Top 5 Must-See Plantations in Charleston, SC (From a Local!)

Charleston, South Carolina radiates Southern charm out of every cobblestone street, brightly painted row home, and Spanish moss-covered live oak.

Visiting one of the many must-see plantations in Charleston is surely at the top of your list of things to do when you get here.

But how do you choose which to visit? There are 5 historic plantations in the Charleston area, and each one shows off its unique story in its own special way.

So today, we’ve done all the research for you so you can choose the best option for your visit!

I live here and have visited all the Charleston plantations in every season. I know which is best for flower seekers, history lovers, and everyone in between.

Let’s dig in to the top 5 must-see plantations in Charleston so you can choose the right one for you!


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Choosing the Best Plantation to Visit for Your Charleston Vacation

How did I decide which were the best plantations in the Charleston area? Price and unique features are the most important factors, in my opinion.

But I’m an avid planner who thoroughly researches destinations before I go anywhere, so we’ll look at all of the following:

  • Cost: entrance fees and additional tour fees
  • Distance from downtown Charleston
  • Unique features
  • Dining options
  • Shopping options

All you have to do is read the description of each and pick your favorite that works with your budget, timeframe, and hotel location!

Quick Picks

  • Most Well-Rounded: Middleton Place or Boone Hall
  • Best for Flowers: Middleton Place or Magnolia
  • Best for History/Info: McLeod, Boone Hall, or Middleton Place
  • Preserved As-Is: Drayton Hall
  • Best with Kids: Boone Hall or Magnolia
  • Has a Petting Zoo: Magnolia
  • Has a Farm Patch/Corn Maze: Boone Hall
  • Closest to Downtown: McLeod or Boone Hall

Must-See Plantations in Charleston: Ranked

I love visiting all of the Charleston plantations and have been to each multiple times over the years. But, not everyone has time to see all five in one trip.

If you have to choose just one, go with either Middleton Place on the Ashley River or Boone Hall in Mount Pleasant.

Both represent what these plantations would have looked like in their respective time periods and have a good mix of beautiful nature, historic buildings, and exhibits addressing slavery.

Magnolia, just down the road from Middleton Place, also has a good mix with a lot to see, but it charges individually per activity so you pay more to see it all.

Here’s my personal rankings of the 5 must-see plantations in Charleston.

  1. Middleton Place
  2. Boone Hall
  3. Drayton Hall
  4. McLeod
  5. Magnolia

Remember, I recommend them all if you have the time.

Let’s look at each plantation in turn and discuss the pros and cons so you can decide for yourself which one you’d rather visit.



The Top 5 Must-See Plantations in Charleston, SC

These five plantations are all within easy driving distance of downtown Charleston. There are no plantations downtown.

I recommend you have a rental car to get around, or you choose a tour that visits the must-see plantation of your choice.

Rideshares are easy to find to take you to any of the plantations, but they can be much harder to get to take you back, depending on time of day and which plantation you visit.

The map below will also help you easily find which plantation is closest to your hotel.

Click the star to the right of the map title, and it will save this map to your Google Drive! To see the map legend, click the sliding bar icon to the left of the map title.

1. Middleton Place National Historic Landmark

Beautiful formal gardens are the focus of this Ashley River plantation, bursting with color almost all year round. Azaleas take over in early spring, and camelias steal the show in winter.

A wing of the main house remains, as well as a working stableyard and Eliza’s House, a former slave cabin with a story.

Middleton Place ranks #1 out of all the must-see plantations in Charleston, in my opinion, because it checks all the boxes: history, beauty, amenities, price.

You can spend as little as a few hours here and still get in a couple of tours that cover both the history and the beautiful landscape, all included with your admission.

If you want to spend the whole day here, there’s a very good restaurant serving both lunch and dinner and plenty of gorgeous gardens to wander around and photograph.

Old brick colonial period home surrounded by oak trees on the Middleton Plantation

General Admission & Cost

Middleton Place includes a lot in their general admission, which is another reason it’s one of my favorite plantations to visit in Charleston.

Check their website for the most current prices and to order tickets ahead.

Good to Know: You get a small discount if you order ahead online rather than at the gate.

Adults (age 14+) are around $30 per person, kids under 6 are free, and kids 6-13 are about $10. Students 14+ with valid student ID can get half price admission.

