Surface modification of activated carbons by various physicochemical methods directs an attractive approach for improvement of heavy metal uptake from aqueous solutions. Activated carbons were modified with HCl and HNO 3 optionally followed by NaOH. The effects of surface modifications on the properties of the carbons were studied by the specific surface area, carbon pH, and total acidity capacity as well as by scanning electron microscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The modifications bring about substantial variation in the chemical properties whereas the physical properties remain nearly unchanged. NaOH causes an increase in the content of hydroxyl groups, while the HCl treatment results in an increase in the amount of single-bonded oxygen functional groups such as phenols, ethers, and lactones. The HNO 3 modification generates a large number of surface functional groups such as carbonyl, carboxyl, and nitrate groups. The HNO 3 modification significantly increases the copper adsorption, while the HCl treatment slightly reduces the copper uptake. Most of the copper ions are adsorbed rapidly in the first 2 h; the adsorption equilibrium is established in around 8 h. An intraparticle diffusion model successfully describes the kinetics of copper adsorption onto the carbons.