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14 Nov 2022
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Halloween is in the rearview mirror. Orange and black have given way to red and green… and holiday lights are starting to shine around the Lowcountry.

There are so many great options for taking in the holiday lights around the Isle of Palms and Charleston. Some are professional installations - world-class ones, even - that draw locals and tourists alike, some from many states away. I’ll share a couple of the absolute best in the Lowcountry.

Others are done by individuals… folks who, like Clark Griswold, hope to make the world a brighter place, one house at a time.  And all it takes is one Clark Griswold to get those competitive juices flowing, and pretty soon the whole neighborhood is awash in blinking lights and inflatable elves.  So I’ll share some of the best neighborhoods to check out around here.

Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island

This is an absolute must-do if you’re anywhere around Charleston during the holidays.  It’s ranked one of the top ten light shows in the country, and it deserves it.  The Holiday Festival of Lights is downright enchanted and pure festive fun.

Pile your friends and loved ones into a vehicle together, then drive through miles of creative lights displays made from well over two million lights.   There are cute themed sections like Candyland, or Under the Sea.  You’ll also pass by uniquely Charlestonian scenes like a char

ming Charleston single house, and the old Cooper River bridges making way for the gorgeous new Ravenel Bridge.   Be sure to tune your car radio to 1630 AM to hear holiday music and park information along the way. 

Then, after driving through the whole loop, be sure to stop, park and check out the Santa’s Village.  You can visit with Santa Claus himself, catch a ride on the Holiday Festival Train or Victorian carousel, check out the 50-ton holiday-themed sand sculpture, buy some goodies at Santa’s Sweet Shoppe or the gift boutiques, play with the Dancing Trees and other interactive light displays, stroll along the Enchanted Walking Trail, check out the giant Christmas card competition, snap a pic in Santa’s Sleigh, roast some marshmallows or grab a Blitzen Burger.

The Holiday Festival of Lights takes place at James Island County Park, west of the Ashley River in Charleston.  It’s open nightly from 5:30 till 10:00 p.m. (and till 11:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) from mid-November through December 31st.

Nights of a Thousand Candles

Brookgreen Gardens is a bit of a drive north of Charleston, but it’s worth it. This National Historical Landmark is a treasure of art and nature all rolled into one.  Established by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1931, it is as esteemed, museum-quality sculpture collection situated in a lush botanical garden and wildlife preserve – on 9,100 protected acres near Murrells Inlet.

For the holidays, the gardens are transformed in a spectacle they call Nights of a Thousand Candles.  Actually it glows with more than 2,700 hand-lit candles, plus millions of electric sparkling lights too, located all throughout the landscape, twinkling from the trees and reflecting in the water below.  Sip warm cider as you stroll through, serenaded with music from a brass quintet, bagpipes, and vocal groups performing holiday favorites.  You can also make a reservation to dine at Harvest, their signature restaurant.

The event happens on select evenings in November and December. Check their website for times and ticket info. 

Downtown Charleston

Charleston’s historic district homes tend to have elegant decorations, including lush wreaths made with fresh fruit, tastefully decorated topiary trees, and candles in the windows.

A couple spots downtown are worth noting.  First, take a drive around Marion Square, and walk it if possible.  There’s a giant Christmas tree lit for the holidays, as well as many illuminated palms all over the park.  Check out the lobbies of Hotel Bennett and the Dewberry while you’re there.

Speaking of hotels, be sure to stroll through Charleston Place on lower King Street.  Their Christmas decorations are always top notch, including the amazing antique holiday train and village scene under the giant staircase in the lobby.  Oh   -  and they actually make it magically “snow” each evening at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. in the Market Street Circle.  Read here for more about that and all their holiday events, including performances by the Charleston Caroling Company.   

Mount Pleasant

First, drive or walk through Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant.  They go all out with holiday light displays, including the giant 40-foot tree and the cascading arches of white lights that line the drive down the main entrance.

Next, head to a couple nearby Mount Pleasant neighborhoods to check out what the private citizenry are up to.  You can experience these easily from the comfort of your vehicle.  First, check out Coopers Landing, off of Whipple Road.  Make sure to drive to the end of Hidden Bridge Drive for some folks who really know how to deck those halls.

Then head to Hidden Cove, located off of Long Point Road on the way to the Wando Port.  This is a large neighborhood with many side streets, and it’s well worth winding your way through to discover some really incredible light displays “hidden” within.  Some even have snow, animatronics, light shows and music.  It’s amazing. 

Of course, be sure to check out the IOP’s light displays, too.  There’s a 22-foot tall Christmas tree at Front Beach, and loads of decorated homes all over the Isle.  Happy holiday light hunting!

All best,
Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger