Charleston in Winter: Your Guide To The Best Time To Visit 

Rainbow row by Leonel Heisenberg on Unsplash

There are a host of reasons to visit Charleston in winter. You’ll avoid the crowds, save on travel costs, and discover a bevy of seasonal festivals and special events. 


Anyone planning to visit (or re-visit) Charleston, South Carolina often wonders about the best time to go. Before we planned a January trip to Seabrook Island, about 25 miles from downtown Charleston, we had the same ambivalence but weren’t disappointed.

Of course, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer. The city is truly a four-season destination and when to go depends on both your calendar and interests. But we believe that winter can be one of the best times of year to visit Charleston.

During shoulder seasons—either spring or fall—the weather is close to perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. The main draws of summer are the area’s magnificent beaches (only a short drive from downtown) offering sun, sand, and surf.

Winter weather in Charleston: What to expect

Jetty over a marsh on Seabrook Island in winter
Jetty over a marsh on Seabrook Island in winter (credit: Jerome Levine)

Based on our experience, we would describe winter weather in Charleston as largely temperate but variable.

Although Charleston isn’t typically thought of as a winter getaway, it is an ideal destination for travelers who want to escape the brutal cold and snow of the Northeast or Midwest.

Yes, there can be a frost and even some snow flurries in late December, adding the glow of pixie dust to the spires of the Holy City. But make no mistake, you won’t bask in the winter warmth of Florida.

Because the weather in Charleston is best characterized as unpredictable, you will need to be flexible and pack accordingly. 

As one Reddit user put it:

Cold, gray and rainy. Or sunny and 75. And these could be consecutive days. 

Overall, the weather is generally decent in January and February, and Charleston can be one of the best places to visit in the USA in March. While you won’t want to dip in the ocean, average daily temperatures will be quite comfortable, hovering between 40-60°F. 

January is the coldest month of the year in Charleston with monthly rainfall only averaging between 3.1 and 4 inches during the winter months (Charleston Daily, 2023). 

Why winter is a great time to visit

Chalmers Street, the oldest remaining cobblestone street in Charleston
Chalmers Street, the oldest remaining cobblestone street in Charleston (credit: Jerome Levine)

 There are compelling reasons to visit Charleston in winter:

  • Most of the city’s many attractions and historical sites are open year-round. 
  • In a city known for its cuisine, it can be hard to make restaurant reservations during the busy tourist seasons. This is less likely to be a problem in winter.
  • Airline reservations are likely to be less costly than they are during the high seasons.
  • Hotel and short-term rental accommodations are easier to come by during winter, especially compared to other warm-weather favorites like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, or Scottsdale;  in fact, rates may be discounted.
  • By December and especially after the holidays, the hordes of tourists have thinned out considerably.
  • As you’ll read below, winter is a great time to take advantage of the seasonal festivals and special events designed to woo tourists.

Winter festivities and events in Charleston

Here are additional reasons to visit Charleston in winter:

Indulge your foodie passions

The annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival will take place between March 6-10, 2024.  There’s no better opportunity for food enthusiasts to sample the Low Country foods and the creative cuisine that has made Charleston a culinary mecca.

The Culinary Village, the centerpiece of the festival, is held at Riverfront Park in North Charleston. While listening to live music, visitors are able to sample bites of Lowcountry staple dishes served by local chefs and caterers, along with wine, beer, and spirits samplings.

In addition, other wine and food events take place across the Charleston Peninsula as well as in North Charleston, West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, Johns Island, and more.

Discover new restaurants with fixed-price menus

Iconic mural on Charleston City Market by artist David (credit: Jerome Levine)
Iconic mural on Charleston City Market by artist David (credit: Jerome Levine)

Sponsored by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, Charleston Restaurant Week will last ten days, taking place between January 11-21, 2024. 

Participating restaurants offer fixed-price breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menus, both in downtown Charleston and in surrounding communities. It’s a great opportunity to sample new dishes

Attend the world’s largest oyster festival

Freshly shucked oysters are a winter treat (credit: Jerome Levine)
Freshly shucked oysters are a winter treat (credit: Jerome Levine)

The Low Country Oyster Fest, the largest oyster festival in the world, will take place at Boone Hall Plantation (Mount Pleasant) on February 4, 2024.

