Winter in the Upstate South Carolina region is a more relaxed, enjoyable time of the year with cooler, drier weather, fewer crowds than the busy summer season, and a diverse lineup of festive Christmas events. While the forecast will likely call for no snow (although 2018 saw a rare early snowstorm), there is still enough of a chill in the air to to make it feel like the holiday season. So, bundle up, grab a hot cocoa, and enjoy the sights of the season in the traditional chilly atmosphere.
While the area does not offer much in the way of grand light displays, there are a number of seasonal events, a real ice rink, and even a few holiday shows on the lineup. Additionally, the close proximity to the Blue Ridge mountains and lack of crowds this time of year means it’s the perfect time of the year to enjoy the great outdoors (there are dozens of waterfalls within a 1-2 hour drive).
Below are the 5 most festive Christmas events to check out during your December Greenville visit!
Ice on Main
The top event to check out during the holiday season is definitely Ice on Main. There is no activity that says Christmas quite like ice skating. Really, what Hallmark Christmas movie does not feature the trademark ice rink scene? Growing up in Chicago, I always visited beautiful Millennium Park at least once every holiday season.
While the South may not be known for winter recreation, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the traditional winter activity of ice skating in the city of Greenville, which is home to one of the only non-synthetic rinks in the state. Surrounded by Christmas trees with holiday music softly playing in the background, skating in downtown Greenville is the perfect pre-Christmas activity.
Note: be aware this rink gets really busy (unfortunately way too many people and skating aids are allowed at the same time),and thus, is best visited during the week!
Location/Pricing info: The rink is located at: 206 S. Main. Rink admission is fairy cheap at just 8 bucks per child and $10 per adult, plus a 50% discount if you bring your own skates.
The Festival of Trees
The Festival of Trees is an annual celebration featuring dozens of themed Christmas trees, which are displayed across 4 hotels in downtown Greenville. The Hyatt Regency hotel features the most elaborate display of the bunch with dozens of creatively designed trees lining the atrium of this beautiful property. This event runs the entire month of December, so be sure to check it out during your visit to Greenville.
As an added bonus, the Hyatt is home to an excellent local restaurant called Roost which features a wonderful healthy salad & soup lunch buffet Monday-Friday, as well as a popular Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch buffet. There is also a Starbucks on-site – what better way to enjoy the lights of the season than with a tasty Peppermint Mocha in hand?
Location/Pricing info: The Hyatt is located at: 220 N. Main. The event is free and free 2 HR parking is usually available along the side streets.
The Poinsettia Parade, which has been going strong for over 75 years, officially marks the start of the holiday season in Greenville. This high energy parade, featuring festive floats and spirited music, draws thousands of locals and visitors each December.
Scope out your spot on Main Street early to avoid the traffic and hassle of finding parking and get ready to be entertained by more than 90 festive floats! Make it a full night out by visiting one of Greenville’s local restaurants beforehand (Rick’s Deli, Handi Indian, & Greektown Grill are all great choices!).
Location: The parade route runs along Main St.
Moonlight Movies in the Park
You’ll shoot your eye out! Who doesn’t automatically think of Ralphie, his BB gun, and the classic A Christmas Story quote as soon as December rolls around? This holiday cult classic (thanks in part to the 24 hour airing every Christmas Eve on TBS) is always high on my must-watch-at-least-twice list. While it’s fun to watch all our holiday favorites at home, it’s even more fun to watch them on the big screen in company of other devoted fans!
Downtown Greenville hosts a popular summer outdoor movie series known as Moonlight Movies in the Park, held Wednesday nights in May & September in beautiful Falls Park. Additionally, each December they screen a popular holiday movie. 2018 featured the unforgettable 80’s classic, A Christmas Story.
Note: Be prepared for any type of weather from clear and mild to freezing cold and rainy (2018 was absolutely freezing!). Treat yourself afterwards to a hot espresso drink or hot cocoa at Methodical Coffee, the best roaster in Greenville.
Location/Pricing info: Falls Park is located at: 601 S. Main St. This event is free to attend (bring your own chair). Vendors on-site include Coffee Underground and Poppington’s Gourmet Popcorn.