General admission includes the following:

  • Self-guided tour of the Gardens and Grounds, including the Stableyard
  • Guided Garden Walking Tours, discussing the history of the gardens and the flowers and plants you’ll see across the property
  • Beyond the Fields: Enslavement at Middleton Place Tour, not a walking tour and very informative
  • Meet the Historic Livestock Breeds Tour, discussing the history of the original livestock breeds and why they were brought to the plantation

Additional Tours & Cost

Some extra experiences are available for an additional fee, ranging from affordable to include a house tour to luxury for a VIP experience.

  • Self-guided tours of the Middleton Place House Museum are available for an additional $15 per person when purchased ahead online.
  • Edmondston-Alston House Combo tickets for $49 per adult. The two homes were owned by the same family and are now managed by the same Trust.
  • Drayton Hall Combo tickets for $50 per adult. Right down the road from each other, it’s easy to see both in one day.
  • Middleton Place VIP Tour Experiences are available for $300 for 2 guests. This premium experience includes a private 45 minute carriage ride around the property, general admission and House Museum entrance, a $50 credit for lunch at the Middleton Place Restaurant, and an itinerary planned by a personal host. Call ahead for this one!

Distance from Downtown

30 minute drive from Charleston, closest to West Ashley hotels.

Good to Know: The Inn at Middleton Place is an on-site hotel that includes admission to Middleton Place for every day of your stay.

Unique Features

  • America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens, gorgeous formal gardens along the banks of the Ashely River
  • Eliza’s House, an original structure with award-winning historical exhibits about slavery on the Middleton Plantation
  • The Middleton Oak, an enormous 500+ year old oak tree on the property
  • Butterfly Lakes, installed in the terraced gardens by the river

Dining Options

The Middleton Place Restaurant is a more upscale restaurant experience than you’ll find at any of the other Charleston area plantations.

Serving lunch and dinner menus using seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients, this usually means your choice between shrimp, catfish, pulled pork, and fried chicken. Vegetarian options available.

The Garden Market also has cheap eats and ice cream.

If you want to go old school romantic, order a personalized picnic basket 24 hours ahead of your visit. Middleton Place chefs will create a custom Lowcountry picnic basket for you and your sweetie to enjoy wherever you like on the property, utensils and picnic blanket included!

Shopping

Both of these options are open to the public and accessible without purchasing admission to the estate.

The Museum Shop is Middleton Place’s gift shop, located by the parking lot. Get all your souvenirs here!

The Garden Market and Nursery sells home and garden items, many made on-site, or perhaps you’d rather take home your own camellia plant for your garden!


2. Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens

A very popular Charleston tourist attraction, arguably the most visited plantation, you’re sure to have seen Boone Hall at the top of many a Charleston sightseeing list.

Some come here just for its famous Avenue of Oaks, and I can attest that it’s a beautiful sight.

You drive down the middle of the dirt driveway, lined and shaded by dozens of enormous live oaks with Spanish moss waving in the breeze. It’s worth seeing for yourself.

Festivals throughout the year means there’s no bad time to visit, whether you’re interested in oysters, strawberries, pumpkins, or Christmas trees!

Don’t miss a Gullah Culture presentation from descendants of the enslaved people that lived here. This isn’t just a tour by a guide; these are living descendants!

The only reason I ranked this one second is because the main house has been modernized and is preserved as the last residents left it, circa somewhere in the mid-1900s.

The historical exhibits here are better and more thorough than the ones at Middleton Place, but the gardens and flowers are much better at Middleton.

Two story brick Boone Hall House with white pillar colonnade over the front porch and white arbors on either side of the front steps

General Admission & Cost

All tours and activities are included in general admission for Boone Hall Plantation, which is a very nice perk. One-and-done pricing is my favorite kind of ticket.

Check the Boone Hall website for their latest schedule of events and prices.

Adults (13-64) are $28 per person, kids under 6 are free, and kids 6-12 are $12. Seniors (65+), military, and AAA all receive a small discount.

General admission includes the following:

  • Guided tour of the first floor of the House
  • Self-guided exploration of the formal gardens, grounds, and stable yard
  • Gullah Culture presentations, presented by actual descendants who still live in the area!
  • Plantation Tractor Tours, 30-45min ride around the entire property, great for getting off your feet
  • Self-guided tour of the Black History in America exhibit, award-winning exhibit through the original slave cabins
  • Self-guided visit of the Butterfly Pavilion

Additional Tours & Cost

If you are interested in other Charleston attractions, Boone Hall offers combo tickets with the following, generally $60 per adult and around $35 for kids.

  • Fort Sumter National Monument
  • Charleston Harbor Boat Tours
  • Spiritline Cruises Boat Tours

Festivals also usually have their own separate fee.

