Downtown Museums

Visitors to Charleston may flock to Rainbow Row or one of the Lowcountry’s many sandy shores —and for good reason. But there’s a lesser-known strip of the city you must explore, whether you’re a history buff, design fanatic, young family, or lover of the arts.

Museum Mile—a one-mile section of Meeting Street running from Mary Street to the Battery—is a playground for those seeking Holy City culture, whether you’re from out of town or are a local with a Saturday to spend touristing throughout your own town. Stroll the strip and you’ll find America’s first museum (yep—read on for more on that), a host of perfectly preserved historic homes and churches, and the gleaming, recently renovated Gibbes Museum of Art (it’s stained-glass rotunda is a true work of art).

If you’re a local, challenge yourself to visit all 28 locations designated on the Museum Mile’s website (we’re competing amongst ourselves). Short on time? Here, we’ve rounded up our favorite sites on Meeting.

Nathaniel-Russell House Museum. See how the Charleston elite lived in the early 19th century (spoiler alert: it was lavishly) by winding through this impeccably restored manse built in 1808. Dubbed a National Historic Landmark, it’s a brilliant example of Neoclassical architecture. Plus, the curators have made a point to tell the whole story, detailing the lives of the 18 enslaved Africans who lived and worked for merchant Nathaniel Russell during the tour. 51 Meeting St.; $12 for adults, $10 for kids


The Charleston Museum. Did you know that the Holy City holds America’s first museum? Indeed, The Charleston Museum was founded in 1773 and is commonly referred to as such. It’ll be a hit with the whole family as its permanent exhibits range from the Bunting Natural History Gallery—in which you’ll see fossilized jaws of a (thankfully) extinct 40-foot-long shark called the Megalodon that used to swim in local waters—to the Historic Textiles Gallery, an exploration of historic clothing and textile trends throughout the Southeast. 360 Meeting St., $12 for adults, $10 for youths, $5 for children


South Carolina Historical Society Museum. Here’s a gem many locals haven’t heard of. Showcasing original manuscripts, historic maps, and other special collections, this museum brings to life individuals, places, and happenings that have shaped the Palmetto State—and the nation—over the last three centuries. Allot a fair bit of time for this visit: You’ll want to spend hours poring over the scrupulously preserved materials. 100 Meeting St. $12 for adults, $10 for military and seniors, $5 for children

The Gibbes Museum of the Arts. Art lovers, here’s your spot. In 2016, the 1905 Gibbes Museum of Arts reopened after undergoing a 2-year, $13.5 million renovation, making it grander and more gleaming than ever before. View neoclassical sculptures perched beneath the must-see Campbell Rotunda, permanent-collection paintings spanning the centuries from the 1700s to today, and visiting exhibitions like “Anna Heyward Taylor: Intrepid Explorer,” featuring works from one of the leaders of the Charleston Renaissance. Up now through May 12, we’re making a point to visit that collection. 135 Meeting St.; $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $6 for youth


St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. If you’ve been on Broad Street—or anywhere near it, really—you’ve seen St. Michael’s. It’s the towering white stunner that sits at the corner of Broad and Meeting Streets (that intersection is known as Charleston’s Four Corners of the Law, with St. Michael’s representing God’s law). Built in 1761, the church has a storied history—for example, its steeple has served as a navigational landmark for ships during all American wars starting with the Revolutionary—and its Neoclassical beauty speaks for itself. The church is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. most weekdays; stop by at 12:10 p.m. for a midday prayer. 71 Broad St.

Honorable mention: The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Though it’s temporarily closed for renovations (which is why we’re naming it an honorable mention!), parents: You must bring your kids here. From the art room to the Medieval Creativity Castle, older kids will stay entertained for hours (all while learning—but don’t tell them). There’s also an infant and toddler space to spark your tiniest tot’s fine motor skills. 25 Ann St.; $10 for South Carolina children and adults, $12 for out-of-staters, free for infants under 12 months

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