Columbia travel guide

Columbia Tourism | Columbia Guide

You're Going to Love Columbia

Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina. Located right in the middle of the state, it makes for a great base when touring in the South and enjoying the stunning surrounding countryside.

Columbia is both a college town and a military center, home to the University of South Carolina and Fort Jackson. This brings a vibrant mix of young people into the city and helps to create an exciting and buzzing atmosphere when night falls.

Columbia is also experiencing something of a renaissance in culture and cuisine. A host of artistic events and an influx of award-winning chefs is transforming the city into a drawcard destination in its own right.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Columbia

1. Its Culture

The Indie Grits Festival in April combines film and documentaries with burlesque, vaudeville, and performance art, to create a cultural experience that is uniquely Columbia. Crafty Feast is an independent craft fair taking place in the fall, with more than 100 vendors showing off local products. On New Year's Eve, the city hosts its Famously Hot New Year party to welcome in the new year. Throughout the year, the Columbia Museum of Art stages high-profile exhibitions from Warhol to Rockwell.

2. The Food

Renowned chefs like Mike Davis at Terra and Wes Fulmer at the Motor Supply Co. Bistro are exploring regional cuisine, while top city restaurants such as the Oak Table and Bourbon feature lots of excellent local produce on their menus.

3. Visit Historic Homes

The Historic Columbia Foundation offers a tour of the city's best architecture, including the antebellum mansion of Robert Mills House and Gardens, Hampton-Preston Mansion, and Woodrow Wilson's childhood house.

4. Enjoy the Local Parks

Three rivers flow through Columbia, and their banks have become home to some wonderful urban parks. The Three Rivers Greenway trails through some of the best parkland in the US.

5. Explore the Surrounding Countryside

Columbia is bordered by some impressive countryside. Lake Murray is a watersports playground just a few miles from the city center. With boating, fishing, sailing, and waterskiing available, there is something for everyone. Congaree National Park is just 20 miles from the city and has 75 species of ancient trees forming a spectacular forest canopy, and also features a stunning boardwalk trail.

1. Its Culture

The Indie Grits Festival in April combines film and documentaries with burlesque, vaudeville, and performance art, to create a cultural experience that is uniquely Columbia. Crafty Feast is an independent craft fair taking place in the fall, with more than 100 vendors showing off local products. On New Year's Eve, the city hosts its Famously Hot New Year party to welcome in the new year. Throughout the year, the Columbia Museum of Art stages high-profile exhibitions from Warhol to Rockwell.

2. The Food

Renowned chefs like Mike Davis at Terra and Wes Fulmer at the Motor Supply Co. Bistro are exploring regional cuisine, while top city restaurants such as the Oak Table and Bourbon feature lots of excellent local produce on their menus.

3. Visit Historic Homes

The Historic Columbia Foundation offers a tour of the city's best architecture, including the antebellum mansion of Robert Mills House and Gardens, Hampton-Preston Mansion, and Woodrow Wilson's childhood house.

4. Enjoy the Local Parks

Three rivers flow through Columbia, and their banks have become home to some wonderful urban parks. The Three Rivers Greenway trails through some of the best parkland in the US.

5. Explore the Surrounding Countryside

Columbia is bordered by some impressive countryside. Lake Murray is a watersports playground just a few miles from the city center. With boating, fishing, sailing, and waterskiing available, there is something for everyone. Congaree National Park is just 20 miles from the city and has 75 species of ancient trees forming a spectacular forest canopy, and also features a stunning boardwalk trail.

What to do in Columbia

1. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Get in Touch with Nature

This nature wonderland is far more than just a zoo - it also features an aquarium and an extensive botanical garden. Over 2,000 animals call this place along the Saluda River home, and they are just waiting for you to come by and say hello. From koalas to kangaroos, Siberian tigers to African elephants, the diversity of species is awe-inspiring. Enjoy the serenity of the gardens for a break from the animals, or try the zip line ride if you are in for a thrill!

2. South Carolina State House: Living Political History

Columbia plays host to the South Carolina General Assembly and Office of the Governor, all situated in this spectacular State House building. For over 150 years these walls have witnessed political history in action - even through the Civil War - and the grandeur of the building mirrors its importance. Greek Revival architecture inspired the great pillars and dome, reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Let the majesty wash over you on a tour of the premises.

3. Columbia Museum of Art: Every Age of Art

One of South Carolina's treasures, the Columbia Museum features a comprehensive selection of American and European art dating from antiquity through modernity. The building was recently renovated to reflect the quality of its collection, now boasting a stunning contemporary atrium with a center piece of glass designed by the world-renowned sculptor Dale Chihuly. Walk the galleries and enjoy the variety of the collection, and keep your eyes out for works by greats like Botticelli and Monet.

