11 Dec 2023
If you’re here in the Lowcountry for the holidays, there’s a huge variety of holiday activities to entertain all ages staying in your Isle of Palms vacation rental.
Take a gander at our Events section for a breakdown of what’s going on during the holidays and beyond. You’ll find boatloads of info including the what/when/wheres, dates and venues, plus links to official websites with all the details.
Many require admission tickets, though, like Aquarium Aglow, Holiday Festival of Lights, and catching a production of A Christmas Carol at the Dock Street Theater. That can add up quickly, especially if you have a large group.
But you don’t have to spend money to have a festive experience around Charleston. Here are three free fun things that cost absolutely nothing other than your time and the gas to get there.
1) Check out the Christmas Lights!
The Lowcountry knows how to decorate for the holidays. Nothing beats piling into the car and checking out the Christmas light displays on area homes and businesses.
Just driving around the Isle of Palms, you’ll see some great displays; they really know how to light palm trees around these parts. Be sure to spot the giant 22+ foot tree at Front Beach.
A couple Mount Pleasant neighborhoods are definitely worth driving through. Be sure to check out Coopers Landing, off of Whipple Road. Drive to the end of Hidden Bridge Drive, where you’ll see some dueling houses vying for the highest light bill.
And by all means, head down Long Point Road to Hidden Cove, right before you get to the Wando Port. Wind through the many streets in this lovely neighborhood – and prepare to be wowed by their elaborate Christmas displays. See if you can track down the ones with light shows, snow, animatronics and music. Just follow the cars; they usually draw a crowd.
Cougar Night Lights downtown Charleston is definitely worth seeing, too. It takes over the lovely Cistern Yard, the centerpiece of the College of Charleston’s campus. You’ll need to park for this one, then stroll through the courtyard on foot for the full immersive experience that’s synchronized to music. It’s designed by a CofC grad and professional lighting designer who’s worked on the Super Bowl and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Read more about it on our Events page. And check out the end of this blog to find out how you can park for free.
2) Visit Two Special Holiday Displays Downtown
It’s a grand tradition in big cities that downtown hotels go all out decorating for the holidays. I’ve seen some amazing examples in Manhattan and San Francisco, the memories of which still take my breath away.
Well, Charleston may not be as big as those cities, but they do rival them in charm and style. And two downtown establishments are worth paying a free visit. They include:
Charleston Place, also known as Charleston’s holiday headquarters - Stretching between King and Meeting Street, it anchors the bustling downtown scene. When the holidays rolls around, the elves get busy and transform the lobby, courtyards and public areas with their magic. The theme for Christmas 2023 is Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Think: Sugar Plum Fairies that Dance, Flowers that Waltz, a whole lot of silver and gold, more than 140 (!) trees decorated to the hilt - including the special themed trees from the annual Festival of Trees - plus the giant 40-foot Christmas tree outside in Market Street Circle. Keep an eye peeled for pop-up ballet performances and special guests. And by all means, check out the huge holiday village and vintage train, with its 300 feet of track, located near the grand staircase. Oh - and don’t forget the nightly snowfall! Read all about that here.
Then head over to Hotel Bennett on Marion Square and check out their holiday décor. The centerpiece is a masterful creation by their Executive Pastry Chef Remy Funfrock and Chef Renee Fonseca - a gigantic, Life-Sized Gingerbread House! It’s open for you to see (and smell) through January 6th. Hotel Bennett has a whole schedule of special holiday happenings like caroling by the Ashley Hall Choirs, Deck the Paws Dog Adoptions, Teas, Hot Chocolate Service, and more; read all about it here.
3) Free Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides at Towne Centre
If you’re staying here on the Isle of Palms, you’re close to one of the Lowcountry’s best shopping centers. Mount Pleasant Towne Centre is just over the IOP Connector, and there you’ll find a nice balance of both nationally known chains along with local merchants.
Towne Centre is constantly hosting terrific free events for the community throughout the year, including open-air concerts, festivals, pet adoptions and play days for kids. They also go all out for the holidays, decorating up a storm.
It’s a perfect place to do your Christmas shopping. OK - so technically Christmas shopping isn’t free. BUT, while you’re there you can take them up on a fun holiday freebie - complimentary rides on a horse-drawn carriage. What a great way to get in the holiday mood.
Carriage rides are happening on Saturdays and Sundays from noon through 6:00 p.m. through December 17th. They leave from the large Belk store at the end of Belk Drive, and from the Regal Palmetto Grande movie theater.
And Speaking of Free…
Just a quick reminder that the City of Charleston is offering two hours of free parking in eight of their downtown parking garages, including The Visitor Center, Majestic Square or Midtown on King Street, East Bay/Prioleau, Queen Street, and St. Philip Street (perfect for seeing the Cougar Night Lights at the Cistern).
Here’s a link to a voucher which you can print and scan at the machine as you exit the garage. This holiday offer is good through New Year’s Eve.
So have some holiday fun for free... and savor every precious moment you spend with your loved ones.
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger