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Discover Columbia, SC: The Ultimate 2023 Travel Guide

Columbia, South Carolina, USA at the State House

By Greenville Post

Columbia, South Carolina’s vibrant capital city, is a history, culture, and natural beauty treasure trove. This comprehensive travel guide will help you explore the city’s top attractions, experience the great outdoors, savor delicious local cuisine, and find the perfect place to stay while making the most of your trip to this charming Southern destination.

Best Time to Visit Columbia, SC

Columbia enjoys a mild climate with four distinct seasons. Summers can be hot and humid, while winters are relatively mild but sometimes chilly. The city is most popular during spring and fall when temperatures are comfortable for outdoor activities.

Several major events and festivals take place throughout the year, such as the Carolina Cup in March and the South Carolina State Fair in October. Time your visit to coincide with one of these events for a unique experience.

Top Attractions

South Carolina State House

The South Carolina State House is a must-visit historic site located in the heart of downtown. Take a guided tour to learn about its rich history and admire its stunning architecture. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

This award-winning zoo and botanical garden is home to over 2,000 animals and countless plant species. A perfect destination for families, the zoo also features interactive exhibits and a zip line for added adventure. https://www.riverbanks.org/

EdVenture Children’s Museum

With engaging exhibits and hands-on activities, EdVenture is the perfect place to inspire young minds. The museum focuses on science, art, and technology, making it an ideal destination for children of all ages. https://www.edventure.org/

Columbia Museum of Art

This world-class museum houses an impressive European and American art collection, with works by renowned artists such as Monet and Botticelli. The museum also hosts various special events and programs throughout the year. https://www.columbiamuseum.org/

Congaree National Park

Explore this unique floodplain forest with towering trees and diverse wildlife. The park offers hiking trails, canoeing opportunities, and ranger-led programs for a memorable outdoor experience.

South Carolina State Museum

Discover South Carolina’s history, art, natural history, and science through engaging exhibits at this comprehensive museum. Don’t miss the observatory and the 4D theater for an immersive experience.

Historic Columbia Speedway

Step back in time at this historic speedway, which has hosted races since 1940. The site now serves as a venue for concerts, festivals, and other events throughout the year.

The Vista

This lively arts and entertainment district is a hub for dining, shopping, and nightlife. Stroll through the area to discover art galleries, unique shops, and a variety of restaurants and bars.

Columbia, South Carolina, USA at Finlay Park
Columbia, South Carolina, USA at Finlay Park

Outdoor Activities

Hiking trails

From easy nature walks to challenging hikes, Columbia offers a variety of trails for all skill levels. Popular options include the Harbison State Forest and Sesquicentennial State Park.

Kayaking and canoeing

The Congaree, Saluda, and Broad rivers provide excellent opportunities for kayaking and canoeing. Local outfitters offer guided tours and equipment rentals for a fun day on the water.

Bike trails

Explore Columbia’s scenic bike trails, such as the Three Rivers Greenway and the Palmetto Trail. Bike rentals are available throughout the city.

Parks and recreation areas

Columbia boasts numerous parks and recreation areas, including Finlay Park, Memorial Park, and Saluda Shoals Park, where visitors can enjoy picnicking fishing, and sports.

Food and Drinks

Local cuisine

Savor Southern classics like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and barbecue while in Columbia. Take advantage of the iconic pimento cheese, a local favorite found in sandwiches and appetizers across the city.

Best Restaurants in Columbia, SC

Columbia’s food scene has something for everyone, from casual eateries to fine dining. Some popular choices include Motor Supply Company Bistro, The Gourmet Shop, and The War Mouth for Southern-inspired cuisine.

Bars and nightlife

The Vista and Five Points districts are the city’s hotspots for nightlife. Enjoy craft cocktails at The Whig, local sample brews at Hunter-Gatherer Brewery, or dance the night away at Social Bar & Lounge.

Breweries and distilleries

Discover Columbia’s thriving craft beer and spirits scene by visiting local breweries like River Rat Brewery and Columbia Craft Brewing Company or touring distilleries like Crouch Distilling and Copper Horse Distilling.

Accommodations

Budget options

Budget travelers can find affordable accommodations at chain hotels like the Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Best Western.

