Build a "snowman" out of sand and enjoy Christmas-light-wrapped palm trees when you celebrate the holiday season in the Lowcountry city of Charleston, S.C.
From decorated historic homes and an annual festival of lights to lively dinners serving up great Southern food to Gullah spirituals and holiday concerts, Charleston offers a variety of festivities and entertainment to celebrate Christmas.
» MORE: AJC Holiday Guide
December is jam-packed with Christmas activities to get you in the holiday spirit. Head to Marion Square — located at King, Calhoun and Meeting streets — which is the site of Charleston's official 60-ft. holiday tree and entertainment stage. Throughout December, the square features festive decorations and family-oriented activities and performances to capture the spirit of the season.
The annual holiday parade kicks things off at 3 p.m. on Dec. 2, followed by the tree lighting. And on Saturdays and Sundays (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) you can shop the Holiday Market, offering up everything from wreaths, crafts and gift items to baked goodies and fresh veggies. On Dec. 8, you can enjoy the Parade of Boats, a Lowcountry holiday tradition where lighted and festive boats proceed through the Charleston Harbor. A family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration will also take place on Marion Square from 4 p.m. on Dec. 31. For full details on "Holiday Magic in Historic Charleston" at Marion Square, visit charlestonarts.org.
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Another festive tradition returns to Charleston this year—the 29th annual Holiday Festival of Lights, where millions of multicolored lights will illuminate more than 700 displays of all shapes and sizes over three miles. Besides the driving tour, you can also park your car and enjoy family activities, shopping, food and entertainment. The Holiday Festival of Lights runs Nov. 9-Jan. 1 at James Island County Park.
Sounds of the season
If you love music and history, check out the Annual Spirituals Concerts at Drayton Hall, which will feature African-American spiritual music in concert with performances by Ann Caldwell & The Magnolia Singers. Catered receptions and tours of the house will take place before the concert at 8 p.m. on Dec. 8. Tickets range from $50-$65 ( 3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston. 843-769-2600, draytonhall.org). A host of other concerts are available, including various performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (the annual "Holiday Pops" concert is a classic, packed with sing-along favorites).
Do some holiday shopping for gifts—or just for yourself—at the City Market (one of the oldest public markets in the country), which spans four city blocks and houses more than 140 vendors selling unique souvenirs and other wares. If you're dreaming of more traditional retail therapy, head to King Street to peruse the plethora of shops. Antique collectors won't want to miss a trip to George C. Birlant & Co. (191 King St., Charleston. 843-722-3842, birlant.com) one of the largest and oldest antiques purveyors in the Southeast.
Holiday walking tour
Soak up some of Charleston's amazing history by taking advantage of one of the many tours available. Charleston Stroll's Holiday Walking Tour will guide you to various special landmarks throughout the city, as you take in the Christmas décor and learn fascinating history (there's also a fun photo op in front of the Mills House Hotel's grand Christmas tree to cap it off). Bulldog Tours Inc. 18 Anson St., Charleston. 843-722-8687. charlestonstrolls.com
Pub crawls & dinners
If exploring the city's renowned food and drink offerings is more your speed, consider checking out the annual Holiday Pub Crawl from Original Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston (843-577-5535, pubtourcharleston.com). The 2.5-hour crawl takes you through historic pubs and taverns to enjoy beverages, complimentary appetizers and holiday treats (drinks available for purchase at each stop). The tour costs $30 per person and departs at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily, Nov. 25-Jan. 10. While many of the special annual holiday dinners are already sold out, it's worth a look at individual restaurants' websites for last-minute openings and specials.
Boat tours Another great way to experience a holiday tour of historic Charleston is from the harbor via boat. Hop aboard the Charleston Sleigh Ride—a one-and-a-half hour boat tour on the Charleston Explorer that includes holiday tunes, free hot cocoa and stories about Charleston's Christmas traditions. Contact Pegasus Charters (843-276-4203, pegasuscharters.com) about the tour. Or book a Holiday Dinner Cruise with Charleston Harbor Tours (843-722-1112, www.charlestonharbortours.com), where you'll get to nosh on local cuisine and listen to live versions of Gullah spirituals and classic Christmas songs.
With a plethora of holiday festivities and traditions, Charleston makes for a fun and easy Christmas getaway.
This story was originally published in October 2016.