The city of Charleston really comes alive during Christmas time. Even though there isn’t snow and rarely does the temperature fall below freezing, the southern city still offers plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday spirit.
Here are some of my favorite holiday events, as well as other popular happenings.
The Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island is one of my favorite family holiday traditions. No Christmas season is complete without a visit here. The Festival of Lights has a driving route where you’ll see all kinds of holiday lights. But there’s plenty to do there besides simply seeing the lights!
There are parking lots where you can get out and roast marshmallows (I recommend bringing your own supplies- the ones sold there are a bit pricey!), visit the holiday shops, and walk around.
Kids can visit Santa Claus, ride the Festival Train, and go for a ride on the carousel. All ages will have fun here, and it’s a great way to spend an evening getting in the holiday spirit.
Grab a cup of coffee from one of Charleston’s many delicious coffee shops to warm up after.
Christmas is a time of parades, and what better way to put a coastal twist on it than with a boat parade!? You can see the Charleston Holiday Boat Parade along Charleston’s waterfront, with viewing spots in both Mt. Pleasant and downtown Charleston.
Enjoy seeing festival boats sail from the Cooper River, through the Charleston Harbor, and the Ashley River. The holiday parade of boats is a Charleston classic that you won’t want to miss.
Charleston has a few family friendly Christmas parades. There is one in downtown Charleston that ends with a tree lighting in Marion Square. Mt. Pleasant also has a Christmas parade that goes down Coleman Boulevard, along with North Charleston doing a parade in Park Circle.
Surrounding areas like Folly Beach and Summerville also have their own parades as well! No matter what area you are in, be sure to see if there is a parade going on nearby. They’re usually pretty early in December, so make sure to do some research ahead of time so you don’t miss it!
I’m not a huge runner, but I always enjoy taking part in Charleston’s Christmas themed 5Ks since they’re so fun and festive. The Reindeer Run is usually early in December and is one of my favorite ways to kick off the Christmas season.
The race takes place downtown and people and their dogs are usually pretty dressed up. I also enjoy the Nexton Cocoa Cup 5k in Summerville. Participants get a Nike sweatshirt with their packets, and the race ends with a free mug and delicious hot chocolate. These perks are a big motivation for me to get out and run!
The South Carolina Aquarium is a great place to go all year round, with over 5,000 animals, many of which call South Carolina home. Here you’ll see sea turtles, like the Kemp’s Ridley, the American Alligator, numerous species of fish, and a favorite for kids – the horseshoe crab.
But this time of year they have special events. You can visit the aquarium after hours and experience Aquarium Aglow. With Christmas lights and festive drinks, enjoy seeing all the underwater creatures come to life after the sun sets.
The aquarium also has other holiday events, like feed the RAYndeer, where you can feed their cownose rays, Santa Sundays, and special diving shows. It’s the perfect way to enjoy an aquarium visit with a festive spin!
Another great way to see a holiday light show is at the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard. This free event runs every half hour from 5:30 to 9:00 and shows the light displays set to music. It’s a great way to spend an evening after a dinner downtown!
There are plenty of ways to get into the holiday spirit with Charleston’s numerous musical performances. With multiple venues, check out the Charleston Music Hall, the Gaillard Center, and the North Charleston Performing Arts Center to see what shows they are offering.
You’ll find everything from shows, symphonies, ballets, and live music. And if you like plays, check out the Dock Street Theatre to see their performance of A Christmas Carol. There is something for every interest and price range, and all will be a great time!
Boone Hall offers tours throughout the year, but it truly comes alive during Christmas. The plantation house is fully decorated with multiple Christmas trees.
The holiday decorations are completely free of plastic, and instead use natural decorations that give a nod to the plantation itself. For example, one Christmas tree is decorated with local sweetgrass and another is filled with cotton and berries that are grown on the plantation.
The wreaths are made with magnolia leaves that are also from the plantation. Touring the plantation house is included with regular admission to the plantation, so visitors can see the grounds as well as all the decorations.
You’ll find plenty of holiday craft markets throughout the city, like the Charleston Holiday Market. Visit the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square on Saturdays and Sundays in December to find festive gifts, along with food vendors and drinks. The Annual Holiday Market and Craft Show at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is also another great event to check out!
There are tons of other smaller holiday markets, so it’s worth checking those out as well for your holiday shopping! These markets are a great place to find gifts for people that can be difficult to shop for, along with crafty homemade creations.
Holiday Walking Tour
A walking tour is a great way to discover Charleston and learn all about the city’s rich history. With Charleston’s mild winters, a holiday walking tour is still comfortable for exploring the city.
Historic Charleston Guided Sightseeing Walking Tour
Without a guided tour, you’re likely to miss all the tales from Charleston’s rich 400-year history that make this city one of the top destinations in the United States.
You’ll get to have a holiday themed walk through downtown and see historical sites, decorated residential areas, and places like The Battery and Rainbow Row.
Photo: Samantha Kramer
I love visiting the lobby of The Charleston Place Hotel during the Christmas season. The lobby is beautifully decorated with trees, garlands, and an impressive train and Christmas village. Stop by the Thoroughbred Club for a holiday cocktail or hot chocolate and enjoy relaxing by all the decorations.
Photo: Samantha Kramer
While walking through the hotel is an experience in itself, hotel guests have access to the hotel’s many holiday events, like the nightly snowfall and Nutcracker tea. Of course, locals can also get tickets for these events as well, but it sells out fast!
Experience some holiday magic by going ice skating at the Credit One Stadium on Daniel Island. For $10, guests are able to enjoy a 45 minute skating session at this annual event, which includes ice skate rentals.
The venue also has fire pits, concessions with smores kits, hot chocolate, and cider, and holiday events through December. It’s a great way to have a true winter holiday experience.
Holiday Themed Bars
Photo: Samantha Kramer
Another way to get festive is by visiting some of Charleston’s holiday themed bars. These bars go all out with Christmas decorations and holiday drinks. Downtown, visit Harold’s Cabin Holiday Pop-Up, Little Pine at Little Palm, and Sippin’ Santa.
In Mt. Pleasant, I recommend Miracle Pop-Up at Handcraft Kitchen and Cocktails. With plenty to choose from, check out the menus and see which cocktails and vibes look like the experience that you would enjoy.
The Bottom Line
With all of these events in the city, you’re bound to discover Charleston’s holiday magic. The city embraces Christmas, and there’s something for everyone and every holiday interest. Enjoy the holiday season!