4. Williams-Brice Stadium: Home of the Gamecocks

One thing that brings Americans together more than anything else is football. Columbia's pride and glory in the field of sports is this enormous stadium, one of the most popular event locations in the state. While concerts and other programming is worth checking out year round, the true all-American experience is attending a rollicking football game. The vibes in this stadium have been rated some of the best in the country, so you're sure to be in for a treat.

5. South Carolina State Museum: State of the Art

Beyond state memorabilia and historical portraits, this multi-disciplinary museum is full of the most unlikely entertainment. Art, culture, technology and natural history all have a home here, so there truly is something for everybody. Housed in the old Columbia Mills Building on a canal that pre-dates the Civil War, it is a living historical monument. Check out the world-class planetarium, and for kids, the EdVenture Children's Museum.

6. Waterfront Park: Relive History or Simply Relax

As the name suggests, Waterfront Park is right on the Atlantic coast. Small in extent (at around 5 hectares), the park has won numerous awards for its design and architecture, with its palmetto-fringed lawns, vibrant flower gardens and beautiful fountains. It's a wonderful place to relax and enjoy an evening stroll, but be sure to visit during the day as well. The views across to Fort Sumter are superb, allowing you to relive those anxious days before the Civil War erupted as government forces holed up in the fort, waiting to see what Confederate authorities would do.

Riverbanks Zoo and GardenRiverbanks Zoo and Garden
South Carolina State HouseSouth Carolina State House
Williams-Brice StadiumWilliams-Brice Stadium

1. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Get in Touch with Nature

This nature wonderland is far more than just a zoo - it also features an aquarium and an extensive botanical garden. Over 2,000 animals call this place along the Saluda River home, and they are just waiting for you to come by and say hello. From koalas to kangaroos, Siberian tigers to African elephants, the diversity of species is awe-inspiring. Enjoy the serenity of the gardens for a break from the animals, or try the zip line ride if you are in for a thrill!

2. South Carolina State House: Living Political History

Columbia plays host to the South Carolina General Assembly and Office of the Governor, all situated in this spectacular State House building. For over 150 years these walls have witnessed political history in action - even through the Civil War - and the grandeur of the building mirrors its importance. Greek Revival architecture inspired the great pillars and dome, reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Let the majesty wash over you on a tour of the premises.

3. Columbia Museum of Art: Every Age of Art

One of South Carolina's treasures, the Columbia Museum features a comprehensive selection of American and European art dating from antiquity through modernity. The building was recently renovated to reflect the quality of its collection, now boasting a stunning contemporary atrium with a center piece of glass designed by the world-renowned sculptor Dale Chihuly. Walk the galleries and enjoy the variety of the collection, and keep your eyes out for works by greats like Botticelli and Monet.

4. Williams-Brice Stadium: Home of the Gamecocks

One thing that brings Americans together more than anything else is football. Columbia's pride and glory in the field of sports is this enormous stadium, one of the most popular event locations in the state. While concerts and other programming is worth checking out year round, the true all-American experience is attending a rollicking football game. The vibes in this stadium have been rated some of the best in the country, so you're sure to be in for a treat.

5. South Carolina State Museum: State of the Art

Beyond state memorabilia and historical portraits, this multi-disciplinary museum is full of the most unlikely entertainment. Art, culture, technology and natural history all have a home here, so there truly is something for everybody. Housed in the old Columbia Mills Building on a canal that pre-dates the Civil War, it is a living historical monument. Check out the world-class planetarium, and for kids, the EdVenture Children's Museum.

6. Waterfront Park: Relive History or Simply Relax

As the name suggests, Waterfront Park is right on the Atlantic coast. Small in extent (at around 5 hectares), the park has won numerous awards for its design and architecture, with its palmetto-fringed lawns, vibrant flower gardens and beautiful fountains. It's a wonderful place to relax and enjoy an evening stroll, but be sure to visit during the day as well. The views across to Fort Sumter are superb, allowing you to relive those anxious days before the Civil War erupted as government forces holed up in the fort, waiting to see what Confederate authorities would do.

Riverbanks Zoo and GardenRiverbanks Zoo and Garden
South Carolina State HouseSouth Carolina State House
Williams-Brice StadiumWilliams-Brice Stadium

1. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Get in Touch with Nature

This nature wonderland is far more than just a zoo - it also features an aquarium and an extensive botanical garden. Over 2,000 animals call this place along the Saluda River home, and they are just waiting for you to come by and say hello. From koalas to kangaroos, Siberian tigers to African elephants, the diversity of species is awe-inspiring. Enjoy the serenity of the gardens for a break from the animals, or try the zip line ride if you are in for a thrill!

