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  • Writer's pictureKendra DeKay

What’s so SPECIAL about Aiken, SC?

Welcome to Aiken, South Carolina! Our beautiful city is known for its history, small-town southern charm, and of course, the unique equestrian community here. Aiken invites you to take life at a slower pace, soak in the natural beauty around you, and turn friendly new faces into friends.



Historic downtown Aiken is the charming heart of our city. It's just a few square blocks, an easy stroll that first-time visitors can usually navigate easily on foot. Local restaurants, unique shops, art galleries, and antique stores beg to be explored. The Alley is a pedestrians-only brick street with a European feel that comes to life for live music, markets, outdoor dining, and nightlife. Enjoy the beauty of historic buildings like the award-winning Willcox Hotel, the unmistakable shiny gold dome of the old Aiken post office, the train station and Visitor's Center on Union street, and the many fountains, statues, and landscaped boulevards.


Aiken boasts a rich heritage that you can explore at the Aiken County Historical Museum, housed in the iconic mansion on the hill above "the wavy wall". Delve into the past and learn about the city's roots, from its beginnings as a Winter Colony for the wealthy in the early 20th century to its significant role during the Civil War. The Center for African American History, Art, and Culture on York Street is another great resource. Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch offer glimpses into Aiken's fascinating history as well as a serene stroll through beautifully maintained public gardens.


If you're an equestrian, you've probably heard Aiken referred to as a horse lover's paradise. It lives up to the hype! Horses and horse people have indelibly shaped the city. You can't go far without seeing horse show grounds, polo fields, racetracks, farms, and of course the dirt roads of the entirely unique Historic Horse District and Hitchcock Woods right in town.


January - mid April is the main equestrian season, when modern "Snowbirds" take their horses and flee colder climes for Aiken's mild winters, but there is horse activity year round. Polo, fox hunting, carriage driving, and eventing have an especially strong presence in Aiken.


Even the general public enthusiastically attends horse events like Spring & Fall Steeplechase, The Aiken Triple Crown, The Blessing of the Hounds on Thanksgiving, the historic Aiken Horse Show (in the Woods), polo matches, Grand Prix jumping nights at Bruce's Field, and the Hoofbeats and Carols Christmas Parade downtown, many of which are free or low-cost for spectators.



Golfers are delighted by our world-class golf courses, some of which have been designed by the sport's legendary architects. And tens of thousands come the first week of every April for the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course in neighboring Augusta, GA.


Aiken is a small city of about 30,000 that escaped the fate of many nearby rural mill towns that have collapsed without employment or tourism. Many newcomers to Aiken are retiring and moving away from faster-paced, expensive, stressful, and lonely big city life. Here they find rich social communities through churches, volunteering, shared hobbies, outdoor activities like kayaking, dog-walking and bird watching, sports like tennis and pickle ball, and the arts. We have a rich local art scene as well as community theater, symphony, ballet, and local bands and choirs.


Aiken is a great home base for exploring the Southeast. Atlanta, Charleston, Savannah, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Edisto Island, Charlotte, and Asheville are all within driving distance for a weekend trip. Columbia, Augusta, or Greenville can make great day trips. The Southern origin of the Appalachian Trail is within a half-day's drive from Aiken.

The closest airport is about 50 minutes away in Augusta. You can also fly out of Columbia (1 hr), Charlotte (2.5 hr), or Atlanta or Charleston (3 hrs).  

Voted the #1 Small Town in the South in 2018 by Southern Living Magazine (and regularly included in their annual list of the top 50 best small towns in the South), Aiken is a wonderful place to visit and explore.


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