It’s easy to forget there are even more activities just beyond downtown Charleston. But there are plenty of fun things to do near Charleston during your visit. A top recommendation are the beautiful plantations in Charleston, SC.
Each of the plantations in Charleston, SC, are famous in their own right, whether you easily recognize their names or not. Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place, and Drayton Hall all merit a visit. Lump several together and you’ve got yourself a few options for day trips from Charleston, SC.
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Even the shortest visit to Charleston warrants an afternoon at one of these fantastic places. They are all breathtakingly beautiful. They’re necessary for any history buff, especially those interested in the history of the South and the Civil War. The Charleston plantations are also high on the list of the most romantic things to do in Charleston.
A Brief Introduction to Charleston Slavery
A visit to a city made beautiful through the hard work of slaves is incomplete without understanding Charleston slavery.
The plantation was what turned Charleston into such an economic powerhouse until the abolition of slavery.
These select families supplied many of the nation’s elite leaders. After all, they could afford such luxuries that a life of relative leisure could afford as:
The best educations for their children
And the high-powered connections
But that leisure existed only from employing extensive networks of enslaved labor. Charleston, South Carolina was the center of slavery for decades in America. Charleston was the port into which almost half of enslaved Africans first arrived in America.
In fact, one of nearby Sullivan’s Island‘s first uses was as a quarantining station for newly arrived slaves.
Definitely not something that one of the best beaches near Charleston would want to highlight. But not all history is something to be proud of.
Modern interpretations of slavery at plantations in Charleston, SC
In the past, plantations in Charleston, SC, whitewashed the harder truths of their existence before the War Between the States. Today they are more honest and transparent about the lives of the thousands of slaves that kept these farms running.
Most have exhibits devoted to the most peculiar institution. Some have even won awards for them.
5 of the Best Plantations in Charleston, SC
Visiting any of the plantations in Charleston, SC, is an opportunity to see how members of that elite caste of Charleston society lived. Even more interesting are the lives of the much larger groups of people who worked to support them.
“Which plantations should I visit in Charleston, South Carolina?”
Some of the best plantations in Charleston are not far. Here’s a list of the best plantations near Charleston, South Carolina, in no particular order. Many of these attractions offer plantation tours, and permit you to wander around their grounds.
It has been prominently featured in many films: the most recent example being The Notebook.
Boone Hall Plantation is one of the oldest working farms in America. You can still tour the farm land on one of the regularly offered tours.
The standard tour of one of the most beautiful Charleston plantation homes is another option.
Drayton Hall plantation is one of the oldest homes of its kind preserved in America. It was first constructed in 1788.
This plantation has been remarkably well-preserved and is a masterpiece of Georgian-Palladian architecture. Highlights at Drayton Hall include tours of the plantation home and the African-American cemetery.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
One of the oldest plantations in the country, Magnolia plantation and gardenswas founded in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton. Their descendants still own the plantation 15 generations later.
The history of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is fascinating. And yet, the gardens are world-renowned and worth a visit in their own right. Tours on offer at the plantation include:
Opportunities to experience an award-winning exhibit on slavery
And train rides around the grounds
Middleton Plantation and Gardens
In the same neighborhood as Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation is Middleton Place. Middleton Place is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America. Enjoy a tour of the plantation home, the fantastic gardens, even a plantation carriage ride tour.
All the while, be grateful that the eldest descendant of the family passed ownership to the Middleton Place Foundation. He did so when his children showed interest in putting this spectacular Charleston plantation up for sale to developers.
Instead, it’s focused on the fascinating history of the enslaved Africans that worked here and their descendants.
Days of enslavement to
Independence and the cruel trick the Federal government played on liberated African-Americans
To the still vibrant local Gullah culture
You can learn all about the African-American experience here.
It also has the distinct honor of being part of the Charleston County Parks system. So admission tickets are much cheaper than other plantations in Charleston, SC.
Charleston Tea Plantation
In 1960, the Thomas J. Lipton Company purchased an abandoned tea plantation in Summerville, South Carolina, and relocated the remaining tea plants to Wadmalaw Island. Thus began the history of the Charleston Tea Plantation.
The Charleston Tea Plantation has been producing tea since 1987. It is the only tea plantation in Charleston, SC, and the only tea garden in North America. Visitors to the plantation can take part in guided tours through the gardens and learn about how tea is grown and processed. There are also opportunities for visitors to sample some of their teas as well as purchase products from their gift shop. Clothing, teapots and kettles, accessories, and mementos are available at the shop.
The gift shop also sells American Classic Tea, which is packaged locally. First Flush tea is a brewed specialty that is only available in May.
A few more famous plantations in South Carolina
Apart from the five plantations mentioned above, there are several more plantations in South Carolina worth visiting. The Cassina Point Plantation is a historic plantation located near Charleston and is known for its stunning views of the Edisto River. Another popular destination is Brookgreen Gardens, which features lush gardens filled with sculptures and wildlife. Both plantations offer tours that provide visitors with an insight into their unique histories and cultures.
Cassina Point Plantation | Edisto Island
Cassina Point was built in 1847 for Carolina Lafayette Seabrook and her husband James Hopkinson. It is a large antebellum home and the last remaining structure from a cotton plantation on a Sea Island. The structure has brick chimneys as well as pediments, a Flemish-bond basement, a side-gable roof, brick chimneys with stuccoed necking, a roofed porch supported by columns, marble mantles, and bull’s-eye molding. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Brookgreen Gardens | Murrells Inlet
One of the top 10 gardens in the United States, Brookgreen Gardens is situated in Murrells Inlet, just north of Pawleys Island. It’s worth a visit if you’re passing through from Charleston SC to the Myrtle Beach Airport. Brookgreen Gardens has massive gardens, a Lowcountry zoo, incredible sculptures, and tours.
But in reality, none of these plantations are exactly a long-haul from each other.
One option close to all the plantations on Ashley River Road is the Inn at Middleton Place. As its name implies, the bed and breakfast inn is situated on the grounds of Middleton Place. If you’re looking to stay in a Charleston plantation, this is your chance. The Inn at Middleton Place is one of the best places to stay in Charleston, though a bit remote from anything but plantations.
The Inn at Middleton Place has a fantastic romantic vacation package, by the way. Check out our guide to planning fantastic romantic getaways in Charleston.
Map of Plantations in Charleston, SC
Not sure which plantation to visit?
There are 3 plantations clustered along the Ashley River.
There is one official one in Mount Pleasant as well as a National Historic Site (Charles Pinckney National Historic Site).
There’s also one on James Island.
Check out this map of plantations near Charleston, South Carolina, for a better idea of how to properly know what plantations are near me:
So be sure to include at least a few of these Charleston plantations on your list of attractions in Charleston the next time you’re visiting. Charleston plantations are all among the most famous South Carolina attractions. You have no excuse not to visit to wander and relax if you live here.
An avid traveler, Colin Pearson loves to settle in an area and discover every little bit of that spot. And having lived on various places on three continents, Charleston, South Carolina, is one of his favorite places he's ever lived.