A Travel Price Comparison for South Carolina Charleston vs. Columbia for Food, Couples, Attractions, and Nightlife

Should you visit Charleston or Columbia?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

If you're trying to decide where to visit between Charleston or Columbia, this travel comparison, which includes costs, can help. The overall cost of travel is usually a consideration when deciding where to go next, and the cost comparison down below can help you decide based on the average prices from other travelers along with your own travel budget.

Charleston

Charleston is a classic, picturesque, and charming coastal town. The beauty of this spot is also one of the main reasons why visitors come. It also has a unique and quaint vibe that attracts lots of visitors. And you can't forget about the shopping, museums, and nightlife.

Columbia

Columbia is a welcoming, suburban, and friendly city. Other popular activities here include museums, nightlife, and shopping.

Charleston and Columbia: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Popular for food and cuisine
  • Active nightlife
  • Good music scene
  • Nice resorts
  • Popular beach
  • Scenic old town
  • Fun shopping
  • Popular at Christmas
  • Known for Christmas markets
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Very walkable
  • Impressive beauty
  • Quaint atmosphere
Things to Consider
  • Less popular with backpackers
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Family-friendly
Things to Consider
  • Less popular for food
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Less popular with couples
  • Less popular with backpackers
  • Less walkable


Is there more to do in Charleston or Columbia?

Visitors will generally find more to do in Charleston than Columbia. While Columbia is larger than Charleston, Charleston has more sights, attractions, and activities for tourists. Charleston is more touristy than Columbia and is known for its historic city market, low-country cuisine, Civil War history, and antebellum houses. It is also home to The Waterfront Park. Columbia is popular for its southern hospitality and friendly people.

How is Charleston different from Columbia?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Columbia and Charleston. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Charleston or Columbia?

Charleston
Columbia

For an educational experience, head to a museum or a notable sight in either Charleston or Columbia.

If you're looking for an educational opportunity, there are a decent number of museums and historical sights around Charleston. This city is famous for its many historic churches and plantations. The plantations are open to visit and will educate you on the city's past, which is heavily involved in slavery. You can also visit Fort Sumter National Monument by boat or take a tour of the USS Yorktown.

Columbia is a good place to visit if you're interested in museums or other recognizable sights. As the state capital, there are some decent museums around town like the Columbia Museum of Art, the South Carolina Military Museum, the South Carolina State Museum, and the U.S. Army Basic Combat Training Museum.


Is the Food Better in Charleston or Columbia? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is renowned for its local cuisine and restaurants. However, Columbia is not a good city for its restaurants.

For foodies, Charleston is an obvious choice, as it is one of the food capitals of the world. Food lovers will enjoy the city's low country classics. There are many local restaurants in town that serve southern specialties. You can also head a bit out of the town center if you want a waterfront restaurant. Local favorites include she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, cornbread, and fried green tomatoes.

Columbia may not make the list for most foodies, but you'll find what you need while you're in town. Barbecue and other southern favorites are among the more local dishes, but the city is also filled with fast food joints and other major chain restaurants.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Nightlife?

Charleston
Columbia

Evening events are good in both Charleston and Columbia.

There's a variety of activities in the evening in Charleston. As a college town, there are plenty of bars and nightclubs around town. There's also a lively music scene. Head to the areas near the college for the most affordable and active nightlife. Popular clubs in town include Cure Night Club, Deco Nightclub, and Mynt.

With a handful of venues, visitors can find a fairly lively vibe in Columbia. You'll find live music venues as well as low key bars and more trendy cocktail lounges.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Music?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a popular place for its live music scene. However, Columbia is not a live music destination.

The music scene in Charleston is active and vibrant. You can hear a number of local bands or enjoy a more widely known group at larger venues in the area.

Columbia is not a live music destination.


Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Resorts?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a popular place for its resorts. However, Columbia is not a resort destination.

With a selection of resorts, Charleston makes a nice vacation spot. The town has mostly hotels and bed and breakfasts in the downtown area, but nearby Kiawah Island has a number of nice resorts to choose from. Kiawah Island is particularly kid-friendly if you're looking for a family beach vacation. If you have a bit more money to spend and want something more residential, check out nearby Seabrook Island.