This family-friendly, charitable event (also sponsored by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Foundation) includes the chance to eat oysters by the bucket as well as oyster shucking contests, live music on the main stage, and plenty of wine and beer. Kids of all ages enjoy the Children’s Area and foodies will appreciate the Food Court, showcasing a variety of local restaurants. 

Set over 738 sprawling acres, Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens is a destination in itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the oldest working plantation in the country, with beautiful gardens in bloom throughout the year.

Take a “Second Sunday” stroll on King Street

On the Second Sunday of every month (winter, too), historic King Street (the city’s main shopping street) becomes a pedestrian-only zone between noon and 5 pm. 

Locals and visitors of all ages come to eat, shop, and enjoy the festive sense of community, enhanced by art vendors and street musicians. Apart from “Second Sundays,” King Street offers three miles of one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques with abundant opportunities to take advantage of winter sales.

Visit exquisite homes and gardens 

Charleston is known for its gracious, well-preserved homes that help tell the city’s story. 

The month-long Charleston Festival (previously called the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens) straddles the seasons (beginning in winter and extending into early spring) and will take place from March 14 – April 14, 2024. 

Visitors can tour the interiors of these exclusive homes and get a glimpse of their private gardens. Tours and events vary by the day.

This year, the Charleston Festival will feature an exclusive site-specific exhibition of original works of art by world-renowned artist, Jill Hooper.

Shop for one-of-a-kind antiques 

Antique lovers will want to visit the Charleston Antiques Show, which will take place at Festival Hall on the weekend from March 21-24, 2024, organized by The Antiques Council.

More than 30 prominent antique exhibitors showcase decorative and fine arts from a range of periods, and visitors can learn about incorporating antiques into their modern-day decor. Silver, contemporary and fine jewelry, maps, prints, oriental rugs, folk art, ceramics, garden antiques, and more will be on display.

A preview party and small group talks with designers are associated with the event.

Discover the region’s wildlife 

Wildlife lovers “flock” to the annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, taking place this year from February 16-18, 2024 at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Calhoun Street. 

The exposition brings together a broad range of exhibitors who pay tribute to nature with their handcrafted goods, outdoor gear, sporting apparel, artisan creations, and more. The event offers a unique opportunity to interact with these artists.

This year, the exposition will include a concert by Wyoming-born Ian Munsick, a pioneer of the new brand of country music.

Meet and greet famous authors

Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission
Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission

The 19th annual Wild Dunes Author Event & Weekend will take place at the Isle of Palms from January 13-14, 2024, a real lure for book lovers. 

Three best-selling authors will be featured: William Kent Krueger, Shelby Van Pelt, and Stacy Willingham. The Sunday author event will be headlined by New York Times best-selling author Mary Alice Monroe and will include discussions and book signings.

Proceeds from the event are used to support literacy, providing one-on-one tutoring for local elementary students. The festival takes place at Wild Dunes, a Hyatt island resort set on a pristine beach that’s especially peaceful in winter.

Make a pilgrimage to the magnificent Angel Oak tree

The Angel Oak Tree
The Angel Oak Tree (credit: Jerome Levine)

This iconic southern live oak is considered to be one of the oldest east of the Mississippi and a Low Country treasure. A 400-year-old tree that has survived hurricanes and natural disasters, the Angel Oak Tree is humongous at 65 feet tall and more than 25 feet in width. 

Live oaks like this one are evergreen so even though they shed some leaves, they remain vibrant even in winter. The popular tree receives about 400,000 visitors each year so winter is an ideal time to take photos documenting your visit with the tree as a backdrop.

Sip & savor at the Charleston Wine Festival

Another iconic mural portrays the conviviality and hospitality associated with Lowcountry cuisine (credit: Jerome Levine)
Another iconic mural portrays the conviviality and hospitality associated with Lowcountry cuisine (credit: Jerome Levine)

With wine festivals in winter, spring, and summer, you might say that Charleston is a “spirited” destination. 

