charleston plantations feature lots of live oaks

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 few more options include the beaches and especially the beautiful Charleston plantations.

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.

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 the city made beautiful through the hard work of slaves would be incomplete without understanding Charleston slavery. The plantation was what turned Charleston into such an economic powerhouse until the abolition of slavery.

Historically, Charleston plantations whitewashed over much of the harder truths of their existence before the War Between the States. Today they are more honest and blunt about the lives of the thousands of slaves that kept these farms running.

Before the outbreak of the War in 1860, wealth in America and especially in the South was concentrated in a small group of planter families. In 1850, only 1,733 families owned more than 100 slaves each, while only a quarter of Southern families even had slaves. These families supplied many of the nation’s elite leaders. That seems obvious, as they could afford the best educations for their children and the high-powered connections that a life of relative leisure could afford. But that leisure was created by employing extensive networks of enslaved labor. Charleston, South Carolina was the center of slavery for decades in America. Until New Orleans entered the American realm, Charleston was the port into which enslaved Africans first arrived in America. One of nearby Sullivan’s Island’s first uses was as a quarantining station for newly arrived slaves.

4 of the Best Charleston Plantations

Visiting any of the plantation homes near Charleston, South Carolina, 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. After exploring historic downtown Charleston and Fort Sumter, the next question to ask is, “Which plantations should I visit in Charleston, SC?”

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 Charleston tourist attractions offer plantation tours, and permit you to wander around their grounds. These are also the best Charleston plantations for weddings.

Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

The most well-known plantation in the Charleston area, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is located over the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant.  It has been prominently featured in many films: the most recent example being The NotebookBoone 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

Drayton Hall is one of the oldest plantation home 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 of activities at Drayton Hall include tours of the plantation home, as well as the African-American cemetery.

Magnolia Plantation

One of the oldest plantations in the country, Magnolia Plantation in Charleston SC was founded in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton. Their descendants still own the plantation 15 generations later. While the history of the plantation is fascinating, 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 of Charleston, SC slavery, petting zoo, and train rides around the grounds.

Middleton Plantation and Gardens

In the same neighborhood as Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation is Middleton Plantation. Middleton Plantation is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America. If you’re looking to stay in a Charleston plantation, this is your chance. The Inn at Middleton Place, a Charleston bed and breakfast inn, is on premises. The Inn at Middleton Place is one of the best places to stay in Charleston, though a bit remote from anything but plantations. Enjoy a tour of the plantation home, the fantastic gardens, even a plantation carriage ride tour. All the while, be grateful that the current eldest descendant of the Middleton family passed ownership to the Middleton Place Foundation. He did so when his children expressed their intention to put this spectacular Charleston plantation up for sale to developers.

Charleston Plantation Map

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 where to go:

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. If Charleston plantation tours are starting to break the bank, be sure to look at our ultimate guide to the the best free things to do in Charleston, SC.