Columbia is not a resort destination.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Beaches?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a well-known place for the beache. However, Columbia is not a beach destination.

Charleston is considered a top beach destination. The area has a number of beautiful and fun nearby beaches including Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, and Seabrook Island. Folly Beach is an active and quirky beach area, while Kiawah is more family-friendly. Seabrook is more residential and more expensive.

Columbia is not a beach destination.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for its Old Town?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is renowned for its old town. However, Columbia does not have a historic old town.

The old town of Charleston is one of the most recognized in the world. Charleston's downtown is one of the most charming and well preserved Old Town's in the United States. It's easy to see why it's become a world class destination.

Columbia does not have a historic old town.


Is the Shopping Better in Charleston or Columbia?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is renowned for its shopping opportunities. Also, Columbia is not as famous, but is still a good city to visit for its shopping areas.

The abundance of shops in Charleston make it a world-class shopping destination. The city is famous for its historic market in the center of town. Local goods, foods, and crafts are sold daily here. There are also many clothing and local shops throughout town, particularly along King Street, which has boutiques and high end outlets. Outside of town, stop by Tanger Outlet Mall if you want name brands at a discount price.

Columbia has a variety of shopping areas worth visiting. You'll find independent and locally owned shops along Devine Street and in the Five Points area. Also interesting are the Vista, which is a warehouse district, and Trenholm Plaza.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Christmas?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a well-known place for its Christmas activities. However, Columbia does not offer Christmas activities.

Charleston is an extremely popular place to visit during the Christmas season. During the Christmas season there are a number of festivals, light shows, and even a boat parade that everyone can enjoy.

Columbia does not offer Christmas activities.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Christmas Markets?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a popular place for its Christmas markets. However, Columbia does not offer Christmas markets.

Many visitors go to the Christmas markets in Charleston. Marion Square hosts Christmas Markets on weekends throughout the holiday season.

Columbia does not offer Christmas markets.


Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Families?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston and Columbia are both good destinations for the whole family.

Charleston is a family-friendly place to visit. The city has a number of family-friendly activities like carriage rides and boat rides. There's also an aquarium, a waterfront park, and many kid-friendly museums. The nearby beaches also make it a wonderful place to visit with kids.

Columbia is a family-friendly coastal town. Around town you'll find parks, playgrounds, and kid-friendly restaurants. There's a zoo in the area as well as a nice state park - Sesquicentennial State Park. There's also EdVenture Children's Museum, which is filled with hands-on exhibits.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Couples?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is renowned for its romantic activities. However, Columbia is not a good city for couples.

Charleston makes for a terrific place to visit as a couple. This beautiful city is one of the most popular wedding destinations in America. It's a very romantic setting with beautiful hotels and bed and breakfasts that are perfect for couples on their honeymoon or looking for a romantic setting.

Columbia is not always the best place to visit for a couple. You'll find parks to explore and some nice restaurants that make for a good date night.

Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Students?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston and Columbia are both good destinations for students and younger travelers.

Charleston is a good coastal town to visit for students. The city is a college town with a young vibe that is perfect for students. There's a nice university area where you'll find cheaper places to eat and a good nightlife scene.

Plenty of students visit Columbia. The University of South Carolina, and other nearby colleges all bring in a decent student population.


Is Charleston or Columbia Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Charleston
Columbia

Both Charleston and Columbia offer decent public transit options.

Public transit is generally limited in Charleston. While there are some buses, you really must have a car to fully experience the entire area.

Public transit is mostly limited in Columbia. The COMET is the bus system through town, but you really must have your own car to enjoy the city.

Is Charleston or Columbia a more walkable city?

Charleston
Columbia

Charleston is a well-known place for its high level of walkability. However, Columbia is not a good city for its ease of walking around.

Charleston is a very walkable coastal town. The downtown area is very walkable, but once you leave the historic heart, it's best to have a car.

Columbia is not a very walkable coastal town. It's filled with suburban-style development and is generally very car dependent.