Mid-range hotels

For a more upscale experience without breaking the bank, consider Aloft Columbia Downtown, Hotel Trundle, or the Courtyard by Marriott.

Luxury stays

Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at The Inn at USC, a boutique hotel with elegant rooms and top-notch amenities, or the Graduate Columbia, which offers chic accommodations and a rooftop bar.

Transportation

Getting to Columbia

Columbia is easily accessible by air, with the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) as the city’s primary gateway. Alternatively, visitors can arrive by car via Interstate 77, 26, or 20, or by train through Amtrak’s Silver Service.

Public transportation

The COMET (Central Midlands Transit) bus system provides public transportation within Columbia, with routes covering most of the city’s attractions. Fares are affordable, and schedules can be found on their website.

Car rentals and taxis

Car rentals are available at the airport and throughout the city for those who prefer the flexibility of driving. Taxis and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are also widely available.

Walking and biking

Columbia is a walkable city with many attractions within easy reach of one another. The city also offers bike-sharing programs, such as Blue Bike SC, for a convenient and eco-friendly way to explore.

Tips and Tricks for an Unforgettable Experience

Safety Tips

As with any urban destination, exercise caution, especially when walking at night. Keep your belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.

Saving money

Visit attractions on their free admission days, take advantage of happy hour deals at restaurants and bars, and consider purchasing a Columbia SC Insider Pass for discounts on various attractions and experiences.

Best photo spots

Capture stunning shots at the South Carolina State House, Riverfront Park, or the picturesque Horseshoe on the University of South Carolina campus.

Shopping and souvenirs

Bring home unique finds from local boutiques, such as Uptown Gifts or the Mast General Store, or pick up South Carolina-themed souvenirs at Soda City Market, a lively street market held every Saturday.

Columbia, SC, offers travelers a diverse range of experiences, from history buffs to foodies and nature enthusiasts. With its array of attractions, outdoor activities, and Southern charm, a visit to this hidden gem is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.

FAQ

What are the must-visit attractions in Columbia, SC?

Must-visit attractions in Columbia, SC, include the South Carolina State House, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Columbia Museum of Art, Congaree National Park, South Carolina State Museum, Historic Columbia Speedway, and The Vista arts and entertainment district.

What is the best time of the year to travel to Columbia, SC?

The best time of the year to travel to Columbia, SC, is during spring and fall when temperatures are comfortable for outdoor activities, and the city hosts major events and festivals.

Which outdoor activities are recommended in Columbia, SC?

Recommended outdoor activities in Columbia, SC, include hiking on various trails, kayaking and canoeing in the rivers, biking on scenic trails, and exploring numerous parks and recreation areas.

What are some popular local dishes in Columbia, SC?

Popular local dishes in Columbia, SC, include shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, barbecue, and pimento cheese.

Can you suggest accommodations in Columbia, SC for different budgets?

Budget accommodations in Columbia, SC, include chain hotels like Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Best Western. Mid-range hotels include Aloft Columbia Downtown, Hotel Trundle, and the Courtyard by Marriott. For luxury stays, consider The Inn at USC or the Graduate Columbia.

What transportation options are available in Columbia, SC?

Transportation options in Columbia, SC, include the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Interstate highways, Amtrak’s Silver Service, the COMET bus system, car rentals, taxis, rideshare services, walking, and biking.

How can I make the most of my trip to Columbia, SC?

To make the most of your trip to Columbia, SC, plan your visit during a major event or festival, explore the city’s top attractions, engage in outdoor activities, sample local cuisine, and take advantage of discounts and free admission days.

How far is the beach from Columbia SC? What is Columbia South Carolina famous for?

The closest beach to Columbia, SC, is approximately 130 miles away, and it takes about 2.5 hours to drive to the coast.

Is Columbia SC worth visiting? What is the best place to live in Columbia SC?

Yes, Columbia, SC, is worth visiting for its historical sites, museums, outdoor activities, vibrant food scene, and unique attractions.

Does Columbia SC have a downtown?

Yes, Columbia, SC, has a downtown area that includes the central business district, historic sites, museums, and The Vista arts and entertainment district.

What is the best place to live in Columbia SC?

The best place to live in Columbia, SC, depends on your personal preferences and needs. Some popular neighborhoods include Forest Acres, Shandon, and Rosewood, each with their own unique character and amenities.

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