48 Hours in Charlotte: The Ultimate Itinerary

Levine Museum of the New South

Courtesy of Levine Museum of the New South

As the largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte attracts nearly 30 million visitors a year. And what's not to love? With temperate year-round weather, unique neighborhoods, award-winning restaurants, and more, Charlotte is just as exciting as a big city—but much easier to navigate in a short weekend trip.

From art museums in Uptown to breweries in South End, here's how to make the most of 48 hours in the Queen City.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Courtesy of Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

10 a.m.: As soon as you land at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and collect your luggage, take a cab or ride share to Uptown. In spite of its name, Uptown is actually downtown and serves the city's central business district and commercial hub. It's also where you'll find several museums, performing arts venues, parks, sports arenas, and other notable landmarks.

Try and score an early check-in at the Kimpton Tyron Park; it's right across the street from Romare Bearden Park and within walking distance of the 3rd Street Station on the Charlotte LYNX light rail. The boutique hotel is modern but warm, with floor-to-ceiling windows, cool tones of blue and gray, and a Sweet Tea bar to greet arriving guests in the lobby. Other great Uptown hotel options include the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte and the historic Dunhill Hotel.

11 a.m.: After you freshen up and drop off your bags, walk a few blocks over to the Levine Center for the Arts campus. A $20 ticket gets you 48 hours of admission to the Center's trio of museums: Bechtler Museum of Modern Arts, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, and the Mint Museum's Uptown. The Bechtler, designed by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art architect Mario Botta, houses the works of several influential 20th century artists, including Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, and Jean Tinguely. The five-story, 145,000 square-foot Mint has one of the world's most notable Craft + Design collections as well as a substantial collection of American, European, decorative, and modern art. Meanwhile, The Gantt has significant works from Black artists like Charlotte-born Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, Kara Walker, Augusta Savage, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Charlotte Art League

Courtesy of Charlotte Art League

1 p.m.: Take the short 15-minute walk over to 7th Street Public Market, a food hall with vendors selling everything from wine and cheese to locally-made crêpes, chocolates, and pressed juices.

Eat lunch at Uptown Yolk, an all-day local breakfast spot. Your order? The Mojo Hash, with coffee-braised steak, diced sweet potatoes, and roasted mushrooms in a scallion pesto sauce—all topped with an egg of your choice. Or try Pure Pizza, which sources all of its ingredients locally and offers a variety of build-your-own pies as well as calzones and salads. Then wander through the shops; Orman's Cheese Shop offers a selection of regional meats and cheeses (like a soft-ripened goat cheese from Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, NC.), and Not Just Coffee will fuel up your afternoon with caffeinated options ranging from pour-overs to espressos.

2:30 p.m. For an in-depth look at Charlotte's long and complicated history, head one block up to the Levine Museum of the New South. The museum's permanent exhibits explore the stories of the South from the Civil War to today. Don't miss the award-winning "Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers" exhibit, which includes more than 1,000 artifacts, images, and oral histories. You will also find interactive displays like a sit-in lunch counter and a one-room tenant farmer's home.

4 p.m.: Take the LYNX Light Rail to NoDa. Named for its main thoroughfare—North Davidson Street—NoDa is the city's arts and entertainment district, with art galleries, eclectic local shops, bars and breweries, restaurants, and live music venues. Into retail therapy? Visit Summerbird for high-end women's fashions and accessories at affordable prices; Curio for candles, crystals, and other mystical items; and Ruby's Gift for pottery, home goods, and jewelry made by local artisans. Then stroll through galleries such as Charlotte Art League, the Light Factory, and Providence Gallery. Afterwards, snap some pictures of the neighborhood's colorful murals, like Evelyn Henson's Confetti Hearts Wall just beyond Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Haberdish

Courtesy of Haberdish

6 p.m.: Grab an early dinner at Haberdish, the go-to No-Da spot for Southern classics with all the sides (think collard greens, kale grits, and macaroni and cheese). Yes, they have a North Carolina trout and BBQ wings, but you're really here for the fried chicken; you can get it by the half or whole bird, but they have two-piece dark and white meat options as well. Snacks such as smoked deviled eggs and smoky boiled peanuts (a Carolina speciality) round out the menu. Don't miss the restaurant's rotating menu of seasonal, apothecary-style cocktails, served from a 1950s-era soda fountain.

8 p.m.: Catch a show at the Evening Muse, an intimate, 120-seat venue where bands like the Avett Brothers and Sugerland have performed on their way through town. Another outstanding NoDa live music spot is the near 1,000-seat Neighborhood Theatre, where you can catch emerging and established soul, Americana, and folk acts.

