Old as Columbia may be, trendy and collegiate neighborhoods have given the city an edge. The symphony, two professional ballet companies, several theaters that stage live—and often locally written—productions, and a number of engaging museums keep culture alive. The city is a sprawling blend of modern office blocks, suburban neighborhoods, and the occasional antebellum home. Here, too, is the expansive main campus of the University of South Carolina. Out of town, 550-acre Lake Murray is full of pontoon boats and Jet Skis, and Congaree Swamp National Park is waiting to be explored.In 1786 South Carolina's capital was moved from Charleston to Columbia, along the banks of the Congaree River. One of the nation's first planned cities, Columbia has streets that are among the widest in America, because it was then thought that stagnant air in narrow streets fostered the spread of malaria. The city soon grew into a center of political, commercial, and cultural activity, but in early 1865 General William Tecumseh Sherman invaded South Carolina and incinerated two-thirds of Columbia. A few homes, public buildings, and historic sights were spared. The First Baptist Church, where secession was declared, still stands because a janitor directed Sherman's troops to a Presbyterian church instead.
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Things You Can't Miss
General Sherman's troops marched through Columbia while the State House was under construction. Bronze stars mark where Union artillery hit.
Supersize a visit to Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens with an adventure tour that gives you close-up views of big cats, elephants and flamingos.
Courtesy Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Paddle through bottomland forest in Congaree National Park. Guided kayak tours are available, or you can BYOC (bring your own canoe).
Maurice's Piggie Park has been serving up pit barbecue in Columbia since 1953. Maurice's South Carolina-style golden sauce is mustard-based.
McKissick Museum on the Horseshoe exhibits documentary materials and art and artifacts focused on culture, natural science, and decorative and fine arts.
Shared Trips to this Destination
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Must Reads Before You Go
They aren't as famous as their big-city brethren, but these places are worth the trip.