South Carolina’s city of Columbia is rich in history and culture and beckons visitors with its historic districts, lovely gardens, top-notch museums, and abundance of exciting outdoor activities.
Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina since 1786, saw physical and cultural change as a result of the Civil War.
Today, the city is the home of the University of South Carolina. Columbia also boasts a broad economic environment supported by the high-tech, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing sectors.
The capital of South Carolina, named after the explorer Christopher Columbus, is a historical hub of America flaming with southern charm and sunshine.
Columbia is a city worth visiting since it has hip venues and cultural attractions including the Columbia City Ballet, the Columbia Museum of Art, and the largest fire hydrant in the world.
Make sure to frequently refer to our list of the top attractions and things to do in Columbia, South Carolina.
- 1. Have Family fun at Riverbank Zoo
- 2. Take a tour of the South Carolina State House
- 3. Explore the Riverbanks Botanical Garden
- 4. Go for a Walk at Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park
- 5. Take a History Tour at South Carolina State Museum
- 6. Go for a Stroll at Waverly Historic District
- 7. Wander at The State’s Largest University – The USC
- 8. Marvel the Artwork at Columbia Museum of Art
- 9. It’s Kid’s Conquest at Edventure Children’s Museum
- 10 Take a Tour of Columbia’s Historic Homes
- 11. Take a Day Out for Congaree National Park
- 12. Indulge in the Wartime Tales at South Carolina Military Museum
- 13. Soak into the Show at Koger Centre for the Arts
- 14. Attend a Game at William – Brice Stadium
- 15. Marvel at the Architecture of the Busted Plug Plaza
- 16. Experience the Magical illusion at Tunnel Vision Mural
- 17. Indulge in the Wandering and Shopping Spree at Main Street
- 18. Indulge in the Cycling & Hiking at Three Rivers Greenway
- 19. Spend Family Time at the Picturesque Lake Murray
- 20. Spend an Evening at the Serene Finlay Park
- Best Places to Eat in Columbia, South Carolina
- Best Places to Stay in Columbia SC
- Things to Do in Columbia, SC – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Have Family fun at Riverbank Zoo
This 170-acre zoo and park is home to more than 2,000 animals.
With over a million visitors annually, Riverbanks Zoo is a two-time winner of the Governor’s Cup Award for South Carolina’s best tourist destination.
It is well-suited as family things to do in Columbia, South Carolina.
Main Tourist Attraction
Visitors, especially young children, can get up close and personal with different species in designated locations like the Reptile House, Bird Complex, and Petting Zoo.
They also learn through interactive exhibits. Are you interested in learning more about honey production?
Here, a unique exhibit will teach you. You may even buy some lettuce to feed giraffes at Riverbanks.
2. Take a tour of the South Carolina State House
The South Carolina Statehouse is one of the most popular Columbia attractions. It is a remarkable example of the Greek Revival style of architecture that was popular in the South before the Civil War.
The capital, an acclaimed design by John Niernsee, stands 180 feet tall and has a copper dome that has been tarnished.
Explore the expansive capitol grounds and get a sense of the complicated state history here. Some of the best highlights include the American-Mexican War Monument, African-American History Monument, Confederate Monument, and other statues honouring George Washington.
The Main Visitor’s Attraction
Be sure to search for the five stars along the building’s facade that mark the locations of the Union cannonballs that impacted the façade prior to the building’s completion during the Civil War.
Visitors can observe the state senate and house chambers while touring the stunning interior hallways of the capitol building for free.
If you’re looking for an attraction where you do not have to shell out any money, this is one of the free things to do in Columbia.
3. Explore the Riverbanks Botanical Garden
Don’t forget to set aside some time to see the Riverbanks Botanical Garden at the zoo.
Although admission to the Riverbanks Zoo includes access to these lovely 70-acre gardens.
If you can take out time, it’s definitely worth visiting and is one of the best things to do in Columbia SC.