For example, purchasing admission to Boone Hall plantation does not give you admission to the Boone Hall pumpkin patch, and vice versa.

The following are the annual festivals held at Boone Hall. Check the Boone Hall website for annual updates on hours and prices.

  • Lowcountry Oyster Festival
  • Lowcountry Strawberry Festival
  • Stars and Guitars
  • Boone Hall Pumpkin Patch
  • Boone Hall Fright Nights
  • Christmas at Boone Hall Plantation
  • Uncorked – The Ultimate Christmas Holiday event
  • Wine Under the Oaks

Distance from Downtown

25 minute drive from Charleston, closest to Mount Pleasant hotels

Unique Features

  • Gullah Culture presentations by actual Gullah descendants are unique to Boone Hall.
  • Outstanding Avenue of Oaks
  • Still a working farm

Dining Options

The Butterfly Café and gift shop sells snacks and drinks, but no other food on-site. Feel free to bring your own food and use the picnic tables though!

Your ticket also allows you to leave the property for lunch and return same day to finish your visit. Nearby Mount Pleasant has many fast food chains and plenty of nicer sit-down restaurants.

Shopping

A small gift shop offers a variety of items to commemorate your visit.


Don’t Forget Your FREE Must-See Charleston Plantations Cheat Sheet Guide!


3. Drayton Hall Plantation

This former plantation is full of surprises, despite seeming to have the least amount to see. They focus on historic preservation, not restoration.

Drayton Hall is the only Ashley River plantation house that was not burned to the ground when the Union Army arrived during the Civil War, possibly because the home was being used as a hospital.

After the war, the land owners left for Texas but many of the former slaves stayed on the property, eventually becoming workers for the phosphorous mining company that was established here.

I’ve been here several times just to take photos in different lighting and to find new details inside the house. I hear new stories from the staff every time!

The complex, rich history and the incredible left-in-place architectural details of the house are why I ranked this third, but it is lacking in other amenities.

Pair a visit here with another plantation like Middleton Place (just down the road) or Boone Hall (on the other side of town), and you’ve got a good overview of Charleston’s best plantations.

Three story brick Drayton Hall plantation home with double colonnaded front facade and two grand staircases to the entrance

General Admission & Cost

Drayton Hall is the only plantation that takes your ticket before you park. You can buy tickets at the gate (no cash), but I always find it easier to buy them online ahead.

Check their website for current rates. Last I checked in late 2023 it was $29 per adult (16+), $15 per kid (7-15), and ages 6 and under free.

Good to Know: Bring earbuds and a fully charged cell phone for the grounds audio tour.

General admission includes the following:

  • Self-guided tour of historical artifacts on display in the visitor center gallery
  • Guided House Tour, preserved as-is with no reconstruction or renovation
  • Self-guided audio tour of the Grounds
  • Self-guided tour of the Caretaker’s House, a fascinating history of the former slaves that stayed on property after the war to “watch over the house.”
  • A Sacred Place: African American Cemetery, left in its natural state (not manicured) per the wishes of the last resident caretaker

Pro Tip: They offer a Grounds & Galleries only Admission, but I don’t recommend it. If you’re driving out here, you should absolutely see the House, too, if you’re able to navigate stairs.

Additional Tours & Cost

Everything is included with your All-Inclusive House Tour ticket.

As I mentioned above, I don’t recommend the Grounds & Galleries Only ticket option unless you’re unable to navigate stairs.

If you want to see both Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, they have a combo ticket.

You don’t have to see both in one day, either. Once you’ve activated the ticket at the first location, you have 2 more days to see the other location.

Distance from Downtown

25 minute drive from Charleston, closest to West Ashley hotels

Unique Features

Drayton Hall is unique in that the Trust has not restored anything to a specific time period.

The buildings and grounds are all stabilized and safe, but preserved in the state they were in when the Trust acquired the property.

So, you can still see where the Drayton family members marked the heights of their growing children on the doorframe. Unique details like this are hidden all over the property.

Dining Options

No dining on-site. The gift shop sells several food products but nothing substantial enough for a meal.

Shopping

A gift shop is located in the visitor center by the parking lot, but you can also shop online if you see something you like but can’t fit it in your luggage for the trip home!


4. McLeod Plantation Historic Site

McLeod Plantation focuses on the lives of the enslaved men, women, and children that lived here, both before and after emancipation. It’s one of the best places in Charleston to learn this history, and really deserves more attention than it gets.

