Thinking about some holiday fun in Charleston, SC at the Holiday Festival of Lights? The low country is full of holiday fun, including this awesome holiday light display! Here’s everything you need to know about the Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston, SC.
For more info on our adventures in Charleston, check out the Kidding Around Travel Guide to Charleston, SC: Things to Do, Where to Stay and Places to Eat
This review is from a previous year’s event and has been updated with 2023 dates and fees.
The Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston, SC
The Drive-Thru Holiday Lights
Arrive early if you plan to go on a weekend, the line gets long and you’ll be waiting in traffic to enter the park. I was there on a weeknight and thought I would arrive early just to be safe. The gate opens for the Holiday Festival of Lights at 5:30 pm, nightly and we arrived at 5 pm. We were the third car in line right at the ranger plaza entrance.
You can purchase your tickets in advance for a discount, and I highly recommend this. There is no time minimum, so you can do it from your car while you wait in line. It not only saves you money, but it also gets you through the gate faster! Once you are passed the park rangers, the lights begin just around the corner. Cars go through the display in two-file lanes. be sure to turn your parking lights on so the full effect of the holiday lights can be enjoyed. Tune your radio to 102.5 for the local non-stop holiday music station to enjoy during your visit.
Driving the full length of the route, without traffic to stop you, takes about 20 minutes. At about halfway through the route, the pull-off for the Winter Wonderland will be on your left. I suggest you drive the entire route once before you exit to experience the other activities. There are several different themed sections, and one of our favorites was the underwater-themed part.
While visiting during the week is less expensive, and the crowds are reduced, visiting on a weekend means you get to enjoy additional fun! The Holiday Festival of Lights weekend events includes live music, storytelling, and character meet and greets. There is also a Dragon Boat event on select nights that you can sign up to participate in. Participants get included admission to the light festival after they cruise across the lake to view the lights at sunset.
Once you’ve had your fill of the light displays you can loop back around to the Winter Wonderland to have more fun, and possibly some smores! The Winter Wonderland area is a walk-around portion of the event, and it is stroller-friendly. Depending on how long you were in the car, if bathroom breaks are in order there are two available. One upstairs to the left of the gift shop, and one behind the Smores firepits. The Winter Wonderland building has several snack vendors, two gift shops, a sled photo op, and an ice cream shop.
Santa pulls up his sleigh to the Holiday Festival of Lights to visit with children from November 10th through December 23rd. He will be checking his list nightly from 6 – 10 pm with a short break to feed the reindeer at 8 pm. Blitzen gets really upset if he’s not fed after-dinner snacks on time, and no one wants a hangry reindeer flying around the park!
Santa’s elves will be standing by to add guests to a virtual queue. When Santa is ready to give you his undivided attention, guests will receive a text to their cell phone to notify them. There is no fee to visit Santa, and souvenir professional photography packages range in price from $13.99 – $37.99.
Inclusive Santa Visits
For $25 per family of five, a professional photographer will take photos of your group with Santa. Included in the visit is one 5×7 souvenir photo of your visit with the option to purchase more copies. No personal photography will be permitted at this event. Guests will also receive a complimentary pass to come back and enjoy the lights at night.
KultureCity® bags will be available to accommodate guests with sensory issues. The sensory bags include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, and verbal cue cards. These are similar to the Sensory safety bags available at Bon Secours Wellness Arena events. In addition to the bags, a dedicated sensory area will be available for guests who may feel overwhelmed by meeting Santa and the event.
Fun Extras To Experience at Holiday Festival of Lights
The extra activities listed below are open from 6 – 10 PM nightly. In addition to these activities that require a small additional fee, there are other fun free things to see and do in the Winter Village!
Take your child on a holiday carousel ride for just $2! Children under 42″ must have an adult ride with them, but the adult rides for free. Everyone else must have a ticket to board the Carousel.
The Festival Express Train Ride
Hop on the Festival Express Train to view more lights from an open-air tram ride. Tickets are just $4 per passenger, with children 2 and under riding free on the lap of an adult. You can purchase your tickets and hop on at your leisure, just be sure to purchase tickets before 9:40 PM, when ticket sales end.
The Portable Rock Climbing Wall
Don’t worry, no experience is needed to climb! Guests can climb the wall twice for $3 (3 X $1 tickets) Closed-toed shoes are required if you want to climb the wall, and there are staff members there to assist climbers.
Spending The Night At The Festival In James Island County Park
For the ultimate holiday experience, you can book a campsite or cabin at James Island County Park, and have unlimited access to the lights and all of the other fun, during your stay.
The park has cottages, full hook-up RV sites, primitive camping, and campsites with water/power access. The most popular option for campsites with utility access is $60 a night. More information on camping options and booking availability can be found on the James Island County Park website.
- November 10th – December 31st, 2023
- The display is open from 5:30 – 10 PM nightly
- Save on Ticket Prices – Purchase Tickets in advance
- Regular admission per car
$15 | Advance purchase
$20 | Gate Purchase
- Peak Admission per car
$30 | Advance Purchase
$40 | Gate Purchase
- Regular admission per car
- Map of the Holiday Light Festival
- How To Get To James County Island Park