If you're in Charleston during the holidays, don't miss the annual Holiday Festival of Lights in James Island County Park. With millions of Christmas lights on display, Santa's village, a train, food, and shopping, there's holiday magic for the whole family!
The Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights returns on November 10, 2023, and continues through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. This amazing light show is one of the best things to do to kick off the magic of the holiday season.
The James Island Christmas lights have been a Charleston holiday tradition for over 30 years. The annual event celebrating the most wonderful time of the year is like a fair you'd see in a Christmas movie.
The main attraction is a drive along 3 miles of light displays through the park with over 2 million Christmas lights. But there's plenty more to keep you entertained for a fun holiday-themed evening from interactive displays to concessions and festival shops to a Victorian carousel.
There are festival events from live music to storytelling throughout the holiday season and it caps off with a fireworks display on New Year's Eve.
Viewing the Christmas Lights
There are a few different ways to see the Christmas lights on James Island.
- By car: The driving tour includes 750 holiday light displays. You'll venture through Sea Land, Dinosaur Land, Candy Land, and Toy Land and see Lowcountry landmarks like Fort Sumter, Rainbow Row, the Cooper and Ravenel Bridges, the USS Yorktown, and St. Michael’s Church.
- On the train: Ride the Festival Express through the woods and around the lake for an up-close view of the light displays.
- Walking: Follow the Enchanted Walking Path for a different view of the displays.
- By boat: View the holiday lights on the water from the cockpit of a dragon boat on select evenings.
No Christmas Festival is complete without Santa Claus. Here you can get into the holiday spirit, visit Santa and get pictures. There's a virtual queue, so you can explore the village while you wait for your turn with Santa.
The old-fashioned carousel is a popular ride for children and adults. The merry-go-round starts at 6 p.m. Separate tickets are required for the carousel and can be purchased in Santa's Village.
There are several festive dining options including Blitzen's Burgers for hamburgers and North Poultry for chicken fingers or sandwiches. Mouth-watering treats like Donner's Delights s'mores kits and funnel cakes, as well as Commet's Kettle Corn, are always a holiday favorite.
You can test your skill at the climbing wall, toast s'mores at the marshmallow roasting fire pits, and build your own furry friend at the Reindeer Workshop. Don't miss the Giant Greeting Cards created by local students.
Head to Winter Wonderland for holiday train ticketing and departures. While this is not a traditional train ride, you'll travel the bike path in a tram for a completely different view of the Christmas lights. You'll also find the Enchanted Walking Trail and the dancing light display here.
Do some last-minute Christmas shopping at Santa’s Attic and The Incredible Gift Shoppe. The gift shops feature ornaments, decorations, toys, and stocking stuffers. Then stop at Santa's Sweet Shoppe for hot chocolate and cookies or ice cream.
And don't miss the giant sand sculpture, the largest holiday sand sculpture in the area made with over 50 tons of sand. After the festival ends in January, the sand goes to the dog park to renourish the lake’s beach.
There's so much to see and do at the festival! Be sure to grab a map so you don't miss anything.
2023 Dates and Hours
The Festival runs from November 10th through December 31st. It opens every day at 5:30 p.m. and closes at 10:00 p.m.
There is also a Holiday Festival of Lights Fun Run and Walk on November 8th and 9th. You can preview the light display along the course before it opens to the general public. Advance registration is required (more info here).
The Holiday Festival of Lights takes place at James Island County Park, located at 871 Riverland Drive, Charleston, SC 29412. It's just a short drive from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, and Mount Pleasant.
There are three parking lots available so you can park and explore Santa's Village and Winter Wonderland.
2023 festival tickets go on sale in October.
Tickets are sold by the car (up to 15 people) and can be purchased at the entrance or in advance at the Charleston County Parks website here.
Admission Tickets start at $15 online or $20 at the gate for a standard vehicle on regular nights. Prices go up for peak nights and large vehicles with more people.
Best Places To Stay In Charleston
Charleston has so many great hotels to choose from. Here are three favorites I've stayed at and would recommend for different reasons.
- Downtown Charleston - You can't beat the historic charm and location of The Elliott House Inn. This boutique hotel is on Queen Street, near the corner of King Street, and within walking distance of most downtown attractions.
- On the beach - The Tides Folly Beach sits right on the oceanfront next to the Folly Pier and is an easy 15-minute drive to the James Island Festival of Lights.
- Budget option - The Cambria Hotel Mount Pleasant – Charleston, just across Charleston Harbor from downtown, is centrally located with free parking and easy access to many popular attractions.