8 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 looking for some free or cheap things to do while visiting the Queen City, you're in luck.

From museums and historical sites 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 08

Play Arcade Games at Pins Mechanical Company

Person playing arcade game in a dim-lit bar

SolStock / Getty Images

307 W Tremont Ave, Charlotte, NC 28203, USA
Phone +1 980-556-7746

Pins Mechanical Company is an arcade bar that has locations throughout the Midwest and Southeast. Visit the Charlotte outpost for patio pong, giant Jenga, Skee-Ball, and various other arcade favorites—all for free. Some of the games, such as bowling and bocce ball require a fee. Pins also sells creative beverages and bar food if you happen to work up an appetite in the midst of competition. Over-21 gamers should not miss the crowd-favorite boozy slush puppies.

02 of 08

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 19th-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.

03 of 08

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 hours of operation before heading out.

04 of 08

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 8 below.
05 of 08

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 08

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 08

Explore a Photography Gallery at The Light Factory

"Out in the Streets" exhibit at the Light Factory



700 N. Tryon Street VAPA, Charlotte, NC 28202, USA
Phone +1 704-333-9755

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. 

08 of 08

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.

Was this page helpful?
Back to List

Top Free Activities in Charlotte, North Carolina