Meet the Small City with the Big Buzz
If you feel like every state has a Greenville, that’s because most do. There are 36 in the U.S. But only one — the South Carolina version — keeps racking up props in the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure and National Geographic Traveler.
With a walkable city center, fabulous food offerings and abundant natural beauty, this is the little city that could. Greenville, S.C., also falls into the super-accessible category, with nonstop flights from 14 cities on the East Coast and Midwest, proximity to I-85 for roadtrippers plus hotels to suit every budget (with even more coming).
Here, five more reasons to come see what the buzz is all about:
1. The local nature is about to put on a really good show
Greenville’s home turf is best known as the Upcountry, but the Cherokee version — the Great Blue Hills of God — is what really tips you off to the kind of terrain you’ll find here: a vast expanse of river- and cascade-laced mountains. And while the foothills are gorgeous year-round, they turn jaw-dropping in spring, as dogwoods and azaleas get the blossom party started.
To see for yourself, check out the three state parks around Greenville. Two of them — Caesars Head and Jones Gap — make up the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, where all the hiking is heavenly, but the trail to Raven Cliff Falls is a particular crowd pleaser (picture a creek that tumbles 420 feet down a mountain into a cove). The third state park, Paris Mountain, just a few minutes from downtown, is home to great camping, bird watching and boating (with kayaks, canoes and pedal boats for rent on spring weekends).
You don’t even have to venture beyond Greenville city limits for nature’s spring pageant. In downtown’s Historic West End, you’ll find Falls Park on the Reedy, a 32-acre oasis of gardens and trails — and one 345-foot suspension bridge with awesome views of the park’s namesake falls. Of course, you can also bike along the Reedy River: Pick up some wheels at any of the town’s 10 B-cycle rental stations or bike rental shops, then hit the 21-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail — a series of abandoned rail lines turned gorgeous greenway.
2. This is one southern sojourn with international intrigue
Guten tag, y’all! Several German, Austrian and Swiss companies — including BMW’s first full manufacturing facility outside the motherland — have set up shop in Greenville. Arguably the biggest benefit to visitors? The bonanza of German breads (sold fresh daily at the European Market), weiner schnitzel (try Schwaben House) and braus (check out the Hans & Franz Biergarten) on offer around town.
Then, of course, there’s Michelin’s North American headquarters — the reason Greenville has not only a French Ministry of Education-accredited Bilingual School, but plenty of cuisine française, too. Try Passerelle Bistro, where your cassoulet is served up with a side of scenery: The restaurant overlooks Falls Park on the Reedy, and serves crêpes from a cart here in the warmer months.
Of course, Greenville’s global offerings aren’t limited to German and French. You’ll also find — among other cuisines — Belgian (Trappe Door), Italian (try Jianna) and Korean (Kimchee wins raves). And if you’re wondering about the area’s Scots-Irish settlers, we’ll come back to them in the booze section — though they’re also the reason for the local Gallabrae festival in late May, when you can catch a parade, musical performances and the Greenville Scottish Games (think axe-throwing and caber-tossing).
3. The local eats rival the imports
For all its international flavor, Greenville serves up serious Southern comfort food, some traditional — some with a twist. Dating back to the ’50s, Stax’s Original is a local institution, what with its menu of 13 homemade biscuit varietals (think aged country ham biscuits, bacon biscuits and butter + jelly biscuits). At the modern end of the spectrum, you’ll find Husk, by celebrity chef Sean Brock, whose spins on Southern classics include deviled eggs with pickled okra and trout roe or cream of mushroom soup with ash-baked rutabaga. Alternatively, go for a Euro-Southern mashup: At the beloved Stella’s Southern Brasserie, you’ll find the likes of pan-fried crab cake sandwiches with green tomato gribiche and shaved local radish on grilled brioche.
Then there’s Greenville’s Main Street — two blocks of which turn into a tented marketplace every Saturday from May through October, when you’ll find the freshest local fruits, cheeses, baked treats and more. Also on Main Street is the beloved Poppington’s Gourmet Popcorn, home to no fewer than 75 varieties of fresh popcorn. Along with the usual suspects, popcorn choices also include Havarti dill pickle, spicy bacon and the must-try Cheese Louise.
4. The drink scene is equally tasty
Pick your poison, and you’ll find an exceptional version of it in Greenville. Birds Fly South Ale Project recently made BeerAdvocate‘s esteemed Best New Breweries in the US list, and you’ll see why if you stop by this “urban farmhouse” for a sour or Saison in the tasting room or biergarten. More of a vinophile? Head to City Scape Winery, a vineyard with daily tastings, wine-making lessons and a pet pig named Pinot. And for craft cocktails, go see what all the … ahem, buzz is about at Vault & Vator, Greenville’s first speakeasy-style subterranean lair, where you’ll find such concoctions as Vow of Silence (mezcal, green chartreuse, cacao nib-infused luxardo maraschino, lime and mole bitters).
Of course, if you went to the Upcountry and didn’t drink hooch, did you even go at all? To ensure the question remains purely hypothetical, try the moonshine — one of the tastiest legacies of the area’s Scots-Irish settlers — at Dark Corner Distillery.
5. For a small city, it has an outsized arts and culture scene
Okay, not everything is outsized: The beloved Mice on Main — nine bronze figures that form something of a sculptural scavenger hunt — are admittedly tiny. But then, there are the Broadway blockbusters you’ll find at the Peace Center (this spring will bring both The Color Purple (March 13-18) and Waitress (May 8-13), for starters). Bon Secours Wellness Arena pulls in big concerts and events (Blake Shelton, Little Big Town and Sugarland are on the calendar.) Then there’s Artisphere — the “arts-culture-life” festival (May 11-13) that draws tens of thousands annually with the likes of Mandolin Orange, Sister Sparrow + The Dirty Birds and Dynamo.
Not that you need to pick a particular month to dive into the arts scene: There are monthly First Fridays Gallery Crawls, or the self-guided Art in Public Places walking tour — which you can do anytime. You know, when you’re not hiking to waterfalls, biking along riverbanks, tasting the world, basking in biscuits or slipping into a speakeasy.
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