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Charleston Historic Home Tours

The Heyward-Washington House in Charleston, SC.

Charleston has many dozens of historically-significant properties, the great majority of which are privately owned and occupied and not open to the public.

Several of the city’s most important historic homes, however, are operated as historic house museums, allowing a view into the lives of some of Charleston’s wealthiest residents – and the people they enslaved – in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Most of the houses offer guided tours of around 30-40 minutes duration, usually discussing the history of the house, its occupants and architecture. If you expect to want to visit more than one historic house museum during your visit, look out for combination tickets, which offer admission to two or more properties at a discounted rate.

See also: – Museums in Charleston – Plantations near Charleston – Other things to do in Charleston – Things to do near Charleston – Charleston events and festivals by month: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Historic Charleston Foundation’s House Tours

Aiken-rhett house.

48 Elizabeth Street, 843-723-1159

The Aiken-Rhett House, constructed by William Aiken around 1820, remained in the hands of a single family and its descendants for a century and a half. Preserved rather than restored, the house offers an insight into the decline in fortunes of its owners in the years since the Civil War.

Unusually among Charleston’s historic house museums, the Aiken-Rhett House has retained its enslaved people’s quarters and other outbuildings, including stables and kitchens, portraying the other side of life in one of the city’s great antebellum houses.

Self-guided app-based audio tours of the house are made at your own pace, and will usually take around 45 minutes. Combination tickets including admission to the Nathaniel Russell House are available.

Open daily. Adults $15, children (6-16) $7. More details

Nathaniel Russell House

51 Meeting Street, 843-724-8481

The Nathaniel Russell House is considered to be one of the best Neoclassical townhouses in the country, constructed for a wealthy Rhode Island merchant who established himself in Charleston in the mid-18th century.

The house, with formal gardens, is restored to its appearance in 1808. It is furnished with objects of fine and decorative art from the 18th and 19th centuries, including several items owned by the family, and others created in Charleston.

Tours take around 30 minutes, and discuss the lives of family members and the people they enslaved as domestic staff, and the process of restoring the home. Combination tickets allowing admission to the Aiken-Rhett House as well are available for a discount.

Charleston Museum’s House Tours

Heyward-washington house.

87 Church Street, 843-722-2996

The Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772, is one of the oldest surviving residences in Charleston.

It is named for two of the house’s most distinguished occupants: Thomas Heyward, Jr, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington, who rented the home during a week-long stay in the city as part of his 1791 tour of the South.

Beautiful antique Charleston-made furniture, formal gardens and an 18th-century kitchen building are among the highlights of tours of this historic house. Combination tickets offering discounted admission to the Charleston Museum and/or the Joseph Manigault House are also available.

Open daily. Adults $12, youth (13-17) $10, children (3-12) $5. More details

Joseph Manigault House

350 Meeting Street, 843-722-2996

The Joseph Manigault House, built in 1803, is an excellent example of the Federal style of architecture, formerly owned by one of Charleston’s wealthiest rice planting enslaving families, the Manigaults, descended from a group of French Huguenots who settled the city in the late 17th century.

The restored property features early-19th-century and other antique furniture from the collection of the Charleston Museum, with gardens too restored to the style of the period.

Tours of the house take around 30 minutes, and focus on the history of the family and architecture of the house, in the context of the social history of the period. Combination tickets to see the Heyward-Washington House and/or the Charleston Museum as well are available at a discount.

Charleston’s Other Historic Home Tours

Edmondston-alston house.

21 East Battery, 843-722-7171

The Edmondston-Alston House was built in 1825 by Scottish merchant Charles Edmondston. The house was one of the first of the grand houses to be erected along what is now the city’s East Battery, commanding fine views over the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter.

Edmondston lost the house in the panic of 1837, with some alterations to the Federal-style home undertaken by new owner Charles Alston. It remains to this day in the hands of his descendants.

30-minute tours visit the Edmondston-Alston House’s public rooms and piazzas. Combination tickets with the Middleton Plantation, who manage tours of the house, are available.

Open Monday-Saturday. Adults $15, children and students $10. More details

Williams Mansion

16 Meeting Street, 843-722-8205

The Williams Mansion (formerly known as the Calhoun Mansion) was built by George Williams in 1876, and is regarded as one of the finest postbellum houses on the East Coast. It is the largest historic private residence in Charleston.

The Williams Mansion is still occupied by its current owner, who has filled the house to the brim with an eclectic mixture of furnishings, paintings and objects from all periods and corners of the world.

The basic tour of the house takes about 25-35 minutes, seeing several of its rooms and discussing the history of the home and its antiques. An alternative longer tour visits the entire mansion and its cupola.

Open daily. Basic tour $17 per person, children under 12 free. More details

© Melanie K Jones 2024

charleston historic house tours

What are the best Charleston House Tours?

