Columbia may be South Carolina’s capital and largest city, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot to have a good time. From exploring historic sites to enjoying the outdoors, there are plenty of cheap and fun things to do in Columbia for visitors on a budget.
If you’re looking for free and affordable activities, here are 25 great options to make the most of your Columbia vacation without breaking the bank.
Take in the History
When visiting Columbia, South Carolina, history buffs are in for a treat. The city is rich in historical landmarks and attractions that offer a glimpse into its past. Here are some must-visit places for those interested in taking in the history:
Visit the South Carolina State House
The South Carolina State House is not only a working government building but also a symbol of the state’s history and culture. Visitors can take guided tours of this iconic building and learn about its architecture, artwork, and significant historical events that have taken place within its walls.
Don’t forget to take a stroll through the beautiful grounds and snap a photo with the famous bronze statue of George Washington.
Tour the South Carolina State Museum
The South Carolina State Museum is the largest museum in the state and offers a wide range of exhibits that showcase the history, art, science, and culture of South Carolina. Visitors can explore artifacts from the state’s past, including Native American pottery, Civil War memorabilia, and even a replica of a 17th-century trading ship.
The museum also features a planetarium and a 4D theater, providing interactive and immersive experiences for visitors of all ages.
Explore Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
While not directly related to history, a visit to Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is a must-do activity in Columbia. This 170-acre zoo and botanical garden is home to over 2,000 animals from around the world and features beautifully landscaped gardens.
As you stroll through the zoo, you’ll come across historical landmarks like the Saluda Factory Interpretive Center, which provides insight into the region’s textile industry history. The zoo also offers educational programs and animal encounters, making it a fun and educational experience for the whole family.
Check Out the University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina, located in the heart of Columbia, has a rich history dating back to its founding in 1801. The campus itself is filled with historic buildings, including the iconic Horseshoe, which is lined with majestic oak trees.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the campus, exploring landmarks like the McKissick Museum, which houses a diverse collection of art and artifacts. If you happen to visit during the fall, make sure to catch a Gamecock football game at Williams-Brice Stadium for an unforgettable college sports experience.
Enjoy the Outdoors
When it comes to enjoying the outdoors in Columbia, South Carolina, there are plenty of affordable and fun activities to choose from. Whether you’re looking to relax, hike, picnic, or bike, this vibrant city has something for everyone.
Relax at Finlay Park
Located in the heart of downtown Columbia, Finlay Park is a beautiful green oasis where you can unwind and enjoy nature. With its lush landscaping, peaceful pond, and scenic walking paths, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Pack a picnic, grab a book, or simply sit back and people-watch. And the best part? It’s completely free!
Hike the Three Rivers Greenway
If you’re a nature enthusiast and love exploring scenic trails, the Three Rivers Greenway is a must-visit. This network of trails spans along the Congaree, Saluda, and Broad Rivers, offering breathtaking views of the water and surrounding wildlife.
Lace up your hiking boots and embark on a memorable adventure through lush forests, marshes, and riverbanks. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning landscapes!
Picnic at Sesquicentennial State Park
For a memorable outdoor dining experience, head to Sesquicentennial State Park. This picturesque park features spacious picnic areas, serene lakes, and miles of hiking trails. Pack a delicious lunch, spread out a blanket, and enjoy a leisurely meal surrounded by nature’s beauty.
Afterward, take a stroll around the park’s scenic trails or rent a paddleboat to explore the tranquil waters.
Bike Along the Columbia Canal
If you’re a cycling enthusiast or simply enjoy leisurely bike rides, the Columbia Canal is the perfect spot for you. This scenic 3.5-mile trail follows the historic Columbia Canal, offering stunning views of the river and surrounding wildlife.
Rent a bike from one of the nearby rental shops and pedal your way along the picturesque trail. It’s a great way to get some exercise while immersing yourself in the city’s natural beauty.
See Local Art and Culture
When visiting Columbia, South Carolina, make sure to immerse yourself in the local art and culture scene. There are plenty of affordable and fun activities that will allow you to appreciate the creativity and talent of the city’s artists.
Browse the Columbia Museum of Art
The Columbia Museum of Art is a must-visit for art enthusiasts. With a diverse collection of over 7,000 works of art, including American, European, and Asian pieces, there is something to captivate every visitor.
From classical paintings to contemporary installations, the museum showcases the rich cultural heritage of the region. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the rotating exhibitions and attend special events and workshops.
Catch a Show at Trustus Theatre
If you’re in the mood for some live entertainment, head over to Trustus Theatre. This local theater company is known for its innovative and thought-provoking productions. From comedies to dramas, their talented actors bring stories to life on stage.
