11 Best Free Things To Do In Columbia, South Carolina 

For a tourist, Columbia, South Carolina, offers a captivating blend of history, cultural richness, and pleasant weather, making it an alluring destination.

Columbia’s journey from its founding in 1786 to its present-day status as the capital city of South Carolina is a testament to its rich history. It played a pivotal role in the Civil War and is home to historic sites like the South Carolina State House, where visitors can explore its storied past.

There is an array of attractive free things to do in Columbia, SC. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a family favorite, while the Columbia Museum of Art showcases artistic treasures. 

Just outside the city, the Congaree National Park offers pristine wilderness and the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States.

However, if you’re a weather enthusiast, Columbia enjoys a favorable climate, with mild winters and warm summers. The ideal and perfect time to visit is spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). Spring blooms with colorful flowers and pleasant temperatures, while fall offers a symphony of foliage colors.

To enjoy Columbia to the fullest, plan your visit in the spring, particularly in April, when the weather is ideal for outdoor activities, and the city’s gardens are in full bloom. 

Fall is equally enticing, with September and October offering comfortable temperatures for exploring historic sites and natural wonders.

Isn’t it attractive that Columbia beckons tourists with its captivating history, diverse attractions, and delightful weather in spring and fall? So whether you’re interested in culture, nature, or simply soaking up the city’s ambiance, Columbia should be your next spot!

1) Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden was established in Columbia, South Carolina 1974. It spans 170 acres and houses over 2,000 animals from around the world. The zoo is renowned for its conservation efforts and educational programs. 

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

It features various themed exhibits, including African Plains, a koala habitat, and a vibrant botanical garden. Riverbanks have played a pivotal role in breeding endangered species like the Amur leopard and Komodo dragon. 

It offers engaging experiences for visitors, with attractions like a zip line and a water park. This beloved institution continues to inspire wildlife conservation and environmental stewardship.

Do you want to get swayed by exciting free things to do in Columbia, SC? Come and explore diverse habitats like the African Plains, a lush botanical garden, and an Australian Walkabout. Kids can enjoy a splash in the Waterfall Junction, while adventure-seekers can zip across the Saluda River. 

Take advantage of the Koala Knockabout exhibit or the Birdhouse at Riverbanks. For convenience, there are multiple dining options and gift shops. Educational programs, wildlife conservation initiatives, and behind-the-scenes tours provide enriching experiences. 

Whether observing exotic animals, strolling through the gardens, or enjoying thrilling attractions, Riverbanks promises a day of excitement and learning.


500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210, United States

2) Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park is a lush, biodiverse wilderness. Established in 2003, it protects one of the U.S.’s largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forests. The Congaree River meanders through this floodplain, nurturing a rich ecosystem with diverse flora and fauna, including champion-sized trees. 

Congaree National Park

Visitors can explore via boardwalks and trails, witnessing wildlife like deer, otters, and countless bird species. The park offers educational programs and camping options, making it a hub for nature enthusiasts and researchers. 

Its history includes Native American habitation and logging history before its preservation as a national treasure. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center welcomes guests with informative exhibits with many free things to do in Columbia, SC. 

Extensive boardwalks and hiking trails provide nature exploration and bird-watching opportunities, with guided ranger programs available. Paddling along the Congaree River offers a unique perspective, and camping permits are available for backcountry camping. 

Fishing is allowed, and stargazing in the designated Dark Sky area is mesmerizing. The park’s biodiversity ensures exceptional wildlife sightings, including fireflies that light up the forest in late spring. It’s a haven for photographers, hikers, and anyone seeking a serene, nature-filled adventure.


South Carolina, United States

3) South Carolina State House

The South Carolina State House in Columbia is a historic building completed in 1907. Designed by architect Frank P. Milburn, it boasts neoclassical architecture with a copper dome. Notably, the Confederate flag flew atop the dome until 2015. 

South Carolina State House

The State House houses the South Carolina General Assembly and the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. Its interior showcases ornate decor, including impressive murals and stained glass. 

The grounds feature monuments dedicated to South Carolina’s role in various wars and historical events. The State House symbolizes South Carolina’s rich history and the center of its government.

The South Carolina State House offers a range of free things to do in Columbia, SC. Visitors can explore the stunning architecture, including the iconic copper dome and ornate interiors. The State House also offers guided tours, providing insights into its rich history and government functions.

Surrounding the State House are beautifully landscaped grounds with statues and monuments commemorating South Carolina’s history, making it a peaceful place for a stroll or a picnic. 

Nearby, you’ll find popular attractions like the South Carolina State Museum, the EdVenture Children’s Museum, and the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden.

Columbia’s downtown district, just a short walk away, offers diverse dining options, shopping, and cultural experiences; visiting this place is a gateway to exploring the city’s vibrant heart.


1100 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29208, United States

4) Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

The Columbia Canal, completed in 1824, powered Columbia’s early industry and later served as a water source and transportation route. Riverfront Park, established in 1983, encompasses this historic canal. 

Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

The park features scenic trails, gardens, and outdoor free things to do in Columbia, SC, along the Congaree River. It’s a hub for cultural events and recreation, offering a picturesque backdrop for concerts and festivals. 

Notably, in 2015, heavy rainfall caused a breach in the canal, resulting in significant flooding. Reconstruction efforts followed, revitalizing this iconic waterway. 

You can explore scenic trails and lush gardens, ideal for strolls or picnics. The riverfront location provides opportunities for fishing and kayaking. 

The park features a picturesque waterfall and the historic Pump House, showcasing the city’s industrial past. For history enthusiasts, interpretive signage offers insights into the canal’s significance.

Additionally, the park hosts numerous events, from concerts and art exhibitions to outdoor yoga sessions. 

It’s a favored spot for birdwatching, with a diverse avian population. With its blend of nature, history, and recreation, Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park captivate visitors of all interests.


312 Laurel St, Columbia, SC 29201, United States

5) Finlay Park

Finlay Park is a picturesque urban park spanning 18 acres. Established in 1854, it was initially a site for a nursery, then a fairground, before evolving into a public park in 1904. 

Finlay Park

The park features many free things to do in Columbia, SC, including a lake, walking paths, gardens, and playgrounds, providing recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike. 

Its centerpiece is a cascading waterfall and a beautiful fountain. Hosting cultural events and concerts, it serves as a vibrant community hub. Finlay Park underwent renovations in the 1990s to enhance its facilities. Today, it is a cherished green space, offering tranquility amidst the city’s bustle.

Stroll along serene walking paths, explore vibrant gardens, or unwind by the picturesque lake. The iconic cascading waterfall and fountain create a soothing atmosphere. Picnic areas are perfect for family gatherings, and there’s a playground for children to frolic. 

Fitness enthusiasts can use the exercise equipment, while outdoor enthusiasts can rent pedal boats for a leisurely lake ride. The park frequently hosts concerts, festivals, and cultural events, ensuring there’s always something happening.

Its lush greenery and vibrant ambiance make Finlay Park an inviting oasis for relaxation and recreation in Columbia.


930 Laurel St, Columbia, SC 29201, United States

6) Sesquicentennial State Park

Sesquicentennial State Park in South Carolina was established in 1937 as a New Deal project during the Great Depression. It spans 1,400 acres and offers various recreational opportunities and free things to do in Columbia, SC, including hiking, picnicking, and fishing in its 30-acre lake. 

Sesquicentennial State Park

The park’s name commemorates the 150th anniversary of the United States. Visitors can explore its diverse ecosystems, featuring pine forests and wetlands, while enjoying playgrounds and camping facilities. 

Sesquicentennial State Park provides a serene escape and educational program, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and history buffs seeking a glimpse into its New Deal-era origins.

Explore 1,400 acres of natural beauty through hiking trails that wind through pine forests and wetlands, providing an opportunity for birdwatching and wildlife observation. Enjoy picnicking by the 30-acre lake, or try your luck at fishing. 

For overnight stays, the park offers campsites and a campground where you can plan a night stay with your companions under the open sky. 

Little ones can frolic in the playground, while the whole family can engage in educational programs and nature activities. With its rich history dating back to the New Deal era, Sesquicentennial State Park blends natural wonders with a touch of American history for a truly unique experience.


9564 Two Notch Rd, Columbia, SC 29223, United States

7) Columbia Museum of Art (Free on Sundays)

The Columbia Museum of Art was constructed in 1950. It boasts a diverse collection of American, European, and Asian art spanning over five centuries, including works by Botticelli, Monet, and Warhol. 

Columbia Museum of Art (Free on Sundays)

The museum has played a vital role in fostering cultural appreciation in the region, offering educational programs and exhibitions. Its facility, designed by renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern, features over 20 galleries, a vibrant community art studio, and a beautiful sculpture garden. 

As a cultural hub, the Columbia Museum of Art continues to enrich the community through artistic exploration and engagement.

The Columbia Museum of Art offers many facilities and free things to do in Columbia, SC, for visitors to enjoy. You can explore over 20 diverse galleries showcasing an extensive art collection, from classical masterpieces to contemporary works. 

Immerse yourself in creativity at the community art studio, where hands-on art activities await. The stunning sculpture garden provides a tranquil, relaxing oasis amid captivating outdoor art installations. 

Engage in enriching programs, including art classes, lectures, and workshops. The museum hosts exciting events, like exhibition openings and cultural festivals, making each visit unique. 

Whether you’re a seasoned art enthusiast or a casual observer, the museum promises an inspiring and enjoyable experience to everyone. 


1515 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201, United States

8) Lake Murray Dam

Lake Murray Dam was constructed in the late 1920s as part of the New Deal’s Public Works Administration. Completed in 1930, it impounds the Saluda River, creating Lake Murray, one of the state’s largest reservoirs. 

