Columbia, SC is a hub full of great entertainment, dining, attractions and more. There’s truly something fun for every age, from activities for kids to older adults.
Many of the top attractions in Columbia come with a cost. Whether that means a ticket to get into the Zoo, or the tab after dinner and drinks. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun for free!
In this article, we’ll look at the top 10 free things to do in Columbia, SC. Alongside the entertainment you might pay for in Columbia, there are wonderful, free activities the whole family can enjoy.
About Columbia, SC and Free Things to do in Columbia
As the capital city of South Carolina, Columbia is a top destination for visitors from all over. Its central location means it’s only a 2-hour drive from the mountains and the beach!
The city of Columbia has grown over the past few years as well, making Columbia a great vacation spot itself.
Here are just a few of the city’s key attractions:
- The State Museum and Riverbanks Zoo – two of the state’s largest attractions for families
- Many beautiful lakes surrounding Columbia make for fun outdoor recreation
- Various arts and culture districts with delicious dining
Let’s take a look at the top 10 ways to enjoy Columbia, SC for free, sorted by activity type.
- About Columbia, SC and Free Things to do in Columbia
- Outdoor Recreation
- Arts & Culture
- Other Ways to Explore Columbia
Columbia has a beautiful natural landscape. One of my top recommendations to anyone new to the city is always to explore our rivers, nature trails, and more!
The best part is that many of Columbia’s outdoor recreation activities are free.
1. Explore Columbia’s Riverwalk Trails
The Congaree, Saluda, and Broad Rivers run through Columbia and meet at many points. This means there are some beautiful trails along the river for walking, running, biking, and other activities.
Here are the top riverfront parks to explore for free:
West Columbia Riverwalk Park and Amphitheater:
- This park features nature trails, picnic tables and an amphitheater.
- Ample parking and on-site restaurants.
- Plenty of green space for a picnic or for pets to run around.
- Location: 109 Alexander Rd, West Columbia, SC 29169
Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park:
- Miles of natural hiking and biking trails.
- Benches, Adirondack chairs and picnic tables.
- Plenty of green space for pets to run around.
- Location: 312 Laurel St, Columbia, SC 29201
- 12 miles of paved pathways and wooden boardwalks
- Connects to the West Columbia Riverwalk
- Seating and picnic areas, public art installations, and restrooms.
- Location: 201 Naples Ave., Cayce, SC, 29033
2. Check Out the State’s Only National Park
Columbia is home to the only national park in South Carolina, Congaree National Park. The park offers hiking, bird watching, picnicking, kayaking opportunities, and more for free.
At over 26,000 acres, Congaree National Park has the largest tract of bottomland hardwood forest in the US. It also has abundant wildlife, and you can see some forest animals when you visit!
Park admission is always free.
You’ll only pay for activities like camping or renting a kayak from the park.
However, it’s free if you bring your own kayak or canoe to drop in! You can learn more about camping at Congaree National Park here.
If you’re planning a kayak trip on the Congaree, check out our favorite blow-up kayaks on Amazon.
3. Stroll the SC State Farmers Market
A visit to the State Farmers Market is a great free way to get out and meet local South Carolina farmers and vendors. Strolling the market is free, but you might want to bring a little cash with you for the fresh produce!
At the market, farmers and vendors set up tables selling fresh produce, specialty products, and artisan items. The market is open 7 days a week!
They even host events throughout the year, like photos with Santa and DIY children’s craft days.
If you do grab some produce from the market, check out our go-to cookbook on Amazon to whip up some farm-fresh recipes!
4. Spend a Day on Lake Murray
As we mentioned above, there are many beautiful lakes surrounding Columbia! One of the best recreational lakes in the area that you can visit for free is Lake Murray.
Here are some of the free ways you can spend time on the lake:
- Walk along the length of the lake on the paved trail
- Go fishing on the pier
- Have a picnic on the green space or at one of many picnic tables
If you have a kayak, canoe or paddleboard, there are also many drop-in spots around the lake!
If you’re up for spending a little, there are many kayak/boat rental opportunities near the lake, as well.
5. Take the Family to a Local Park
Columbia has some beautiful parks with activities and amenities the whole family can enjoy.
Many parks offer playgrounds, picnic shelters, and restrooms, making it easy to spend the whole afternoon outdoors. Some parks even have basketball and tennis courts!
Here are a few of the top local parks to check out for free:
- Granby Park
- Finlay Park
- Earlewood Park
- Maxcy Gregg Park
Arts & Culture
If arts and culture are more your speed, Columbia offers many nice attractions, from museums to historical homes.
Here are the top 5 free arts and culture activities to check out.
6. Tour the SC State House
A tour of the South Carolina State House is a great way to learn more about South Carolina’s history.
It’s always free to stroll the grounds. But, for a little something extra, take a guided tour.
During the tour, you’ll watch a 15-minute video about the history and architecture of the State House. Then, you’ll walk through with a guide and learn about what goes on day to day in the legislature.
7. Stroll Around Historic Homes
There are many historic homes in Columbia with gardens or grounds that are free to explore.
A stroll around Columbia’s historic homes is a great way to view the architecture and spend some time outside.
The Robert Mills House and Gardens and Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens are two of the more popular homes to tour.
If you’d like to explore the inside of the homes as well, tickets can be purchased through Historic Columbia for a guided tour.
8. Visit Local Art Studios
Columbia is home to many talented artists! A number of artists have their own studios downtown or partner with other artists in shared studio spaces.
Best of all, touring art studios is free!
Below are some of the best studios to art hop around:
- Stormwater Studios: Home to 10 full-time artist spaces
- 701 Center for Contemporary Art: rotating exhibits by local artists
- iF Art Gallery: A gallery showcasing contemporary works by Columbia artists
9. Check out Richland Library
Richland Library is the city’s main library branch. There are 13 locations around the Midlands region.
All 13 libraries are free to visit, and great for families with young children!
Features will vary by location, but all libraries have thousands of books to browse through. Many also have general-use computers, meeting rooms, kids’ playrooms, and more.
It’s 100% free to get a library card and rent books, and always encouraged at the library! Learn more.
10. Hit All the Public Art Spots
Alongside the many art galleries in Columbia, there’s a ton of free public art for viewing! Each district has some kind of public art piece.
Make a full day out of it and plan a public art tour around the city! Here are the spots you’ll want to hit:
- The Tunnel Mural (Address Here)
- The Never Bust Chain (Address Here)
- The Lady Vista Mural (Address Here)
Other Ways to Explore Columbia
As you can see, there are so many free ways to explore the city!
If you want to make a full trip out of it, consider camping in Columbia, SC.
For more information about Downtown Columbia, check out the video below. Happy exploring!