Being only familiar with South Carolina’s famous coastal cities, like Myrtle Beach and Charleston, I was looking forward to my visit to Greenville, a city in the very northwest corner of the state, not far from North Carolina, Georgia, or even Tennessee for that matter.
Nobody I asked had hard of this place; I feel it may be somewhat of an undiscovered metropolis, still undergoing a transformation years in the making. The downtown corridor is now home to top notch restaurants, new hotels, remodeled museums and theatres. (We’ll get to those mice in a second.) The city is surrounded by miles of beautiful woods and mountains, making it the perfect base for exploring the countryside of this area. And on top of that, your money can go a long way around here.
Whether you’re in the area while visiting Asheville, or wondering if the Greenville experience is just what you’re looking for, here’s an overview of what to do in Greenville, SC.
Downtown Greenville, SC Attractions
Don’t laugh: my favourite fun thing to do in downtown Greenville, SC was going mouse hunting! No, not the vermin of subways and drafty houses, but 9 small installations of mice that are hidden all along the main street in Greenville. They’re in plain sight, but they’re crafty little guys, so they are hard to spot. If you’re traveling with children, this is a must, but with adults you can bar and ice cream shop hop while you go mouse spotting. The official Mice on Main website has some clues if you can’t find all of them.
Greenville also has some excellent museums and attractions. A few recommendations:
- Greenville County Museum of Art: Off the radar of many museum buffs, the country art museum has some very strong permanent exhibitions as well as an incredible line up of rotating galleries. A must see.
- Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery: Houses one of the best collections in the world of the “old masters” painters. Well worth a browse.
- Art Crossing at River Place: actually just off in the distance in the picture above, the Art Crossing is an old parking garage turned into 20 artist studios, often with the resident artists at work, so you can talk to the creator before buying.
I suggest while you’re here, also check out what’s playing at the Center Stage Theater, which has a melange of plays, shows, and events throughout the year – and it’s a quick walk from any of the downtown hotels. And for car buffs, you should know that the only BMW museum in the country is here in Greenville.
The Great Outdoors (in and out of the city)
Greenville, SC is a fabulous place to base yourself to explore some of the mountains of South Carolina (and North Carolina). Whether it’s the waterfalls of the Western Carolinas you’re after or just some picturesque hikes, you’ll find them. But don’t forget to start at Falls Park on the Reedy river in downtown Greenville. It’s just beautiful and the perfect place to sip coffee in the morning or for an evening stroll after dinner.
Exploring further afield, there are definitely some stops I’d recommend for great outdoor sightseeing:
- Bridges: There are two historic bridges in the area that have historic significance. Campbell’s Covered Bridge is the only remaining covered bridge in Southern Carolina, and Poinsett Bridge is the oldest bridge in South carolina. They’re very different but both well worth visiting.
- Heights and Views: If you’re on the hunt for a lookout, I highly suggest Caesars Head state Park (which has an amazing lookout at the park ranger HQ) and its neighbor, Jones Gap State Park, are a must for those of you wanting hikes, picnics, and like. You may see this area on your map called the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Also, Chimney Rock also has some stunning elevations and is another great option.
Greenville was originally called Pleasantburg. However, prior to that American Revolution, Greenville (the present-day city and county) where part of the Cherokee nation, an area where white men were technically not allowed to enter.
Where to Eat: Downtown Greenville, SC Restaurants
You will not go hungry in this city, for sure – and there are options to suit every budget. Here are some top picks and recommendations on downtown Greenville restaurants:
- The Bar at High Cotton: High Cotton is one of the premier restaurants in Charleston, and a branch has opened here in Greenville. It’s a bit of a pricey establishment, but you can get the same ambiance, service, and tasty food by ordering in the bar , which has its own cheaper menu.
- Luna Rosa Gelato Cafe: consistently one of the highest rated venues in Greenville. Everybody loves a good gelato.
- Lazy Goat: This restaurant does a wonderful job delivering great food with a quirky twist. Deep fried goat cheese balls, by chance? Lazy paella? Druken goat cheese? Served tapas style, you’ll love this spot.
- Coffee Underground: Your spot for caffeine, but also great if you need a chill-out break, this venue is like being in an Asian boudoir, complete with comfy seating and fantastic food/drink. Best coffee in town too.
- Blue Ridge Brewing Company: Locally produced microbews and classy comfort foods, southern style. What else do you need?
For a nightcap, check out the Dark Corner Distillery – and let me know how it is, since I haven’t been: it will open in August 2011!
Where to Stay: Downtown Greenville, SC Hotels
You’re in luck: Greenville has some relatively new hotels that are simply fabulous. The Courtyard Marriott Downtown is a stunner, with modern furnishings, great views, superb location. Courtyard is revamping and freshening up its offering, and the result is very comfy beds, walk in showers, and bright decor that can’t help but make you smile. This hotel was one of my favourites on my entire trip to the Carolinas, so I cannot more highly recommend it. (If the Courtyard is booked or you’d rather work on your Hilton points, next door is a Hampton Inn also with great views/location.)
I’d also like to throw you an alternative option. Pictured above is the sunset view from the Red Horse Inn, a dreamy romantic retreat tucked away in the mountains outside of Landrum, so just a 15-20 minute drive into Greenville. The Inn has some spectacular rooms and furnishings, and you’ll feel so secluded that maybe you rented your own mountaintop for the evening. A great option for honeymoons and special occasions, but also well situated for hiking treks (though, warning, you might never want to get out of bed.)
Have you been to Greenville? What’s your favorite thing to do in Greenville, SC?
Special thanks to the Greenville CVB for being such kind hosts during our visit. Learn more about our editorial policy on sponsored trips here.