Night of Lights
A new event for 2018, which featured the lighting of the city Christmas tree, live entertainment, and several food trucks, is sure to be on the lineup in upcoming years based on the huge crowd turn out. Along with the lighting of the grand tree, you can ice skate, browse art galleries, check out the shops, and treat yourself to a nice dinner.
Location/pricing info: Night of Lights takes place along the Main Street in downtown Greenville. The event is free to attend.
Other fun things to do over the holidays in Greenville
See a show! There are a number of fantastic productions each season at various theaters throughout the region. 2018 productions included The Nutcracker at the Peace Center, It’s a Wonderful Life at the Greenville Little Theater, and the Trans Siberian Orchestra at the Bon Secours Wellness Center. Check the Peace Center, Bon Secours and Center Stage websites for news on upcoming productions.
Holiday Fair – This year marks the 49th season of the beloved Greenville Holiday Fair. Shop for unique handmade arts and crafts at the Greenville Convention Center.
Treat yourself to a cup of tea at CR Tea Company. This cute little local tea shop offers dozens of varieties of creative loose leaf teas including a few holiday selections (try the Marshmallow or Pumpkin Cream Rooibos!) The place is decorated very nicely and they have tons of cute Christmas themed mugs, tea pots, and various other knick knacks which make great holiday gifts. Location: CR is located downtown at 131 E. McBee Avenue.
Shop for old-fashioned gifts at Mast General Store. Located in the heart of downtown, this nostalgic general store offers an old time candy counter, holiday decorations galore, and plenty of unique knick knacks for that hard to shop for person on your list. Location: 111 N. Main.
Breakfast at Stax Omega Diner. Not only is Stax Omega the best breakfast place in town, it is also the most festively decorated restaurant in town. You will not find more Christmas cheer at any other restaurant in the Upstate. The food here is excellent, service is always friendly, and the decor is delightfully over-the-top. Location: 72 Orchard Park.
Swamp Rabbit Holiday Flea Market – A small holiday fair is held 2 Saturdays during December at the popular Swamp Rabbit Cafe, a local cafe/coffeeshop/co-op store. They also host a holiday pie night on 2 separate occasion so those with a sweet tooth will definitely want to plan a visit! Location: 205 Cedar Lane Rd.
Downtown Lights – Although there is not much in the way of lights downtown, there is a nice tree decked out in the Clemson team colors near the Tiger Sports Store. You will also find a nice walkway lined with colorful trees right behind the Clemson tree.
The Griswold House Lights – This popular, long running neighborhood choreographed light show has now moved to a church and has been renamed “The Passion of the Lights.” Location: 506 Edwards Rd.
National Gingerbread Competition – Although this event is not actually located in the Upstate, it’s worth a mention as it is definitely worthy of the hour drive to Asheville. Now in its’ 27th year, this amazing competition held at the ritzy Omni Park Grove features dozens of intricately decorated gingerbread houses.
The winning creations are displayed around the property and open to public viewing ($20 parking fee). While you are here, treat yourself to a wonderful breakfast at the Blue Ridge Artisanal Buffet, featuring all your favorite breakfast fare, along with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountains. Location: 290 Macon Ave. Asheville, NC .
Santa 5k – Each December, hundreds of Santas race down Main Street in downtown Greenville. This is a fun festive event, regardless of whether or not you are a seasoned runner – a great way to get into the holiday spirit while also getting in a refreshing workout. More info on the Santa Run.
Window decorating contest – Most of the local businesses lining the streets of downtown Greenville compete for the prize of best window display. You will see all sorts of creative displays as you stroll down Main Street. Location: Downtown Greenville.
Note: There are a number of popular drive-thru light shows in the Upstate area. However, most of these are overpriced and a bit mediocre compared to others I’ve attended in various other regions of the country. Nevertheless, if you want to see a lot of lights in this area, a drive-thru light show is probably your best bet. The Upstate Holiday Lights show at the Greenville Pickens Speedway is the best in this area.