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 another. This post provides information on what each plantation has to offer, prices and also an analysis of reviews from TripAdvisor, so you can decide which plantation is best for you.
WHERE ARE MOST PLANTATIONS?
There are no plantations on the downtown peninsula so you will need transport to get to whichever one you choose. Along a 5-mile stretch of Highway 61, are three plantations: Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall. They are in an area that locals call West Ashley about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston west of the Ashley River. Boone Hall is also about a 30 minute drive from downtown.
PLANTATIONS ALONG ROUTE 61
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is the first plantation 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.
With over 3,000 positive reviews, Magnolia Plantation & Gardens has received an overall 4 star rating on TripAdvisor. Much like Boone Hall, this location has also received the Certificate of Excellence for their consistently positive ratings. That being said, they have received hundreds of negative comments which indicate that some guests may not enjoy their trip. Some have said that admission is overpriced, while others complain that their tours aren’t very good. Ultimately, these opinions only represent a small group of visitors, so chances are that your experience will be much different. An overwhelming majority of reviews refer to Magnolia Plantation as beautiful and full of life. For every unhappy customer, there are dozens more who appreciated the services offered.
This 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.
Over 2,000 reviewers agree that Middleton Place is an excellent plantation to visit. This estate enjoys a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and has also been awarded their Certificate of Excellence. Although roughly 100 visitors have left negative comments, they definitely aren’t indicative of the common experience. As you might expect, many of the unhappy customers complained that the price of admission was too steep. There are a few complaints about the service itself, but not enough to cause concern. Positive reviews tend to focus on how beautiful the plantation can be during all times of the year. Some reviewers suggest setting aside at least half a day to experience as much of Middleton Place as possible.
Last of the 3 on Highway 61 is Drayton Hall, 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.
At this point, it probably won’t come as too big of a surprise, but this plantation has also received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Over 1,000 visitors have seen fit to give this estate a positive review, resulting in an overall rating of 4 ½ stars. Compared to other historical locations in the area, Drayton Hall has far fewer negative comments. As usual, many of these reviews complain that the price is too steep for the services offered. On the other hand, most customers were pleased with their experience and some even stated that the price of admission was reasonable. A lot of visitors find their tour guides to be very helpful and informative, providing much needed historical context to all of the attractions on display.
The drive in is a gorgeous, long avenue of oaks. You will arrive at a beautiful white home at the end of the drive. It was at this house that celebrity couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married. Tours are offered as well as live talks about the Gullah black history experience. This plantation is good for families. The adults can get some history and, depending on the time of year you visit, everyone in the family 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. In September, Boone Hall always hosts the Taste of Charleston and January/February you can enjoy the largest oyster roast. There are often large outdoor concerts, in fact Loretta Lynn performed here.
Boone Hall Plantation has a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor and has earned a Certificate of Excellence from the service. Although there are some negative reviews, over 2,000 visitors have rated the attraction at 4 stars or higher. Customers who enjoyed their experience referred to it as a walk back in time, describing tour guides as extremely knowledgeable. Those who did not enjoy their visit typically felt that the tickets were overpriced for the service provided. Most guests have a great time at Boone Hall, but there are a few people who feel that there aren’t enough activities to warrant the price you’ll pay for admission.
Much like the other historic locations on this list, McLeod Plantation has received a very positive rating of 4 ½ stars on TripAdvisor. A handful of guests left negative reviews, but they don’t seem to indicate any significant problems. The most common complaints seem to focus on their tour guides, suggesting that they don’t provide a lot of unique or interesting information. That being said, positive comments send an entirely different message. Several reviewers felt that the tours offered at this plantation are an absolute must. If you’re on a budget, many reviewers recommend this as an excellent opportunity to learn more about the early history of African Americans.
The Charleston Tea Plantation has received a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor with over 800 positive reviews. As usual, they have also been given a handful of negative reviews, but these do not seem to be indicative of a larger problem. Some found the tour boring, while others were looking for something a bit more historic. One thing is for sure – the history you’ll learn about here is far different than what you’ll discover at other plantations in the area. Although some guests weren’t happy with their visit, others suggest that the tours are well worth the price of admission. Many visitors are fans of the Bigelow Tea Company, and they report that this is an excellent opportunity to discover how tea is grown and cultivated in the United States.
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site has received a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor. Very few of their reviews are negative, but there are quite a few average ratings. Even the negative comments note that you get what you pay for, and visiting this location will not cost you a dime.
Most average reviews suggest that this plantation is worth checking out, but take issue with the fact that there is not much to see. Visitors who enjoyed their trip to this plantation appreciated both the free access and the focus on political history. Many guests describe this location as both beautiful and educational, some going so far as to say it’s a great lunch spot.
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