Charleston Plantation Tours
The guides here at Free Tours by Foot in Charleston always get asked, “what plantation should we visit?” Here’s the truth – that is a hard question for us to answer! Each plantation will offer a different experience from the others. Check out the breakdown of each of them below to help you make the right choice for you and your family.
Before you can choose, you have to know where they are:
There are no plantations on the downtown peninsula so you will need transport to get to whichever one you choose. Three are located along Highway 61 about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston west of the Ashley River (locals call it West Ashley, but good luck finding that name on an official map – it’s technically Charleston). The plantations out in West Ashley are Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall. The other plantation you can visit is in Mount Pleasant (east of the Cooper River). Boone Hall is about a 30 minute drive from downtown.
Let’s start with Boone Hall – This is where Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married. For some, this may be the only reason you need to come here. For the others, here’s what you’ll find: The drive in is a gorgeous, long avenue of oaks. You will arrive at a beautiful white home at the end of the drive with a very informative tour. You can also experience the Gullah black history experience here with a great live talk. The grounds here did produce crops off and on, but Boone Hall was more known for the production of bricks. If you have young children, this may be the place for you. The adults can get some history and, depending on the time of year you visit, everyone can enjoy picking fruit and veggies in the warmer months, pumpkins in the fall, and getting a thrill in the haunted house, corn maze, and getting spooked during Fright Nights before Halloween. Boone Hall always hosts the Taste of Charleston in September and the largest oyster roast around in January/February. Loretta Lynn just performed here and there are often large outdoor concerts. Boone Hall is very much alive and used today and has a very different feel from the other plantations. www.boonehallplantation.com
Off to the area West of the Ashley: All of the plantations are within the same 5 mile stretch of road.
Magnolia Plantation is the first you’ll come to from downtown. Magnolia offers a lot of options and you can purchase tickets to the things you want to see and skip those you don’t. If you like getting lost in gardens this is your place! You can spend quite awhile meandering through the gardens here. A mixture of greenery, trees, and blooming plants tangle together in a beautiful setting. If you want to learn about black history, check out the slave quarters. If your kids want to pet the goats and other creatures they can do that at the petting zoo. If you want to learn about the family who lived there, check out the house tour. www.magnoliaplantation.com
Middleton Place is next in the line and is on the same side of the street as Magnolia Plantation. Middleton has the distinction of having the first landscaped gardens in America. The grounds are mainly tiered green steps, but there are also blooming trees and shrubs and very pretty grounds. The house museum is very good and highlights the four generations of family who lived there. Make it a lunch time visit and enjoy the restaurant. Rice was the staple crop at Middleton Plantation and this is a great place to learn about rice production in the Lowcountry. Stay on the lookout for the great symphony concerts and other cool events hosted on their gorgeous grounds. www.middletonplace.org
Drayton Hall is just a skip and jump down the road and on the opposite side of the street. Drayton Hall is the perfect place for architects, war buffs, and any dreamy and nostalgic types. Quarantine flags were put out here during the Civil War deterring union troops from burning it down. As a result, this is the only original plantation home still standing and it has been simply preserved. It still looks the way it did when the family gave the property for use as a museum. It is the best example of Georgian architecture around, but don’t hope to see original furnishings. The house is actually empty, except for the oodles of information and photographs on the walls. This is literally a bare-bones place that has not been touched . The grounds are gorgeous and the home is true, so those with a great appreciation and knowledge of history and the wars may get the most out of the experience. www.draytonhall.org