I love Christmas, and I love traveling for the holidays because it’s nice to see how other cities celebrate. But sometimes, those things are better left undiscovered. Chalk this one up to “Don’t believe everything you read,” but a couple of years ago, I saw an article that listed some of the best cities in the US to spend Christmas.
Charleston was on it, and I had never been to South Carolina, so I figured this would be a great opportunity. So over the long holiday weekend, my then-boyfriend and I drove 9 hours to spend Christmas in Charleston. We arrived on Christmas Eve, which as a Hispanic, I’m more used to celebrating than Christmas Day.
So after checking into the hotel, we went to a nearby restaurant on King Street for a Southern Christmas Eve dinner. We were the youngest people in that restaurant by at least 20 years, and I was with someone in his late 40s. It was still a delicious dinner, don’t get me wrong. It just felt a little bit like spending Christmas Eve in a nursing home.
What Christmas in Charleston is really like
Most places like New York or Disney are bad Christmas destinations because they’re so crowded. Charleston is a bad Christmas destination because there’s nobody there.
Charleston is a cute-looking city. It has beautiful old Southern houses. It’s full of nice squares, and King Street looks like Disneyland. But on Christmas Day, that place is a ghost town. When we went out for breakfast, we realized we had a 70% chance of starving. We walked up and down King Street, which looked so perfect that it could have been on a movie studio lot. But nothing was open; not restaurants, not cafes, and not even grocery stores. We had to resort to calling places to see if they were open. And we ended up having pizza for breakfast.
The city was nicely decorated but not more so than your average city in December. So on top of being desolate, it was also perfectly mediocre. Certainly not worthy of ending up on any “best cities” list, unless the list is “Best cities to be 75.”
Slave plantations just don’t scream Christmas, you know?
Charleston, like many cities in the South, has a lot of historical significance. But it’s not exactly the happiest history in the world. It doesn’t have a lot of exciting museums or attractions. The most popular thing to do in Charleston is tour sprawling former slave plantations.
That’s not to say the lush, perfectly manicured lawns and gardens of Magnolia Plantation or Middleton Place aren’t beautiful. The large plantation homes were also nicely decorated for Christmas. But it’s a little hard to get past the fact that a couple of hundred years ago, black slaves were the ones forced to maintain those perfect bushes and grow the rice in the fields. It’s not quite as depressing as visiting a concentration camp for Christmas, but it’s far from festive.
If you don’t want to drive out to the plantations and you’d prefer to stay in city center, you can also enjoy the Old Slave Mart Museum to keep with the theme. I have a feeling the only people who think Charleston is a charming place to spend the holidays also hang Confederate flags from their car and can’t wait for Trump to fire up that Muslim registry.
What else is there to do in Charleston?
Um… shop? Stay in the hotel and watch “A Christmas Story”? Here’s a suggestion. If you’re headed to Charleston for Christmas, stop there to pump gas and keep driving.