The gardens here are located on the Saluda River’s south bank and are linked to the zoo by a picturesque pedestrian bridge.
The lawns are home to over 4,200 distinct varieties of exotic and native North American plants, as well as a large number of exotic specimens worldwide.
Due to their theme-based layout, the gardens are simple to navigate, and tours and workshops are offered.
The Main Tourist Spots
The self-guided River Trail, which is 0.3 miles long, should be noted by visitors who are interested in the region’s textile history.
The trail offers a close-up view of the earliest water-powered textile mills in South Carolina. It starts at the Saluda Bridge and travels along the river to the Saluda Mills Observation Pavilion.
4. Go for a Walk at Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park was created around the city’s old waterworks and opened for public use in 1983.
This park was designed around the location of the first textile mill in the world to be powered by electricity.
It was also the first original waterworks and hydroelectric plant, which is still in use and the oldest in the state.
Famous Visitor Attraction
A popular urban park along the Saluda River and Columbia Canal is called Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park.
Bikers, joggers, and walkers are drawn to the miles of paved trails.
This park is unique since it features an outdoor gym with seven pieces of equipment. You can use the cable pull, lateral press, scull, leg press, and weight machines to get a free workout in.
There are wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, bathrooms, and peaceful river views in this 14-acre downtown park. This is one of the best things to do in Columbia SC with kids.
5. Take a History Tour at South Carolina State Museum
The South Carolina State Museum has made a name for itself. This Columbia attraction is meant for people interested in learning about the history of this wonderful state. It first opened its doors in 1988.
Spread across four floors in a 19th-century mill, the museum offers a variety of displays from the museum’s own collections, as well as changing exhibits that highlight significant moments in the history of the state. It tells the stories of its people through the lenses of art, culture, science, and technology.
Columbia Main attraction
Visitors can see programs in the museum’s cutting-edge planetarium and interactive 4D theatre. Other notables include a planetarium, the nation’s first steam train, and an early submarine.
6. Go for a Stroll at Waverly Historic District
Waverly, the first suburb of Columbia, developed into a neighborhood of black professionals, artists, and populists.
Many of the citizens contributed significantly to Columbia and the rest of the state.
When racial discrimination prevented African Americans from pursuing higher education, the district’s concentration of educational institutions—Benedict College and Allen University—served them.
Waverly is now a thriving urban community that honors the past and welcomes the future. It is one of the most visited Columbia SC tourist attractions.
Main Tourist Attractions
The 1885-built Bishop’s Memorial AME Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the tour’s other attractions. Along with Carpenter’s Hall and the Carver Theatre, you’ll also see Daddy Grace’s Manor house, Heidt-Russell House, and the Waverly Five & Dime.
7. Wander at The State’s Largest University – The USC
The University of South Carolina (USC), which has a sizable 359-acre campus nearby lively downtown Columbia, should undeniably be on your vacation itinerary.
Visitor services at the institution are a good place to start and is one of the best places to go in Columbia SC.
The Columbia Museum of Art and other downtown attractions are just a short stroll away. Here you may learn more about the university’s history as well as enjoyable activities to do while exploring.
Our top recommendation is to take a self-guided campus walking tour. You’ll go through the historic “horseshoe,” a park-like environment and the original 1801 campus. It is the place where some of the university’s most significant landmarks, including McCutchen House, are located.
Take a walk through a network of old brick roads and paved trails.
The McKissick Museum, which has a sizable collection of South American cultural relics, is also located in the tourist centre and is well worth a visit.
8. Marvel the Artwork at Columbia Museum of Art
One of the most esteemed organizations of its kind in the Southeast, the Columbia Museum of Art has more than 25 galleries and a global collection spanning 5,000 years of history.
It is one of the best things to do in Columbia SC this weekend.
Papular Tourist Attraction
The Press Collection is a top-notch collection of Baroque period artwork that is well worth a special visit.
The Italian maestro Sandro Botticelli’s Nativity Fresco is also on display. The collection’s most prized piece is View of the Seine by impressionist Claude Monet.
The museum boasts an equally significant collection of American art, which includes portraits by Hiram Powers, statues by Frederic S. Remington, and visual artist Charles Willson Peale.
Also on show are early and mid-century American decorative arts, such as pottery by Victor Toothaker and woodwork by Duncan Phyfe.
9. It’s Kid’s Conquest at Edventure Children’s Museum
You can tell that EdVenture Children’s Museum is a unique, exceptional Columbia attraction you have ever experienced!
Fun adventures are waiting for you here, and both children and adults will enjoy the interactive exhibitions.
The largest child in the world, Eddie, the 40-foot tall effigy welcomes visitors as they enter the main atrium. Children are encouraged to climb over and over his enormous physique and is one of the fun things to do in Columbia with kids.
Wags and Whiskers, a simulated pet care lab where children can learn about grooming and caring for their four-legged pals in plush toy form, is one of the best installations out there.
Marketworks is a creative and entertaining maker space where young inventors work on a variety of projects using cubes, Legoland, and kid-friendly tools.
World of Work demonstrates to children what can be in store for them as they get older and start working.
At Dalmatian Station, they can see an actual fire engine, restock the shelves at the Neighbourhood Market, and operate a tractor.
Children of all ages are entertained at Planet Putt & Play by using indoor miniature golf and arithmetic to complete the challenging course.
10 Take a Tour of Columbia’s Historic Homes
Historic Columbia, a non-profit preservation organization, has meticulously restored three of Columbia’s most historic mansions and offers tours of them. Taking a tour of these historic homes is one of the unique things to do in Columbia SC.
The Robert Mills House and Gardens is a private residence of Robert Mills, the man who designed the Washington Monument in Washington DC. It is built in the classic Gothic style.
In 1961, the house was spared from demolition and reopened as a historical museum. It now houses a sizable collection of antiques and decorative arts furniture, much of which are in the American Federal and French Imperial styles. The gardens, which were added in the 1960s after the renovation, are in the traditional English style.
Right next is the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Garden. Earlier incarnations of this historic home were quite pleasant. Built-in 1818 as a private residence for the wealthy Hampton family, it later served as the Governor’s Mansion and the Union Army Headquarters during the Civil War. Additionally, the residence is a part of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Main Visitor Attraction
In South Carolina, there is only one presidential site—the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
One of the best attractions in Columbia SC, and most drawn to the visitors among the three historic homes is the boyhood refuge of Woodrow Wilson – the 28th president of the United States.
Wilson was known as “Tommy,” and this Italianate-villa mansion is filled with displays, vignettes, and backstories that tell the life and times of this great American.
11. Take a Day Out for Congaree National Park
Native animals and expansive views can be found in many national parks that witness high visitor traffic. But Congaree National Park is excluded.
The park stands with noble Sufism as it awaits discovery.
The distinctive environment of this lush landscape guards an ancient fluvial riverbank so deep and dense that it provided safe haven for slaves from surrounding plantations as they took their first steps toward liberation.
The only National Park in South Carolina covers 26,000 acres, making it the biggest intact area of shallow root hardwood forest still standing in the country.
With one of the highest canopies in the world and rich biodiversity, the park has some of the tallest trees in Eastern North America.
The Hampton Visitors Centre is a fantastic place to start because you can pick up a trail, raft, and maps there.
You can also have a word with a ranger, and learn about the incredible biodiversity of one of the tallest deciduous forests on earth.
The average height of the tree canopy is well over 100 feet.
To make the visit even more enjoyable for the kids, the center features a Junior Ranger Program and other fascinating exhibits.
You may hike out into the hardwoods while keeping your feet dry and clean on the neighboring 2.5-mile Boardwalk route.
