Charlotte Guide: Planning Your Trip

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Nearly 30 million visitors flock to Charlotte, NC annually for its parks and recreational activities, neighborhood shops and galleries, museums, award-winning restaurants, local breweries, and more. With temperate year-round weather, a family-friendly vibe, and ample greenways as well as a light rail system, the Queen City is easy to navigate and offers a variety of attractions for a short weekend getaway or extended stay.

From the best time to visit to getting around, where to stay, saving money, and more, here's how to prepare for your trip to Charlotte.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Charlotte is in the spring, when temperatures are mild, the flowers are in full bloom, the city's many restaurant and brewery patios open for the season, and you can take advantage of outdoor activities like kayaking and paddle-boarding at Lake Norman and other nearby recreational areas. Fall is also great time to visit the city, with ideal temperatures, fewer crowds, plenty of outdoor festivals, and options for short getaways to the nearby mountains. For more about Charlotte's weather, read our guide here.
  • Language: English
  • Currency: U.S. Dollar
  • Getting Around: High speed light rail systems (LYNX Blue Line) as well as a streetcar (CityLYNX Gold Line), bike-sharking stations, and ride-sharing services make navigating Charlotte and its destination-worthy neighborhoods like Uptown, NoDa, and Plaza Midwood easy. The city also offers high speed bus service to and from the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and an extensive bus network.
  • Travel Tip: Spring and summer are the busiest seasons in the city, so buy tickets in advance for main attractions and consider making dinner reservations in advance as well.
Levine Museum of the New South
Photo Courtesy Levine Museum of the New South

Things to Do

From local boutiques and art galleries to breweries, parks, museums, outdoor activities, food halls, restaurants, and more, Charlotte offers a variety of activities for visitors. Brush up on the city's history at the Levine Museum of the New South, followed by trips to the Mint Museum Uptown and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. Or take the kids to Discovery Place for hands-on science and technology learning, or try your hand at an iRacing simulator on your favorite stocker track at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Other can't miss activities in Charlotte include:

  • Exploring the great outdoors at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Located on the world's largest land-made whitewater river just 12 miles north of downtown, the center is not only an Olympic training facility but offers plenty of land and water-based activities for amateur athletes as well. With 1,300 acres of woodlands and more than 50 miles of trails, the facility is an outdoor lover's paradise offering stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater rafting, kayaking rock climbing, and zip-lining. The center also hosts a summer concert series as well as festivals, races, and other special events throughout the year.
  • Get up close and personal with 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. The 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 visits 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.
  • Shop and sip 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 fashions and accessories at affordable prices; Curio for candles, crystals, and other mystical items; and Ruby's Gift for pottery, home goods, jewelry, and other goods 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 like 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.

Explore more attractions with our full-length articles on the Best Things to Do in Charlotte, the city's free top activities, and the best museums.

Kindred
Elizabeth Cecil/Courtesy Kindred

What to Eat and Drink

Charlotte's food scene has a bit of everything: old school Southern fare, white table cloth fine dining, eclectic food halls, and neighborhood joints offering everything from ramen to red sauce Italian. The city has a thriving bar and nightlife scene as well.

For an unforgettable meal, drive 30 minutes north to the small college town of Davidson to Kindred. Housed in a former pharmacy, this award-winning husband and wife-owned eatery is warm and intimate, with a menu that focuses on locally-sourced produce and proteins. The wine list also highlights family-owned wineries and small producers. You can have a similar dining experience inside the city limits at Heirloom, which sources everything from its coffee to its meats from North Carolina purveyors.

Other Charlotte options include Appalachian and Southern fare at Haymaker , Italian at Stagioni, modern renditions of Southern classics at Asbury in the Dunhill Hotel, high-end European cuisine at The Fig Tree, and excellent ramen at Futo Buta.

After hours, try The Crunkleton for its exceptional collection of whiskey and classic cocktails, the Roxbury Nightclub for late-night dancing to '80s and '90s tunes, The Cellar at Duckworth’s for its speak-easy vibe and craft cocktails, or the VBGB Beer Hall & Garden for group-friendly like cornhole and more than 30 local beers on tap.

Where to Stay

Uptown: Charlotte's Uptown is its downtown and central business district. Its many hotels, like the historic Dunhill Hotel and the boutique Kimpton Tyron Park, are within walking distance to several museums, attractions, and nearby neighborhoods as well as the city's light rail system. Other Uptown accommodations include higher-end options like the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte as well as reliable, mid-priced chains such as the Hilton, Hampton Inn & Suites, Marriott, and the Doubletree.

South Park: Located six miles south of Uptown, this neighborhood is home to one of the city's largest shopping malls as well as several restaurants and boutiques. There are several moderately priced and budget options here, including the Doubletree Guest Suites, the Residence Inn, the Hampton Inn & Suites, and Hilton Garden Inn.

Ballantyne: This tony neighborhood just north of the South Carolina border is 15 miles south of the city center, but offers several options for luxury and affordable accommodations as well as shopping centers, restaurants, and parks. It connects into the city via light rail.

Additional accommodations and short term rentals are available in city neighborhoods like NoDa and Dilworth as well as suburbs like Concord and Pineville.

For more about where to stay in Charlotte, see our guide to the city's top neighborhoods and best hotels.

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport
N i c o l a / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Getting There

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT) is one of the country's busiest airports welcoming 50 million passengers annually and is the second-largest hub for American Airlines. The airport offers direct flights to and from 178 destinations including major cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Rome, Paris, Dublin, and Barcelona.

CLT is located approximately six miles west of Charlotte's city center. The trip takes less than 20 minutes by car. If not renting a car, you can hail a taxi outside the arrivals gate, catch a ride-share service like Uber or Lyft with pick-up at Level 2, or take one of the city's Sprinter buses, which leave every 20 minutes on weekdays and every half hour on the weekends.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Stroll through the city's many parks and trails, like the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
  • Book a hotel during the offseason. Hotel rates can skyrocket during tourist season (spring and summer), so try visiting during a less busy month like January.
  • Save money on rideshares and rental cars by taking advantage of the city's public transportation network, including the light rail line, streetcar, and city busses.
  • Search for the city's more than 60 original murals in neighborhoods like NoDa, Plaza Midwood, and South End.
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. "CRVA FY19 Annual Report." November 27, 2019.

  2. U.S. National Whitewater Center. "About."

  3. Charlotte Douglas International Airport. "CLT Fast Facts."

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