Columbia has a rich history—and you’ll find evidence of that history everywhere you turn. As the center of state government, Columbia is central to South Carolina’s history. But Columbia wasn’t the first capital of South Carolina, Charleston was. In 1786, the State Assembly voted to move the capital and Columbia became the first planned city in the United States. If you’re a history buff, a trip to Columbia won’t disappoint.
Start planning your trip with a visit to Historic Columbia, the ultimate authority on our city’s journey through time. Whether you want to walk or ride, you can choose from one of the many tours they offer, including house, garden, and neighborhood options as well as a roster of special behind-the-scenes tours. You may even be able to catch them for a happy hour walking tour, where you’ll learn about Columbia and make a few new friends as you see architectural styles spanning three centuries.
Columbia and its colleges have long been intertwined. We boast five institutions of higher learning founded before the turn of the nineteenth century, and each one has a history worth exploring. The oldest, the University of South Carolina, was established in 1801. The center of the university, known as the Horseshoe, is a beautiful place to take a stroll or sit for a spell. Interested in a tour? The South Caroliniana Library near the entrance of the Horseshoe offers historic tours for those who want to learn more about how the Horseshoe has evolved. The heart of campus is also home to university president Harris Pastides and his wife Patricia, so smile and wave if you see them.
In fact, you could make like a high school sophomore and turn your day into a college tour. Allen University, the oldest university in South Carolina founded by African Americans for the education of African Americans, is located across the street from Benedict College, a historically black college also founded in 1870. If you care to venture north, you can see Columbia College, a private women’s college founded in 1854 and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary founded in 1830 and located on Seminary Ridge, the highest point in the mid-state area.
Just a block from the university, you’ll find yourself on the lush grounds of the South Carolina State House. Explore the monuments and find the six bronze stars on the outside of the impressive structure, each marking a spot that was hit by General Sherman’s cannons during the Civil War. You can take free guided and self-guided tours of the State House Monday through Friday, and you may even spot Governor Henry McMaster and his bulldog Mac.
If you want to eat, sleep, and breathe history, work in a meal at Villa Tronco, a downtown Italian spot located in a historic fire station whose claim to fame is that they’re the longest continuously operating restaurant in Columbia. Well, that and they have a full menu of delicious traditional Italian meals, many of which come from original Tronco family recipes. The Tronco family started serving up Italian favorites during World War II, so Italian American soldiers at Fort Jackson could enjoy a little home cooking. Most Thursday nights, you can enjoy a little opera or some Broadway show tunes with your saltimbocca or parmigiana.
Breathing in the history in Columbia is easy, whether you’re walking through one of our historic neighborhoods or enjoying the day on a park bench. We’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you to carve out some time for the South Carolina State Museum, where you can explore South Carolina’s history, from culture and art to science and technology. Breathe in the history of South Carolina as you tour the museum looking at artifacts and artwork from throughout the state. And when you need a real breather? Take a break in the State Museum’s 4-D theater or the planetarium.
However you plan your trip, don’t miss the historical markers you see along the way. In Columbia, you can learn something new everywhere you go!