The numbers on the marked rails match the descriptions of the park’s environment on your map.
On any of the other paths, you’ll need thick boots and hiking equipment because the lowlands can be damp and muddy.
The park’s Cedar Creek runs through its middle and is a great spot for kayaking. Congaree is one of the best places to visit in Columbia SC.
12. Indulge in the Wartime Tales at South Carolina Military Museum
The South Carolina Military Museum is committed to preserving the history of the South Carolina National Guard and paying tribute to the men and women who served as citizen soldiers for South Carolina and the United States for more than 300 years.
Main Visitors Attraction
A visit to the South Carolina Military Museum is one of the free things to do in Columbia SC.
The Museum covers the tale of the South Carolina militia, its transformation into the National Guard, and its significant role today as a reserve component and force multiplier for the US Army and Air Force.
It has an extensive collection of artifacts, displays, and exhibits.
A timeline of military history is presented in interesting presentations coupled with background information and images.
Self-directed tours of the museum are simple to enjoy, but hour-long guided excursions can also be arranged in advance.
13. Soak into the Show at Koger Centre for the Arts
Since it opened in 1988, the Koger Centre for the Arts is nestled in the premises of the University of South Carolina, has been offering top-notch entertainment to both students and non-students alike.
The Main Tourist Attraction
The USC Dance Department, USC School of Music, including the Symphony Orchestra, and a number of regional arts organizations, including Columbia City Ballet, the South Carolina Philharmonic, and Columbia Classical Ballet, perform in the 2,254-seat theatre.
Additionally, the theatre is pleased to be the home of Broadway In Columbia, which brings the best of the big apple to Columbia. This is one of the best things to do in Columbia SC this weekend.
14. Attend a Game at William – Brice Stadium
If you’re more interested in sports and entertainment than in history and culture, you’ll definitely need to catch a spectacular moment at the enormous Williams-Brice Stadium.
It is the home of the Gamecocks, the University of Columbia’s college football team, and is frequently complimented for its electric atmosphere and entertaining pre-game cookouts.
Main Visitors Attraction
Since 1934, Williams—Brice Stadium has served as a pilgrimage site for Southern sports fans.
Plan ahead if you want to attend a game at this cutting-edge, completely renovated stadium, which is close to the South Carolina State Fairgrounds.
It regularly sells out in advance and draws audiences of up to 80,000 fans on game days. And, it is one of the best attractions in Columbia SC.
Rock and pop concerts are frequently held at the stadium, where legends like U2, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney have performed.
15. Marvel at the Architecture of the Busted Plug Plaza
The largest fire hydrant in the entire globe is currently this remarkable work of art.
It is almost 40 feet (12 meters) tall, made of 675,000 pounds of steel, and is admired for its artistic worth all around the world.
It was created by South Carolina-based artist Blue Sky, whose other well-known works of art include the mural for the Portable Parking Space and the Levitating Dumpster.
The functioning fire hydrant was built by 75 qualified architects, city planners, and engineers and put into service in 1999.
Busted Plug Plaza, one of South Carolina’s most well-known sculptures and pieces of art, is unquestionably one of the best things to do in Columbia SC today.
16. Experience the Magical illusion at Tunnel Vision Mural
Next to the Busted Plug Plaza, the artwork depicts a rocky entrance to a world under a different sun that, if it were genuine. And is wide enough for a huge car to pass through. It is 50 X 75 feet in size and is one of the top things to see in Columbia SC.
The astonishingly realistic artwork, which was painted on a sizable blank wall next to a parking lot in downtown Columbia, was done by South Carolina artist Blue Sky.
He also produced the close-by, equally sizable public artworks Busted Plug Plaza and Neverbust Chain.
The artwork uses the trompe l’oeil technique to provide the appearance of depth, and because of the artist’s continued additions and adjustments over the years. The reality of the picture does not seem to deteriorate but rather gets better.