This historic site is maintained by the Charleston County Parks Department and is a member of the International Sites of Conscience. The tour guides don’t pull any punches here. Apologists won’t find any sympathy.

So don’t try and suggest that the slaves “behaved and stayed out of overwhelming love for their owners.” (Yes, I heard that from a visitor on a tour once and was blown away by the amount of denial that is propping up that statement.)

The main house is preserved and you’re allowed to walk through it, but the main focus of this site is the enslaved people and how they lived in the years right after the Civil War.

This plantation’s main crop was sea island cotton, rather than the rice plantations along the Ashley River. There’s a smaller oak alleé here, leading up to Wappoo Creek from the house.

McLeod is also smaller than the other plantations, making this a good option for a half-day activity if you’re short on time but still want to see a plantation.

Two story plantation home with a green metal roof and covered porch with rocking chairs

General Admission & Cost

$20 per adult (13+), $15 per senior (60+), $6 for kids 3-12, and kids 2 and under are free.

A Charleston County Parks Gold Pass includes free entry for up to 4 guests per visit.

A guided interpretive tour is included in admission and offered 6 times a day on the half hour, first come, first served. Tours last about 45 minutes.

The first floor of the main house and the remainder of the grounds are open for self-guided exploration before or after your guided tour time.

The historic site also has an app for iPhone users that prefer a little more information on their self-guided tours. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can rent an iPad with the app from the ticket office.

Additional Tours & Cost

No additional tours or costs.

Distance from Downtown

10 minute drive from Charleston, close to both downtown and the West Ashley hotels

Unique Features

  • The McLeod Oak, sometimes called the Witness Oak, is estimated to be 500-600 years old!
  • Sea island cotton plantation, rather than rice like most of the other Charleston plantations
  • Wappoo Creek views

Dining Options

No dining on site.

Shopping

Small gift shop at the visitor center.


5. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

Not your typical plantation house, but plenty of areas to explore around the property to keep you busy on a day out.

Magnolia Plantation boasts romantic-style gardens, rather than the formal gardens found at Middleton Place. They’re more rambling and less straight lines, but still tons of azaleas here.

Magnolia not only has a guided house tour, acres of beautiful gardens, and those gorgeous Ashley River views, but it also has a petting zoo (with peacocks!), a conservatory for exotic plants blooming all year round, and the Audubon Swamp Garden, which is much prettier than it sounds.

The biggest drawback to Magnolia is that it charges for everything separately.

They have some cool, unique things that I don’t begrudge them charging for, and individual pricing is nice for those that don’t want to see it all.

But if you do want to do it all, you’re paying nearly double compared to the rest of Charleston’s plantations but not seeing twice as many things.

They are working on their pricing structure, though. I’ve noticed their ticketing options changing over the past year or so.

Admission is good for 7 days, but for most visitors, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day at one site.

Large multi-story Magnolia Plantation house with a copper roof turret and gray stucco under a cloudy blue sky

General Admission & Cost

This is one instance where we actually recommend you buy tickets on-site rather than online.

There are so many different options and add-ons that a rep at the ticket desk is your best bet for figuring out what you have time for and actually want to see. You’re also unable to buy same-day tickets online.

Base rates start at $29 per adult (ages 13+), $15 per kids (age 6-12), and free for 5 and under. Small discounts are available for seniors and military.

Admission is good for a return visit within 7 days! Handy if you miss a tour because you got lost in the gardens…

Garden (general) admission includes the following:

  • Self-guided tour of the Gardens, including the Maze and the Children’s Garden
  • Self-guided tour of the Conservatory
  • Guided From Slavery to Freedom tour, tours through 5 preserved and restored former slave cabins
  • The Petting Zoo & Nature Center
  • Gilliard Garden Center

Additional Tours & Cost

Additional fees vary for the tours listed below. Some are available in combo packages, which you can preview in their ticketing options on their website, but we’d still recommend buying your tickets on-site.

  • Guided tours of the House
  • Guided Nature Tram rides through the gardens, great for getting off your feet for a bit!
  • Guided Nature Boat tours on the Ashley River (closed in winter)
  • Self-guided Audubon Swamp Garden tour
  • Seasonal Bird Walks
  • Seasonal Guided Garden Tours

Note on guided tour timing: All guided tours use the same time slots and there are only 6 tour times throughout the day. If you’re planning to do all 4 guided additional tours, bring a watch and be on time!

