From craft breweries to neighborhood art galleries and world-class museums, Charlotte offers enough activities to keep anyone occupied during a short excursion or longer stay. But when visiting the Queen City, why not sneak in a trip to nearby cities and attractions? Whether you want to hike some of the state's most scenic parks, explore the Carolina coast, or sample wine in the Yadkin Valley Wine Country, there are plenty of options for a short getaway from the city. Here are the nine best trips from Charlotte.
Asheville, NC: Hit Up Breweries and Restaurants
Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this laid-back city attracts more than 11 million tourists annually with its breweries, restaurants, galleries, live music venues, and other attractions. Head to South Slope in downtown to visit several local breweries, including Catawba Brewing, Burial Beer Co., and the Wicked Weed Funkatorium. Follow it up with a meal at one of Asheville's celebrated restaurants, like Cúrate for Spanish-style tapas, Buxton Hall Barbecue for whole hog 'cue, or Benne on Eagle for Appalachian soul food. At Biltmore Estate, George W. Vanderbilt’s winter home, you can tour the residence, stroll the expansive gardens, and taste vintage wines from the on-site winery. Other city highlights include Malaprops bookstore, live music at the Grey Eagle and the Orange Peel, and the galleries in the River Arts District.
Getting There: Asheville is approximately 2 hours and 130 miles west of Charlotte. The quickest route is I-40 W, which takes you right into downtown.
Travel Tip: Buy tickets to the Biltmore Estate in advance, especially if visiting in the summer or during the holidays.
Greenville, SC: Explore Parks and Museums
This scenic city in upstate South Carolina has something for everyone. Start your trip at Falls Park on the Reedy River, and walk across the Liberty Bridge for views of downtown and the waterfalls below. Bike, walk, or run the 14-mile multi-use Swamp Rabbit Trail, which runs along the river. For indoor activities, the Children’s Museum of the Upstate features 19 exhibit galleries dedicated to the arts, sciences, humanities, and the environment. Or, head to the renowned Peace Center for live performances, author readings, and traveling Broadway productions like "Hamilton."
Getting There: It takes 1 hour, 40 minutes to drive to Greenville via I-85 S. Leave Charlotte before or after morning rush hour to avoid delays.
Travel Tip: Park in one of the downtown garages and leave your car for the day.
Wilmington, NC: Check Out the North Carolina Coast
The small town of Wilmington is perfect for a day-long coastal getaway. Explore the town's nearly 2-mile Wilmington Riverwalk—dotted with parks, public art, boutiques, and restaurants—or head to the vintage Carolina Beach boardwalk for amusement park rides, carnival food, shops, bars, and waterfront views. The 67-acre Airlie Gardens offers an idyllic respite in nature, and features walking trails, more than 200 species of birds, and the largest live oak tree in the state. Additional notable attractions include a World War II battleship, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, and the Wilmington Railroad Museum.
Getting There: Wilmington is approximately 200 miles southeast of Charlotte via US-74 E.
Travel Tip: The city is packed with tourists during the summer months, so buy tickets to attractions in advance and plan for extra travel time to and from Wilmington.
For a short nature retreat, head to Crowders Mountain State Park, located 30 miles west of the city. The park has more than 11 hiking trails varying in difficulty, including the Ridgeline Trail, which connects to Kings Mountain State Park in neighboring South Carolina. In addition, there is a nine-acre lake for paddling and fishing, designated bouldering and rock climbing areas, and an interactive museum.
Getting There: Take I-85 S to Edgewood Road in Crowders Mountain. Then take Franklin Boulevard/Highway 74 to Sparrow Springs Road. The main park entrance will be on the right.
Travel Tip: Come early or on a weekday to avoid crowds, especially during warmer months.
More than 1,800 animals and 52,000 species of plants can be found at the world's largest natural habitat zoo. Highlights include the prairie geyser and underwater polar bear exhibits in the America habitat, and an open-air "Zoofari" that gets you up close and personal with giraffes, elephants, zebras, and rhinos. The zoo also has an aviary, a carousel, butterfly garden, ropes course, and a children's playground.
Getting There: The North Carolina Zoo is approximately a 90-minute drive from Charlotte. Take I-85 N to Asheboro.
Travel Tip: While the Zoo has two entrances, the Africa parking lot is only open from April to October.
Raleigh, NC: Dive Into the "Smithsonian of the South"
The state's capital city has been dubbed the "Smithsonian of the South" for its world-class museums, most of which offer free admission to visitors. Start with the North Carolina Museum of History, then explore four floors of exhibit space at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the largest natural history museum in the Southeast. Finish with trips to the North Carolina Museum of Art (which has a large permanent collection of African, American, and French art) the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM Raleigh), or the Marbles Kids Museum.
Getting There: Raleigh is located 150 miles east of Charlotte. The drive is 2 hours, 30 minutes via I-85 N and I-40 E.
Travel Tip: Try to leave Charlotte before or after morning rush hour to avoid delays.
Just outside of Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park offers nearly 7,000 wooded acres, complete with six hiking trails, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. The park's namesake, a 315-foot granite rock formation, offers panoramic views of the area, including Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Access the summit via the steep, 494-step Outcroppings Trail, or take an elevator and climb the remaining 44-steps to the top.
Getting There: The trip is about 2 hours west of Charlotte via I-85 S and US-74. W. Take exit 167 from US-74 W to continue to NC-9 and Chimney Rock Park Road.
Travel Tip: The park can get busy during peak leaf season (mid-October through early November). Buy your ticket in advance online and skip the lines.
Seagrove, NC: Experience the State's Pottery Tradition
Head to the tiny town of Seagrove to experience the state's rich ceramics tradition. With more than 100 shops and galleries open to the public, Seagrove has the largest concentration of working potters in the country. Grab a map of the area, then take a self-guided driving tour of local studios to watch potters in their element (and maybe take home a souvenir). Start your trip at the North Carolina Pottery Center, which includes permanent and rotating exhibits and more than 800 pieces of art on display.
Getting There: Seagrove is approximately 70 miles northeast of Charlotte. The fastest route is via I-85 N to I-74 S; it will take about 2 hours.
Travel Tip: For a slower but more scenic route, take backroads from Charlotte to Seagrove.
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Yadkin Valley Wine Country is just an hour north of Charlotte. It's home to more than 70 wineries, many of which offer guided tours and tastings. Explore one of the designated wine trails, and don't miss the area's stellar antique shops and restaurants.
Getting There: Most wineries can be reached via I-77. For specific directions, visit the Yadkin Valley Wine Country website.
Travel Tip: Many wineries operate only seasonly and/or on weekends, so check ahead. And always assign a designated driver.