We’ve called Charlotte, NC home for the last several years. Yet can you believe this is our first post on the Queen City? Every time we have visitors, we rush to pull together a list of activities for our guests. Why wouldn’t we just share our favorite places with everyone? So, here we are, sharing the things we like to show off to visitors in our hometown.
A little note before we get into it. You’ll quickly notice Charlotte is a big city with a small-town feel. As we are home to some of the nation’s biggest banks and technology companies, we have a lot of corporate transplants. This gives us the “big city.” However, at its heart, Charlotte is just a small southern town. It’s a slower pace of life, where folks love to stop and chat, usually about food or the weather. We do have some pretty great food, and with four distinct seasons, we’ve got great weather too!
We are not sponsored by any of the attractions listed in this post, they are just places we enjoy.
Where to Stay in Charlotte, NC
- Hilton Charlotte Uptown – Offers great value in the heart of Charlotte’s Uptown. It’s within walking distance of Uptown Charlotte’s attractions. However, parking in the city center is expensive in general, and parking at the Hilton is no exception.
- The Ivey Uptown – Don’t mind spending a little money for a modern luxury room in the center of the city? Then you need to check out The Ivey. Gorgeous with a prime location, opt for a room with a view of the city.
- Aloft Charlotte Airport – Staying near the airport offers really good value. It has easy access to major roads, including getting into the city center, and it has free parking.
- The Ballantyne Hotel – If you’re after something fancy, The Ballantyne drips luxury, though with free parking. A little further out, but it’s in a lovely area of Charlotte, not far from the city’s ring road.
1) Get Outdoors at the U.S. National Whitewater Rafting Center
The US Whitewater Rafting Center is our favorite spot to bring visitors when they come to Charlotte, NC. Such a unique facility, if you’re a sporty person you will LOVE IT. However, you don’t even need to participate in any of the activities to have a great time.
As the name suggests, whitewater rafting, kayaking, or paddle boarding down a man-made raging river is the main event. You’ll also find various levels of rope courses, climbing walls, mountain biking trails, jumping platforms, and zip lines. In winter, they usually open an ice-skating rink.
For those just coming to watch, grab a bite at the restaurant onsite. In season, crowds flock to the beer gardens. They hold various events throughout the year, including a Fourth of July celebration.
Entry is free, but there is a small parking charge. Once inside, walk around and enjoy the scene or buy a pass to participate in one or all of the activities. Opening hours vary by season and day, so check the Whitewater Rafting Center’s website for details.
2) Learn a Bit About NASCAR
Being the birthplace of NASCAR, you can’t visit Charlotte, NC without learning a bit about the sport.
A tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway is always a hit with our friends and family. Explore the inside track, pit, and those famous 24° corner banks. Even if you’re not into watching cars drive in circles, the tour is a lot of fun.
Another unique experience to Charlotte, is visiting the Race Car Team Shops. Each one is different, with around ten shops in the area. Team shops usually include a museum with the cars, a view of the mechanic’s shop, and a gift shop. Typically, they are free to visit. Cabarrus County Visitor Center keeps a list of team shops with their opening hours.
Finally, in uptown Charlotte, we have the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A tribute to the NASCAR greats, this hands-on museum is a fan favorite.
3) Go Underground at Reed Creek Gold Mine
Many think California had the first US gold rush, but surprise, surprise, surprise.
Believe it or not, the first US documented gold find was just outside Charlotte, NC. While fishing in a creek, a 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed found a 17-pound gold nugget in 1799.
Today, Reed Creek isn’t an active mine, but visitors can explore the tunnels. Your self-guided tour starts in a small museum which explains the history of gold mining in the area. Then explore the tunnels before returning to daylight for a short walk of the grounds.
The mine is free to visit, but please consider donating if you are able. Guided tours have a small fee. Panning for gold is available in the warmer months.
4) Quench Your Thirst at a Local Brewery
Being so close to Beer City (aka Asheville, NC), it is no surprise that the micro-brewery scene in Charlotte has boomed over the last few years.
With tons of outdoor seating and great beer, Old Mecklenburg Brewery (OMB) is our favorite. Over the last few years, they even added a ton of food to their menu, a rarity for breweries.
Other top picks include the nearby Sugar Creek and the Brewers of Yancy. On the east side of Charlotte, NoDa Brewing, Free Range, Bird Song, and Catawba Brewing make the cut.
If you are a sucker for a good cider like I am, Red Clay Ciderworks on Clanton Road is a must stop. Love them!
5) Take a Hike at a State or National Park
NC State Parks are the best and there are a few not far from Charlotte.
Crowders Mountain State Park is the one we always recommend to our visitors who want to explore the outdoors. The hike is only 0.9 miles one way, but it is a little steep and includes 336 wooden steps. However, once you’re at the top, you’ll have a beautiful view over the trees. If you look closely on a clear day, you’ll see uptown Charlotte in the distance.
Not far from Crowders Mt. is the SC state line, and Kings Mountain. Kings Mountain State Park charges a small fee and has over 20 hiking trails.
Kings Mountain National Military Park is free to visit and an important battle ground of the Revolutionary War.
6) Explore Uptown Charlotte
Charlotte’s city center uses a grid design, so it’s easy to find your way around.
Our typical route starts at the Bank of America Football Stadium, where the Panthers play. Romare Bearden Park gives a great view of the city, even though our skyline keeps getting bigger. Then we cross the street to Latta Arcade which has some great places for lunch.
