Columbia, South Carolina shines when it comes to food, history, and outdoor adventure. Discover the best things to do in our ultimate guide to 2 days in Columbia.
The capital of South Carolina often takes a back seat to Charleston, and that’s too bad because Columbia also has a fascinating history and great food. You can explore Congaree National Park or kayak one of three rivers flowing through the city. Our ultimate guide to 2 days in Columbia gives you a rundown of where you need to go and why.
Cultural Sights During Your 2 Days in Columbia
Columbia has an impressive art scene for a city with a population of 134,000. Not only does it have an exceptional museum of art, but Columbia boasts a professional theater company and ballet. The public art indoors and out rivals any large, heavily-funded city.
The Columbia Museum of Art
This award-winning art museum showcases its permanent collection in themes rather than by genres or timeframe. For example, the Art and Identity gallery displays a Napoleonic-era portrait of two women and a Chinese tomb figure nearby. The Spiritual Beings gallery contains a sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel and four small Buddhist statues. I enjoyed this format since it juxtaposed different styles. Plan to spend up to two hours here.
Tip: Scan the QR code on your brochure for multimedia tours and additional information. Headphones and iPads are available if you need them.
I was surprised by how much public art there is in Columbia. My favorite piece? The Busted Plug. It’s the world’s largest fire hydrant and seems to burst out of the sidewalk on Taylor Street between Marion and Bull streets. But you’ll see murals and sculptures like the Winged Bear or Lovely Rita the Meter Maid throughout the city. If you want to find public art as you explore the city (or learn more about the pieces you encounter during your visit), go to the One Columbia Arts and Culture website for a complete list.
Historical Sights to See During Your 2 Days in Columbia
Columbia has a lot of unexpected history. While other Southern cities focus on the Civil War, Columbia explores the Reconstruction Era from 1865 to 1877, something I knew very little about. The city also has an exceptional museum dedicated to Anne Frank, whose diary brought to life European Jews’ struggles during World War II.
Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
This historic mansion that was built in 1818 is named for Wade Hampton, one of the South’s richest plantation owners, and the Preston family, who subsequently lived here. On a tour, you’ll learn what life was like for the Hamptons and the Prestons and what it looked like for the enslaved people who worked at the property. Upstairs the exhibits show how the mansion later became a boarding home and a school. Tours of this home are offered Wednesday through Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
You can tour or drive by other Reconstruction Era homes in the area. The Robert Mills House sits across the street from the Hampton-Preston Mansion and offers tours Wednesday through Sunday at 3 p.m. The home of social activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins is located nearby and is open for tours on select weekend days. You can also drive by the Mann-Simmons Site, home to the same entrepreneurial African American family for nearly 130 years.
The Museum of the Reconstruction Era
The nation’s first museum dedicated to the Reconstruction Era is located in the home where Woodrow Wilson lived with his family during high school. As its name suggests, it is a museum dedicated to telling the story of what happened in the years following the Civil War. Displays range from how formerly enslaved people got the right to vote to the influence of the Red Shirts and the Ku Klux Klan trial of 1871. Some exhibits are also devoted to Wilson and his family.
Guides give home tours Wednesday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The tours allow ample time for visitors to explore on their own. Tours cost $10, are limited to 10 people, and last 45 to 60 minutes.
If you want to dive deeper into reconstruction history, the city has mapped out its Reconstructed Trail. This begins with The Museum of the Reconstruction Era and includes the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens. It features stops at Benedict College, which opened to people of color in 1870, and the Phoenix Building, where a partisan newspaper was printed. The trail also directs you to four Reconstruction churches, the South Carolina State House, the University of South Carolina, and Randolph Cemetery.
The Anne Frank Center
You probably wouldn’t expect to learn about Anne Frank in Columbia. But The Anne Frank Center, one of three partner sites of the official Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, sits on the University of South Carolina campus. Started by professors, the center tells the story of the young diarist’s life in hiding during World War II. Don’t expect to see artifacts or museum-like exhibits; a guide takes you through multiple rooms with pictures arranged in a timeline fashion.
In some ways, it is a bit like the lectures on campus, with the guide weaving in European history and world events. But I found it fascinating. I loved learning about the Frank family, those who lived with them, and those on the outside who helped them. Go if you are even remotely interested in history, especially World War II history. If you’re not, this may be a little too academic for you.
