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A Carolina Chritsmas: Charleston dressed in its best for the holidays

Marci DeWolfMore Content Now
Charleston City Hall is one of the historic sites visited on holiday walking tours of the city.

Despite the pandemic, Charleston, South Carolina, is donning its Christmas finery to celebrate the season. Heirloom recipes, treasured traditions and glorious music mark the holiday.

One of the best ways to discover a city is by taking a guided tour. And Charleston is no exception. Numerous high quality tours are available to help capture the holiday spirit.

Get a glimpse of seasonal decorations on the two-hour Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour of the historic district. The route moves along side streets and hidden alleys where carriages and buses are not allowed. Given Charleston’s mild wintertime climate, this is an ideal way to see historic courtyards and well-tended gardens.

Most of the congenial, experienced guides are longtime residents. They share their knowledge of fascinating stories and traditions passed down from the city’s earliest families. Tour groups stop by the Four Corners of Law, where government buildings come together at the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets. The group then strolls along The Battery overlooking the harbor and through exclusive neighborhoods.

Organized tours offer a chance to see some of the city’s renowned antebellum museum mansions adorned with garlands of greenery. The 1825 Edmondston Alston House is decorated in Christmas splendor and has some of the family’s original pieces.

The Charleston Tea Party Private Tour is for the discerning visitor who wants to experience Charleston as a guest, not a tourist. Owners Laura Wichmann Hipp and June McKnight are natives who love and know their city. They take visitors to friends’ private homes and gardens.

This is the ultimate insider experience and a rare opportunity to see the “real Charleston.” The two-hour walking tour ends with a genteel silver tea service including Laura’s homemade calamondin marmalade.

The Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park is an annual favorite through Dec. 31. Two million lights shimmer in a display of charm and wonder. This year the event is a drive-through tour. The park has restrooms, and concession food can be brought to the cars.

Narrated carriage rides through the city are a festive and fun way to enjoy the holiday and learn about Charleston’s 300 years of history. Certified guides cover 2.5 miles and 30 blocks of the historic district, pointing out the stories behind the mansions, churches and gardens with historical facts, lore and humor.

Charleston is a repository of art and culture. With a premier collection of more than 10,000 American works, the Gibbes Museum of Art promotes and protects the city’s rich cultural heritage. Permanent exhibits feature local artisans portraying the Lowcountry’s water themes, as well as the Charleston Renaissance from 1915 to 1945, when the city became a destination for artists. It still is.

Most hotels have Christmas packages. Hotel Emeline has a special holiday spirit package, including welcome cocktails and a $50 credit to the Keep Shop. Emeline, the city’s newest luxury boutique hotel, offers holiday meals at Frannie and The Fox restaurant and signature cocktails at a socially distanced window in the Foxhole. The hotel has a spacious courtyard.

Charleston’s culinary scene pulls out all the stops for the holidays. Sugar Bakeshop has a holiday menu featuring red velvet cake, a Southern specialty, gingerbread house kits and cookie gift tins.

As an alternative to holiday treats and local seafood, Stella’s Greek restaurant is an all-time favorite here. The vibe is lively and friendly, and there is always a line waiting to get in. As I am half Greek, I favored the spanakopita and lamb frites. Menu items are under $20.

A mask ordinance is in place in Charleston and across the region effective in public places and in most restaurants. For more information contact explorecharleston.com or 843-853-8000.