10 Things to Do in Charleston in December

Preparing a list of 10 things to see and do in Charleston in December is an excellent idea if you want to make the most of every minute of your visit. I have prepared a list for you with the intention of making it easy and headache-free.

Keyvis Montilva

Keyvis Montilva

11 min read

10 Things to Do in Charleston in December

Charleston | ©Comiccreator24

Plans to see and do in Charleston abound during all seasons and months of the year. However, December is a very busy month in all parts of the world because of the Christmas festivities. In the case of this city it is exactly that, as there is a gigantic diversity of activities for adult, children and family entertainment.

Keep reading this compilation so that you have a more or less clear idea about the things you could do with your day to day life during your visit to Charleston, South Carolina.

1. Have an elegant dinner on a cruise on Charleston Bay

Boat in Charleston| ©allisonmseward12
Boat in Charleston| ©allisonmseward12

December is a month that is largely defined by the food that characterizes all celebrations and at the same time this is a city known throughout the country for its maritime and river culture.

Therefore, booking one of the boat tours in Charleston is a good idea to occupy some of your Christmas days in this part of South Carolina. In fact, if you can choose an option that offers evening cruises with food included, even better.

The prices of this type of dinner buffets with live music and entertainment can vary greatly depending on the transportation company chosen. What I can assure you is that weekends are very coveted and the best thing to do is to reserve your place in advance.

Normally, adults pay a little more than children and you can't expect the special Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve dinners to command the same prices that are assigned to a regular Friday night ride. For the standards of dress, the service offered and the length of the tour are very different. In the case of an ordinary Friday, everything is much more informal and the ride usually lasts three hours at the most.

Book the best boat tours around Charleston

2. Visit the Children's Villa at Magnolia Plantation

Magnolia planting at Christmas| ©happyperfectpeace
Magnolia planting at Christmas| ©happyperfectpeace

The entire region known as the American Deep South, stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina, is filled with plantations that served as important centers of the slave economy for a couple of centuries. Everything changed, fortunately, with the Civil War, but over the decades these places have mutated into a real tourist attraction.

So one of the best plantation tours from Charleston is the one that takes you to the Magnolia Plantation. This property is very well known thanks to the existence of one of the most beautiful private gardens in the south of the United States and just in December they develop an event called Children's Villa that you can't miss.

Basically, it is the staging of about 10 child-sized temporary buildings that are inspired by Christmas scenes such as Santa's workshop or a gingerbread cookie factory.

Most commonly, this activity runs from late November through New Year's Eve, and the best part of the whole thing is that admission to Children's Villa is free. That is, as long as you have paid for the guided tour of the plantation gardens as well as the main residence.

Get the best plantation tours from Charleston

3. Shop at the Old Village Holiday Fest

Old Village Holiday Fest| ©Christian Senger
Old Village Holiday Fest| ©Christian Senger

Across the river again in the direction of Mount Pleasant, specifically at the south end of that city, a Christmas market is held during the weekends of December, known locally as the Old Village Holiday Fest.

It is an open-air community event that takes place along Pier St. with a very interesting offer of local products. Always along with food trucks, live music, children's entertainment and a very noticeable Christmas atmosphere.

It is a good plan if you are looking to familiarize yourself with the way in which the locals of the Charleston metropolitan area celebrate Christmas, beyond the typical Parades that take place in emblematic points of the city.

4. Visit the Dock Theather for a fun children's play

Inside the Dock Street Theater| ©Ellen Stipo
Inside the Dock Street Theater| ©Ellen Stipo

Enjoying the cultural buzz that a local theater can offer when you visit a place is always a good idea. Thanks to the Dock Street Theater located in Charleston's French Quarter , you can see all kinds of reinterpretations of Christmas movies under the parameters of a theatrical staging.

Most commonly, these performances are scheduled for weekends, Thursday through Sunday. The prices are not extremely cheap, as they almost always depend on the amount of scenographic effort of the play, as well as the size of the cast.

Visiting a place like this may feel like a bad idea if there are language limitations due to the fact that you don't understand English. However, the reality is that these are very visual shows that are friendly to even a small child.

