The Top 10 Columbia Attractions

Find fun, adventure and history when visiting South Carolina's state capital

Columbia is home to South Carolina's largest university, the South Carolina State House and plenty of fun things to see and do.


Along the three flowing rivers that twist through the city's core, you can discover the fascinating local history or simply relax by the water. From a variety of zoos to museums and more, you’ll have plenty of options when you visit Columbia.

1. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, South Carolina is one of the top zoos in the country.

Go wild for animal and plant life at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, along the banks of the Saluda River. Let your nose lead you through the 70-acre botanical garden to the well-known rose section. With kids in tow, scurry over to the zoo to hang with your favorite critters from around the world. Your kids won’t be the only ones having fun feeding giraffes and petting kangaroos. Want some insider information? Arrange a special animal adventure to accompany a zookeeper behind the scenes.

2. South Carolina State Museum

The 4-D interactive movie theater at the South Carolina museum is a must-see.

Fascinate the whole family with four floors of interactive exhibits at the South Carolina State Museum. Delve into the deep reaches of space from the comfort of your seat in the digital planetarium or marvel at lasers shooting overhead to the beat of the music. You'll be on the edge of your seat in the museum's 4-D movie theater, where sensory experiences (like scents or breezes) bring to life what you see on the screen.

3. EdVenture Children's Museum

Start children on a path of lifelong learning at the EdVenture, a non-profit educational center.

Explore the inner workings of the human body as you walk through the world's largest “child” at Columbia's EdVenture Children's Museum. You can't miss Eddie sitting on the floor directly across from the museum's entrance—he rises 40 feet into the air. You and the kids can climb up his spine and into his brain, bounce around in his stomach and shimmy through his heart. When you're done, ride a slide out through his intestines. When your own tummies start growling, nibble on kid-friendly grub right in the museum at the Canalfront Cafe on the river-view terrace.

4. Congaree National Park

Get into the great outdoors at Congaree National Park—just a short drive from Columbia, South Carolina.

Hike 35 miles of trails winding among the tallest trees in the eastern United States in Congaree National Park. It's just a 25-minute drive from downtown Columbia, but you can easily make this a day trip. Even so, you’ll only get to see a small portion of the park's 27,000 acres, the largest stand of old-growth bottomland forest in the Southeast. Try not to lose your balance as you look straight up the tree trunks—they rise nearly 17 stories. For a different view of the forest, rent canoes or kayaks from a local livery and head out on the park's paddling trails. Not only will the kids get to burn off some energy, but you might find that perfect spot for a secluded picnic.

5. Riverfront Park

Follow the path of the historic Columbia Canal in scenic Riverfront Park.

Enjoy a sunny afternoon as you stroll along the Congaree River in Riverfront Park. Named one of USA Today's Top 10 picks for the area, the park has lighted, paved pathways for sunset strolls and benches where you can linger for bird- and people-watching. As you meander the pathways, stop and read the self-guided signage that tells about the area's past: The world's first textile factory powered by electricity and the oldest hydroelectric plant in the state once stood here. For a lively time, visit during a summer festival like River Rocks at the park's island amphitheater.

6. Finlay Park

Water in the Finlay Park fountain flows into the lake below at this downtown Columbia park.

Change up your routine with a picnic in downtown Columbia at Finlay Park. Have lunch in the shade near the vast man-made lake or the park's fountain, where waters spill into a mountainside stream that rushes downhill into the lake below. The grassy lawns buzz with activity during summer festivals and music events, but you'll find enough room to spread out in the park's 18 acres. It's also one of the largest fully accessible parks in the country.

6. Woodrow Wilson Family Home

Enjoy the sights and smells of magnolia trees during the early summer months.

If you love touring grand Southern homes, head to 1705 Hampton Street, one of only two homes connected to U.S. presidents in South Carolina. Walk in the footsteps of a young Woodrow Wilson as you tour the painstakingly restored Italian villa—it's precisely the way it looked when he lived there and brims with memorabilia from his life. Tour the home by itself, or combine it with a tour of other historic homes in the area. Don't forget to take a stroll around outside and breathe in the scents of the decorative gardens. For a real sensory treat, visit during early summer when the graceful magnolia trees burst into bloom.

8. South Carolina State House Grounds

Learn more about South Carolina's history by touring the State House in Columbia.

Delve into the very heart of Palmetto State history with a trip to the South Carolina State House. Take a guided tour with a helpful docent or explore on your own, aided by an informative brochure—you'll walk along a sweeping mahogany staircase into a room brimming with historic 19th century furnishings. In front of the State House, take some time to explore the African-American Monument, which recounts the history of African-Americans in South Carolina from the 1500s through modern times. You'll also discover several other statues and memorials tucked around the grounds.

9. Gigantic Fire Hydrants and Tunnel Vision

Looking for something fun and free to do? Set your sights on the cool public art around the city.

For an out-of-the-ordinary side trip, visit two giant works of art along Hampton Street. Don't drive into the optical illusion, Tunnelvision, which looks like a stone tunnel running through the side of the apartment building into a distant sunset scene. The giant artwork has been a local attraction since 1975. Since 1999, people have also been heading to Busted Plug Plaza to see the "World's Largest Fire Hydrant." The statue towers 40 feet into the air, slightly askew as though pushed over. Walk across the street and you'll be able to capture both the plug and the building-sized illusion in a single picture. Better yet, get out your selfie stick and snap a clever family photo.

10. Dreher Shoals Dam and Lake Murray

Enjoy a day at the lake when visiting Columbia, South Carolina in the summer.

If you're in town during the humid summer, take a cue from the locals and go for a refreshing swim in the waters of Lake Murray on the northeast edge of town. Its 650-mile shoreline offers a quiet respite from the city. Find your own little stretch along the south shore at Lake Murray Park's beach. Spread your beach blanket under some trees to prevent sunburned shoulders or picnic under a covered ramada. Take the kids on a history-rich hike across Dreher Shoals Dam just north of the beach—it was the largest earthen dam in the world when it was built in 1918. Walk across and back for a 3.5-mile hike with plenty of scenic photo opportunities.

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