17. Indulge in the Wandering and Shopping Spree at Main Street
One of the best things to do in Columbia is to explore the recently revamped Main Street neighborhood, which is located in the center of the city. This urban area is full of boutiques, chic stores, restaurants, and historical landmarks, and is one of the great places to go in Columbia SC.
Main Tourist Spots
The Soda City Market and First Thursdays on Main street is just a couple of the numerous events and festivals that take place here all year long.
The area is surrounded by some of the best cultural attractions the city has to offer. Some of them include the South Carolina State House, where you can take a free tour of the government buildings and collections of historical artworks.
The other attractions include the 240,000-square-foot main branch of the Richland Library, which boasts stunning architecture.
The Columbia climate is renowned for being hot, so be sure to visit the Sweet Cream Company to get some relief from the heat. There are 16 types of ice cream available at the locally owned business, which frequently uses locally sourced ingredients.
18. Indulge in the Cycling & Hiking at Three Rivers Greenway
The 12 miles of this evolving regional trail network wind through several towns, including Columbia, and along three distinct rivers, providing an incredible chance for quick excursions away from the hustle and into nature.
The paved trail is the perfect place to go for urban hiking because it is close to facilities like picnic tables, playgrounds, restrooms, and even pubs, and restaurants.
Primary Tourist Destinations
Walking, jogging or biking here is a terrific way to experience the breathtaking riverfront landscape.
Along the route, there are a number of Blue Bike stations that provide a straightforward and practical bike sharing system.
Keep a watch out for wildlife, particularly birds and waterfowl, as the waterways are littered with tiny islands that make excellent hatching habitats. It is one of the best outdoor things to do in Columbia SC.
19. Spend Family Time at the Picturesque Lake Murray
Lake Murray is a massive artificial reservoir that spans 55,000 acres and has 650 miles of shoreline to explore.
It is located about 15 miles northwest of the city. You can take a boat rental to explore the archipelago, lounge on the beach, or have a picnic in one of the many public parks with panoramic water views.
Another popular activity is fishing, where anglers can catch a range of species all year long, including largemouth and woolly buggers.
Main Attraction for Travelers
Greenlanders have plenty of options including paths around the lake for hiking and mountain biking, The lake is famous for a plethora of taverns and eateries.
The lake is known for its public events like the Fourth of July fireworks shows over the water.
Read more – Off-Grid Places for Fourth of July weekend getaways.
20. Spend an Evening at the Serene Finlay Park
Since the early 1900s, Finlay Park has served as the jewel in the crown of Columbia’s public parks system. It is situated in the centre of downtown and provides one of the best and most famous views of the city skyline.
Among the Most Popular Attraction
This 18-acre park features a tranquil strolling path surrounding a small lake, lush greenery, pavilions, a cascade fountain, and a statue of former Columbia mayor Kirkman Finlay, seated on a park bench.
The park is only a short distance from the bustling Main Street neighborhood.
The southwest corner of the park is traversed by the Vista Greenway, a well-liked, kid-friendly regional route that takes visitors along an old railroad track to the nearby Vista town.
On the park’s northern edge, along Laurel Street, there is a panoramic observation site that provides views of both the Governor’s Mansion and the setting sun.
Best Places to Eat in Columbia, South Carolina
The most popular destination for travelers visiting South Carolina is consistently Columbia. Given that it functions as both the county seat and the state capital.
Millions of tourists every year flock to Columbia for its historical landmarks and natural attractions. It is sure to satiate the desires of every traveler.
Food lovers discovered this city to be a fantastic destination for a long-awaited gourmet adventure. You can indulge in some of the most delicious foods from American, Italian, Asian, and even fusion cuisines here.
The delicious cuisine at Columbia’s top restaurants will delight your palate and crave you to visit again and again. Utilize this list to learn more about what they have to offer.
