Top 10 Things To Do When In Columbia, South Carolina

things to do in columbia south carolina
| 3 min read

Here’s a fun fact of Columbia: the city had five small brigades in 1816, with each male citizen required to serve. As a sign of how things have progressed, Columbia, of course, has its own fire brigade today and has since grown to become South Carolina’s second largest city, with a population estimate of more than 134,000 people. It is also home to the largest US Army installation for basic combat training: Fort Jackson, which features in our list of 10 things to do when you’re visiting the city of Columbia.

1. Visit your soldier at Fort Jackson

Fort Jackson
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user supercrewboy used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The US Army’s largest basic combat training installation, Fort Jackson plays a major role in ensuring the country’s soldiers are well prepared and well trained. This isn’t a tourist attraction per se, but if you have a soldier in your family who has permission to receive family visits, this will be at the top of your itinerary.

Fort Jackson

Address: 12965 Fort Jackson, New York

Website: Fort Jackson

2. See one of the last antebellum houses

Hampton-Preston Mansion & Gardens
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Historic Columbia used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Hampton-Preston House went through many uses in its time but is today a museum displaying Columbia during its antebellum age, between 1815 to 1861. The 2,000 square meter (20,000 square foot) house contains plenty of personal belongings from the Hampton and Preston families and contains documents detailing the house’s evolution from 1818 to present day.

Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

Address: 1615 Blanding St, 29201 Columbia, SC

Website: Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

3. Enjoy a family day at Riverbanks Zoo

Riverbanks Zoo -South Carolina
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Thief12 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Planning a day out with the family? Riverbanks Zoo is among the top 10 zoos to visit in the US. It has grown remarkably in recent years, with additions like koala bears and a gorilla habitat. The 69-hectare (170-acre) zoo also consists of a zoo and botanical garden, housing more than 2,000 animals, including threatened species like howler monkeys and tree kangaroos.

Riverbanks Zoo

Address: 500 Wildlife Pkwy, 29210 Columbia, SC

Website: Riverbanks Zoo

4. Blend fun and learning for your kids

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Akhenaton06 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Make learning fun for the kids at EdVenture Children’s Museum, the largest children’s museum in the southeast United States. There is a total of eight galleries spanning 8,500 square meters (92,000 square feet) with exhibits like FLIGHT. This educates children on the forces of flights and the basics of aeronautics and flight technology. As part of the learning experience, they will get to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 757 and get a simulated bird’s eye view from the flight deck.

EdVenture Children’s Museum

Address: 211 Gervais St, 29201 Columbia, SC

Website: EdVenture Children’s Museum

5. View centuries of art at the Columbia Museum of Art

Columbia Museum of Art
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Akhenaton06 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

While the kids are off having fun at EdVenture, their parents can also have their own museum day at the Columbia Museum of Art. The exhibits are cycled through every few months that gives repeat visitors something new to look forward to. Highlights here include Claude Monet’s The Seine at Giverny, Dale Chihuly’s chandelier and other ancient Roman works.

Columbia Museum of Art

Address: 1515 Main St, 29201 Columbia, SC

Website: Columbia Museum of Art

6. Watch indies and classic films at The Nickelodeon

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

True film lovers cannot give this place a miss. Founded in 1979 by the University of South Carolina students, the Nickelodeon screens first-run indie films, specially curated series and one-off screenings of community relevant films, often bringing people and film lovers together for discussions before and after the movie. It also hosts the Indie Grits Film Festival, which has been labeled among the 20 coolest film festivals in the world.

The Nickelodeon

Address: 1607 Main St, 29201 Columbia, SC

Website: The Nickelodeon

7. Take the obligatory selfie at the South Carolina State House

SC State House at evening
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user en:Florencebballer used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Okay, so maybe the iconic South Carolina State House is more than just a well-designed architectural beauty to beef up your Instagram stories. There are guided tours of the State House to learn more about the 100-year-old building’s history. Within the grounds, there are several monuments to check out.

South Carolina State House

Address: 1100 Gervais St, 29201 Columbia, SC

Website: South Carolina State House

8. Become one with nature in the Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Will Thomas used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Congaree National Park is known for preserving the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the US and forms one of the highest temperature deciduous forest canopies in the world. There are the usual hiking and biking trails typical of a national park, but one place where it stands out is holding ranger-led hikes to view phenomenon like solar eclipses.

Congaree National Park

Address: 100 National Park Rd, 29061 Hopkins, SC

Website: Congaree National Park

9. Go kayaking

Congaree National Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Runner1928 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Running through the 10,634-hectare (26,276-acre) Congaree National Park is Cedar Creek, where visitors can further explore the park by canoe or kayak. The creek passes through the primeval old-growth forest, which makes for good viewing of wildlife like river otters, deer, wading bird and even alligators. The route is approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles). There are ranger-guided canoe tours, which gives visitors an in-depth look into the park’s wildlife. Other than these tours, visitors are required to bring their own canoe or kayak and accompanying gear.

Congaree National Park

Address: 100 National Park Rd, 29061 Hopkins, SC

Website: Congaree National Park

10. Spot stars and planets at the Melton Memorial Observatory

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Abductive used under CC0

Located at the University of South Carolina, the Melton Memorial Observatory is open to the public on clear Monday nights. Visitors can peek through the telescopes like the Cassegrain to gaze at the moon, stars, planets and star clusters for completely no charge. The observatory is also open during special astronomical events. The university also operates a sky report page online, so visitors can see what’s currently visible in the sky before they make their visit.

Melton Memorial Observatory

Address: 1429 Greene St, 29208 Columbia, SC

Website: Melton Memorial Observatory

A well-balanced city

Columbia SC Finlay Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Klinhphotog used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Full of history, nature, art and family activities, Columbia offers visitors a well-balanced itinerary. It’s also home to one of the United States’ largest military base camps and universities. Whether you’re visiting as a tourist or in town to visit your soldier or child in university, the city offers something for everyone to keep visitors entertained.

Frequently asked questions about best things do do in Columbia, South Carolina

1. What are the top attractions to visit in Columbia?

Some of the most visited attractions in Columbia that you shouldn’t miss are Riverbanks Zoo, Congaree National Park, South Carolina State House, and Columbia Museum of Art.

2. What are the best outdoor activities in Columbia?

There are plenty of outdoor activities you should try while you’re here, including hiking in one of the trails in Congaree National Park, hanging out with many friendly animals at Riverbanks Zoo, and kayaking at Cedar Creek.

3. What are the best day trips from Columbia?

A few of the best day trips you can take from Columbia are Greenville, Parris Island, and Beaufort. And if you have more time, you should also go on a day trip to Camden, Saluda Shoals Park, and Orangeburg.

4. What are the most popular things to do in Columbia with kids?

One of the most popular things to do with kids here in Columbia is exploring the EdVenture Children’s Museum, where you can learn about science and other stuff while having fun.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


Get Trip101 in your inbox

Unsubscribe in one click. See our Privacy Policy for more information on how we use your data

When Ryan isn’t in a plane, he’s in an airport awaiting his next flight. He believes that travel is the cure for terrorism, as much of today’s problems are born of misconceptions, misunderstandings...Read more

 Want to contribute as a Local Expert?
Explore Columbia
Looking for accommodation?
Good things are meant to be shared!