Culture + Style

The Past Comes to Life in Historic Charleston’s Most Legendary Spots

Take a walk down the cobblestone streets in the enchanting port city of Charleston, South Carolina, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of hundreds of years of American history.

Founded 96 years before the birth of the United States itself, Charleston is full of carefully constructed buildings and picturesque parks — all constructed over the course of several centuries and all of which have a story to tell.

Here are just some of Charleston’s historic highlights, from world-famous monuments to museums dedicated to the cause of bringing the past vibrantly to life.

Fort Sumter National Monument

A landmark of the American Civil War, the Fort Sumter National Monument is comprised of its moniker’s main fort, which rises from an island in Charleston Harbor, as well as Fort Moultrie (on nearby Sullivan Island), the Charleston Light and Liberty Square in downtown Charleston.

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Fort Moultrie on nearby Sullivan Island. (Photo: Alamy)

Sumter served as the location of two major battles (the first of which kicked off the Civil War in 1861), and the site offers fascinating tours as well as a museum that offers a peek behind the battles that became tumultuous turning points in U.S. history.

The Battery

Outfitted with rows of neoclassical architecture that harken back to the city’s glory days, the Battery initially served as a defensive seawall during wartime and was a hotbed of heavy artillery.

Today it’s one of the city’s most Instagrammable destinations, flanked by the Ashley and Cooper rivers and home to the 12-acre Waterfront Park, which serves as the outpost of the city’s famed and quirky pineapple fountain.

Exchange and Provost

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Take a trip to the dungeon. (Photo: Getty Images)

In its 247 years of existence, the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon has served myriad functions, perhaps most notably being the location where the United States Constitution was ratified.

Its legendary confines have also been a jail (deep beneath the ground in its cavernous dungeon) and a public market. It currently exists as a museum run by the South Carolina State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a visit to which serves as a dusty history lesson come to life.

Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall

Located across Charleston’s Ashley River, the picturesque Magnolia Plantation is known to be one of the South’s oldest plantations, founded in 1676 by the Drayton family. Expansively spread over a lush 450 acres, its grounds are outfitted with multiple gardens that feature everything from cypress trees to camellia flowers, some of which have been blossoming for centuries.

While visiting Magnolia, be sure to pay a visit to the neighboring Drayton Hall, a stately, 18th-century mansion open to the public.

Old Slave Mart Museum

A former slave auction facility, the city’s Old Slave Mart now operates as a museum dedicated to the history of the slave trade. Built in 1859 after Charleston banned public slave auctions, the structure and its iron-gated entrance served as a place to buy and sell slaves up until the Civil War, when the Union halted the practice upon occupying the city in 1865.

Today, the structure serves as a stark but important reminder of this dark chapter in American history.

The Charleston Museum

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Take a deep dive into history at the museum. (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the oldest operating museums in the United States, the Charleston Museum serves as a perfect historical overview of both the region and the country.

Home to exhibits that shine a spotlight on multiple periods, from prehistoric times to the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the museum is known for its extensive collection of antique weaponry, as well as a child-friendly area, aptly dubbed “Kidstory.”

Its confines also offer an essential look at the area’s extensive Native American past.