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

2. South Carolina State House: Living Political History

Columbia plays host to the South Carolina General Assembly and Office of the Governor, all situated in this spectacular State House building. For over 150 years these walls have witnessed political history in action - even through the Civil War - and the grandeur of the building mirrors its importance. Greek Revival architecture inspired the great pillars and dome, reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Let the majesty wash over you on a tour of the premises.

South Carolina State House

3. Columbia Museum of Art: Every Age of Art

One of South Carolina's treasures, the Columbia Museum features a comprehensive selection of American and European art dating from antiquity through modernity. The building was recently renovated to reflect the quality of its collection, now boasting a stunning contemporary atrium with a center piece of glass designed by the world-renowned sculptor Dale Chihuly. Walk the galleries and enjoy the variety of the collection, and keep your eyes out for works by greats like Botticelli and Monet.

Williams-Brice Stadium

4. Williams-Brice Stadium: Home of the Gamecocks

One thing that brings Americans together more than anything else is football. Columbia's pride and glory in the field of sports is this enormous stadium, one of the most popular event locations in the state. While concerts and other programming is worth checking out year round, the true all-American experience is attending a rollicking football game. The vibes in this stadium have been rated some of the best in the country, so you're sure to be in for a treat.

5. South Carolina State Museum: State of the Art

Beyond state memorabilia and historical portraits, this multi-disciplinary museum is full of the most unlikely entertainment. Art, culture, technology and natural history all have a home here, so there truly is something for everybody. Housed in the old Columbia Mills Building on a canal that pre-dates the Civil War, it is a living historical monument. Check out the world-class planetarium, and for kids, the EdVenture Children's Museum.

6. Waterfront Park: Relive History or Simply Relax

As the name suggests, Waterfront Park is right on the Atlantic coast. Small in extent (at around 5 hectares), the park has won numerous awards for its design and architecture, with its palmetto-fringed lawns, vibrant flower gardens and beautiful fountains. It's a wonderful place to relax and enjoy an evening stroll, but be sure to visit during the day as well. The views across to Fort Sumter are superb, allowing you to relive those anxious days before the Civil War erupted as government forces holed up in the fort, waiting to see what Confederate authorities would do.

Activities & attractions in Columbia

Where to Eat in Columbia

Blue Cactus Cafe on Greene Street is an enjoyable budget eatery serving up a cosmopolitan blend of Tex-Mex and Korean dishes. Look out for their range of hot sauces. Dishes start well under $10. Yesterdays on Devine Street serves American and Southern fare. It has a good atmosphere and entrees from $10. Mr. Friendly's on Greene Street is a local institution, where people tend to dress up to enjoy a dinner of excellent Southern cuisine. Entrees of mostly meat dishes (with some seafood options) cost around $20.

When to visit Columbia

Columbia in December
Estimated hotel price
$99
1 night at 3-star hotel
Columbia in December
Estimated hotel price
$99
1 night at 3-star hotel

Columbia can get hot and wet in summer, with temperatures in July and August topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 5.5 inches of rain. Winter temperatures fall to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and it's still quite wet. Spring and fall are perhaps best, with warm temperatures, lower rainfall, and some great cultural events.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Columbia

Plane

Columbia's major airport is Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), which is just 7.5 miles to the southwest of downtown. The airport has direct flights to a number of US cities, including New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The number 28 Comet Bus will take you downtown in around 30 minutes, for a single fare of $1.50. Taxis charge a flat rate of $49.

Train

Columbia has an Amtrak station on Pulaski Street. The city is on Silver Star line, and there are trains from Miami to New York. A single ticket for the 14 hour 30 minute journey from New York will cost around $128.

Car

Columbia is at the center of a good highway network and is easily reached by I-77 from the north, I-20 from the west, I-26 from the south, and I-95 from the east. US Highway 1 also passes through the city.

Bus

Greyhound runs services to Columbia from a number of US cities, and the station is Buckner Road. A single fare from New York will cost around $130, and the ride takes 17 hours.

Plane

Columbia's major airport is Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), which is just 7.5 miles to the southwest of downtown. The airport has direct flights to a number of US cities, including New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The number 28 Comet Bus will take you downtown in around 30 minutes, for a single fare of $1.50. Taxis charge a flat rate of $49.

Train

Columbia has an Amtrak station on Pulaski Street. The city is on Silver Star line, and there are trains from Miami to New York. A single ticket for the 14 hour 30 minute journey from New York will cost around $128.

Car

Columbia is at the center of a good highway network and is easily reached by I-77 from the north, I-20 from the west, I-26 from the south, and I-95 from the east. US Highway 1 also passes through the city.

Bus

Greyhound runs services to Columbia from a number of US cities, and the station is Buckner Road. A single fare from New York will cost around $130, and the ride takes 17 hours.

