Opulent décor, festive menu surprises, wrapping-ready local finds, and joyful performances are a few elements that — when perfectly mixed and mulled — catapult us into holiday cheer. These three Carolina destinations completely transform into winter wonderlands from now until the new year. Here’s all the magical holiday cheer in Charleston, Asheville, and Greenville, from events and decorations to shopping and dining!
There’s simply no place like Charleston for the holidays. Trade snow for sand beneath your toes and spend the holidays cozying up with culinary delicacies, admiring the many indoor and outdoor decorative displays, and enjoying the sounds of African American Spirituals and Gullah Christmas stories. This holiday season is the perfect time to check some things off your ever-expanding Charleston bucket list … and perhaps your gift list, too!
EXPERIENCE — As a celebration of the creative and welcoming spirit of Charleston, Southern Living is curating a three-day gathering (December 2-5, 2021) of the South’s top tastemakers, designers, artisans, and personalities. Illumination Charleston is a ticketed event featuring tours of historic houses, a one-time-only shopping market from the Southern Living Tastemakers, engaging talks from design leaders, and revelrous nighttime gatherings amidst Aiken-Rhett House’s dazzling display of Victorian Christmas decorations.
SEE AND HEAR — From now until New Year’s Eve, turn up your favorite holiday tunes and drive through more than 700 shimmering light displays that make up Charleston’s Festival of Lights. Festive treats at drive-up concessions round out this family experience. For a feast for your ears, the African American Spirituals Concert at Drayton Hall is a moving Charleston music tradition. Tour the vibrantly decorated and historic Edmondston-Alston House by candlelight to the tunes of the Charleston Caroling Company.
SIP AND SAVOR — Charleston’s culinary scene pulls out all the stops for the holidays, serving up merry sips and bites at every corner. Grab a spot by the fireplace and a cup of cheer at the Cocktail Club, a speakeasy-style bar housed in a 19th-century building. The Johnny Dagger — a bourbon, curacao, and walnut liqueur concoction — is best enjoyed with warm conversation and a roaring fire.
The festive Pumpkin Spice Carajillo at Belmond Charleston Place’s lobby bar, Thoroughbred Club, is a perfect after-dinner beverage to toast the season. For the sweet tooth, head to fine dining staple Circa 1886 for the Pumpkin Soufflé with Sorghum Anglaise and Chai Ice Cream.
UNPACK YOUR BAGS — Injecting some snow into Charleston’s warm climate, The Dewberry hotel has partnered with the renowned event firm Van Wyck & Van Wyck to transform the mid-century modern gem into an icicle wonderland. From the flocked live icicle tree in the hotel’s Living Room to the garland-wrapped cocktail bar to the magical exterior installation of 24 illuminated starburst chandeliers, this hotel is consistently the talk of Charleston.
Perhaps the best time of year to check into Belmond Charleston Place Hotel is during the holidays. The famous holiday display between the grand staircases has a fully operational train replica, multiple Christmas trees, and grand wreaths, making it worth a visit whether or not you have a room key. For a luxurious holiday experience, Spectator Hotel’s personal butlers will deliver freshly baked gingerbread cookies to your room, or deck out your space with holiday décor upon request. The award-winning French Quarter Inn boasts a majestic 15-foot tree, a grand staircase adorned with tinsel and ribbons, and a gingerbread house replica of the city’s historic St. Philip’s Church in the lobby.
CHARLESTON HOLIDAY EVENTS AT-A-GLANCE
- November 12 – December 31 — Holiday Festival of Lights
- November 15, 2021 – January 4, 2022 — Festival of Trees
- December 2 — Tree Lighting
- December 2 – 5 — Southern Living Illumination
- December 5 — Charleston Holiday Parade
- December 12 — Mount Pleasant Christmas Light Parade
- December 12 — African American Spirituals Concert
From the quirky and off-beat to the heartwarming and nostalgic, Asheville dishes out merriment of all kinds during the holidays. Many of Asheville’s most cherished holiday events are back in real life this year, so be prepared to be completely smitten and dazzled with all this mountain town has to offer.
STAY AND/OR EXPLORE — A feast for all senses, Christmas at Biltmore is simply unbeatable. The estate opened for the Vanderbilt family on Christmas Day in 1895, and its holiday fervor continues to astound a century later. The towering 35-foot Christmas tree is one of 100 decorated trees bedecked with 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 twinkling holiday lights. From the luxurious inn to the Antler Hill Village, festive displays greet you at every corner, and there is so much to discover by day and by night. At the foot of the property, Biltmore Village evokes a spectacular Old World ambiance at their Dickens Christmas Festival in early December.
Nearby, The Omni Grove Park Inn transforms into a sweet holiday destination. Their famous National Gingerbread House Competition is back in person this year as gingerbread masters construct houses of all sizes, shapes, and themes. Ogle these sugary landscapes and the winning confections before cozying up in a giant back porch rocking chair overlooking the rolling mountains.