For even more information, also check out Is Charleston Worth Visiting? and Is Columbia Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Columbia or Charleston?

How long in Charleston or Columbia?

You'll be able to find lots of things to do in Charleston or Columbia to fill your time. Many travelers usually spend more of their time in Charleston than Columbia because of the number of activities and things to do in the area. Usually, 2-7 days is a good amount of time for Charleston, and 1-2 days is enough time in Columbia.

Families should spend more time in Charleston than Columbia. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Charleston, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Charleston than Columbia. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Charleston that are great for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Charleston than Columbia if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Charleston.


  • How many days in Charleston or Columbia? Ideal Length of Stay
    Charleston 2-7 
    Columbia 1-2

One day in Charleston or Columbia?

The beautiful coastal town of Charleston offers museums and nightlife. Exploring the old town is a popular activity. With so much to do, one day is probably not enough time to see everything. It will give you the chance to have new experiences.

With museums and nightlife around the friendly city of Columbia, there's plenty to do. Anyone can find something fun to do here. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Columbia, one day is sufficent for most.


A weekend in Charleston or Columbia?

Charleston is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. If you have a weekend, this coastal town makes for a great vacation. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Charleston, a weekend is sufficent for most. Take your pick from the many activities offered here.

With nightlife and shopping around the destination of Columbia, there's plenty to do. It offers something for everyone. Many people spend a weekend here. In a weekend, you should have a good grasp of this city.

Five days in Charleston or Columbia?

Charleston is a popular choice for travelers. Five days here is typical. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Charleston, five days is sufficent for most. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

Columbia, a popular city, is full of activities for travelers. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

A week in Charleston or Columbia?

Charleston is a great place to explore. It is common to spend one week here. Visiting the old town is also a must. One week is a great amount of time to relax and see the many things that Charleston has to offer. This coastal town offers something for everyone.

Columbia is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. One week is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best 2-Week Tours from San Francisco, The Best 2-Week Tours from Los Angeles, The Best Family-Friendly Tours to United States of America, and The Best Wildlife Tours to United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, Columbia or Charleston?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Charleston is $170, while the average daily cost in Columbia is $0.00. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Charleston and Columbia in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Charleston $90
    Columbia -
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Charleston $180
    Columbia $0.00
Compare Hotels in Charleston and Columbia

Looking for a hotel in Charleston or Columbia? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Charleston


Hotels in Columbia


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Charleston Hotel Prices and Columbia Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Charleston $33
    Columbia -

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Charleston

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Charleston:

  • Private Transfer from Charleston Cruise Port to Charleston city: $54
  • Private Transfer from Charleston City to Charleston Cruise Port: $54
  • From Boone Hall Plantation Entry with Transfers: $71
  • Charleston city to Charleston Airport (CHS) - Departure Private Transfer: $87
  • Charleston Airport (CHS) to Folly Beach - Arrival Private Transfer: $103
  • Charleston Airport to Isle of Palms/Sullivans Island– Arrival Private Transfer: $103
  • Folly Beach to Charleston Airport (CHS) - Departure Private Transfer: $103
  • Isle of Palms/Sullivans Island to Charleston Airport –Departure Private Transfer: $103
  • Charleston Airport (CHS) to Kiawah/Seabrook Islands – Arrival Private Transfer: $117
  • Charleston Airport: One-Way Transfer to Charleston: $153
  • Charleston Airport (CHS) to Charleston city - Round-Trip Private Transfer: $173
  • Charleston Airport to Isle of Palms/Sullivans Island -Roundtrip Private Transfer: $206

Is it cheaper to fly into Charleston or Columbia?

Prices for flights to both Columbia and Charleston change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Charleston $58
    Columbia $5.03
Typical Food Prices in Charleston

Some typical examples of dining costs in Charleston are as follows:


  • Lunch in downtown Charleston for two
    $21
  • Breakfast
    $26

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Charleston

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Charleston.