So they are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a holiday theatrical tradition. Which usually takes place in these types of medium-sized cities throughout the country. In addition, December is the ideal month of the winter season due to the fact that the cultural agenda of the theaters chooses it as the preferred time of the year to develop this type of theatrical projects.

5. Enjoy local cuisine with Dickens Dinners

At a Dickens Dinner| ©Charming Inns of Charleston
At a Dickens Dinner| ©Charming Inns of Charleston

Charleston's dining scene is one of the most interesting in the American South in that it seeks to balance Southern culinary identity with a very subtle elegance that ends up giving a 180-degree twist to any native dish.

The Dickens Dinners are just that, as they are a series of four-course dinners that take place every weekend in December at a restaurant called Circa 1886. It is located in the Wentworth Mansion, one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the city.

This is a relatively elegant event and it is therefore preferable that you dress appropriately if you wish to reserve a seat for you and all your companions. Keep in mind that it also consists of a dinner that will be much more expensive than any other less exclusive alternative.

The proximity of this restaurant to the most iconic sites of Charleston's peninsular south, where the historic district is located, makes it a good activity to close or open the best guided tours through the tourist heart of Charleston.

6. The Charleston Holiday Boat Parade is another fun activity

Charleston Holiday Boat Parade| ©Karrie L
Charleston Holiday Boat Parade| ©Karrie L

As free, family-friendly entertainment options abound throughout the month of December in Charleston, you won't be surprised to learn that there's a maritime parade of Christmas-lit holiday boat floats through the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor and then on to the mouth of the neighboring Ashley River.

This is an annual event organized by the Charleston City Council's cultural affairs department and involves all sorts of local boats decorated from bow to stern with as many Christmas lights as possible.

It almost always takes place in the middle of the month, between the 15th and the 24th. But it all depends on what is decided by the city council regarding the dates of the Christmas weekends.

Visibility from the Charleston waterfront usually starts around 7:30 pm and three places that are perfect to be with your family at that time are the Battery, the White Point Garden and the very famous Joey Riley Waterfront Park.

Since much of your evening will continue to be free after this little entertainment, it would be great if you opt to rent one of the best carriage tours of Charleston through the cobblestone streets of the French Quarter.

This is due to the fact that the closer it gets to Christmas Eve, the greater the chances that the horse-drawn carriage drivers will be dressed as Christmas characters, ranging from lots of elves to a plump and familiar Santa Claus.

7. Participate in the Mount Pleasant Christmas Light Parade

Mount Pleasant Christmas Light Parade| ©Will King
Mount Pleasant Christmas Light Parade| ©Will King

Within Charleston County itself, on the other side of the Cooper River, every year there is a parade full of Christmas-themed illuminated flo ats. It all takes place in the community of Mount Pleasant and is known as the Mount Pleasant Christmas Light Parade.

This parade, or parade as it is called in the United States, takes place along Coleman Boulevard. Which is a road artery that crosses from east to west the part closest to the Charleston peninsula of this quiet and cozy city.

It is usually held in early December, on the first or second Sunday of the month. It's a very family-friendly atmosphere, free to attend and completely filled with Christmas spirit. That's why it's one of the best things to see or do in Charleston with kids if you're visiting for the holidays.

The event almost always starts around 5:30 p.m. and for this reason I advise you to cross the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge towards the Pleasant Harbor Pier well in advance.

In this part of town there are other interesting attractions such as the Patriots Point Naval Museum that can entertain the beginning of your Christmas afternoon.

8. Start your search for the best oysters in town

Oysters| ©Elizabeth Wenner
Oysters| ©Elizabeth Wenner

Seafood is one of the pillars of the gastronomic culture of coastal cities in the United States. In the case of Charleston, oysters have been one of the most important since pre-war times.

Most restaurants, as long as they are not a cafeteria, usually offer fresh oysters for the tasting of their clientele. Especially in December, as the end of the autumn season and the beginning of winter is marked by the proliferation of these delicious marine mollusks.

Oyster House Seafood Restaurant is an indisputable reference when it comes to alternatives for eating fresh and large oysters in the historic heart of Charleston, as its ambiance has a very interesting charm.

Some nearby plantations, such as Boone Hall, also offer annual festivals that focus on live music, craft spirits and a festive, holiday atmosphere, while all attendees enjoy a couple dozen oysters.

The fact that oysters are plentiful during December, January and February in all of the city's establishments means that the price of the product is much cheaper than at other times of the year. So venturing out to try them when you're craving them is one of the things to see or do in Charleston during the winter if you're looking to save a little on your budget.

9. St. James island County park offers another holiday light festival

St. James island County park| ©Jonathan Belcher
St. James island County park| ©Jonathan Belcher

If you have rented a car for your Christmas stay in Charleston, you can not miss another of the great Christmas shows in this city. It is a festival of lights and Christmas decorations that takes place annually at James Island County Park, located in the area south of the peninsula that contains the historic center of Charleston.

Santa Claus, the reindeer and the sleigh, the elves' workshop and lots of Snowmans are some of the characters that take on a life of their own thanks to the light manipulation of these impressive sculptures that are exhibited in a route of almost 7 kilometers of extension.

Around the drivable route there are also other activities such as a visit to some gingerbread houses and sand sculptures, as well as a cozy evening stroll through the public areas of this municipal park.

The little ones in the house will be able to take pictures with Santa Claus if they wish, but what I can recommend is that this plan is one of the best things to see or do in Charleston at Christmas if you decide to visit on a weekday. On weekends it tends to get crowded with both locals and tourists looking for children's entertainment events.

10. Say goodbye to the year at the Yorktown Countdown

New Year's Eve in Charleston| ©Erin Elizabeth
New Year's Eve in Charleston| ©Erin Elizabeth

Knowing that maritime life is so important to Charleston's culture, it is understandable that the most famous New Year's Eve party in the city takes place on a cruise ship in the middle of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.

But what is really interesting is that it is not just any ship, as it is the USS Yorktown, a retired aircraft carrier that participated in both World War II and the Vietnam War.

It feels like an outdoor nightclub, as it's filled with music and champagne is left over from the moment you walk through the entrance. Which is ideal for those who are looking for a party atmosphere, but one that is comfortable to celebrate the arrival of a new year.

Don't expect a big meal at this event, as it is really more of a celebration in the style of a moderately elegant party atmosphere than a family buffet.

If you're looking to entertain yourself during December 31, you always have the option of riding the tour bus that tours Charleston's most interesting landmarks as a sort of farewell to the holiday season.

What is the average temperature in Charleston in December?

Streets of Charleston at Christmas| ©Damjan Savic,
Streets of Charleston at Christmas| ©Damjan Savic,

Charleston maintains an average temperature during December that has nothing to envy to other cities further south like Miami or Savannah. The maximum is usually around 22 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperatures do not drop below 8°.

However, you must take into account that the weather is defined by being changeable throughout the 21st century and on more than one occasion temperatures have reached negative degrees, with the potential of a snowfall at the end of December.

What to pack for a trip to Charleston in December?

Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes
Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes

Because of the temperatures I mentioned before, I recommend you to pack coats and know that long pants could be your best ally to keep you comfortable in all kinds of contexts. Water activities may be out of the picture, taking into consideration that the water temperature can be unbearable for those who are sensitive to cold.

Are there too many tourists in Charleston during the month of December?

Christmas tree in Charleston| ©Brandon Coffey
Christmas tree in Charleston| ©Brandon Coffey

Charleston is an important city in the United States, that is not in doubt. In fact, it is second in population within the state of South Carolina.

However, it is still a good alternative for those who are looking for a tourist destination that is not crowded. It offers you a picturesque and unique place architecturally speaking, but it falls to a second category if you compare it with the amount of visitors that go to New York or Las Vegas.

So you can be confident that your holiday visit to Charleston won't be marked by the hassle of waiting in lines everywhere or dealing with overwhelming traffic to get around town.

As for the prices that you might find in Charleston during December, you should know that they will be a little higher than those that exist during the rest of the year. Although this is logical due to the simple fact that the holiday season is expensive in all parts of the world, touristically speaking. It all depends on the level of luxury of the hotel you choose and the number of companions that depend on your pocket on the trip.