Middleton Place || Charleston, SC
Well, we decided to suck it up and pay a lot of money to go see another plantation and big tourist attraction here in the Charleston area. There are several on our bucket list, but we’re no longer really trying to hit every one of them – that’s just more of a list of ideas for when we need something to do. Here’s the deal with plantations in the area that you should understand before visiting: There are several of them. They are similar yet unique in their own ways. Everyone has their favorite one (whether they’ve seen one or all of them), and no one is right or wrong. They are one of those things about the South that you’ll see all around and they are a good way to experience the South if you’re visiting a Southern city. The people who run the plantations know that with all the tourists that come here, they will always have business. So they can get away with charging lots of money, even if you just want to walk around a pretty garden for an hour.
Middleton Place is the third one we’ve visited while living here (the first was Charles Towne Landing; the second Magnolia Plantation) and we picked it because lots of people said it’s their favorite one, and it seemed to be the most popular out of them all. It’s also the most expensive, with admission starting at $28 per person. Now, if it had been priced at the same rate as Magnolia ($15 per person) or Charles Towne Landing ($10 per person), maybe we would have enjoyed it more – but because it was $13 more per person to just walk through the gardens, it left more of a sour taste in our mouths. The main difference between them is that Middleton was designed in the French style, with well manicured bushes and big open lawns, while Magnolia is more of a grand display of different flowers such as camellias, azaleas, and magnolias, and Charles Towne is designed with an English flair and has a lot more history included. So honestly, if you’re wondering which one you should pick, think about which style you’d rather see. There’s no reason for you to have to
pay for see all of them. Unless plantations are really your thing and that’s ALL you come to the South to see!
I have seen tickets for Magnolia Plantation on Groupon, so I highly recommend searching for sites like that if you’re on a budget. If you’re military, try buying tickets through the ITT office. I say “try” because that’s what we did – it seems that Middleton has agreed to give a discounted rate through our office, yet has not been responsive or come through with actually delivering those tickets or returning their calls. But like I said – the plantations don’t need to do these things like offer lower rates, because there will always be tourists coming and supporting them. We did get $1 off per ticket at the gate for being military.
To do more than just walk around the garden (which is $28 per person), it is an extra amount added per person for each extra tour – just like at Magnolia. $15 more to tour the house, take a carriage ride, etc. (Which is why my vote would be for Boone Hall, which is all inclusive for around $25 per person, but we haven’t been there yet so I can’t tell you how it is!)
While I don’t like starting a post that way, I feel it’s something that must be mentioned about visiting some places around here. When looking at this plantation, as well as all the others on Google Reviews, you’ll see similar comments from all of them: There will be people who gave it raving reviews because they loved their experience and really appreciate these kinds of places, and there will be those who rated it poorly mainly because of the steep prices. If you’re okay with paying a lot to tour these places, then ignore the negative comments and figure out what you’re really hoping to see. Popular ones to look into in the Charleston area include Boone Hall, Charles Towne Landing, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place. Maybe some will disagree, but I think that seeing one will give you a good idea of what you’ll find at all the others.
Okay, so with all that out of the way…here is our experience touring the Middleton Place Gardens.
After paying the admission fee and receiving a map with historical facts and tidbits of information about the place, we began our walk through the big, beautiful plantation. The map is pretty detailed and there are numbers corresponding to different points of the info booklet, and following those numbers helps you to see the plantation in full and not miss out on any part. To walk through the entire plantation (including slave quarters/farm/a living history area) took us about 2 hours. The day we chose to visit was particularly hot, so perhaps we didn’t spend as long as we could have at some points, but thankfully there was enough shade along the paths to help provide a break from the sun. (Helpful tip: bring a water bottle! We found a water fountain along the way to refill it as well.)
When we visited in mid-to late-June, there wasn’t a lot in the gardens that was in bloom – mostly just hydrangeas. Along the walk you can see several reflecting pools, the Ashley River, rice gardens, a chapel, a mill turned into a small art studio, slave quarters, barns with various displays inside, and livestock. The house for this plantation is a big brick mansion, for which there are tours available (the current house standing is not the original though). On the day we were there, there were several presentations throughout the day put on by living history reenactors. There is also a restaurant, inn, gift shop, and farmer’s market on site.
Some of the highlights include visiting the wood shop inside one of the barns and watching the sheep run freely around the place. The animals there were your typical livestock – pigs, horses, goats, and water buffalos. I should warn you that if you look up Middleton Place, one of the main pictures you’ll see advertising the place shows a beautiful green lawn with grassy stair steps leading down to two reflecting pools – just know that this picture was taken from the air, and you’re not going to get a view like that. We passed by the green steps and I didn’t even realize that was where we were. Whoops.
So as you can tell, this wasn’t our favorite place to tour – and maybe that’s just because the French style wasn’t for us. When I think of gardens, I want to see flowers, so Magnolia is naturally more interesting to me. However, if you were to ask what our favorite plantation is that you should visit, we’d recommend Charles Towne Landing any day. It may not always come up as a traditional plantation here, but it has everything the plantations have – gardens, trails, a mansion, ponds, swamps, as well as a small zoo and plenty of history all over. That, and it’s only $10/person…or free with your SC state parks pass! We’ve been there twice – in January and in April – and enjoyed it both times. Another plantation tour that we loved and thought was totally worth the price of the tour was the Tea Plantation. Again, not your typical plantation, but definitely unique, educational, and worth a visit.
After all this, we went out for a late lunch at The Codfather – a great place for fish ‘n’ chips. I don’t know why I wanted English food so much – perhaps because we’d been hearing about Brexit all weekend – but it was delicious and hit the spot. We’ve never been to England, but some of our closest friends are English so I think that makes us qualified to say it was a good restaurant. The owner was pretty great too, we could have listened to him talk all afternoon haha.
And that was our weekend! Just to make it clear, I didn’t mean to write our opinions like this to discourage you from visiting plantations in the South – we only want to help you make informed decisions on how to spend your time while visiting Charleston. Charleston is really a great city and definitely worth a visit! But maybe if you’re like us and more into outdoorsy things rather than touristy things, then all you need is a weekend. 😉