What to expect when Charleston’s International African American Museum opens in 2023

Looking to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Charleston, South Carolina in 2023. 

Although it’s one of the most charming places in the South – and maybe even in the entire USA – Charleston, South Carolina is also a city with a very complex past. 

The city, filled with gorgeous rainbow-colored row homes and palm-lined cobblestone streets, is a popular escape for anyone who loves blue crabs, horse-and-carriage rides and golden sands. However, for centuries the city’s Gadsden’s Wharf was a significant disembarkation site for enslaved men and women from across the Atlantic. It is said that more than 1000 cargos filled with men and women taken from West Africa were brought to the city’s harbor between 1670 and 1808 – a dark chapter often overlooked in favor of the award-winning restaurants, glossy boutiques and romantic bed-and-breakfasts that set the city apart today.

Get the inside scoop on the latest cultural happenings all over the world delivered weekly to your inbox with our email newsletter. The exterior of a modernist building that is home to the IAAM. The exterior of the new International African American Museum © Ellis Creek Photography

Now, after more than 20 years of planning, the city will open the doors to the International African American Museum on that same waterfront land. Originally scheduled to open in January, the opening was delayed due to issues with the building’s temperature controls. A spokesperson for the museum now notes that it will open in late 2023.

When it opens, the 150,000-sq-ft IAAM will, its founders hope, not only bring to life African American history beginning with the journey from West Africa, but also honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives along the way. The state-of-the-art building will be home to several exhibits, rotating shows as well as permanent displays. The museum’s ground level will feature the African Ancestors Memorial Garden, where visitors can quietly reflect on the powerful exhibitions or take in one of the many live performances on the schedule. There will also be family-friendly educational programs, allowing children to understand the history in a more digestible way.  

A man walks a dog by Rainbow Row, Charleston, South Carolina, USAAs you take in Charleston’s historic charm, consider the city’s deep entanglement with the international trade in enslaved people © f11photo / Shutterstock

The Center for Family History will allow visitors to trace their genealogy with the help of the knowledgeable on-site staff, and through a unique collection of digitized sources and documents. And while there is a focus on genealogical research, this important institution of American history is set to become one that every American should endeavor to visit. This groundbreaking museum aims to help all of us learn, understand and ultimately empathize a bit more with one another.

Where to eat in Charleston

In sticking with the theme of immersing yourself in the area’s Black history, you’ll want to dine at Hannibal’s Kitchen for a helping of Charleston okra soup and red rice – both staple recipes among locals. Red rice typically consists of long-grain white rice cooked with garlic, onions, tomato and bacon – very similar to jollof rice, a staple dish of West Africa.  

Another local staple is the Charleston Chewie, a tasty dessert made with brown sugar that’s similar to a blondie but with a unique spin. You can pick up the sweet treat and several variations from family-owned Daddy’s Girls Bakery in North Charleston. 

A split image shows in the inside of a classy bar and a glass of champagne. Head to  Bourbon N’ Bubbles for a sip of champage or sparkling wine © Bourbon N’ Bubbles

Where to drink in Charleston

If you fancy a great glass of bubbly, consider a nightcap or even brunch just a few minutes from the museum at Bourbon N’ Bubbles in the Hyatt House Charleston–Historic District. The upscale Black-owned eatery and cocktail bar features an extensive list of some of the world’s best champagnes and sparkling wines, in addition to over 50 bourbons and whiskeys, and unique signature cocktails like the Charleston 75 (Four Roses bourbon, St Germain and citrus finished with a sparkling rosé). 

Also at the Hyatt is Mesu, an Asian-Mexican fusion spot with a fun drink menu to match. Whether you opt for one of the many tequila flights or a single tequila tasting, the possibilities are endless, with some 75 variations to choose from.

Where to stay in Charleston

A little more than a 10-minute walk away, the Courtyard Charleston Historic District is said to be the only full-service Black-owned hotel in town. Located on Calhoun St in the heart of downtown, the hotel lies not only in proximity to the museum, but also to the popular shopping area along King St, a must-visit stretch. At the hotel, you’ll find an on-site bistro, fitness center and pool.

On Meeting St is the luxurious Dewberry. Unwind with a signature Dewberry Daiquiri in hand and enjoy the view at from the 8th-floor Citrus Club, Charleston’s highest rooftop bar.


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