The 15 Best FREE Museums in Charleston, South Carolina

exhibition, art gallery, gallery-362163.jpg

This site is reader supported. When you buy through links on this site, we may receive a commission. Read More

Charleston is home to tons of history but, unfortunately, a lot of access to that history comes with a bit of a price tag. Luckily enough, Charleston does have some free museums. This is a great way to still soak in some history and art while saving your pennies for other experiences in Charleston. 

Here are some of those wonderful free museums in Charleston.

Trip map created with Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Mace Brown Museum of Natural History

Located on the College of Charleston’s campus, the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History is the perfect spot for geology lovers.

Here you’ll find over 1,000 fossils and displays like dinosaur bones, a reconstructed jaw with real Megalodon teeth, and skulls of a Triceratops and T-rex. 

The museum is run by undergraduate geology students, who have classes right next door to the museum. That being said, it’s important to keep quiet during your visit here out of respect for the students!

Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art does have an admission fee, but there are some times when it is free.

Children ages 0-3 always have free admission. If you have a Bank of America, Merrill or Bank of America Private Bank (US Trust) credit or debit card, you will get free admission on the first full weekend of every month! Lastly, the museum’s first floor is full of activities, always free, and open to the public

With an admissions ticket, you’ll have access to the second and third floor galleries. Within the museum, you’ll find some permanent collections like miniature portraits, 18th and 19th century American paintings, and 20th century American Regionalism and the Charleston Renaissance. The museum also has a series of six to eight special exhibitions each year. 

Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

The Halsey is another fantastic museum located within the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts. You’ll find different exhibits that are there for a certain period of time within the museum’s two interlinked exhibition spaces. 

The museum also has a video cavern, a reference library, and an archive.

Charleston Postal Museum

The Postal Museum is tiny, but it’s a fun free museum to visit. You will be able to learn about Charleston’s postal service history and 18th and 19th century mail, along with seeing old stamps and newspaper clippings. 

The museum is located within Charleston’s post office, which was built in 1896 over an old police station that was destroyed during the earthquake of 1886. You can even buy a postcard from the museum and send it at the post office to friends back home!

South Carolina Historical Society Museum

The South Carolina Historical Society Museum is free for South Carolina educators and children under 5. For all other visitors, the admission is only one dollar! 

Within the museum, you’ll find exhibits that focus on people, places, and movements that had an impact on South Carolina and the entire nation. This is shown through personal manuscripts, maps, and artifacts, along with innovative technology. 

There are three galleries titled Culture Converge, Expanding Horizons, and Division and Strife. This museum is a great way to soak in some South Carolina history. 

Charleston Tea Garden

Visit the Charleston Tea Garden, America’s only tea garden! Admission is free to visit the factory tour and see how tea is made. 

The tea production building is glassed in, so you’ll be able to walk down the entire length of the factory and see all the steps in the process. You can also walk around the plantation grounds, visit a tea bar, and visit the gift shop. 

The tea garden also has a trolley ride, which is the only part of the garden that has a fee. It is completely optional to do but, if you choose to do it, you’ll go on a 35-40 minute guided ride on the 127 acre farm. This also includes a stop at the greenhouse to see the start of a tea bush. Before you leave, be sure to buy some tea to take home and enjoy!

City Gallery at Joseph P. Riley Waterfront Park

Located right by Waterfront Park, City Gallery is a great free contemporary art museum. Exhibits change and can feature art from local, regional, national, and international artists, all with a focus on the Lowcountry. 

After strolling through the gallery, be sure to walk through Waterfront Park and see the fountains, along with views of the harbor and the Ravenel Bridge.

Angel Oak Park

Angel Oak Park isn’t really a museum, but it’s still a free site that is worth the visit! The Angel Oak tree is estimated to be around 400 years old! 

Its long branches reach out and provide over 17,000 square feet of shade. It’s quite impressive and can make for a fun visit during your time in Charleston. 

Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center

The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is a great place to learn about Charleston’s history during the Civil War. This museum is completely free and provides a good showing of history. 

Exhibits display information about the attack of Fort Sumter, slavery and the lives of those enslaved, plantation life, and history of the Confederate army. Visitors can also purchase a ticket to take a boat to Fort Sumter for a full history experience. 

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

Many of the plantations in Charleston come with a price tag. The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is completely free and includes a museum and visitor center. The land was once Pinckney’s rice and indigo plantation called Snee Farms. 

Though none of the original structure remains, the exhibits will paint a vivid picture of what life was like on the plantation. Visitors will also take away information about Pinckney, who was a contributor and signer of the United States Constitution and governor of South Carolina.

The historic site also has gardens and a nature trail to explore.

Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

The College of Charleston has a fair share of free museums, and the Avery Research Center is one of them. A self guided tour is completely free to view all the archives, however, donations are welcome. The galleries and exhibits change each year, but they pull from the center’s collection of art and archives. 

The Avery Room is a permanent exhibit in the center that has a recreated 19th century social studies classroom. This serves as a nod to the building’s original role as the Avery Normal Institute. 

Before becoming the Avery Research Center, the Avery Normal Institute served as a place of learning for careers and leadership roles for Charleston’s African American community. This added piece of history is maintained in the museum and continues to serve as a place where all can learn. 

The Citadel Museum

Learn about Charleston’s military college by walking through the Citadel Museum. It’s located on the third floor of Daniel Library on The Citadel’s campus. Here, visitors can see how the uniforms and Citadel rings have changed over time. 

There are also a few small exhibits with artifacts. If you visit on a Friday, stick around for The Citadel’s parades. These are generally held every Friday during the school year on Summerall Field and are free and open to the public. 

The Best Friend of Charleston Train Museum

This small Charleston Train Museum houses a replica of the Best Friend train, with information about the train and rail history. 

It’s located in the Charleston Visitor Center, which makes it a great visit to take away some history and some brochures to plan your Charleston experience. 

Macaulay Museum of Dental History

Did you know that Charleston has a small dental museum on the Medical University of South Carolina’s campus? The Macauley Museum of Dental History is a free museum that has a wide collection of dental artifacts such as tools, dental chairs, a Civil War era dental chest, and a 19th century dental office display.

It’s small, but it could be fun if dental history spikes your interest.

Redux Contemporary Art Center

The Redux is another free art museum with rotating exhibits. Artists can participate in five to six week long exhibitions, with about eight annual exhibitions at the museum.

Along with having changing art exhibitions, the museum also has lecture series, film screenings, classes, and workshops. 

The Bottom Line

Charleston has a good amount of free museums for a wide range of interests. It’s worth checking out some of these and exploring Charleston’s art, history, and culture. You never know what you’ll discover and learn!