Outdoor Activities to Enjoy During Your 2 Days in Columbia
I’m not the type of person who plans hikes or kayak trips when I travel. Instead, I gravitate to museums and cultural experiences. But in Columbia, if you don’t get out to explore the great outdoors, you’re missing a big part of what makes this area so incredible.
Congaree National Park
Located 18 miles outside Columbia, this national park preserves the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The easiest way to experience the forest is on the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Trail. Besides this trail, the park has 10 other trails accessible from the trailhead parking lots. Like the Boardwalk Trail, half of these trails are easy. Go soon after the park opens to enjoy the tranquility and bird songs.
In addition to hiking, you can also kayak the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, fish with a South Carolina fishing license, and camp with a permit. Admission into the park is free, so you have no reason to skip this. And trust me, you don’t want to miss strolling under these jaw-droppingly tall trees and looking out over the sometimes-swampy ground.
Three rivers cut through Columbia—the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree—with the first two merging into the third not far from the South Carolina State House. You can enjoy watersports on all three, including whitewater rafting on the lower Saluda River. Or spend time onshore at The Rivers Greenway. The greenway has 12 ½ miles of ADA-accessible trails along the rivers, picnic tables, and overlooks. During my time at The Rivers Greenway, I saw walkers, joggers, and fishermen enjoying the day as a street musician played near the picnic area.
Must-Eat Food During Your 2 Days in Columbia
I usually don’t write about food for destination guides, but I’m making an exception for Columbia. The food here was exceptional, and I’d return for the culinary experience alone.
The Black Rooster touts itself as a “French-ish” restaurant, but it’s not white tablecloth or stuffy. Ask for a table on the rooftop for great city views. I recommend the smokehouse mussels with a French 75 cocktail, but the steak frites and the French onion-style hamburger are also amazing.
Motor Supply Co. Bistro
Housed in a former motor parts warehouse, Motor Supply Co. Bistro consistently ranks among the South’s best restaurants. I can see why. The fresh fish was so good, and my companions gave rave reviews for their bone-in heritage pork chops. The seasonal cocktails were exceptional.
Spotted Salamander Café
I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time at the Spotted Salamander Café. The menu features Southern specialties like deviled eggs, housemade pimento cheese spread, and chicken salad. My favorite? The white chocolate raspberry cake I wish I could have finished. Watch for a new fried chicken option every Friday and the café’s famous burger with housemade bacon jam on Friday.
If you’re hungry for breakfast, Café Strudel is the place to go in Columbia. Try the Hangover Hash Browns made with sharp cheddar cheese, onions, banana peppers, tomato, and sour cream. Follow my lead and go with the oh-so-tasty shrimp and grits. Café Strudel also serves sandwiches, burgers, and bowls for lunch.
Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits
Open for breakfast and lunch, Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits specializes in biscuit sandwiches. Try something simple like the fried chicken or the fried green tomato biscuits, or order one of the daily specials. Of course, you can also get biscuits and gravy. Make sure to get a side. The blue corn grits with pimento cheese were outstanding.
How to Explore Columbia, South Carolina
The easiest way to get to Columbia is by flying to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. But if you are visiting Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, you can visit on a road trip. Charleston is a one-hour and 40-minute drive away from Columbia. Savannah is two hours and 20 minutes away. Whether you fly or drive, you’ll probably want a car to get to Congaree National Park. However, if you’re going to skip the national park, you could rely on rideshares to get around the city.
The weather in Columbia is relatively mild. Average temperatures drop to 37 in January, and the city rarely sees snow. In the summer, the average temperature reaches 95 degrees, but because Columbia is humid, days can feel much hotter than that. Note that Columbia is a college town. You may want to avoid visiting in August when students return to school or on the weekends of home football games.
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Make the Most of Your 2 Days in Columbia
Whenever you visit Columbia, SC, this ultimate guide to 2 days in Columbia should help make your trip memorable and make the most of your time. Check out more fun things to do while you’re in South Carolina. Looking for more quick getaways or things to do on a long layover? Be sure to see our complete list of 2 Days Ultimate Guides.
Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Columbia, South Carolina
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: Valentino Pattaya