15 Must-Do Holiday Events in Charleston

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Charleston Festival of Lights

We can’t wait to celebrate the holidays in the Holy City! From plays and concerts to lights displays and dinner cruises, you won’t have any trouble celebrating the season in Charleston. We’ve compiled 15 of our favorite events. Be sure to visit our online calendar for even more holiday happenings

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A Charleston Tradition, the 46th Annual Turkey Day Run is the longest running 5K in Charleston. The 5K run and Gobble Wobble “trot” will be held on Nov. 22 starting at 9 a.m.  The race starts and ends at Marion Square in historic downtown Charleston and winds down King Street and Meeting Street and loops around the historic Charleston Battery. There are a number of viewing spots along the route and many participants wear Thanksgiving-inspired costumes. www.turkeydayrun.com

2.) Holiday Festival of Lights

Journey through 3 miles of 2 million shimmering lights at James Island County Park. The annual Holiday Festival of Lights is a Lowcountry tradition as holiday scenes and local landmarks come to life in the hundreds of displays lining the park. The Holiday Festival of Lights is open every evening, rain or shine, from Nov. 10 to Dec 31. Drive through the light displays and then explore the grounds at Santa’s Village and Winter Wonderland with marshmallow roasting, train rides, old-fashioned carousel, gift shops and entertainment on select evenings. Tours can be arranged through Adventure Sightseeing Tours with hotel pickup. www.ccprc.com   www.adventuresightseeing.com

Holiday Festival of Lights_credit Charleston County Parks (2)

“Hallelujah!” Few excerpts are familiar to as many, and Messiah remains Handel’s best-known work. There is no better time of year to enjoy Handel’s sacred oratorio that has long been associated with good will and charity. Become a part of the glorious Charleston Symphony Orchestra holiday tradition  “Holy City Messiah,” with the CSO Chamber Chorus and four guest vocalists at three beautiful churches around Charleston. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7st  at Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8th at Holy City Messiah in Daniel Island; and 4 p.m. Dec. 9th at Holy City Messiah Summerville. https://charlestonsymphony.org/

Enjoy the holiday spirit and seasonal decorations on the two-hour Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour of the historic district. Tour where carriages and motorcoaches are not allowed, while listening to stories and learning traditions that reveal Charleston’s rich history and colorful past. Visit the Four Corners of Law and The Battery while also seeing private neighborhoods dressed in their holiday finery. Throughout December, the Charleston Strolls Holiday Tour includes an abbreviated tour of the Edmondston-Alston House – the only Charleston house museum with a magnificent view of Charleston Harbor. https://bulldogtours.com

Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour

If you love the sounds of the season mixed with dancing, comedy sketches and more talent than one stage can hold, the Charleston Christmas Special is for you. Seasoned producers Brad and Jennifer Moranz have created a brand-new show sure to delight all ages. Performances are Dec. 14-23 at the Charleston Music Hall in the heart of downtown Charleston. Info: bradandjennifermoranz.com

The Charleston Farmers Holiday Market is open select Saturdays and Sundays throughout December from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Dec. 3-4, Dec. 10-11, Dec. 17). Head to Marion Square in downtown Charleston for locally made arts and crafts while enjoying special entertainment, music and food. Info: charlestonfarmersmarket.com

Join Charleston Stage for its musical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” On stage at the historic Dock Street Theatre in downtown Charleston from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22, this show is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. Celebrate with Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future in Charleston Stage’s original and imaginative take on Dickens’ immortal classic. Info: charlestonstage.com

A Christmas Carol

8.) Parades

Holiday Parades: City of Charleston parade is 3 p.m. Dec. 4 along Broad, King and Calhoun streets, ending with Santa’s arrival at Marion Square where the tree of lights in the center of the park will come to life after dark. More than 3,000 participate in the Summerville Christmas parade through the historic downtown at 2 p.m. on Dec. 11. The North Charleston Christmas parade and festival is 4-8 p.m. Dec. 3 around Park Circle and includes children’s activities, craft and food vendors and live musical performances. The Town of Mount Pleasant features more than 100 floats parading down Coleman Boulevard in its parade, which ends with a tree lighting and fireworks at 5:30-8pm on Dec. 11.

9.) Holiday Parade of Boats

Get on board with a Lowcountry holiday tradition as this display of lighted and festive boats proceeds from the Cooper River, through the Charleston Harbor and into the Ashley River, culminating in a brilliant fireworks display over the harbor.. Thousands of spectators line the shores along the Charleston peninsula, Patriot’s Point and other great viewing locations.  The Parade of Boats begins about 5:30 p.m. on the Mount Pleasant side of the Cooper River and ends on the Ashley River about 8p.m.  Check out the parade from the water for the best view with Spiritline Cruises Parade of Boats Cruise


Head to the festively-decorated Circular Congregational Church for special candlelight performances of “The Holiday Edition” of The Sound of Charleston. Gospel spirituals, jazz and holiday classics await. Hot cider and cookies are served after each show. www.soundofcharleston.com.

Plan a visit to King Street. It’s the perfect place to spend a day shopping and grab lunch or coffee while watching the holiday hustle and bustle. Don’t miss 2nd Sunday on King from 1-5 p.m. the second Sunday of each month. King Street is closed to vehicular traffic from Queen Street North to Calhoun Street.

The holidays will come to life at Boone Hall Farms Christmas Tree Festival with cheerful holiday tunes, a Ferris Wheel, holiday cookie decorating, crafts, letters to Saint Nick, bow and wreath-making demonstrations, marshmallow roasting and more. Kick off the Christmas season with this three-day festival, held on Nov. 18, 19 and snag a one-of-a-kind handmade wreath. Additionally, tour the festively-decorated plantation home during the Christmas holidays. www.boonehallplantation.com.

