Fly South for the Winter: Holidays Attractions in Charleston

Make Charleston your home (or home away from home) for the holidays–a warm and welcoming destination for lively seasonal events, winter festivals, and gift shopping. Charleston is beautiful at any season and in any weather (we may be biased), but there's just something about the year-end festivities that brings our community together with both neighbors and visitors.

Maybe it's the way Charleston's historic homes are grandly decorated for Christmas, or the unique view of Palmetto trees adorned in twinkling holiday lights. Seize the photo opportunity with tour that embraces both: a relaxing Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour, a Charleston Harbor Tours Holiday Dinner Cruise. Or, simply choose to guide yourself through the lights and decorations set up in Marion Square–any day of the week or at the Holiday Magic Market on weekends before Christmas.

Bring the kids (and dogs) to the Children's Village at Magnolia Plantation, or the James Island County Park Festival of Lights for larger-than-life size light displays, Christmas train rides, and unforgettable family memories. Don your fancy holiday attire for another plantation event, the Grand Illumination Dinner at Middleton Place Plantation, or a showing of A Christmas Story at the lovely Dock Street Theatre.

In town for New Year's Eve? Lucky you! Ring in the start of a happy new year at the Yorktown Countdown, Charleston's biggest NYE celebration.


Mount Pleasant

Charleston's largest New Year's Eve celebration is on a (you guessed it) giant boat in the Charleston harbor. It's not just any boat--the site of this grand late night bash is none other than the USS Yorktown, a now-retired aircraft carrier that saw action in both World War II and Vietnam. Book your tickets for the 5th annual Yorktown Countdown, and get in on a lively, outdoor nightclub type experience, complete with live bands, a DJ, hors d'oeurves, and amazing views of the Ravenel Bridge and downtown Charleston. This NYE bash is a 21 & up event, and asks guests to "Dress to Impress."

In town for the holidays? Skip the other regular Charleston harbor boat tours; take the Charleston Harbor Tours Keep the Light Shinin' Holiday Dinner Cruise instead! Step aboard the stunning Carolina Queen vessel for a gourmet buffet-style dinner and live entertainment by The Plantation Singers, all while enjoying a 2-hour tour of the Charleston Harbor by night. The Keep the Light Shinin' Holiday Dinner Cruise boards at 6:30pm, and the tour itself runs from 7pm to 9pm. Tickets for the dinner cruise are $52.95 per person, and the holiday harbor tour is only available on select nights this year. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

On Sunday, December 11th, 2016, 100-plus lavishly decorated floats will take over Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, just across the Ravenel Bridge from downtown Charleston. The floats will be 'sailing' past thousands of locals and visitors spending their evenings lining the street to celebrate the holiday season. This parade of holiday floats starts at 5:30pm, immediately after the lighting of the Town of Mount Pleasant Christmas Tree and the fireworks display at Moultrie Middle School. The Mount Pleasant Tree Lighting and Christmas Light Parade is a family-friendly event not to be missed by anyone on this side of the Cooper!


From November 26th to New Year's Eve, Magnolia Plantation becomes a wonderful Christmas escape for kids and their families, with a life-size Christmas village. Visit Magnolia Plantation with the little ones on a free weekend to enjoy 9 kid-size buildings, including Santa's workshop (Mr. and Mrs. Claus are in attendance), a candy factory, gingerbread house, an elf bunk house and "Elfementary School," as well as many other kid and pet-friendly activities. The Children's Village also serves as the Christmas Train Depot, where guests can take fun, 15-minute rides throughout the grounds. Admission to the Children's Village is free with the purchase of Garden admission ($15 for Adults and $10 for kids 6-12). Kids 5 and under are free! The Magnolia Plantation Children's Village will be open November 26th through December 31st this year.

It may be "warm" in Charleston during the holidays, but you can still have a snowy Christmas experience at the Holy City's most historic�and adorable�local theatre. Relax in the historic Dock Street Theatre in Charleston's French Quarter and take in a theatrical reproduction of the beloved holiday movie, White Christmas. The play will be directed by Marybeth Clark, and will be showing at the Dock Street Theatre with performances from November 30th to December 18th. Buy your tickets to White Christmas online, by phone, or at the theatre. Shows take place on both week and weekend nights, with reasonable prices: $31-$68 for adults, $29-68 for Seniors over 60 years of age, and $26-68 for students (25 and under) and active military.

This holiday edition of the Charleston Strolls by Bulldog Tours, the Holiday Walking Tours give visitors to the Holy City a chance to take in Charleston's beauty at Christmastime. The local Charleston Strolls tour guides walk guests past the 4 Corners of Law, the Battery and Whitepoint Gardens, and through the famously gorgeous residential streets of the city, adorned in their winter holiday decorations. Charleston Strolls welcomes visitors for tours nearly every day through December and until the New Year for a 2-hour, small group tour. Tours are just $25 each, and groups of 8 or more automatically receive $1 off of each adult ticket when booked together. Buy your Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tours in advance, and consider a combo tour with the Charleston Strolls Dessert Tour for $20 off the total!

From Thursday through Sunday, December 15th, 16th, and 17th, from 6pm - 8pm, Middleton Place as we know it is transported back in time. One of Charleston's most beautiful plantations, Middleton Place celebrates the holiday seasons with a grand tradition in style with its historic beginnings: a Grand Illumination Dinner and reenactment of "Arthur Middleton's return from Philadelphia, the Revolutionary War's end, and the departure from Charleston of occupying British troops." There's no other event quite like it, and guests of the Grand Illumination Dinner can expect enough period dress, decorated plantation grounds, roaring fireplaces, historic beverages, and traditional fare to feel immersed in the celebrations of Christmas, 1782.

This yearly event is one of Charleston's finest dinner gatherings, held at one of they city's grandest venues, Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion. A night at Circa 1886 is always an indulgence, but on the night of the Dickens Dinner�Thursday December 8th�guests will enjoy a live retelling of the classic Charles Dickens' Christmas Story along with their meal. Of course, the 15th Annual Dickens Dinner focuses most on the food, with a lavish four-course holiday menu influenced by the tale itself. Tickets to this year's event are $85 per person, not including alcoholic beverages or additional gratuities.

Load the little ones in the car for this crowd-pleasing drive-thru exhibit in James Island County Park, just a short drive from downtown Charleston. Three miles of spectacular Christmas lights make an for awesome holiday display that includes reindeer, snowmen, Santa Claus, the North Pole workshop and much more. Several kids rides are set up on site, and inside Santa's Sweet Shoppe, you can see the amazing gingerbread houses from the annual contest. Photos with Santa are available nightly for any kids (and adults) who may want to mark the occasion. Note: weekends are busier--visit the Holiday Festival of Lights on a weekday evening for a more relaxed go-round on the light route. The lighted festivities run from November 11th through January 1st during the 2016-17 season.

From the tree lighting ceremony and the festive holiday farmer's market to visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, this month will be a great time to stroll around in a gorgeously decorated Marion Square. Many Charleston visitors plan their seasonal trips to the Holy City around the dates of this one-of-a-kind holiday market, Saturdays and Sundays 9am - 3pm December 3th, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th, and 18th. Children's and church choirs plus storytellers and other performers will be performing periodically as well. Come one, come all to the weekend Holiday Market at Marion Square, a centrally located gathering place that's kid and pet-friendly. Bring along a bag big enough for Santa�this Charleston holiday market could very well be your one-stop shopping destination this year!


Meet Clare Sweeney

A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare is always venturing between traveling abroad and her beloved Lowcountry. 

Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days...  More About Clare