10 Top Free Things to Do in 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 are looking for some free things to see and do while visiting the Queen City, you're in luck. From museums and historical sites to botanical gardens and nature preserves, Charlotte offers both residents and visitors a number of great adventures that won't break the bank. Here's our go-to guide to the top free things to do there, the best way to plan a trip that'll save you some serious cash while ensuring you have a memorable time.

01 of 10

Stroll Along the Charlotte Liberty Walk

Charlotte Liberty Walk

Charlotte Liberty Walk

Charlotte, NC 28202, USA

Reminiscent of Boston's Freedom Trail, the Charlotte Liberty Walk takes visitors on a 0.75-mile educational stroll that begins at Marker 1 along North Tryon Street and winds through Uptown and the Fourth Ward.

Follow the markers to learn more about the city's fascinating history, including how the Catawba American Indian people once established intricate trade routes through what is now Charlotte, the story of Ishmael Titus and the more than 5,000 African Americans who served side-by-side with their white counterparts in the American Revolution during the time of slavery, and how several battles in and around Charlotte helped change the tide of the war against the British in the early 1780s.

02 of 10

Do a Self-Guided Tour of Charlotte's Fourth Ward

Charlotte's Fourth Ward

Friends of the Fourth Ward

Fourth Ward, Charlotte, NC, USA

For a delightful stroll through one of Charlotte's most historic neighborhoods, head to the Fourth Ward for a free self-guided walking tour through streets lined with grand Victorian homes, some of which back to the mid-1930s. The Fourth Ward is the area between the Tryon Street business and entertainment district, Elmwood Cemetery, Trade Street, and Fourth Ward Park, which is also worth a visit.

Along the route are several historic homes, including the Morrison-Lowry House, a craftsman bungalow called the Mother in Law House, and the site of the former Crowell-Berryhill Store—it opened in 1897, served the community until 1931, and has been the home of Alexander Michael's Restaurant & Tavern since 1983. You'll also see Eastlake Cottage, built in 1894, as well as a number of other Victorian and Queen Anne style homes, and the Old Settlers Cemetery, which dates to 1776.

03 of 10

Catch a Free Concert or Festival

Festival of India Charlotte

Festival of India Charlotte

130 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202-2113, USA

If you're a fan of festivals, you've come to the right place. Charlotte knows how to throw a great party, whether it's a cultural celebration, music festival, family-friendly parade, or a free outdoor concert.

Visit in June for the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, a celebration of the end of slavery, or in late August for the Festival of India, organized by the India Association of Charlotte. The Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade also takes place in August each year. In September, don't miss Festival in the Park, an event that features big band music, food, and arts and crafts by local artists, or the Yiasou Greek Festival, which showcases Hellenic cultural exhibits, delicious homemade Greek food, wine tastings, music, dancing, and plenty of entertainment for the whole family.

04 of 10

Admire Native American Art at the Stanly County Museum

Stanly County Museum

Stanly County Museum

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

Located about an hour's drive from downtown Charlotte in Albemarle, the Stanly County Museum features American Indian 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 more than 10,000 years, and its current residents share a passion for protecting and sharing the town's rich cultural legacy.

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

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

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 full display in Pineville, just 30 minutes southwest of Charlotte—visitors can go on a 30-minute tour of the restored 19th-century homestead at the James K. Polk 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 check out the separate kitchen and barn for a closer look at life during the 11th presidency.

06 of 10

Walk Through UNC's 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 (UNC Charlotte) are free to view and explore (donations are always accepted), while the outdoor gardens remain open seven days a week during daylight hours. The McMillan Greenhouse is only open on specific days and times, so check the hours of operation before heading out.

According to the official website, the mission of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens is "to promote the knowledge and appreciation of plants through education, environmental stewardship, and aesthetic inspiration." It certainly lives up to that.

07 of 10

Get Outdoors at Reedy Creek Nature Center and 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 28215, USA

Part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department's city-wide projects, Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve is one of the city's treasures. The 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's history here by discovering the cabin ruins and the remains of the Robinson Rockhouse.

08 of 10

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, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Charlotte and 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.

Visit the Reed Gold Mine and its museum and take a 30-minute self-guided tour of the underground tunnel Tuesday through Saturday—both free of charge. Or, to really experience the thrill of gold hunting, pay a small fee to pan for gold outside the museum.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Admire Photography at The Light Factory Photo Arts Center

"Out in the Streets" exhibit at the Light Factory

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

700 N. Tryon Street VAPA, Charlotte, NC 28202, USA

Over the past 40 years, The Light Factory Photo Arts Center has been home to exhibits highlighting 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, among other artists. 

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

10 of 10

Picnic at Crowders Mountain

Cliff in Crowders Mountain State Park.


James Robert Smith / iStock / Getty Images

522 Park Office Ln, Kings Mountain, NC 28086, USA
Phone +1 704-853-5375

Outdoorsy, adventurous travelers can spend the 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 a valid fishing permit. Rock climbing, bouldering, picnicking, and hiking are also huge draws for visitors to the park.

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10 Top Free Things to Do in Charlotte, North Carolina