Where are the best Charleston homes to tour?  While perusing the streets of downtown and exploring the Holy City, make sure these Charleston historic house tours are on your must-do list. 

Charleston’s rich architectural history dates back to the 17th century. The Old Exchange Building represents the early, Colonial style. The Georgian period is characterized by symmetrical facades with a centered front entrance and 5 windows facing frontward. The Heyward Washington House is a great example. Beginning in the late 1700s this style gained in popularity and may be seen in many residences.  The Federalist period followed the Revolutionary war. Home designs incorporated lavish elements such as balconies, shutters, and palladium windows. The Rhett-Aiken House is a noted example of the Federalist architectural period.  As Charlestonians gained wealth they embraced the NeoClassical architectural style and constructed homes of considerable grandeur. This design period gained popularity in the years leading up to the Civil War. Neoclassical architecture is characterized by columns, smooth walls, and arched windows. The Charleston County Courthouse at the “Four Corners of Law” offers a good example of the Neoclassical architectural style in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Gothic Revival, Italianate, Victorian, and Art Deco periods followed. Few cities in the United States are as diversely represented in architectural styles as Charleston, SC. These multiple examples of design are a significant contributor to the rich historical tapestry of the city’s character and charm.

Step back in time, and plan a day to enjoy Charleston historic house tours. See our list of locally recommended Charleston Historic Home Tours below!

The Best Historic Home Tours in Charleston, SC

1. heyward-washington house.

Begin your tour at the infamous Heyward-Washington House . This Georgian-style double home offers the only glimpse at a kitchen building of this period. The home was constructed in 1772. This historically significant dwelling was the home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of the four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

Charleston Historic House Tours Heyward Washington House

George Washington was a guest here during a visit to Charleston in 1791. This home served as the first home in the city to become a museum. The Heyward-Washington garden is a hidden gem behind the enclosed, brick walls.

Meticulously maintained, the garden is an excellent representation of 18th gardening in Charleston. 

  • Tours of the Heyward Washington House are available daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • Sunday tours are afternoon only, from noon to 5 pm

2. Nathaniel Russell House

The Nathaniel Russell House , a national historic landmark in Charleston, SC is considered one of America’s most important dwellings.

Charleston Historic House Tour

It incorporates elements of Georgian and Neoclassical design.

Wealthy Charleston merchant Nathaniel Russell built the home for his family in 1808. The three story cantilevered staircase is a stunning centerpiece in this exceptional residence on the High Battery in Charleston.   

  • Tours of the Nathaniel Russel House, an elite 19th-century home are available daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

3. Aiken-Rhett House

After your visit at the Nathaniel Russell House, you must also visit the Aiken-Rhett House . This complex offers an important, and educational perspective of life in the 1800s.

Charleston Home Tours Aiken-Rhett House

The back buildings, where slaves lived, offer visitors a unique opportunity to learn of the conditions and life endured by enslaved African peoples. This antebellum home was once owned by the powerful and wealthy Governor William Aiken.

T oday, the Aiken-Rhett House is one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the United States. 

  • Tours are available daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you would like to save money on house tours at Nathaniel Russell and Aiken-Rhett, buy a combination ticket .

4. Edmondston-Alston House

When visitors think of Charleston, homes on the High Battery evoke an iconic image. The Edmondston-Alston house’s waterfront location commands stunning views of Charleston Harbor.

Edmondston-Alston House Charleston Historic House Tour

The Edmondston-Alston House has survived hurricanes, the earthquake of 1888 and the Civil War.

Add this one for a perfect waterside museum tour. Many period pieces of furniture, artwork, and silver are original to the owners of this historic residence.

  • Tours are limited so plan in advance.
  • Monday's from 1 pm - 4 pm
  • Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm

5. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

No list of Charleston house tours is complete without Magnolia Plantation and Gardens . Recently, Travel + Leisure named Magnolia one of America’s most beautiful gardens.

Magnolia Plantation Charleston Historic House Tour

The plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and is the oldest public garden in America.

Not only can you tour the gardens, but you can also tour the Plantation House where the Drayton family once lived. 

  • Tours of Magnolia's Plantation House run daily from 10 am - 3:30 pm

Mansions in Charleston, SC

6. joseph manigault house.

The Manigaults became one of South Carolina’s leading families, working as rice planters and merchants in the 18th Century after fleeing religious persecution in Europe in the 1600’s.

Constructed in 1803, the Joseph Manigault House represents the urban lifestyle of a wealthy Southern rice plantation family.

Historic Home Tour in Charleston Joseph Manigault House

This brick antebellum residence was designed by the Scottish, Neoclassical architect Robert Adam.

The exterior features a two story porch, elaborate windows and exterior doors. Inside, the interior is crafted in rich woodwork details as seen in the fireplace mantels, cornices, and doors. You’ll find period pieces and furniture from France, Europe and America as well as original color schemes throughout the rooms.  

