8 Top Free Things to Do in Charlotte Charlotte, North Carolina

Fountain at Marshall Park with the Charlotte North Carolina skyline beyond.
Glenn Ross Images / Getty Images

If you're traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina, on a limited budget and looking for some free or cheap things to do while visiting the Queen City, you're in luck.

From museums and special public exhibits at the Public Library of Charlotte to botanical gardens and nature preserves, Charlotte offers residents and visitors alike a number of great adventures without having to break the bank.

Explore the top free things to do while in the city to plan a trip that saves cash while still having a memorable time.

01 of 09

Tour the Birthplace of President James K. Polk

President James K. Polk Birthplace


dpowersdoc / iStock / Getty Images

12031 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville, NC 28134, USA
Phone +1 704-889-7145

The birthplace of James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, is on display in Pineville, just southwest of Charlotte where visitors can go on a 30-minute tour of the restored nineteenth-century homestead at the James K. Polk Memorial State Historic Site.

Various exhibits around the grounds celebrate different aspects of Polk's life and presidency including settling the Oregon boundary dispute, annexing California, and his involvement in the Mexican-American War.

Visitors can also experience authentic furnishings and reenactments at this State Historic Site or explore the separate kitchen and barn for a closer look at life during the 11th presidency.

02 of 09

Enjoy Art at the Public Library of Charlotte

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

310 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, USA
Phone +1 704-416-0101

The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County's (PLCMC) Main Branch features rotating exhibits and had a complete renovation in 2017 to modernize the facilities.

Completely free and open to the public, the PLCMC offers visitors a huge database of information as well as special displays of art collections in the Library's display room.

03 of 09

Walk Through UNCC Botanical Gardens

UNC Charlotte's McMillian Greenhouse, waters "Rotney" the Titan Arum plant or 'Corpse Flower', so named for the putrid smell released upon blooming.

 Grant Baldwin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

9090 Craver Rd, Charlotte, NC 28262, USA
Phone +1 704-687-0721

The gardens and the McMillan Greenhouse at the University of North Carolina Charlotte are free to view and explore, and the outdoor gardens are open seven days a week during daylight hours. 

According to the official website, the mission of the UNCC Botanical Gardens is "to promote the knowledge and appreciation of plants through education, environmental stewardship, and aesthetic inspiration."

The McMillan Greenhouse is only open on specific days and times, so check the website for specific information on hours of operation before heading out.

04 of 09

See Native American Art at Stanly County Museum

Stanly County Museum

Stanly County Museum

157 N 2nd St, Albemarle, NC 28001-4803, USA
Phone +1 704-986-3777

Located in Albemarle, the Stanly County Museum features Native American artifacts and information about this area of the North Carolina Piedmont region.

Known as the "Land Between the Rivers," Stanly has a vast history dating back over 10,000 years, and its current residents share a passion for protecting and sharing the town's rich cultural legacy.

The museum features a stagnant main gallery, which walks visitors through the long history of Stanly County, and a rotating exhibit area, which features a variety of different historical displays throughout the year.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Hike at Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve

Scene small wetland area near Kingfisher Lake Reedy Creek Park NP

 NC Wetlands / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

2900 Rocky River Rd, Charlotte, NC 28213, USA

Part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department's city-wide projects, the Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve is one of the city's treasures.

This nature preserve features fishing and 10 miles of trails and serves as a habitat for 109 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, 20 species of reptiles, and 12 species of amphibians.

You can even explore a little piece of Charlotte history here by discovering the cabin ruins and the remains of the Robinson Rockhouse.

06 of 09

Go Underground at Reed Gold Mine

Reed Gold Mine

Bang-Ning Hsu / Wiki Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 

9621 Reed Mine Rd, Midland, NC 28107-9673, USA
Phone +1 704-721-4653

Midland, North Carolina, home to the Reed Gold Mine, was one of the major towns affected by the North Carolina Gold Rush of 1799, which occurred after a 17-pound gold nugget was discovered in Cabberus County.

You can visit the Reed Gold Mine and its museum and take a 30-minute underground tunnel tour—both for free. Or, to really experience the thrill of gold hunting, pay a small fee to pan for gold outside the museum.

07 of 09

Trainspot at the North Carolina Transportation Museum

North Carolina Transportation Museum. 1919 Model A, Detroit Electric

Doug Coldwell / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

1 Samuel Spencer Dr, Spencer, NC 28159, USA
Phone +1 704-636-2889

Located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company's largest steam locomotive repair facility, the site features an authentic train depot, antique automobiles, and a 37-bay Roundhouse that includes 25 locomotives, dozens of rail cars and other exhibit areas.

Visits to the museum are free, but admission may be charged for special events; there is a small fee for the train and turntable rides if you wish to partake in them.

08 of 09

Explore a Photography Gallery at The Light Factory

"Out in the Streets" exhibit at the Light Factory



Over the past 40 years, The Light Factory has been home to exhibits that highlight traditional, digital, and motion picture photographic techniques. The gallery has a rotating exhibition schedule that features emerging and established work from artists like Bill Viola, Imogen Cunningham, Stanley Kubrick, and Sarah Moon, and more. 

If the images prove to inspire your creative side, the Light Factory also runs several educational classes, such as an Introduction to Digital Photography and Black and White Darkroom, for a fee. 


Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Picnic at Crowders Mountain

Cliff in Crowders Mountain State Park.


James Robert Smith / iStock / Getty Images

Crowders Mountain, Gastonia, NC 28052, USA

For the outdoorsy, adventurous types of travelers, you can spend your entire day at Crowders Mountain State Park, but keep in mind there's a small fee to stay overnight in one of the campgrounds.

Alternatively, you can fish on the wooded lake in the center of the park—as long as you have your fishing permit. Rock climbing, bouldering, picnicking, and hiking are also huge draws for visitors from near and far.

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Top Free Activities in Charlotte, North Carolina