  About a half dozen art exhibitions per year are featured at the institute, which is named for the first College of Charleston Studio Art Teacher, William Hasley.

Karpeles Manuscript Museum

The Karpeles Library features a dozen museums around the United States and bills itself as having the "world's largest private holding of original manuscripts and documents."   One of their museums is located on Spring Street in downtown Charleston, South Carolina (other locations include Jacksonville, Santa Barbara, Shreveport, Fort Wayne and Tacoma).   Rotating exhibits offer you the chance to see original documents on a variety of historical subjects.

Museum Mile

The heart of Charleston includes Meeting Street right downtown.  On this historic roadway you'll find "Museum Mile" which features six museums, several outdoor parks and multiple homes of historical significance.   This mile of interesting tourist attractions also features Charleston City Hall and several historic churches which date back several centuries.   The museums are Aiken-Rhett House, The Charleston Museum, Joseph Manigault House, Washington Light Infantry, Confederate Museum, The Powder Magazine, Gibbes Museum of Art, Old Slave Mart, South Carolina Historical Society, Postal Museum, Heyward-Washington House, Nathaniel Russel House, Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon and the Edmondston-Alston House.

Old City Market

Open every day of the year (excluding only Christmas), The Old City Market gives you lots of shopping choices and its been operating as a place for merchants and buyers to come together for more than two centuries.   Excellent shopping locations as hundreds of temporary vendors are located nearby to permanent shops and galleries.

Old Slave Mart Museum

Visit an important part of Charleston History at the Old Slave Mart and stand where men were sold into the service of others.  A small, intimate two-story structure with artifacts and photographs on display.  An educational experience for all with an interest in both local and the history of the United States.

Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum

There are not many locations you can tour a submarine, a destroyer and an aircraft carrier but there is one place in Charleston to experience all three!   The submarine U.S.S. Clamagore, the destroyer U.S.S. Laffey and the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown are all at Patriot's Point.   All have a fascinating history of servince in the United States Navy, but the biggest draw for most tourists is certainly The Yorktown.  It has been permanently docked in Charleston at Patriot's Point since 1975.   The ship operated in the theatre of battle in both World War II and the Vietnam War.   The U.S.S. Yorktown is one of the many National Historic Landmarks in the city of Charleston and from the moment you see her docked at the pier in Charleston Harbor, you'll know you are seeing a substantial ship with a rich naval history.  Six different walking tours through this aircraft carrier are available.  See many parts of the vessel including the living quarters and working area for many of the sailors.  The Flight Deck and the Bridge are the highlight of touring the Yorktown but also of interest is the engine room and the "fire" room.   Many models of the ship are on display inside and another area you can walk through is the wardroom and the brig!  Special discount admission pricing is available to children 11 and younger and seniors 62 and above.

Philip Simmons Foundation, Inc.

The most iconic iron maker in Charleston history may just be Philip Simmons.   Weighed against all other ironsmiths of the 20th century, he certainly is the most famous and well known.  The Philip Simmons Foundation was founded more than thirty years ago at the request of Mr Simmons church to commemorate his contributions to the city.   Today this foundation operates a memorial garden dedicated to the man who created much of the ironwork in the 20th century on buildings throughout the city as they were constructed or repaired.

Postal Museum

A small room located in the oldest operated Post Office in Charleston (or the state of South Carolina) showcases the history of mail delivery over the last two centuries.   

The Charleston Aquarium

If your Charleston vacation includes traveling with children, this could be the highlight of their trip.  While kids sometimes don't appreciate history and may find some historical sights boring, this will not be the case at The Charleston Aquarium.   Inside you'll find more than 700 animals native to the region including alligators, frogs, diamond back rattlesnakes, sea urchin, jellyfish, sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, octopus, a river otter, blue heron and even the exotic venus flytrap plant.   A visit to the Charleston Aquarium could easily consume a half day with all of birds, plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish to see!

The Charleston Museum

Unknown to many museum lovers is the relatively obscure fact that the first museum ever founded in America was in Charleston.   The year was 1773 and for almost a quarter of a millenium, Charleston Museum has been preserving the wide-ranging cultural history of one of the oldest cities in the United States.  The museum's mission is to "to document and explain the natural and cultural history of Charleston and the South Carolina coastal region through the maintenance, improvement and expansion of collections documenting the natural forms and material culture of this region."   Two historic properties that show up on the most listings of Charleston attractions are owned and operated by the Charleston Museum -- Heward-Washington House & Joseph Manigault House.

The Citadel Museum & Archives

More than 170 years have passed since the founding of The Military College of South Carolina.  This history is showcased at the Citadel Museum & Archives.  See more than a century of school ring designs, plus intriguing letters written from military members during both the civil war era and World War II.

The City Hall Gallery

There are many fine portraits located at City Hall Gallery inside Charleston City Hall.  Many portraits are of revolutionary war patriots such as General Washington and early presidents.  

The Confederate Museum

Collection of Confederate pieces include swords, flags, postage stamps, a rifle, and other military regalia.  See the white flag (literally a handkerchief) that was waved to signal the surrender of Charleston to Union forces.   Note that photography is not allowed in this Charleston museum.

By John Jakes