Airlines serving Columbia

Lufthansa
Good (4,555 reviews)
KLM
Good (844 reviews)
SWISS
Good (908 reviews)
British Airways
Good (4,348 reviews)
Delta
Good (4,571 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (2,274 reviews)
Air France
Good (966 reviews)
Iberia
Good (1,537 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (480 reviews)
United Airlines
Good (4,898 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (2,102 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (2,474 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (5,616 reviews)
Brussels Airlines
Good (220 reviews)
Finnair
Good (878 reviews)
Scandinavian Airlines
Good (821 reviews)
TAP AIR PORTUGAL
Good (1,135 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Excellent (907 reviews)
Etihad Airways
Good (826 reviews)
Alaska Airlines
Excellent (5,379 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in Columbia

The Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel is located in an impressive 1930s high-rise building. It has a good location and a modern interior. For something a little different, try the Inn at USC Wyndham Garden on the university campus. It's close to some good restaurants and bars, and has elegant rooms. Chestnut Cottage Bed and Breakfast has comfortable, characterful rooms with original antiques and individual design.

Popular Neighborhoods in Columbia

Five Points - this is the city's original village neighborhood, with a friendly atmosphere, lots of local shopping and eateries. There are some funky bars and a slower pace of life than the downtown area.

Shandon/Devine Street - Shandon is one of the city's oldest residential areas, just to the north of Five Points. The area around Devine Street is particularly attractive with great local stores selling everything from fashion to craft ales and artisan olive oils. Devine Street also has some excellent eateries, such as Burger Tavern 77 and Il Giorgione Pizzeria and Wine Bar.

Irmo - Irmo is an attractive suburb just 10 miles from Columbia's downtown. It is situated on the shores of Lake Murray and is a great place from which to explore the surrounding countryside and enjoy a laid-back atmosphere.

Five Points - this is the city's original village neighborhood, with a friendly atmosphere, lots of local shopping and eateries. There are some funky bars and a slower pace of life than the downtown area.
Shandon/Devine Street - Shandon is one of the city's oldest residential areas, just to the north of Five Points. The area around Devine Street is particularly attractive with great local stores selling everything from fashion to craft ales and artisan olive oils. Devine Street also has some excellent eateries, such as Burger Tavern 77 and Il Giorgione Pizzeria and Wine Bar.
Irmo - Irmo is an attractive suburb just 10 miles from Columbia's downtown. It is situated on the shores of Lake Murray and is a great place from which to explore the surrounding countryside and enjoy a laid-back atmosphere.

Where to stay in popular areas of Columbia

Most booked hotels in Columbia

Graduate Columbia, S.C.
4 stars
Excellent (9.1, 630 reviews)
$149+
TownePlace Suites By Marriott Columbia West/Lexington
3 stars
Excellent (9.1, 173 reviews)
$110+
Cambria Hotel Columbia Downtown, The Vista
3 stars
Excellent (9, 946 reviews)
$142+
Hampton Inn Columbia-I-26 Harbison Blvd
3 stars
Excellent (8.7, 847 reviews)
$107+
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson Columbia Airport
3 stars
Good (7.8, 654 reviews)
$112+
Hyatt Place Columbia Harbison
3 stars
Good (7.6, 1466 reviews)
$98+

How to Get Around Columbia

Public Transportation

The COMET is an excellent local bus service, with services covering most of the city. The network is extensive and growing, and single fares are from $1.50.

Taxi

Taxis in Columbia are common and widely used to get around town. You will pay $2.00 for the initial drop charge and then $2.50 per mile.

Car

Travelling by car is still the most popular way to get around Columbia. Car rental is relatively cheap, from around $20 per day, and you'll find Enterprise outlets in town.

Public Transportation

The COMET is an excellent local bus service, with services covering most of the city. The network is extensive and growing, and single fares are from $1.50.

Taxi

Taxis in Columbia are common and widely used to get around town. You will pay $2.00 for the initial drop charge and then $2.50 per mile.

Car

Travelling by car is still the most popular way to get around Columbia. Car rental is relatively cheap, from around $20 per day, and you'll find Enterprise outlets in town.

The Cost of Living in Columbia

Shopping Streets

The Columbiana Centre is Columbia's biggest shopping mall and has major stores like Belk, Dillard's, JCPenney, and Sears. Richland Mall is a more upscale shopping center and is good for fashion. Dutch Square Center is a better bet for bargain hunters, while Five Points has some good local shopping, including excellent book and music stores.

Groceries and Other

The price of a quart of regular milk in Columbia is around $1.02. A loaf of white bread will cost $2.32 and a dozen eggs are priced at around $2.85. Publix Super Markets on Trenholm Plaza and Gervais Place are good for organic produce, and Whole Foods Market at Cross Hill Market specializes in natural and organic foods. The city also has Trader Joe's, Aldi, and Bi-Lo.

Cheap meal
$11.00
A pair of jeans
$40.67
Single public transport ticket
$1.50
Cappuccino
$3.85