- The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli – This neighborhood bakery, located on Shandon, makes a variety of pastries with a specialty on cinnamon. Try the original vanilla with the black pepper pancetta pine frosting. The Big Max, which includes eggs, cheese, bacon, and whole grain mustard, is another option you might want to consider. The Pepper Jack Steak and Eggs is another fan favorite.
Address – 2617 Devine St, Columbia, SC 29223
- Alodia’s Cucina Italiana – Alodia’s Cucina Italiana, which opened in 2008, draws its culinary inspiration from European cuisine. Traditional Italian cuisine and an old-school atmosphere are two of Alodia’s main draws for customers. Fried shrimp fritti with a cup of charred red pepper and goat cheese soup will tantalize your palate. If you prefer specialty foods or traditional Italian fare, order the Baked Spaghetti.
Location – 2736 N Lake Dr, Columbia, SC 29212
- Real Mexico Restaurant Y Tienda – For locals and visitors to Columbia, this restaurant serves traditional Mexican cuisine. Soft tacos, burritos, and many other traditional Mexican foods are available at the Real Mexico Restaurant. The XXL Jalapeno Quesadilla, which includes roasted chicken, asparagus, and mushrooms, is a must-try for cheese fans.
Add – 2421 Bush River Rd, Columbia, SC 29210
- Bourbon – Visit Bourbon to enjoy the tasty dishes that they have made especially for you. To sample real Louisiana cuisine in Columbia, choose a stew bowl and prawns & beans for the main course.
Location – 1214 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201
Best Places to Stay in Columbia SC
The city of Columbia, South Carolina, makes for a fantastic excursion, offering everything from warplanes and NFL games to state parks, woodlands, and old mansions.
Whether you want to explore Columbia by staying in a historical villa or staying on a budget on the outskirts of the city, choosing the right lodging is essential.
Here is our list of the top hotels, and inns in the area.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Columbia – The Doubletree Columbia offers a superb base for guests seeking Hilton-standard comfort and convenience in equal proportion. it is situated near two major interchanges. With surrounding outdoor attractions including the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Lake Murray, and Saluda Shoals Park, nature lovers will have no shortage of things to do.
Location – 2100 Bush River Rd, Columbia, SC 29210
- The Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel – Another well-known luxury hotel is the Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel. It offers a variety of rooms and suites with elegant furnishings and high ceilings as well as an on-site restaurant and a rooftop lounge.
Address – 1400 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201
- Hotel Trundle – Consider booking a night at the hip Hotel Trundle in the centre of Columbia for a fantastic boutique hotel experience. It offers stylish rooms with minifridges and a fantastic complimentary continental breakfast.
Add – 1224 Taylor St, Columbia, SC 29201
- Marriott Columbia – The Marriott provides a comprehensive, upscale stay with many allusions to the local way of life. Get a hotel with a balcony for a fantastic view of the city, or go exploring on your own. The Marriott places you in the centre of the action, just steps from the Columbia Museum of Art.
Location – 1200 Hampton St, Columbia, SC 29201
Thanks to its friendly people, inspiring natural landscapes, and exciting culture, Columbia is a city unlike any other. From its regal history as the capital of South Carolina to its charming cultural attractions, the city has something for everyone. So what are you waiting for? Start exploring this vibrant city today and live a life of exhilarating adventure!
Things to Do in Columbia, SC – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Columbia, the state’s capital, is home to numerous wonderful attractions, including top-notch museums, parks, and dining options. Explore the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, wander through the lovely Riverfront Park, pay a visit to the South Carolina Military Museum, and also appreciate arts at Columbia Museum of Art.
The capital city of the Palmetto State offers attractions for thrill-seekers and sight-seeing tourists alike. Some of them include whitewater rafting on the Saluda River rapids, planning a trip to the midlands of South Carolina, and more.
The South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum, and Saluda Shoals Park are some of the best family-friendly things to do in Columbia, South Carolina. Prior to your visit, make sure to phone the attractions to confirm the most recent operating hours.