A small town of just under 70,000 people, tucked into the Appalachian foothills, Greenville might not be the most obvious choice for a weekend getaway. But over the last few years, it's become a word-of-mouth favorite among travelers in the know.
The city takes great advantage of its natural charms: the Reedy River, which runs through the center of town, is surrounded by walking and biking paths, independent shops and restaurants, and a state-of-the-art amphitheater. The colorful downtown is walkable and punctuated with plazas. And the food scene is popping. Here’s our guide to a weekend escape in this charming South Carolina city.
Falls Park, in the center of downtown Greenville, is the perfect place for a stroll © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
Arrive in Greenville in the late afternoon or early evening and make Falls Park on the Reedy your first stop. Smack dab in the center of downtown, this urban oasis would feel European if it weren’t for the modern high-rises that surround it. Wander the trail, enjoy views of the waterfall from the cantilevered Liberty Street Bridge, and wave at the Canada geese wading in the water.
Once you’ve taken in the scene, settle in at one of the restaurants overlooking the river and falls for dinner, like the Mediterranean-inspired Lazy Goat or the oh-so-French Passerelle Bistro. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear music from an outdoor concert at the nearby Peace Center.
The sun-speckled patio at Passarelle © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
Wake up early to make the most of your weekend, and grab breakfast at the Greenville Saturday Market, which takes over several blocks of Main Street each week. Local vendors of everything from bread and produce to scented candles and soaps line up beneath white tents. Our breakfast pick? The pain choco from Bake Room.
The Saturday Market on Main St is a popular weekend activity © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
After you’ve had your fill of browsing, it’s time for some activity. Walk down to Reedy Bikes, rent a cruiser and set out on the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. This rails-to-trails project runs almost 20 miles along the Reedy River, so your trip can be as long or short as you like. We recommend the 20-mile-round-trip journey to Traveler’s Rest, a scenic, mostly flat ride that winds past the verdant campus of Furman University. In the quaint town center on South Main St, you’ll find a variety of shopping, dining and drinking options. It’s hard to go wrong, but hyper-local Swamp Rabbit Brewery and the crunchy, wood-fired pies at Sidewall Pizza will fuel you for your ride back.
The spicy Italian pizza at Sidewall has a picture-perfect crust © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
Back in Greenville, it’s time to get cleaned up and go out on the town. Start your evening at Jianna with a refreshing, citrus-garnished Aperol spritz at the outdoor bar while you wait for a table. There are no wrong choices from the rustic Italian menu, developed by chef Michael Kramer, who was the original chef at the iconic Charleston spot McCrady’s, but the house made pastas are a standout. The melt-in-your-mouth potato gnocchi is a local favorite.
The deck outside Jianna is a lively weekend spot © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
After dinner, it’s time for a spot of nightlife. Keep it classy by easing into a seat at Crafted, the upstairs cocktail bar at Nose Dive. Local spirits and fresh ingredients mark the creative bar menu here, developed by Walter Pickering, another Charleston import. If you’re fortunate enough to catch him working, tell him your drink preferences and opt for the bartender’s choice.
Sunday mornings are for brunch. Beat the crowds by showing up at your restaurant of choice before 11am. We recommend going a bit off the beaten path to West Greenville, where art galleries mingle with newly arrived businesses and cafes. Golden Brown & Delicious serves up a classic menu of Southern fare, like chicken and waffles or pork belly over sweet potato hash, in a rustic and comfortable space. Afterward, wander around the neighborhood: Browse a colorful selection of clothes at Kate DiNatale Vintage, or midcentury modern furniture finds at Shindig Furnishings. Many of the nearby art galleries are closed on Sundays, but the window displays are worth a peek.
Colorful denim lined up at Beija-Flor Jeans © Trisha Ping / Lonely Planet
If you’ve still got the shopping bug, head back to downtown Greenville and Main Street, where a variety of locally owned shops await. Foodies should check out Poppington’s Gourmet Popcorn, where you can crunch on made-from-scratch flavors like bacon cheddar and spicy dill pickle, and create your own popcorn mix. Mast General Store, a staple in the city since 1883, has a little bit of everything in its vast square footage. Kids will love choosing from the epic candy selection, which they can scoop out themselves from old-fashioned barrels. Local apparel awaits at Beija-Flor Jeans, run by a mother-daughter duo. Their jeans are designed for women, by women, and made out of sustainable fabric. Another female-owned business is just up the street: M Judson Booksellers & Storytellers. This well-lit and cozy space, with its own cafe, carries Southern-themed gifts alongside local authors and the latest bestsellers.
Like many regions of the South, Greenville County was famous for moonshine back in the days of bootleggers. You shouldn’t leave the city without giving the modern version a try. Dip into Dark Corner Distillery to end your visit with a sip of Wildberry Shine or the creatively named Tiger Fire, and toast to a memorable weekend.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Greenville is an easy drive from Atlanta and Charlotte. The Greenville-Spartanburg Airport is about 15 miles outside the city; ridesharing and hotel shuttles are available.
Trisha Ping traveled to Greenville with assistance from VisitGreenville. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.