10:30 p.m.: Finish your evening with a nightcap at the Kimpton's top-floor house bar, Merchant & Trade. While DJs spin music and bartenders mix up stellar cocktails, you'll be treated to stunning views of the Uptown skyline and Romare Bearden Park below. 

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Girl Tribe

Courtesy of Girl Tribe  

9 a.m.: Take the LYNX Light Rail at 7th Street station to the city's booming South End, a former industrial neighborhood brimming with boutiques, craft breweries, colorful murals, and restaurants. The 10-minute ride will drop you off at East/West Station. Grab a bite to eat at Crispy Crêpes—which offers omelettes in addition to sweet and savory pancakes—or ROOTS Cafe, a local fast-casual spot that offers all-day breakfast. For a twist on a Lowcountry classic, try the goat cheese grit bowl, served with fried egg, parmesan, bacon, and roasted peppers.

10:30 a.m.: South End is a shopper's paradise. At Atherton Mill and Market, an outdoor shopping district, you'll find both national retailers (Anthropologie, Madewell) and local purveyors. Stop by Society Social, known for its colorful and stylish North Carolina-made furniture, upholstery, and home goods (think brass bar carts and wicker lamps). Hit up other nearby local shops like Girl Tribe, run by two Charlotte natives who have curated a dreamy collection of branded apparel from female designers. With clothing, accessories, home décor, and beauty products, it's the perfect place to purchase a souvenir for yourself or a loved one back home.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Charlotte

Getty Images 

12:30 p.m.: For lunch, head to 300 East, which serves an all-day menu of Southern-inspired small plates, salads, sides, and sandwiches (we recommend the grilled shrimp BLT panini). Come during Sunday brunch, and you'll find a special menu with can't miss options like the B.E.C. Biscuit (Heritage Farms bacon, scrambled egg, and cheddar).

2 p.m.: From there, rent a bike from Charlotte B-cycle at the East/West Station and pedal along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. The paved hiking and biking paths run from Cordelia Street Park to the South Carolina state border for a total of 19 miles—but you don't have to take the entire route. For a shorter excursion, take East Boulevard southwest toward Latta Park and the Dilworth neighborhood, a former streetcar community with stunning historic Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes.

3:30 p.m.: Charlotte is home to more than 30 craft breweries, and many of their tasting rooms and rooftop terraces dot the 4.5-mile Charlotte Rail-Trail. Start with the taproom at Sycamore Brewing in South End, which has an expansive outdoor beer garden for sampling brews like its signature Mountain Candy IPA. Another local standout is The Suffolk Punch; part taphouse, part coffee shop, they offer more than 50 taps of beers from North Carolina and beyond, plus ciders, wines, and craft cocktails. For a more in-depth look at the city's beer scene, book a tour with Brews Cruise Charlotte.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Heirloom

Peter Taylor/Courtesy Heirloom

6:30 p.m.: Plan ahead by booking a reservation at the much-lauded Heirloom, a farm-to-table eatery in Coulwood. The restaurant sources everything—including coffee, meats, grains, and vegetables—from North Carolina farmers, foragers, and purveyors. For a sublime meal, order the applewood bacon wrapped-rabbit meatloaf, paired with Farm & Sparrow grain porridge, honey glazed carrots, and persimmon BBQ sauce. Feeling adventurous? Try the $70, six-course chef's tasting menu, with optional wine pairings for $100.

If you want to stay closer to your Uptown hotel, try Haymaker, the chef-driven spot from William Dissen's The Market Place. Go for the North Carolina shrimp and bay scallops a la plancha, perfectly grilled and lying on a bed of creamy Farm & Sparrow heirloom grits. The side dishes are also exceptional, like the truffle tater tots with wild onion aioli. While there's not a bad place to sit in the bright and sleek 4,000-square-foot restaurant, ask for a seat at the chef's table, which gives a bird's-eye view of the open kitchen. Pro tip: Try the "Pig and Brew" menu, a three-course tasting experience paired with beers from the city's oldest brewery.

9 p.m.: Finish your night at The Crunkleton, a Prohibition-style speakeasy. Located in Elizabeth just southeast of Uptown, the bar is technically a private club—but the annual $10 membership fee is worth the price of admission. In addition to an extensive and rare bourbon list, the bar excels at whiskey-based classics like the Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan. If you get hungry again, the kitchen is just as stellar as the bar, with a popular house burger and easily shared snacks like oysters and wings.

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