The Charleston Winter Wine Festival will be held at Festival Hall on January 27, 2024. Participants will be able to sample more than 50 wines, mimosas, beers, and White Claw, accompanied by live music and a DJ.

Built in 1939 and renovated in 2008, the stately event venue is located in the downtown Harleston village neighborhood.

Experience the dazzling Holiday Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights
Festival of Lights (credit: Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission)

Take a ride to James Island National Park to enjoy the annual Holiday Festival of Lights that has been held since 1990. 

Sponsored by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, the dazzling festival, which opens on November 10 and extends through December 31, 2023, features a three-mile drive with 750 light displays and some two million lights!

Other family-friendly attractions include the festival train, an old-fashioned carousel, marshmallow roasting pits, a giant holiday sand sculpture, a climbing wall, a visit with Santa (of course), and much more. An estimated 25,000 hot cocoas and 19,000 marshmallow sticks are sold on the festival grounds each year.

Learn about the city’s history and African-American heritage

Sweetgrass baskets, used during Colonial times to separate the rice seed from its chaff, one of the oldest handcrafts of African origin in the United States
Sweetgrass baskets, used during Colonial times to separate the rice seed from its chaff, one of the oldest handcrafts of African origin in the United States (credit: Jerome Levine)

Bulldog Tours is one of several local companies that offer walking tours. Compared to summer, winter is an ideal time to walk around the city without heat, humidity, or insects.

The American History and Heritage walking tour brings history to life. It offers participants the opportunity to learn about the influence and experience of African Americans in the Lowcountry on a two-hour tour featuring stops at Aiken Rhett House, Mother Emanuel AME Church, and the Philip Simmons Prayer Garden.

Take a cozy carriage ride

Visitors take a carriage ride through downtown Charleston
Visitors take a carriage ride through downtown Charleston (credit: Jerome Levine)

Even on days when the weather turns a bit nippy, visitors can stay warm under a blanket on a horse-drawn (or mule-drawn) carriage ride along the city’s cobblestone streets. 

It’s a great way to see the sites, get a feel for the city’s architecture and learn about the rich history of the Charleston Historic District.

Go horseback riding on the beach

Horseback riding
Horseback riding (credit: Pixabay)

Ever dream of riding a horse on the beach?

Seabrook Island Equestrian Center caters to riders of all skill levels with guided trail rides and pony rides. Guides generally head out around low tide when shorebirds, seabirds, and local stand-feeding dolphins are most active so riders can learn about local and migratory wildlife. 

Children under the age of 8 can take pony rides. Open Monday thru Saturdays, It’s best to make reservations in advance.

Don’t give up on a beach day

A pier at Folly Beach in winter (credit: Jerome Levine)
A pier at Folly Beach in winter (credit: Jerome Levine)

But even in winter, you don’t have to give up on enjoying the beach.

You could catch a sunny, warm day and walkers will enjoy the serenity of winter walks at some of the area’s most appealing beaches, including the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach. 



Some tips

  • Even in winter, it is still prudent to plan your visit to Charleston in advance. Many ticketed events sell out quickly soon after they are announced. 
  • Explore each of the website links above and note that many events have partnered with hotels.
  • If your visit is a last-minute one, stop in at the Charleston Visitors Center located at 375 Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. The Visitor Center itself is a historic site. Construction of the building housing the center, in one of five railroad buildings, began in 1840.
  • While at the Visitors Center, consider purchasing an Essential Charleston Passport to get discounts on admissions to historic and cultural sites.  

Additional information on visiting Charleston

This article is a recently updated and expanded version of an article I wrote for Forbes in 2018.

The hotel links below are affiliate links. This means that I may receive compensation if you click a link at no additional cost to you. For more information, please read my privacy and disclosure policies at the end of this page.

Where to stay in Charleston

Here are some luxury hotels to consider for your winter stay in Charleston:

Save to Pinterest!!

Winter in Charleston pin

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *