Nestled approximately halfway between world-famous Charleston on the coast and up-and-coming Greenville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina’s capital city is often overlooked as a holiday destination. But Columbia, the first capital named for Christopher Columbus and boasts that it was the first city in America, is bursting with southern charm, rich history, diverse nature and activities, vibrant art community, and a thriving university campus. Here are 11 fun things to do in Columbia SC.
1. Outdoor Art in Columbia SC
One of the most fun things to do is to explore the downtown area and see how many interesting and quirky pieces of art you can find in the alleys, plazas, and on buildings, such as “Tunnel Vision” – the trompe l’oeil (trick the eye) mural.
Some favorite sculptures include “Busted Plug” – the world’s largest (3-story) fire hydrant weighing 675,000 pounds, and the “Neverbust Chain” – linking two large office buildings (without their permission, but now they love it!).
2. Congaree Park
Congaree Park has an old-growth forest which is among the tallest broad-leafed forests in the world, with more 130’ – 160’ tall trees than any other place in Eastern North America. That’s taller than old-growth forests in Japan, the Himalayas, and Europe! Visitors can hike, kayak, canoe, and fish. One of the best features is the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop that winds over the swamp and meanders through the tall trees, fields of wildflowers, and past lakes.
3. Soda City Market
Every Saturday morning, a portion of Main Street is shut down to host the vibrant pedestrian market. Along with the fresh, multi-colored produce, visitors can buy handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and baked goods. Photo ops abound in Soda City Market, including street performers and local photography set-ups and props.
4. Artist Community in Columbia SC
The Vista Guild features some of the most amazing talent in the Midlands, including glasswork, jewelry, painting, metalwork, sculpture, and pottery. The artists have all convened in one centralized community overlooking the Congaree River along Pendleton Street.
The Guild puts on a festive open house once a year called Artista Vista where art lovers can do a gallery-crawl from studio to studio.
What better place for a stroll than along the Congaree River in West Columbia? With the picturesque Gervais Bridge and the cityscape of Columbia as the backdrop, visitors can choose to walk along the wooden boardwalk, or inch closer to nature on the dirt path close to the bank. Along the way are picnic tables, a riverside amphitheater, and a canoe launch bay. At the south end, the Columbia Riverwalk connects with the Cayce Riverwalk for those seeking an extended hike.
6. Historic Mansions
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens was built in 1818 as a private residence. The Antebellum home is one of Columbia’s oldest remaining structures, once serving as a Union Army Headquarters during the Civil War and later as the Governor’s Mansion. The property is open to the public as a historic site, having recently undergone a massive renovation to the building and grounds. The tour explores the lives of enslaved workers and their planter-class owners.
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