With affordable ticket prices, catching a show at Trustus Theatre won’t break the bank.
Attend a Free Concert
Music lovers will be delighted to know that Columbia hosts numerous free concerts throughout the year. From jazz and blues to rock and pop, there is a genre for everyone to enjoy. Whether it’s an outdoor concert in a park or a performance at a local venue, these events are a great way to experience the city’s vibrant music scene without spending a dime.
Visit the Nickelodeon Theatre
The Nickelodeon Theatre is a beloved independent cinema that showcases a diverse selection of independent, foreign, and classic films. With its cozy atmosphere and affordable ticket prices, it’s the perfect place to catch a movie that you won’t find at mainstream theaters.
The theater also hosts special screenings and events, making it a hub for film enthusiasts in Columbia.
For more information on the Columbia Museum of Art, you can visit https://www.columbiamuseum.org/. To check out the upcoming shows at Trustus Theatre, visit their website at https://trustus.org/. To stay updated on free concerts in Columbia, you can visit https://www.columbiaconcerts.com/.
And to see what’s playing at the Nickelodeon Theatre, visit https://nickelodeon.org/.
Taste Some Treats
When visiting Columbia, South Carolina, be sure to indulge in the local culinary delights. One of the best ways to do this is by sampling the treats offered throughout the city. From craft beers to Southern comfort food, there are plenty of options to satisfy your taste buds.
Sample at River Rat Brewery
For beer enthusiasts, a visit to River Rat Brewery is a must. Located in the heart of Columbia, this local brewery offers a wide selection of craft beers that are sure to please any palate. Whether you prefer a hoppy IPA or a smooth stout, River Rat Brewery has something for everyone.
They even offer brewery tours for those interested in learning more about the brewing process.
Indulge in Some Southern Cooking
When in the South, it’s hard to resist the temptation of indulging in some authentic Southern cooking. Columbia is home to numerous restaurants that serve up classic dishes such as fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.
Some popular spots include Lizard’s Thicket, where you can enjoy a traditional meat and three meal, and Pawleys Front Porch, known for their delicious burgers topped with Southern favorites like pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.
Find Fresh Produce at a Farmers Market
If you’re looking for fresh and locally sourced ingredients, be sure to visit one of Columbia’s farmers markets. These markets offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and artisanal products. One popular market is the Soda City Farmers Market, which takes place every Saturday morning in downtown Columbia.
Here, you can browse through a wide selection of produce, grab a cup of locally roasted coffee, and enjoy live music while you shop.
Grab Dessert at Sweet Cream Company
No meal is complete without a sweet treat to top it off. At Sweet Cream Company, you’ll find a delightful array of homemade ice cream flavors that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. From classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate to unique creations like lavender honey and bourbon pecan, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Don’t forget to try their homemade waffle cones for the ultimate ice cream experience.
More Fun Free Activities
Looking for more free activities to enjoy in Columbia? Here are some great options:
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour
Exploring the city on foot is a fantastic way to discover hidden gems and appreciate the architecture and history of Columbia. Take a self-guided walking tour and visit landmarks such as the South Carolina State House, the Columbia Canal, and the beautiful Historic Columbia neighborhoods.
You can find maps and information about the different walking tours available on the Experience Columbia SC website.
See the Fountains at Boyd Plaza
Located outside the Columbia Museum of Art, Boyd Plaza is home to several stunning fountains that offer a peaceful and serene atmosphere. Take a stroll through the plaza, enjoy the art installations, and relax by the fountains. It’s a great spot for a picnic or to simply unwind and people-watch.
Check Out the Saturday Market
If you’re in Columbia on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Soda City Market. This vibrant market takes place every Saturday on Main Street and features local vendors selling fresh produce, handmade crafts, and delicious food.
It’s a great place to support local businesses and experience the lively atmosphere of the city.
For a fun and adventurous activity, try geocaching in Columbia. Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to locate hidden containers called geocaches. Columbia has numerous geocaches hidden throughout the city, waiting to be discovered.
It’s a great way to explore different areas of the city and engage in a unique outdoor activity.
So, whether you’re interested in history, art, or outdoor adventures, Columbia offers a variety of free activities to enjoy. Take advantage of these options and make the most of your time in this vibrant city.
With its many historic sites, scenic parks, and cultural attractions, Columbia offers an array of fun things to do for free or cheap. So next time you’re visiting South Carolina’s capital city, use this guide to enjoy it affordably.
Whether you want to explore the great outdoors, learn about local history and culture, or simply relax with good food and entertainment, Columbia has you covered without costing a fortune. Have a great trip!