13.) Charleston Place Holiday Headquarters

From November 25th through the January 2nd, The Charleston Place will transform into European holiday bazaar. More than 70 decorated trees will adorn the hallways and courtyards, along with a 40-foot tree of lights in Market Street Circle. The holiday train, one of the hotel’s most memorable traditions, will return this year with new enhancements, traversing the grand lobby along 300 feet of track.  Coupled with carolers, Santa and nightly snowfall, there’s snow place like The Charleston Place during the holiday season.

“Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical” In this musical production, Kris Kringle takes on the cynics in this story of a lovable white-bearded gentleman who claims to be the real Santa Claus. Written by Meredith Willson, author of “The Music Man” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the story follows Kris Kringle as he spreads a wave of love throughout New York City, fostering camaraderie between Macy’s and Gimble’s department stores and convincing a cynical, single mother and her somber daughter that there is indeed a Santa Claus . Bring the entire family to see this performance Dec. 4-20 at The Footlight Players. Info: footlightplayers.net

15.) Polar Bear Plunge on Folly & Sullivans

Start the new year off in a way only a beach town can provide when hundreds of brave revelers “plunge” into the freezing Atlantic Ocean for the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 1 on Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach. Many afterparties at bars and restaurants follow the “plunge” event.

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Charleston FAQ's

Choosing a hotel and where to stay in Charleston all depends on your budget and goals. Do you want to stay Downtown, at the beach or in the outer areas such as North Charleston where you have to drive to get everywhere? For more help on deciding: https://travelerofcharleston.com/articles/hotels/

Charleston has 3 main public beaches which are: Folly, Isle of Palms and Sullivans. Each beach has it’s own atmosphere. The most common beach that people visit is Folly Beach and then Isle of Palms followed by Sullivans Island. For more info on Charleston’s beaches visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/guide-charlestons-beaches/

Charleston, SC is full of historical things to do. Everything from museums, to public sites and free landmark sites such as Rainbow Row and the Battery can be seen. For more info on Charleston’s top historical sites visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/places-to-learn-about-charleston-sc-history/

There are many things that will keep the kids and family entertained and educated in Charleston. There are historic sites such as Fort Sumter, a Children’s Museum, Aquarium and the USS Yorktown…a WWII era aircraft carrier you can tour. For more info visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-family-fun-activities/

There’s so many  things you could do in Charleston it can be overwhelming. We recommend that first time visitors, checkout the ultimate first-time visitor guide here: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-first-time-visitors-guide/

Spring in Charleston, SC is an amazing time of year to visit. The flowers are blooming and the weather is mild and sunny. For more info, check-out our spring guide to Charleston here: https://travelerofcharleston.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-springtime-in-charleston/

Summer in Charleston is a great time to visit. There’s plenty of things to keep you busy and visiting the beach will probably….or should be on your short-list. Also water-based activities and tours are popular. Checkout this summer guide to Charleston for more info: 

Our 10 Favorite Summer Activities in Charleston

Fall is one of the best times to visit. The weather cools down a bit and the skies are typically blue and clear. In addition there are many great events, festivals and the large crowds of summer have gone back to school or work. For more info on visiting in the fall, checkout this article: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-12-things-to-do-fall/

There are so many great things to do that it’s difficult to narrow the list down. This article does a great job with figuring out the must do things to do in Charleston

7 Can’t Miss Reasons to Visit Charleston, SC Now

The consensus is a minimum of 3-days is needed to settle in and experience Charleston. For instance, many people take 2 days exploring downtown and another day visiting sites outside of downtown such as the plantations, Angel Oak Tree or beaches. Checkout this page for a list of tours and attractions: 

Charleston’s Top Tours & Attractions | Things to do

Downtown Charleston was made for walking and for sure one of the best way to soak up and experience the history first-hand. This article goes over getting around Charleston with and without a car as well: 

Getting Around Charleston, SC

We’re of course partial to Charleston, but here’s the truth. There are many similarities however there are some differences in our opinion: 

  • Both cities are historic and beautiful. 
  • Both cities are extremely walkable. Savannah, with it’s park-like squares maybe more walkable than Charleston. 
  • Charleston has a more established and food scene with many more options. 
  • Charleston has better hotels and shopping.
  • Both cities have equally good tours.
  • Charleston has better beach options. Savannah has Tybee which is great, however it’s 1 beach vibe versus Charleston which has 3 beaches with different vibes. Checkout this Charleston beach guide article: https://travelerofcharleston.com/guide-charlestons-beaches/
  • In Savannah you can walk with alcoholic beverages on the street. This is not allowed in Charleston. This can be good or bad depending on your stance. 
  • Savannah is more affordable.
  • TourPass offers all-inclusive passes in both cities: https://tourpass.com

There are always great and world-class events happening in Charleston. For a calendar of events and things to do in Charleston, checkout our online calendar of events: https://travelerofcharleston.com/events/

Of course there are free money-saving coupons that you can use. Visit the coupons page for a bunch of ways to save: https://travelerofcharleston.com/coupon/

Charleston has some fantastic can’t miss tours such as Fort Sumter, carriage, ghost, harbor, historic and culinary tours. For a full list with more info visit: https://travelerofcharleston.com/attractions/

Checkout the Charleston Relocation Guide page which will guide you during your move: https://travelerofcharleston.com/charleston-sc-relocation-guide/

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