Distance from Downtown

25 minute drive from Charleston, closest to West Ashley hotels

Unique Features

  • Peacocks roam the grounds freely! You’ll usually find a few hanging out in the Zoo as well.
  • An Observation Tower on the far north end of the gardens has spectacular views of the Ashley River.
  • The Audubon Swamp Garden is actually very beautiful. Don’t skip it! You’re almost guaranteed to see an alligator, and you’ll better appreciate how much work went into making the ground usable in this area.

Dining Options

The Peacock Café is centrally located and serves quick eats for breakfast and lunch. Snacks and drinks are available in between meals.

Nearby giant live oaks tower over and shade several tables, or bring a picnic blanket and go snack on the lawn in front of the house.

Shopping

A gift shop is located in the bottom floor of the main house and is surprisingly large!

The Gilliard Garden Center is open to the public and does not require general admission to the plantation. Here you can purchase your own little piece of the Magnolia gardens to take home and grow.


The Ashley River flows past tan grass under a clear blue sky, overlooked by shadowy oak trees and a bench on the shore
The Ashley River at Drayton Hall

Charleston Plantations FAQs

How Did the Plantations Get Here?

Charleston is one of the United States’ oldest colonial-era cities, dating back to the 1600’s. The English lords that set up the South Carolina colony employed similar systems from their Caribbean colonies that made them very wealthy men.

They wanted to replicate sugar cane plantations, but were surprised when the crop didn’t fare well in the South Carolina climate.

It wasn’t long before they discovered that rice flourished in the ever-saturated ground of the Charleston low country, and rice plantations popped up along all the major waterways of the area.

Charleston grew into the South’s first great port city, and slavery became the backbone of the southern agricultural economy for the next 200 years.

Finally, in 1865 after 4 years of brother fighting brother, the American Civil War was won by the Union and slavery was abolished forever.

As for Charleston’s plantation homes, the majority were looted or burned during the war, by both sides.

Should I Visit a Plantation?

You should absolutely visit a plantation. A lot of people struggle with this question, but these spaces have complex pasts and a lot to teach us.

History is often not pretty, and the unpleasant parts are the ones from which we can learn the most. It’s only by educating ourselves and teaching new generations these hard-learned lessons that we can move forward.

The plantations that remain today give a peek into what life was like in South Carolina during colonial, early republic, and antebellum times.

These are not monuments to the South’s glory days; these are history museums striving to teach a bit of history to visitors while sharing some beautiful trees and gardens in the process.

Each Charleston plantation has its own stories to share, and all of them remember and respect the enslaved people that lived here. The McLeod Plantation focuses entirely on the lives and legacy of the Black families once enslaved on the property.

If historical plantations aren’t your speed, check out the Charleston Tea Garden instead! This “plantation” wasn’t established until the 1960’s and has no ties to slavery. They changed their name from plantation to garden to stop confusing visitors.


Which Charleston Plantation Will You Visit?

I hope this guide was helpful for choosing which must-see plantation to visit in Charleston!

Even in post form this can be a bit much, so I’ve created a free printable checklist with all the stats for each of the top 5 plantations listed above!

Use it to circle what you like the most and plan to visit the plantation with the most circles!

Remember, you can always go to more than one plantation while you’re in Charleston. 😉

Don’t Forget Your FREE Must-See Charleston Plantations Cheat Sheet Guide!


Looking for other things to do in Charleston?

Happy travels!


Headshot of Rachel Means at Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

About the Author: Rachel Means

With six-figure student loan debt and only 10 PTO days per year, Rachel started traveling the world. A decade later, she’s paid off her loans, changed careers, and been to 38 US states and 17 countries. She’s an expert at planning and budgeting for travel and loves to help others do it, too! Read her full story here.


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Top 5 Must-See Plantations in Charleston, SC (From a Local!)

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Diana

    Can you include a map representing each in relation to Ctown please?

    1. Rachel Means

      Great idea! I’ve added the map at the beginning of the list, just after the neighborhoods discussion. Enjoy!

  2. Adrianna

    Which plantation is more kid friendly? my son does not like to walk a lot

    1. Rachel Means

      Magnolia Plantation is probably most kid-friendly. There is a petting zoo near the entrance and a trolley that runs through the gardens so the little one can rest while you still get to see the beautiful flowers! Note that the trolley is considered an additional tour and requires an additional fee.

  3. Deborah Dunbar

    Which plantation is closest to North Myrtle Beach?

    1. Rachel Means

      These are all in the Charleston area, but Boone Hall would be closest to Myrtle Beach. Sounds like I need to write a post for best plantations near Myrtle Beach! Thanks for reaching out!

Comments are closed.