Charleston plantation museums offer visitors a glimpse back into South Carolina’s antebellum history. Part museum, part gardens and part memorial, the plantations are a great way to get out of the city and enjoy the South Carolina countryside.
Visiting these plantations is easy. You can reach them by car, bus or by joining our licensed tour guide, Captain Bob on a private tour. Most plantations are open to the public seven days a week and include a tour and admission to the grounds.
Located a 25-minute drive northwest of Charleston’s city center, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is worth renting a car to visit. The grounds offer a glimpse into antebellum life; in fact, many visitors compare the plantation to Tara, featured in Gone With the Wind.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is South Carolina’s most visited plantation, and it’s easy to see why: it sits on 464 acres of gardens on the banks of the Ashley River. It’s one of the oldest plantations still standing.
The history of this plantation dates back to 1676. Built by Thomas and Ann Drayton, the plantation was originally a rice plantation. During the Civil War, the plantation burned, but the gardens remained and were reopened as a tourist attraction after the end of the war.
Points of Interest
Guest are invited to tour the house, the grounds and the gardens — which also happen to be the oldest public gardens in the US. Since the gardens themselves are a focal point of the plantation, visitors can experience the grounds by foot, tram or boat.
Visitors can also tour the current home, which was built after the end of the war. The slave cabins are another huge draw — and offer visitors a chance to get a glimpse of slave life in antebellum South Carolina.
Just a few miles down the street from Magnolia Plantation is Middleton Place, once owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Fans of the movie The Patriot might recognize Middleton Plantation, as this is where much of the movie was filmed.
Middleton is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in South Carolina and doesn’t draw as many tourists as Magnolia. The house is slightly more modest, but visitors can still get that glimpse back into Charleston’s plantation past here.
The original house was by John Williams in the late 1730s, but like many of the antebellum plantations, Middleton Place burned during the Civil War. What didn’t burn down was destroyed in the 1886 earthquake. The house was restored in 1916.
Points of Interest
Visitors can tour the main house and the gardens. Like Magnolia, the stories of formerly enslaved African Americans are passed on at this plantation. Eliza’s house is a small cabin that sits on the property. The plantation also boasts a working stable yard. Visitors can even stay the night here, as the plantation runs a small inn on the grounds.
Possibly one of the most picturesque and recognized plantations in South Carolina, Boone Hall was the filming location for movies, such as The Notebook. Trees dripping with moss welcome visitors on the drive to the main house.
One of the most active plantation museums in South Carolina, Boone Hall offers visitors a chance to literally reach out and touch history. The plantation offers strawberry picking, Civil War reenactments and oyster roasts. The plantation even hosts a wine tasting event. For those looking for a more “light-hearted” plantation experience (as opposed to deep history), this plantation is for you.
The current plantation main house is a reconstruction of the original. What sets this plantation apart from many of the others in South Carolina is that it’s still a working plantation. In fact, it’s one of the oldest working plantations in America.
Points of Interest
In addition to taking part in the many daily activities, visitors can tour the main house and visit the old slave quarters, which were inhabited by sharecroppers well into the 20th Century. This picturesque plantation is popular for weddings and was even the site of Ryan Reynolds’s and Blake Lively’s wedding in 2012.
One of the smaller plantations offering a quieter, more intimate experience, Drayton Hall offers visitors the rare opportunity to tour a home unaffected by the Civil War and 1886 earthquake.
For those interested in visiting a original plantation home, Drayton Hall delivers in this promise. The house is a great example of Georgian-Palladian architecture. While many of the other homes on this list are filled with antebellum furniture, Drayton Hall is devoid of such antiquities. Yet it is the only 18th Century plantation house that still stands in its original form near Charleston.
Built in 1738, this plantation was once home of John Drayton, son of Magnolia Plantation builders, Thomas and Ann Drayton. The plantation’s main crops were indigo and rice. While the original home still stands, the 1886 earthquake destroyed many of the other buildings on the property.
Points of Interest
Visitors can admire the Georgian-Palladian architecture and the majestic grounds. There is also a museum in the former caretaker’s home that is dedicated to South Carolina African American history. The plantation also features rotating exhibits, featuring artwork, manuscripts and archeological artifacts.
Getting to the Charleston Plantations
Getting to any of these plantations is relatively easy — but you’ll need wheels to do it. It takes approximately at least 30 minutes to drive to most of these plantations. If you don’t have a car, you can always hop on a bus tour in Downtown Charleston. For a more in-depth look at the plantations, we recommend taking a private tour. Our Private Charleston Plantation Tour will take you out to the plantations by town car or SUV and give you a personalized tour of the plantations.
Take a private tour of Charleston to gain a deeper understanding of the Holy City. Private tours allow you to ask in-depth questions, visit areas of the city that large tour groups can’t access and customize your experience. From plantation tours to Civil War tours, you won’t miss an inch of the city with our guides.
Family owned and operated from the beginning, Walks of Charleston is passionate about the history, architecture and culture of Charleston and is dedicated to sharing it with you for a memorable experience on every tour.
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”
– Steven Wright