Guides

Arts and Culture in Charleston

Hotel search

South Carolina’s oldest city is awash with monuments to its past. Its skyline is dominated by churches rather than skyscrapers, while its immaculately preserved Downtown is dotted with elegant, pastel-hued Colonial-style mansions. World-class museums and attractions that bring the city’s fascinating history to life, and you can enjoy live entertainment on the site of America’s oldest theater.

 

Historical landmarks

 

You could spend an entire trip visiting Charleston’s monuments, mansions, and historic sites, and still run out of time before you’ve seen everything the city has to offer. But one landmark remains top of the agenda for most first-time visitors.

 

Fort Sumter

 

It was at this Charleston Harbor sea fort in April 1861 that Confederate artillery opened fire, ushering in the start of the Civil War. The fort can be easily reached from Charleston by a scenic boat ride. The original structure today stands in ruins, but the surviving fortifications, and original weapons on display, convey a full sense of the site’s deep historical importance. You’ll also find fascinating museum exhibits explaining how mounting tensions between North and South ultimately erupted into full-scale war.

 

Sullivan's Island, SC 29482. Tel: +1 843 883 3123

 

Fort Sumter website

 

Churches

 

Charleston is known throughout the United States as the Holy City. Historically, it was one of few cities to tolerate all forms of Christian Protestantism, and the cityscape remains dominated to this day by gleaming spires. There’s a bewildering array of beautiful places of worship to explore, but here’s one every visitor should make time for.

 

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist

 

The cornerstone of this exquisitely handsome Roman Catholic cathedral was laid in 1890, but construction work was only completed in 2010. It’s a marvel of Neo-Gothic architecture, with a sumptuous brownstone exterior, and glorious stained glass windows by the world-famous German company Franz Mayer & Co. Mass is said daily, and there are lovely weekly sacred music recitals.

 

120 Broad Street, Charleston SC 29401. Tel: +1 843 724 8395

 

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist website

 

Museums

 

With its Civil War legacy drawing in Americans and international visitors alike, Charleston is THE place to immerse yourself in this young nation's turbulent history.
The Charleston Museum

 

Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum proudly proclaims itself as "America’s first museum". Over the centuries it’s amassed the biggest collection of South Carolina artifacts in the country, and the permanent collection includes dinosaur skeletons, mounts of extinct species like the Carolina parakeet, Civil War-era weapons, and furniture used at the signing of the Ordinance of Secession.

 

360 Meeting Street Charleston, SC 29403. Tel: +1 843 722 2996

 

The Charleston Museum website

 

 

The Old Slave Mart Museum

 

The Old Slave Mart is both a somber reminder of Charleston’s dark past, and a moving celebration of African American history, arts and crafts. It stands on the site of the only known remaining building in South Carolina to have been used as a slave auction gallery. You’ll find illuminating exhibits explaining the history of slavery in comprehensive detail.

 

80 Broad Street Charleston, SC 29401-0304. Tel: +1 843 958 6467

 

The Old Slave Mart Museum website

 

Theaters

 

It's not just the live performance that'll excite and stimulate – the setting at one of America's oldest venues will also dazzle.

 

Dock Street Theatre

 

This gorgeously ornate playhouse sits on the site of America’s first theater, which opened its door in 1736. The current building was once a grand hotel, and features a striking wrought iron balcony. The theater is today home to Charleston Stage, who produce an amazing year-round program of crowd-pleasing musicals, comedies, dramas, and kids' shows.

 

135 Church Street Charleston, SC 29401 . Tel: +1 843 577 7183

 

Dock Street Theatre website