Charleston, SC Museums

If you are planning a summer beach trip to the South Carolina beaches, Charleston, SC is a wonderful addition to your itinerary.  There are so many historical sites to see there, including two child-friendly museums, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and the Charleston Museum.


Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Any visitor to Charleston who is interested in the history of the city should plan a visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.  It is a great way to learn about the city’s important Colonial and Revolutionary events and is fun for kids to explore.

The building itself is impressive, sitting at the end of Broad Street, right on East Bay.  In the original plan of the city, the predecessor to this building was part of the perimeter of the city wall, right on the bay, but infill in later years has put it a couple of blocks away from the water.  However in the basement, you can still see parts of that original wall, dating back to 1701!

The museum itself has two different sections – a self-guided tour of the upstairs and a guided tour of the basement, which is where I started my tour. 


The British occupied Charleston during the Revolutionary War and converted this basement into a military jail for American prisoners of war.  This provost tour is guided and lasts about 25 minutes.  Little ones may be a little afraid of the darkness and of the mannequins that are staged to show the conditions of the dungeon during those times. However if you have any pirate fans, they will really like this part of the tour!  The tour guide had some unbelievable stories about pirates captured off the coast and brought here for safekeeping before their trial or punishment.  The guide did a great job at helping history come alive for kids (and adults!) while describing the different ways the dungeon had been used.  


The dungeon is well-preserved and you can really get a sense of how dark, damp, and unpleasant this place must have been for those unfortunate prisoners.  

After the dungeon tour is over, the tour continues upstairs in the colonial part of the building.  This is one of the 3 most historically significant buildings of colonial America and is one of the few remaining buildings where the U.S. Constitution was ratified and signed.  You can still see where this happened in The Great Hall, which is very reminiscent of Independence Hall and is beautifully preserved.  You and your children can even sign a copy of the Constitution here!  The Great Hall was also the site of several parties for George Washington while he was President.


The remaining rooms are outfitted with historical paintings and furnishings. 


Don’t miss the great gift shop near the entrance/exit for great souvenirs!  

Check out the museum’s Facebook site for the latest in upcoming events.  The museum is conducting a reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2019, which will be special!  


Helpful hints:

  • Cost: $10/adults; $5/children; under 6 is free
  • Recommended: ages 6 and up
  • Plan to spend 45 minutes at the museum, including the 25 minute guided dungeon tour
  • Gift shop onsite
  • Parking available nearby at the East Bay garage (East Bay and Middle Atlantic Wharf)
  • Dining options nearby: Brown Dog Deli and One Broad Street are very close.  Other famous restaurants are just blocks away near the Charleston City Market.  
  • Nearby attractions include: Waterfront Park, Hazel Parker Playground, Rainbow Row, Charleston City Market, and the Historic Charleston Foundation (check out its family-friendly tours of nearby historical homes).  
  • Other museums nearby: South Carolina Historical Society – a small museum on the history of South Carolina housed in the historic Fireproof building.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.


Books to read:


Charleston Museum

The Charleston Museum is the oldest museum in the country, founded in 1773!  This large building near the Visitor Center in Charleston is a good place to visit with kids to put the sites of Charleston in context.

The museum exhibits range from historical artifacts to fossils to Egyptian mummies.  It is definitely an eclectic mix of items and is not just a history museum.  There is only one floor of exhibits and the highlights include the “Becoming Americans” and “City under Siege” exhibits.  These exhibits contain lots of artifacts and more explanations of the many ways that Charleston has been a key part of American history.  Your kids can learn more about the British occupation during the Revolutionary War and also about the beginnings of the Civil War right here at Charleston’s Fort Sumter.  

Your children will love the fossils of prehistoric creatures, including a very large, man-sized sloth!  The museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts are also quite interesting and kids will enjoy seeing the mummy.  If you have any budding fashionistas, they might also like the “Historic Textiles Gallery” where clothing from all throughout the ages are displayed.  

My favorite part of the museum for kids is the innovative “Kidstory” section.  This part of the museum provides hands-on learning opportunities for kids. Your children can try on clothes from different eras or raise a pirate flag.  Parents can enjoy a few minutes of no stress as the children can play and run around without worry of knocking anything over. It is a unique and welcome addition to the museum!

Be sure to visit the museum’s Facebook page for any upcoming special events, particularly for families!


Helpful hints:


Books to Read:

Enoy your time in historical Charleston!



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