SEE AND HEAR — North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights is a walk-through glittering garden wonderland you’ve got to experience while in Asheville. Surrounded by one million colorful LED lights, trails lead through imaginative holiday scenes in a magical forest setting, showcasing the flora and fauna of one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. If driving is more your speed, check out Lake Julian Festival of Lights‘ whimsical animated displays.
The downtown venue and outdoor event space, Rabbit Rabbit, has started the coolest new Asheville tradition. Their Winter Tree Carnival is a walk-through exhibit where nonprofits and local businesses crazily decorate and display evergreens to highlight their cause. Starting in mid-November, the eclectic tree display will be accompanied by holiday movie events, winter pop-up shops, and a special festive drink menu.
SHOP — Asheville is one of the country’s craft capitals, and there are so many chances to explore festive markets this season. The Holiday Bazaar at UNC Asheville offers farm-fresh local produce as well as arts and crafts. The weekend before Thanksgiving at the WNC Agricultural Center, ‘Tis the Season Holiday Fair is a massive indoor market featuring North Carolina wines, delectable holiday foods, homewares, and more.
LAUGH — This year, the iconic, ultraviolet LaZoom bus’s famous “Hey Asheville” Tour gets an injection of Holly Jolly with a cavalcade of zany costumed characters and holiday un-traditions. Careen through downtown on this quirky holiday tour that runs for a whole month!
CLIMB — For outdoor adventure seekers, the Adventure Center of Asheville is hosting a Holiday Nighttime Treetop Climb on December 27. Kids (and kids at heart) can watch the stunning mountain landscape transform after sunset from a magical treetop vantage point. More than 15,000 colored lights and psychedelic lasers reflect across trees, cables, rope, and platforms, creating a totally unique canopy experience.
ASHEVILLE HOLIDAY EVENTS AT-A-GLANCE
- November 5, 2021 – March 5, 2022 — Van Gogh Alive at Biltmore
- Mid-November – January 2, 2022 — Winter Tree Carnival at Rabbit Rabbit
- November 13, 2021 – January 3, 2022 — Winter Wonderland at Grove Arcade
- November 19 – 21 — WNC Agricultural Center Holiday Fair
- November 19, 2021 – January 1, 2022 — Winter Lights at NC Arboretum
- Saturdays, November 27 – December 18 — Holiday Bazaar at UNC Asheville
- December 1 – 23 — Lake Julian Festival of Lights
- December 3 and 4 — Dickens Festival
- December 11 and 12 — Uncommon Holiday Market at A-B Tech
- December 27 — Holiday Nighttime Treetop Climb
From decked-out downtown storefronts and treasure-filled holiday markets to ice skating and musical spectaculars, Greenville, SC, is magical in the winter. Plan a few days to see this “IT” town in all its holiday splendor.
STAY — A picture-perfect holiday jaunt in Greenville, SC, begins at the four-diamond Westin Poinsett Hotel. Dozens of brightly colored poinsettia plants adorn the historic hotel, creating the ultimate festive atmosphere. A fun trivia fact? The popular Christmas plant was brought to America by South Carolinian Joel Poinsett.
EXPERIENCE — The Poinsettia Christmas Parade has signaled the start of the Christmas season in Greenville for more than 75 years with its majestic holiday floats and activities. Lace up your skates and hit the rink at Ice on Main, a mini-replica of Rockefeller Center, or glide down Main Street in Santa’s motorized sleigh (a converted 1993 Ford Aerostar), elf included.
SHOP — Don’t do all your shopping just yet! For seven weekends, explore a curated mix of handmade giftable art, home goods, jewelry, and children’s items at Maker’s Collective Holiday Pop-Up Shop. The dreamy interiors store We Took To The Woods opens its doors and cozy backyard fire pit for the winter season only. A slew of unique artisan gifts, locally grown produce, gourmet foods, and fresh-cut flowers can be found every holiday season at the TD Saturday Market – Holiday Edition.
EXPLORE — A brand-new Greenville experience, Kringle Holiday Village is a true European-style holiday market happening this December at Fluor Field baseball stadium. It features artisan and culinary vendors, thrilling rides, live entertainment, visits with Santa, and a biergarten for of-age imbibers.
SEE AND HEAR — The city of Greenville ignites its holiday hub on the Night of Lights — a countdown to the lighting of the official 30-foot Greenville Christmas tree, adorned with 25,550 LED lights and surrounding plaza decor. Food trucks, vendors, live music, and a visit from Santa Claus round out this exciting night. Amble through downtown to take in the merchants’ shop windows that completely transform into photo-ready holiday displays.
For lovers of the music and theater, Peace Center offers a packed holiday calendar complete with two different Nutcracker performances, a choral production of Handel’s Messiah, and The Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s stunning musical arrangements of cherished Christmas carols and songs at the Holiday at Peace concert.
GREENVILLE HOLIDAY DATES AT-A-GLANCE
- November 12, 2021 – January 17, 2022 — Ice on Main
- December 3 — Night of Lights
- December 4 – 11 — TD Saturday Market Holiday Edition
- December 11 and 12 — Kringle Holiday Village
- December 17 – 19 — Holiday at Peace Concert
Cheers to merry and bright holiday exploration throughout the Carolinas and beyond!
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