  • Charleston Sunset Blues & BBQ Dinner Cruise: $63
  • Charleston Harbor Luxury Dinner Cruise with Live Music: $88
  • Luxury Harbor Dinner Cruise: $93
  • Savor the Flavors Upper King Street Food Tour: $95
  • Charleston Food Tour: $99
  • Historic Downtown Food Tour with Tastings: $99
  • 3-Hour Secret Food Tour: $107
  • Charleston Farm-to-Table Food Tour and Chef's Challenge: $109
  • Charleston Walking Food Tour With Secret Food Tours: $110
  • Downtown Charleston Food Tour: $110
  • Savor the Flavors of Charleston Walking Food Tour: $110
  • Charleston's Savor the Flavors of Upper King Street Walking Food Tour: $110

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Charleston $22
    Columbia -
Typical Entertainment Prices in Charleston

Some typical examples of activities, tours, and entrance ticket prices in Charleston are as follows:


  • Patriots Point (for 2)
    $60

Tours and Activities in Charleston

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Charleston are as follows:

  • The French Quarter: GPS Guided Walking Tour with Audio Guide: $5.99
  • Self-Guided Ghost Tour: $6.99
  • Self-Guided "The French Quarter Charleston" Solo Walking Tour: $7.50
  • Cinematic, Self Guided Audio Ghost Tour in Charleston: $10
  • Self-Guided Audio History Walking Tour: $12
  • 300 Years of War and Peacetime in A Self-Guided Audio Tour: $12
  • Self-Guided Highlights Walking Audio Tour: $12
  • Charleston Self-Guided Audio Walking Tour: $15
  • Trolley Tour in Wadmalaw Island of South Carolina: $17
  • Evening History Tour: $20
  • Charleston's Miracle Mile: Church and Cemetery Walking Tour: $21
  • Highlights of Charleston Guided Walking Tour: $23

Tours and Activities in Columbia

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Columbia are as follows:

  • Soda City: A Self-Guided Audio Tour in Columbia: $12

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Charleston $36
    Columbia $88

Sample the Local Flavors in Charleston

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Charleston:

  • Women and Wine Tour: $18
  • Charleston Women and Wine Tour: $20
  • Guided Pub Crawl and Haunted History Tour: $30
  • Bay Street Bastards Pub Crawl Shared Tour in Charleston : $35
  • Speakeasy Sagas Prohibition Pub Crawl: $35
  • Boos and Booze Haunted Pub Crawl Walking Tour: $35
  • Historic District Haunted Pub Crawl Tour: $40
  • Charleston Brewery District Cruise (Public Tour): $95
  • Wadmalaw Island Wine Tasting and Tea Garden Trip: $135
  • Half Day Party Bus Brewery Tour of Charleston: $140


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Charleston and Columbia, we can see that Charleston is more expensive. And not only is Columbia much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Columbia would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Columbia and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Charleston would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Charleston than you might in Columbia.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Charleston Expensive? and Is Columbia Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Charleston or Columbia?

Columbia has a larger population, and is about 20% larger than the population of Charleston. When comparing the sizes of Charleston and Columbia, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.


When is the best time to visit Charleston or Columbia?

Both destinations experience a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. And since both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Charleston or Columbia in the Summer?

Both Columbia and Charleston are popular destinations to visit in the summer with plenty of activities. Many visitors come to Charleston in the summer for the beaches, the music scene, and the family-friendly experiences. Also, most visitors come to Columbia for the family-friendly experiences during these months.

In July, Charleston is generally around the same temperature as Columbia. Daily temperatures in Charleston average around 82°F (28°C), and Columbia fluctuates around 82°F (28°C).

It's quite sunny in Columbia. The sun comes out a lot this time of the year in Charleston. Charleston usually receives around the same amount of sunshine as Columbia during summer. Charleston gets 293 hours of sunny skies, while Columbia receives 293 hours of full sun in the summer.

It rains a lot this time of the year in Columbia. It's quite rainy in Charleston. In July, Charleston usually receives more rain than Columbia. Charleston gets 6.9 inches (176 mm) of rain, while Columbia receives 4.6 inches (116 mm) of rain each month for the summer.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Charleston 82°F (28°C) 
    Columbia 82°F (28°C)

Should I visit Charleston or Columbia in the Autumn?

Both Columbia and Charleston during the autumn are popular places to visit. Most visitors come to Charleston for the shopping scene, the music scene, and the natural beauty of the area during these months. Furthermore, the autumn months attract visitors to Columbia because of the shopping scene.

Charleston is around the same temperature as Columbia in the autumn. The daily temperature in Charleston averages around 67°F (19°C) in October, and Columbia fluctuates around 64°F (18°C).

In Columbia, it's very sunny this time of the year. In the autumn, Charleston often gets less sunshine than Columbia. Charleston gets 197 hours of sunny skies this time of year, while Columbia receives 230 hours of full sun.

Charleston usually gets around the same amount of rain in October as Columbia. Charleston gets 2.9 inches (74 mm) of rain, while Columbia receives 3 inches (75 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Charleston 67°F (19°C) 
    Columbia 64°F (18°C)

Should I visit Charleston or Columbia in the Winter?

The winter attracts plenty of travelers to both Charleston and Columbia. The winter months attract visitors to Charleston because of the museums, the Christmas ambience, the shopping scene, and the cuisine. Furthermore, the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine are the main draw to Columbia this time of year.

In the winter, Charleston is a little warmer than Columbia. Typically, the winter temperatures in Charleston in January average around 47°F (9°C), and Columbia averages at about 45°F (7°C).

Charleston usually receives more sunshine than Columbia during winter. Charleston gets 188 hours of sunny skies, while Columbia receives 171 hours of full sun in the winter.

In January, Charleston usually receives less rain than Columbia. Charleston gets 3.3 inches (85 mm) of rain, while Columbia receives 3.7 inches (93 mm) of rain each month for the winter.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Charleston 47°F (9°C) 
    Columbia 45°F (7°C)

Should I visit Charleston or Columbia in the Spring?

The spring brings many poeple to Charleston as well as Columbia. The beaches and the natural beauty are the main draw to Charleston this time of year.

In April, Charleston is generally around the same temperature as Columbia. Daily temperatures in Charleston average around 64°F (18°C), and Columbia fluctuates around 64°F (18°C).

The sun comes out a lot this time of the year in Columbia. People are often attracted to the plentiful sunshine in Charleston this time of the year. In the spring, Charleston often gets around the same amount of sunshine as Columbia. Charleston gets 275 hours of sunny skies this time of year, while Columbia receives 273 hours of full sun.

Charleston usually gets around the same amount of rain in April as Columbia. Charleston gets 2.7 inches (69 mm) of rain, while Columbia receives 2.8 inches (72 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Charleston 64°F (18°C) 
    Columbia 64°F (18°C)

Typical Weather for Columbia and Charleston

Charleston Columbia
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 47°F (9°C) 3.3 inches (85 mm) 45°F (7°C) 3.7 inches (93 mm)
Feb 50°F (10°C) 3.3 inches (85 mm) 48°F (9°C) 3.5 inches (88 mm)
Mar 58°F (14°C) 4.3 inches (110 mm) 56°F (13°C) 3.7 inches (95 mm)
Apr 64°F (18°C) 2.7 inches (69 mm) 64°F (18°C) 2.8 inches (72 mm)
May 72°F (22°C) 4.2 inches (106 mm) 72°F (22°C) 3 inches (77 mm)
Jun 78°F (26°C) 6.4 inches (163 mm) 78°F (26°C) 3.5 inches (89 mm)
Jul 82°F (28°C) 6.9 inches (176 mm) 82°F (28°C) 4.6 inches (116 mm)
Aug 81°F (27°C) 7.1 inches (181 mm) 81°F (27°C) 5.8 inches (147 mm)
Sep 76°F (25°C) 4.8 inches (121 mm) 75°F (24°C) 3.3 inches (84 mm)
Oct 67°F (19°C) 2.9 inches (74 mm) 64°F (18°C) 3 inches (75 mm)
Nov 58°F (15°C) 2.5 inches (63 mm) 56°F (13°C) 2.1 inches (54 mm)
Dec 51°F (10°C) 3.1 inches (78 mm) 48°F (9°C) 2.6 inches (67 mm)