Lake Murray Dam

The dam’s primary purpose is flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and water supply. At 1.7 miles long and 208 feet high, it’s an impressive feat of engineering. 

The lake and dam also provide recreational opportunities and outdoor free things to do in Columbia, SC, including boating and fishing. Lake Murray Dam is crucial in the region’s water management, energy production, and outdoor enjoyment.

Visitors can indulge in boating, water sports, and fishing, with the lake teeming with bass, catfish, and more. Picnic areas and campgrounds provide excellent opportunities for outdoor gatherings and camping under the stars. 

The scenic shoreline boasts hiking trails and birdwatching spots, perfect for nature enthusiasts. The Dreher Island State Park, adjacent to the lake, also offers additional recreational options to the nearby visitors. 

The Lake Murray Dam also provides a beautiful backdrop for photography and strolls for people having special occasions. With its diverse range of activities, Lake Murray is a haven for outdoor adventure and relaxation; you shouldn’t miss out.


Saluda Dam, Columbia, SC 29212, United States 

9) Five Points Historic District

The Five Points Historic District in Columbia, South Carolina, is a vibrant neighborhood with a rich history. Established in the early 20th century, it became a hub for commerce and culture. Its name derives from the five main streets converging at a central hub. 

Five Points Historic District

Over the years, it evolved into a diverse area known for its eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and nightlife. The district has preserved its historic charm through architectural conservation efforts, showcasing beautiful homes and buildings from the past. 

Today, it remains a beloved destination, blending history, entertainment, and community spirit.

However, The Five Points Historic District in Columbia offers many free things to do in Columbia, SC, for residents and visitors alike. You’ll find a vibrant mix of locally owned boutiques, art galleries, and charming cafes. 

Dining options range from casual to upscale, serving diverse cuisines to satisfy your hunger. Nightlife enthusiasts can explore bars and live music venues that come alive after dark and have infinite wild fun. 

For recreation, nearby parks provide green spaces for relaxation and outdoor activities. The University of South Carolina’s campus is just a stone’s throw away, featuring cultural events and sports games. 

The district hosts festivals, art shows, and cultural celebrations throughout the year, adding to its lively atmosphere. Whether you’re into shopping, dining, or cultural experiences, Five Points has something for everyone to enjoy.


532 Congaree Avenue Columbia, SC 29205, United States 

10) Robert Mills House and Gardens

The Robert Mills House and Gardens, located in Columbia, South Carolina, is a historic site showcasing the works of Robert Mills, America’s first native-born architect. 

Robert Mills House and Gardens

Built between 1823 and 1826, it is a National Historic Landmark. The house, an example of neoclassical architecture, is known for its distinctive architectural elements, including a monumental entrance. 

It served as a residence for notable South Carolinians. The surrounding gardens feature period-appropriate landscaping. Today, it’s a museum offering insights into 19th-century life and architectural innovation, offering guided tours and educational programs, and preserving a significant piece of South Carolina’s architectural heritage.

Want to have a touch of free things to do in Columbia, SC? Explore the meticulously restored neoclassical mansion, delving into 19th-century history through guided tours. 

Stroll through lush, well-maintained gardens, ideal for peaceful walks and picnics. The site also hosts engaging events, such as cultural festivals and art exhibitions, while the visitor center provides educational resources and a gift shop to buy souvenirs. 

If you’re a photophobic person, the location is perfect for photography enthusiasts. Additionally, the site is known for hosting garden weddings and special events. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or seeking a picturesque venue, this historic gem is all set to serve you!


1616 Blanding St, Columbia, SC 29201, United States

11) Harbison State Forest

Harbison State Forest in South Carolina boasts a rich history and natural beauty. Established in 1934, it was originally a Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the Great Depression. Today, the forest spans 2,177 acres and offers visitors a range of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, and picnicking. 

Harbison State Forest

Its diverse ecosystems feature hardwoods, pines, and wetlands, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Harbison State Forest serves as a serene escape, providing a glimpse into the region’s past while promoting environmental conservation and outdoor enjoyment for residents and tourists.

Visitors can explore over 20 miles of well-maintained hiking and biking trails, suitable for all skill levels, with free things to do in Columbia, SC. The park provides picnic areas, ideal for family outings and gatherings. 

The forest hosts diverse bird species for those interested in wildlife, making it a bird watcher’s paradise. Additionally, Harbison State Forest features an education center, providing valuable insights into the local ecosystem and history. 

Photography, geocaching, and nature observation are popular activities here. With its serene atmosphere and scenic beauty, the forest is a perfect spot for mindfulness, meditation, or simply unwinding in nature.


Harbison State Forest 5600 Broad River Road Columbia, SC 29212, United States 

Best Hotels To Stay In Columbia, SC 

  • The Inn at Claussen’s
  • Hilton Columbia Center
  • The Vista Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton
  • Hyatt Place Columbia/Downtown/The Vista
  • Graduate Columbia
  • Aloft Columbia Downtown