The Joseph Manigault House, also referred to as Charleston’s Huguenot House was threatened with demolition, but a group of caring Charlestonians organized to save the home. It was purchased by the Charleston Museum in 1933 for purposes of preservation. 

This was the birth of the Preservation Society of Charleston . 

  • Tours begin daily at 10:00 am. 
  • If you’re looking to tour The Charleston Museum, The Heyward Washington House and the Joesph Manigault House, buy the 3 site ticket . The more you see, the more you save!

7. Calhoun Mansion

Calhoun Mansion is one of Charleston’s most unique house tours. As you wander the halls and rooms of this 19th-century home, you will discover historic art collections, antiques, furniture, and more.  

Calhoun Mansion Tour in Charleston

Not only is the mansion stunning, but the relics inside of it give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the people of Old Charleston. 

  • All Tours of the Calhoun Mansion are currently cancelled during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
  • When the Calhoun Mansion resumes we’ll update tour offerings and times here. 

Interesting Facts About Charleston History

Charleston's history is riddled with important political figures, unique heritage, devastating fires, and costly wars. Throughout the course of American history, Charleston has played a vital role in our country’s development.

Here are just a few Charleston history facts you’ll learn on a vacation to the area:

  • The first theater in America, the Dock Street Theater, was built in colonial Charleston in 1736. It is located on iconic Church Street, Charleston SC.
  • America’s first museum is The Charleston Museum, founded in 1773.
  • Four Charleston natives – Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Take a tour around the city and you’ll recognize these old Charleston family names!
  • Charleston was the site of the Battle of Fort Sullivan, the first decisive victory in the Revolutionary War
  • The first game of golf played in America was in Charleston in 1788
  • The Ordinance of Secession, which led to the Civil War, was signed in Charleston in 1860.
  • The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in 1861

How to Learn More about Charleston History

With so many great ways to learn about the Holy City, there is something for everyone in Charleston. You’ll find a wide variety of historic places to visit and educational things to do. Here are just a few recommendations:

Take A Charleston Sightseeing Tour

Charleston sightseeing tours are an easy and fun way to learn about Charleston from an expert. Many of the area’s local guides are Charlestonians with ties to the city that go back 5, 8, or even 10 generations! Others are historians who have developed an extensive knowledge of the Lowcountry through years and years of study. Whether you take a guided walking tour, fun boating excursion, classic carriage ride, or unique and spooky ghost tour, these options provide education and excitement all in one.

Visit a Historic Site or Museum

Another great way to learn about Charleston is by visiting a historic site or museum. The Charleston Museum, America’s first museum, is a great place to start. Then, head to any of these other  great museums in downtown Charleston :

  • The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
  • The Gibbes Museum of Art
  • Old Slave Mart Museum
  • Postal Museum
  • Karpeles Manuscript Museum
  • The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center

In addition, Charleston has a wide variety of important forts and military sites, original historic homes, and century-old buildings to explore. Whether you take a ferry onto the Charleston Harbor, or you wander Charleston’s old, cobbled streets, you can visit these educational sites near downtown Charleston:

  • Historic Charleston City Market
  • Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
  • Fort Sumter or Fort Moultrie

If you are looking for fun ways to explore the Charleston peninsula, read our blog on the city’s best walking tours !  If your dreams include owning a piece of Charleston history, contact Pam Harrington Exclusives for a current list of historic Charleston homes for sale.

Historic Homes in Charleston, SC for Sale

Owning a historic home in Charleston offers a unique opportunity to be a part of America’s history. You are helping to continue and preserve the historical charm of Charleston.

Pam Harrington Exclusives is a leader in Charleston real estate , serving historic Charleston and the islands for over 45 years.

Historic Charleston Homes for Sale

When it comes to buying a historic home in Charleston, it is vital to work with a realtor who understands the nuances of historic home ownership from the Charleston BAR building restrictions, to historic tax credits, and other specialty considerations.

When you are ready to become a part of our history, we are here to assist you.

Meet Our Sales Team

Charleston Real Estate

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COMMENTS

  1. Charleston Historic Home Tours

    Explore the history and architecture of Charleston's dozens of privately-owned and operated historic houses, some of which are open to the public and offer guided tours. Learn about the lives of some of the city's wealthiest residents and their enslaved staff in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Find combination tickets for discounts and admission to more than one house.

  2. What are the best Charleston House Tours?

    Nathaniel Russell arrived in Charleston from Bristol, Rhode Island in 1765 and, thanks to extensive contacts in his home colony, established himself as a successful merchant and slave trader. His 1789 marriage to Sarah Hopton Russell produced two daughters, Alicia and Sarah, and in 1808 the Russell family moved to their new townhome at 51 ...