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Family-Friendly Things to Do in Charleston at Christmas

As a Mama of two active boys, and a lover of all things festive, this time of year is always my favorite! Charleston at Christmas is pretty magical. Between the charm of the old buildings adorned in massive magnolia wreaths and garland, perfect weather, and fun family-friendly events all over the Lowcountry- you really can’t beat it!

Even before our oldest was born, my husband and I would stroll the streets of downtown Charleston on Christmas day. It actually turned into our Christmas day tradition over the years! We love hearing the church bells, walking down the quiet streets, and seeing all of the pretty holiday decor.

Last year this season was tough for us after a loss, so this year has been the year of finding JOY. Basically, doing ALL of the fun things plus baking and eating cookies for the month of December!

And in case you want to join in on the fun, here’s my list of our tried and true favorites plus some new holiday events added this year! I included lots of tips on what we have found works best with our littles over the years when we go to these events, too.

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Family-Friendly Things to Do in Charleston at Christmas

Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park

We do this every year- my kids LOVE it! Through trial and error we’ve figured out the best way to go see the lights and enjoy it with minimal crowds is to avoid the weekend! Seriously, trust me on this one!!

Here are a few more tips to make the most of your time there…

When to Go

Most definitely go on a weekday!


Buy your pass for your vehicle in advance so you can save $5


Be there IN LINE at 5:30 or even before that (it will get dark fast so don’t worry about that!). The traffic can be so bad getting into the park after that, especially on a weekend. Drive around the first half of lights and then park!


We like parking in Lot A, by the train, but none of the lots are very far (see the map here!)

First Things to Do

My kids love the train ride, its usually the first thing we do when we get there so the wait isn’t long.

If seeing Santa is on the top of your list, sign in the virtual queue as soon as you get there!


There are food vendors and s’mores stations there.

Once you are done walking around with your littles, hop back in the car and drive around to see the rest of the lights! You can go around multiple times, too!

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Aquarium Aglow

My kids absolute loved the new Aquarium Aglow event put on by the South Carolina Aquarium this year!

It had been a while since we visited the aquarium, so I’m sure that was part of it, but the added lights were so much fun. We also got to see the Mount Pleasant Christmas Parade lights going off on the other side of the Ravenel Bridge when we were there, so that was even more beautiful.

When you arrive at the Aquarium they give you 3D glasses. Some of the lights look like stars when you see them with the glasses on! There were a few light displays where the lights moved with the Christmas music that was playing, including a big tree at the entrance and a tunnel outside on the top floor.

We loved the icicle lights in the otter exhibit area (look at them with the glasses on!) and the interactive exhibit where you walk into a fish mouth to see little light boxes. That part was also on the top level by the big tank.

For adults they have a bar for drinks! No snacks or food for kids like they had in previous holiday events like the Halloween one, but my kids didn’t miss anything!

See more of this event on my Instagram Christmas highlight!

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Spread the Joy Light Displays

These are new this year too, but I love how much they feel like Charleston because the O in JOY is a pineapple! There are multiple displays throughout the city- one at the Aquarium, one in Marion Square, and one by the Cistern at the College of Charleston, just to name a few.

It’s a fun little photo op put on by Explore Charleston when you are out and about downtown!

Christmas Train Display and “Snow” at Charleston Belmond Place

Every year we take our kids to see the large Christmas train display in the center of the hotel lobby, but this year this event was on another level! Take one step outside in the Market Street Circle and it feels SO festive as you’re surrounded by tons of Christmas trees.

Every evening at 6 PM, it “snows” outside in the Market Street Circle for 10 minutes. It is truly magical!! Its actually just a bunch of bubble machines so be prepared to be covered in bubbles, but the kids loved it.

You can purchase pastries, hot chocolate, and alcoholic drinks in the circle too. They also have caroling on Fridays too, but we went on a Saturday so we missed that. It was pretty busy on Saturday, I imagine a weekday would be less crowded.

Read more about the Charleston Place holiday events here.

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Cougar Night Lights on the College of Charleston Campus

If you’ve never strolled through the college campus, this is a great time to do it! The lights change with holiday music, and cover the buildings and large oak trees in the Cistern Yard.

The light display runs every 30 minutes from 5:30 until 9 PM. It’s also free and open to the public!

Elf the Musical at Dock Street Theatre

These performances are almost over so catch one before December 19th! We won’t have time to go but I have friends who have gone this year and said their little ones loved it!

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Lights in Old Town Summerville

Thinking outside of the Downtown Charleston box with this one because we love old town Summerville during the holidays, too! For such a little town, they do a great job decorating near all of the little shops (including a candy shop!). Hutchinson Square on Main Street is decked out with a giant light up snowflake and trees lining the streets. Plus Frothy Beard just opened their new location across the street so you can have a few drinks after exploring, while your kids keep busy with old school video games at your table!

I hope this was a helpful roundup of things to do in Charleston at Christmas with your littles!!

Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.
Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.
Photo by Caitlyn Motycka Photography.

Caitlyn Motycka is an award-winning Charleston Family, Maternity and Newborn Photographer based out of Charleston, SC. Service areas include Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, James Island, Folly Beach, and surrounding areas.

If you’re interested in booking a session, contact me here! Let’s take some pretty pictures together!

  1. Lynda Stone says:

    I am coming to visit my daughter and son-in-law, and my four granddaughters Dash, twins, age 8, age 6, and age 3. Instead of buying gifts I wanted to do an experience with them in Charleston but it seems everything is over by Christmas and I come the 29th. Do you have any other suggestions of some special that I could take the little girls to? Thank you so much for, any suggestions or ideas you may have!

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Newborn, Maternity, and Family Film Photographer in Charleston, SC and surrounding areas