This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you book or purchase through these links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.Last December, I got the chance to visit Charleston at Christmas and as charming as I thought the southern city was already, well…let’s just say it tops itself at Christmastime. Say it with me now: Charming Charleston at Christmastime. Has a nice ring, right?
Charleston at Christmas
I love traveling at Christmastime. All the decorations make each location come alive in its own style, delivering holiday cheer and adding a pep to the city’s step. There’s something about those decorations that make me smile and warm my heart despite the cool, crisp air (which honestly also warms my heart as I love winter).
Charleston is no exception. The city decorates itself in a variety of different ways from parks to plantation houses to light festivals creating an atmosphere that caters to individuals, couples, and families. If you are traveling to Charleston or thinking about traveling to Charleston in December, here are some ideas to inspire that southern holiday charm capturing the true essence of Charleston at Christmas!
I have to say that out of all the plantation houses, Magnolia Plantation was my favorite. Dating back to 1676, it is one of the oldest plantations in the South.
I liked the whimsical nature of the gardens (vs manicured ones) and I think this is why it became my favorite.
Magnolia Plantation does a great job with their Christmas decorations and my favorite was this bridge!
TIP: Going first thing in the morning in early December will almost ensure you have the gardens to yourself. I think I saw only 5 other people (excluding groundskeepers)!
Location: 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall is also nicely decorated for Christmas and has a plethora of things to do including farm tours and house tours. I also enjoyed just wandering the grounds.
Boone Hall front door Christmas decorations
TIP: We visited late in the afternoon, almost at closing but with enough time to do the riding farm tour, house tour and walk the grounds. Once again, we didn’t have to deal with crowds. Also, be sure to see the Spanish moss trees that are so iconic in the South.
Location: 1235 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
Middleton Place is also decorated for Christmas although its decorations are a little more subdued. What I liked about Middleton Place is that the gardens featured both landscaped and whimsical styles. I remember thinking that (to me) it was kind of a combination of Magnolia Plantation and Boone Plantation garden-wise.
TIP: If rain is in the forecast, be sure to bring a raincoat or umbrella. The gardens are massive and you can’t easily just return to parking.
Location: 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414
Holiday Festival of Lights
Every year the Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island puts on a spectacular show. Although you must enter the festival via car, there are parking lots where you can park, get out and explore the walking areas.
This Christmas tree reflecting in the water was one of my favorite light displays.
The sandcastle sculpture was really cool and absolutely amazing to think about the talent that went into creating it!
There were different characters on each side. I think I liked the Grinch most!
There’s a Toy Shoppe…
and even dancing lights to the Hallelujah Chorus!
TIPS: If driving independently, you can drive through the festival as many times as you want. Leashed dogs are allowed and bringing your own s’mores ingredients is permitted to roast around their campfire. If you don’t want to drive, then I recommend Gray Line for a tour company. They went above and beyond accommodating us at last-minute when our original tour canceled on us. The tours go rain or shine. For all other information, including this year’s schedule, click here.
Location: James Island County Park, 871 Riverland Drive, Charleston, SC 29412
You might also like: MAGNOLIA PLANTATION & GARDENS: A WINTER TOUR IN CHARLESTON
The Old and The Only
Although not decorated for Christmas, the Angel Oak is something not to miss. It’s estimated to be 400-500 years old (even though some will argue it’s 1500 years old) and stands 66.5 feet tall with a 28-foot circumference.
Its longest branch measures 187 feet!!
TIP: December is a great time to visit once again because as you can see, there were no crowds. It also helped that we visited first thing in the morning.
Location: 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island, SC 29455
Charleston Tea Plantation
Right after visiting the Angel Oak, we visited the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea plantation in North America! Yep, all the others are located in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Hanging out with Waddy!
You can tour the factory and the grounds and afterwards, try different teas with Waddy the Frog!
TIP: For visitor information including tours, teas, directions and hours of operation, click here.
Location: 6617 Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
One of my favorite things to do anywhere I visit is to explore the city on foot. In addition to all the “must-sees”, I find all kinds of neat things I might not otherwise see if I were driving or on an organized tour.
Rainbow Row is one of the most popular attractions to see in Charleston. Thankfully, we had a sunny day because even though it’s always colorful, the color pops much better against a blue sky vs a gray one.
The 13 historical houses make up the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States. I spotted Christmas decoration on a few of them!
TIP: It’s difficult to photograph Rainbow Row so that you get enough of the color. It’s also very difficult to get it without cars. Although it doesn’t show the houses in full, try photographing from the near sidewalk. It creates a different visual with the color of the houses, the sidewalk, the sky and the leaves.
Location: 83 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401
The Four Corners of Law
Northwest Corner: Charleston County Courthouse Northeast Corner: Charleston City Hall
Southwest Corner: US Post Office & Federal Courthouse Southeast Corner: St Michael’s Episcopal Church
The Four Corners of Law was named in the 1930s by Robert Ripley (creator of Ripley’s Believe it or Not) and refers to the representation of federal, state, local and ecclesiastical law on four different corners of the intersection.
TIP: Be sure to go inside St Michael’s (if it’s open) as it’s beautifully decorated.
Location: Intersection of Meeting Street and Broad Street, Charleston, SC
Be sure to head to Waterfront Park and check out Charleston’s famous Pineapple Fountain. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and Charleston is definitely hospitable!
Location: Waterfront Park, 1 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401
Charleston City Market
Browse the Charleston City Market, one of the oldest public markets in the US. It was established in the 1790s and stretches 4 city blocks!
TIP: Makes a great rainy day activity (we know first hand)!
Location: 188 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Charleston Christmas Decorations
Lastly, just walk around and see Charleston all dressed up in its Christmas best!
TIP: If it’s pretty, start uptown and work your way down to The Battery for sunset!
Location: Downtown Charleston, SC
The Citadel or the Military College of South Carolina is beautifully decorated for Christmas and is just an interesting campus all around.
One of my favorite things to see on campus was The Citadel Ring Statue. It stands 6 feet tall, is 8 feet wide and weighs 3,000 pounds! The numbers are interchangeable to keep the year current!
They decorate the Summerall Chapel nicely for the season. Built in 1936, the chapel was named after General Pelot Summerall and had its inaugural service in 1937.
You can NOT miss The Citadel Bulldog Monument especially when he’s dressed in all his Christmas glory! The 10-foot tall bulldog guards the Corps of Cadets and has his protective eye on The Citadel campus.
Location: 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC 29409
Odds, Ends & Uniques
Although he might not be there anymore because he’s a copper sculpture that was for sale ($3800 if anyone is in the mood to exercise their credit card), stop by Lowcountry Artists Gallery and see if the Hallelujah Frog is there!
Location: 148 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29401
This…this took a lot of work to find. In the rain. But, we found it. I had seen it on Instagram (imagine that) but there was no location given. I thought, no problem, I will just ask someone. And I did ask someone. Lots of someones and NONE of the someones knew where it was!
Turns out that there are a lot of tiled entrances to the shops on King Street and OH HEY was one of them. We just had to look until we found it. Persistence pays off!
TIP: If you find something like this and don’t have its exact location, make sure you look at all the entrances to the shops on King Street. Chances are this is where you will find it!
Location: OH HEY can be found at the entrance to the Marine Layer store at the intersection of King and Society Streets.
Pink House Gallery
The Pink House Gallery opened in 1712 and is said to be the oldest standing tavern building in America, the sixth oldest building in South Carolina and the second oldest residence after the Colonel William Rhett House.
Location: 17 Chalmers Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Charleston Hat Man
The Charleston Hat Man was another one of my scavenger hunt finds. He was much easier to find than OH HEY thankfully. Every part of the Hat Man is made up of…you guessed it, hats! 16 hats in 12 different styles to be exact!
First painted in 1892, the Hat Man was an advertisement for the Haberdashery Building or the Hat Man Building! 🙂
Location: Southeast corner of the intersection of Church and Broad Streets
Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge
If you are a regular reader of my blog or follow my Instagram you know I love bridges. So, naturally, I couldn’t wait to see the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge that connects downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant.
TIP: There’s a pedestrian section so you can walk or bike across. And as always, don’t forget to look up!
Location: Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, Charleston, SC 29403
While you’re in the area exploring the bridge, head over to Patriots Point to see the USS Yorktown. Not only are there tours available, but you can sleep onboard, host an event and they even have a flight academy!
TIP: Walk out onto the pier not too far behind the USS Yorktown to get it and the bridge in the same photo.
Location: 40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
Churches & Cathedrals
There are several churches and cathedrals around town in addition to the Summerall Chapel at The Citadel and St Michael’s Episcopal Church at the Four Corners of Law. Walk around and look at all of them decorated for Christmas. You can even go inside some!
Trinity United Methodist Church
Location: 273 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401
St Matthew’s Lutheran Church
Location: 405 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Citadel Square Church
Location: 328 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Where To Stay
Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District
If you want to stay somewhere convenient, historical and decked out in the Christmas spirit, the Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District is your place! The rooms were nice and spacious (they’re all suites) and there was a fabulous and free made-to-order breakfast as well as a complimentary nightly reception featuring cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres!
The hotel is adjacent to the 10-acre park, Marion Square. At various times of the year, the park features farmers markets and other annual events. During Christmas, it comes alive with holiday lights and is home to the city’s Christmas tree!
They actually lit the Christmas tree the night we arrived. Since the tree is hollow, you can walk through it and so I did. This is what I found when I looked up!
Fun Fact: The hotel was the site of the original Citadel Military College which is why it looks like a fort!
Location: 335 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Where To Eat
There are many fabulous places to eat in the Charleston area and I did a pretty good job of hitting up many of them. A comprehensive post is coming soon, but I picked one of my favorites to highlight for this post!
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is truly a taste of Southern goodness. I got to meet Carrie, the owner and daughter of Callie, who with her small team of bakers has made her mother’s delicious biscuits available all over the United States.
Left: Shortbread, Buttermilk, Cheese & Chive biscuits Right: Regular Pimiento Cheese, Carolina Honey, & Peach Basil Jam
There’s a reason that she has been praised by Food and Wine, the NY Times, Southern Living and even Oprah! These fluffy biscuits are unique and their creative flavors are well, let’s just say they’re quite pleasing to the palate! 😉
TIP: I recommend tasting a few different ones for the full experience. Order their Mint Iced Tea to go along with your fabulous biscuit selection. It is amazing! You can get it sweet or unsweet. I did half and half and it was perfect. Also, if you can’t visit the Charleston or Atlanta stores, you can have these biscuit goodies shipped!
Location: 476 1/2 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
December is a great time to visit Charleston. Not only is it beautifully decorated in the spirit of the season, but there are fewer crowds and the weather is usually mild. Last year was atypical as we started our week in the 70s and ended the week with an unplanned extra night in Charleston because we couldn’t get through the snowstorm that hit both Atlanta and my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But, typically speaking, the weather is mild. 🙂
Have you visited Charleston at Christmas? What was your favorite decorated place or your favorite thing you did? Do you have anything to add to my list? As always, I love hearing from you!
‘Til next time…