Most of the attractions visitors will be interested in are on Tryon Street, between Stonewall and 7th Street.
Charlotte has a lot of fun outdoor art. Most of which is in and around The Green, a small park in a busy part of the city.
Connecting the various skyscrapers is The Overstreet Mall, a popular spot for locals who work uptown to grab lunch. Stores are mostly open only on the weekdays.
We love taking visitors for a walk around the Fourth District.
In the mid-1830’s, this was a prominent area of Charlotte. Today, it’s a nice place to admire the historic buildings, get great views of the city, and escape a bit of the noise.
We use the free walking tour on the Friends of Fourth Ward website. It has a map of the area and information about the historic buildings.
Note: In our opinion, as locals, Uptown Charlotte has never been the safest place to explore at night. Like many US cities, businesses closing during Covid didn’t help. Fortunately, things are getting back to normal as folks return to uptown. However, we still recommend using caution if you’re going out in the city after dark.
7) Browse the Museums of Charlotte
If you’re a museum person, Charlotte has a few great ones for you to check out.
- Harvey B. Grant Center – Dedicated to the celebration of African and African-American Culture and Arts.
- Mint Museum Uptown – American, contemporary, and European art.
- Mint Museum Randolph – The building was the former home of the US Mint. They have a small but interesting display on the Mint’s history in Charlotte. Other collections include American, European, and African art. It’s one of our favorites in Charlotte.
- Bechtler Museum – American and European modern art museum.
- Levine Museum of the New South – Our favorite uptown museum, showcases a post-Civil War history of the South. However, they are selling their uptown location and moving towards a “digital first model,” where many of their exhibits will be available online.
- Discovery Place – Science Museum geared towards kids, but there are plenty of interesting displays to keep us kids-at-heart entertained.
- Billy Graham Library – Ahh, this one is very unique to Charlotte and not for everyone. Here a free self-guided tour takes visitors through the life of the famous prominent evangelical Christian leader. Admittedly, his influence, specifically in world-wide politics, is fascinating (and a little scary).
8) Grab a Bite at Our Favorite Charlotte, NC Spots
Having a culinary school in the city has done wonders for Charlotte’s food scene. We have tons of great local options. Plus, we are known for BBQ and Southern soul food. Here are a few of our favorite local spots.
- King’s Kitchen in Uptown Charlotte – A kitchen with a mission and great food! This local favorite is a non-profit. Helping to train people in the restaurant industry who were once unemployable, King’s Kitchen also raises funds to feed the poor in Charlotte. A good place to find southern favorites on the menu.
- Moosehead Grill on Montford Dr – Small bar that doesn’t look like much, but oh my gosh, those wings!!! We love the Uncle Donnie’s Blackened Wings. Great place to grab a beer and watch a game.
- Midwood Smokehouse – Local Charlotte chain for Southern BBQ. My former colleague said it best, “it’s slap ya mama good,” and that it is.
- Stacks – This one is a little out of the way, on the edge of Charlotte near the small town of Matthews. They have a modern diner feel, with the most amazing breakfast menu. I’m a huge fan of their Stuffed French Toast, while Jeremy loves their Eggs Benedict. Either way, come hungry.
9) Cheer for a Local Team
The Queen City loves its sports. In addition to NASCAR, we have sporting events going on year-round and something for everyone. Check the schedules and see what’s on while you’re visiting Charlotte.
- Football – Carolina Panthers – NFL Team
- Basketball – Charlotte Hornets – NBA Team
- Soccer – Charlotte FC – MLS Team
- Baseball – Charlotte Knights – MiLB Team
- Hockey – Charlotte Checkers – AHL Team
- Arena Football – Charlotte Thunder – AAL Team
- Rugby – Charlotte Rugby Club – Women’s Division I, Men’s Division II & III
10) Make a Few Quick Stops Around Charlotte, NC
Some of our favorite spots we take our visitors in Charlotte are only quick stops and all free.
- Metalmorphosis by Czech artist David Černý – Located in a business park, this giant head spins while spitting water. Sadly, it’s often broken, but still a great spot to stop.
- Airport Overlook – Just off Old Dowd Rd, within the airport complex, is a small parking area that overlooks the runways. It also has a great distant view of the city skyline.
- The Mary DBT Semans Gardens at the Duke Mansion – Even if you can’t afford to stay at the Duke Mansion, they still allow visitors to wander the delightful gardens for free.
Get Out of Charlotte
One of the things we love most about living in Charlotte, NC is how many day trip options we have.
- Blue Ridge Parkway – Hands-down our favorite National Park to take visitors. Beautiful year round, with so many different spots within the Parkway to choose from, we never get bored. Specifically, Linville Falls and the Craggy Pinnacle Hiking Trail are always big hits with friends.
- Dupont State Forest – Our favorite waterfall walk to Hooker, Triple, and High Falls.
- Stone Mountain, NC – About 1.5 hours north-west of Charlotte, the views make this one worth it.
- Winston-Salem – Historic town a little over an hour north of Charlotte.
- McAdendville’s Christmas Town USA – If you are in Charlotte over the holidays, this is a must. The whole town decorates and it’s completely free.
- Congaree National Park – Best to visit in the cooler months when the mosquitos aren’t around. If you catch it in the right time of year, it is a beautiful old growth wetlands with a boardwalk trail.