Nearly 30 million visitors flock to Charlotte, North Carolina annually for its parks and recreational activities, neighborhood shops and galleries, museums, award-winning restaurants, local breweries, and more. With temperate year-round weather and a family-friendly vibe, the Queen City has a variety of attractions to keep you busy on a day trip, long weekend, or extended stay.
From white water rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center to sampling local food and drink at the 7th Street Public Market, here are the 15 best things to do in Charlotte.
For an in-depth look at Charlotte's history, head to the Levine Museum of the New South in Uptown. The museum's permanent exhibits explore the history and culture of the South from the Civil War to today. Be sure to check out the award-winning "Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Reinventing Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South," which includes more than 1,000 artifacts, images, and oral histories, plus interactive displays like a sit-in lunch counter and a one-room tenant farmer's home.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is not just an Olympic training facility. Located 12 miles north of downtown on the world's largest manmade, circulating whitewater river, the center offers plenty of land and water-based activities for amateur athletes, too. With stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, zip lining, more than 50 miles of trails, and (of course) whitewater rafting, the 1,300 acres of woodlands are an outdoor lover's paradise. The facility also hosts a summer concert series as well as festivals, races, and other special events throughout the year.
All-access passes start at $59, but single activity passes can be purchased as well. Note that while the trails and gates are open 365 days a year, the availability of certain activities varies by season.
Located on the eastern edge of Myers Park, the nearly 100-acre Freedom Park is a beautiful city retreat. Walk or bike through the park's wooded trails, then settle in for a picnic overlooking the lake, which offers beautiful skyline views. Street parking is available, but can be challenging during special events like the Kings Drive Art Walk in the spring and Festival in the Park in the summer.
7th Street Public Market is part public marketplace, part local food business incubator. Located half a mile west of downtown, the spot's vendors include a wine shop, cheesemonger, brewery, juice bar, and coffee shop. Looking for a sit-down meal? Head to Pure Pizza, which sources all of its ingredients from market vendors; or, grab a table at Uptown Yolk for all-day breakfast like chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits.
Science, nature, and technology come to life at this hands-on museum in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. From an onsite aquarium to virtual reality tours of the human body, learning labs, and a simulated rainforest, the museum offers hours of interactive fun for school children of all ages. Discovery Place also has a series of rotating live shows with up-close animal encounters and chemistry experiments as well as films at the largest IMAX theater in the Carolinas.
This Uptown performing arts complex is a one-stop shop for the best of Charlotte's culture. A $20 pass gets you into three museums: Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the Mint Museum Uptown, and The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (stop here to see works of 20th century master artists like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol). Also part of the Levine, the nearly 1,200-seat Knight Theatre is home to the Charlotte Ballet and other local performing arts groups.
Escape to Lake Norman
If you tire of the city's chaos, hop in the car and head to Lake Norman. Just 20 miles north of Charlotte, the largest manmade lake in the Carolinas offers boating, kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, and other water-based activities. The area also has several parks, greenways, and biking and walking trails that connect to the Carolina Thread Trail system.
Unwind with dinner at Hello, Sailor, a lakeside seafood spot from the owners of the award-winning Kindred. The menu features shared plates like East Coast oysters and deviled crab dip, in addition to Southern-inspired salads, sandwiches, and whole flounder with salsa verde and chili mayo.
Stop and smell the flowers at this 110-acre public botanical garden located on the banks of Lake Wylie. The Daniel Stowe has several distinct gardens—including an orchid conservatory dedicated to tropical plants, a children's garden, and a perennial garden—as well as fountains, manicured lawns, and a three-mile walking trail. To get here, it's a 30-minute drive southwest of the city.
A trio of venues—the Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse, and Stage Door Theater—make up the city's Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Here, you can see a variety of live events, ranging from Broadway Hits like Hamilton and Wicked to concerts by the Charlotte Symphony and comedy shows.
Shop and Eat in NoDa
Located just a few miles north of downtown, NoDa (North Davidson) is home to some of the Queen City's best shops, galleries, breweries, and restaurants. Visit Summerbird for high-end women's fashion 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. Stroll through local galleries like Charlotte Art League, the Light Factory, and Providence Gallery, then sample local beers at neighborhood breweries such as Birdsong Brewing Co., Divine Barrel Brewing, and Free Range Brewing. Cap your visit with dinner at Haberdish or Optimist Hall, one of the city's largest food halls.
Sample Local Beer with the Charlotte Brews Cruise
Charlotte is home to more than a dozen craft breweries. Sample several of them—like Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, the city's oldest—on a guided tour with Charlotte Brews Cruise. The weekly tours begin on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m., and the $49 fee includes visits to three breweries, 12 to 15 four-ounce beer samples, and complimentary bottled water and snacks. Tours end in the NoDa neighborhood.
Take a Segway Tour of the City
Explore the city's neighborhoods, parks, museums, notable buildings, and more with Charlotte's guided Segway tours. The company offers several different tours that range between 90 minutes to two hours. Its most popular excursion is the Historic Uptown Neighborhood tour, which includes an overview of the city's architecture and stops at the Levine Center for the Arts, The Green, and the Historic 4th Ward. Other options include a haunted tour that takes you to spooky sites like Settlers Cemetery, and a "taste and glide" tour with food and drink samples at 7th Street Public Market and Alexander Michael's.
Explore one of the Carolinas' most beloved sports—stock car racing—at this interactive museum dedicated to all things NASCAR. After admiring the building's curves and slopes (which mimic those of a traditional racetrack), head inside for more than 50 different interactive games and experiences, including: historic artifacts like Richard Petty's winning Plymouth Belvedere, racing simulators, and a 360-degree wall honoring Hall of Fame drivers. Don't miss the viewing parties, which are held in a 278-seat theater with a 64-foot-wide projection screen and surround sound.
This amusement park on the border of North and South Carolina has 14 roller coasters, including the Furry 325. Standing 325 feet tall, the largest and fastest steel roller coaster in the world speeds up to 95 miles per hour. Other rides include the Intimidator, a high-speed roller coaster inspired by the legendary Dale Earnhardt, and the Afterburn, which features six different inversions. Carowinds also has family-friendly rides, live performances, and an onsite water park.
Catch a Game at the BB&T Ballpark
Home of the Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, this stadium is located right in the heart of Uptown. There's not a bad seat in the 8,460-seat venue, which also offers good food and skyline views of the city. On Friday nights, stick around for the post-game fireworks.