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This City’s Cultural Scene Makes It One of the South’s Best-Kept Secrets

Nestled in South Carolina’s scenic Upstate region, Greenville is an emerging creative enclave that’s earned a well-deserved reputation as a noteworthy cultural hub.

<i>Fall for Greenville is just one annual festival on the city’s busy events schedule.</i>

Fall for Greenville is just one annual festival on the city’s busy events schedule.

Greenville is attracting big buzz thanks to robust cultural offerings rarely found outside of major cities. From innovative galleries and expansive public art projects to a jam-packed calendar of performing arts and cultural events, Greenville delivers high-caliber entertainment from the comfort of a walkable, charm-filled downtown.

So how exactly did this hidden gem in South Carolina’s Upstate become a cultural hub? Greenville’s unwavering support of creativity includes city-sponsored performances, festivals, and events. Also playing a part are the efforts of nonprofits like the Metropolitan Arts Council, whose mission is to make the city a nationally recognized arts community. Plus, what was once known as “The Textile Capital of the World” is now home to multitudes of international and innovative companies, including Michelin and several mobility, automotive, and energy research facilities.

But perhaps no force is more responsible for the artistic output here than the natural beauty of the surrounding area that’s inspiring a new generation of artists who are putting down roots in the city. Whatever the reason, Greenville’s cultural reputation is quickly losing its under-the-radar status—and there’s never been a better time to visit.

Exceptional events

With a busy schedule of events extending throughout every season, there’s always something happening in Greenville. Early in the year, the Reedy Reels Film Festival showcases independent films, many shot locally. Euphoriafood and wine festival takes place in September, with dozens of culinary events taking place throughout the city.

In May, the award-winning Artisphere art fair takes over the downtown streets with displays from visual artists, musicians, and more—all free of charge. When the autumn leaves hit their peak in October, you know it’s time for Fall for Greenville to bring three days of food, beer, and music to Main Street. And that’s just a sampling of highlights from Greenville’s appealing events calendar.

<i>Prominent public art in Greenville includes Dale Chihuly’s striking Rose Crystal Tower.</i>

Prominent public art in Greenville includes Dale Chihuly’s striking Rose Crystal Tower.

Art in the open

Art is rarely hidden away in Greenville—instead, it’s proudly displayed in public spaces for all to enjoy. Greenville’s Art in Public Places initiative has installed nearly 100 pieces throughout the city, from internationally renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s powerful Rose Crystal Tower to Joel Shapiro’s untitled sculpture near the Liberty Bridge, sometimes called the dancing sculpture. You’ll also encounter dozens of murals brightening local buildings, including well-known street artist Gaia’s City of Altruism, depicting Greenville’s textile roots, and Annie Koelle’s Gridley Memorial Mural, a modern take on Victorian women. (You can find a map of public artworks here.) Keep an eye out for mice as well—Greenville’s whimsical Mice on Main project has scattered nine bronze mice throughout Main Street, creating a fun-filled scavenger hunt for children and the young-at-heart.

A focus on American art

Once you’ve whetted your appetite for art with Greenville’s alfresco offerings, you may want to head indoors to continue your tour. The free Greenville County Museum of Art is considered the premier American art museum in the South, with works by Jasper Johns and the largest existing collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolor paintings. The museum also houses the largest collection of pottery from David Drake, an enslaved African American who worked in pottery manufacturing facilities in Edgefield, South Carolina during the 19th century.

As for more contemporary artists, an abundance of galleries display works by local and regional talents, with monthly First Friday events attracting art lovers with special events and exhibitions. The Art Crossing at RiverPlace is home to several working galleries scattered along the scenic Reedy River, allowing visitors to observe the creation process in real time. Other local highlights include Art and Light Gallery, Greenville Center for Creative Arts, and ArtBomb.

Behind the curtain

From ballet and theater to the symphony, Greenville’s stages welcome a wealth of performing arts events produced by local and touring acts. In the heart of downtown, the Peace Center is a hub of arts and entertainment that hosts four resident companies: Carolina Ballet Theatre, Greenville Chorale, Greenville Symphony, and International Ballet. This is also where you can catch critically acclaimed touring Broadway shows and acts like Lucius and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. When it comes to homegrown talent, local companies include Centre Stage, Glow Lyric Theatre, Alchemy Comedy Theatre, Greenville Theatre, and the Warehouse Theatre.

<i>More than 20 creative breweries make up Greenville’s buzzing craft beer community.</i>

More than 20 creative breweries make up Greenville’s buzzing craft beer community.

The culinary arts

Greenville’s thriving food scene rounds out the region’s rich cultural offerings. Here you’ll find high-end restaurants helmed by chefs like James Beard Award nominee Adam Cooke of Topsoil Kitchen & Market. Or try Camp, a new American spot driven by French Laundry alum and Greenville native Drew Erickson—the wagyu corndogs pair nicely with the seasonally inspired craft cocktails.

There’s plenty of globally inspired fare as well. Try Asada for Latin American fusion, Persian at Pomegranate, and Aryana Afghan Cuisine to experience the city’s delicious diversity. Also of note is Dayna Lee-Márquez, owner of West Greenville’s Comal 864, who recently made headlines as a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast for 2023.

Of course, this Southern city also offers plenty of stick-to-your-ribs Southern classics like competition-quality barbecue from SBH BBQ and soul food spot OJ’s Diner. When you can’t make up your mind, sample a range of local flavors at Gather, an open-air food court built from retired shipping containers, or let a local expert guide you on a gourmet adventure with a local food tour.

And to wash it all down? You’ll quickly learn why this city has been recognized for having one of the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States. Greenville’s craft beer culture is booming, with more than 20 inspired breweries just waiting to be explored. Thomas Creek is the city’s original craft brewery, and it remains a must-hit stop on any Greenville beer lover’s tour.

Liability has the distinction of being one of the only Certified B Corp breweries in the country, with sustainably brewed beers boasting inventive names—try the Mortal Wombat IPA. One of the newest additions to the city’s beer scene is Fireforge, whose Tampanian Devil Belgian-Style Tripel Ale won silver in the Beverage Testing Institute’s 2022 World Beer Championships. Choose one brewery or hop around to raise an artfully crafted pint or two to your cultural adventure in Greenville.

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