Charlotte is the largest city in the Carolinas and offers so much to explore that it might be hard to know where to start. In this guide to Charlotte, NC, we share the many ways to enjoy the city. Charlotte is called The Queen City, and some might say that Charlotte is the crown jewel of the South.
It is a big city, but it maintains its hospitality. There are plenty of things to do in Charlotte, but you can still visit certain neighborhoods that maintain that small-town feel. It’s this unique combination that makes the city so special.
It is a great place to live, work, and play. And if you don’t currently live in Charlotte, we hope to convince you to plan a visit soon.
10-Step Guide To Charlotte, NC
Charlotte is known as a major banking center and home to multiple Fortune 500 companies. As a result, the beautiful skyline lights the night in a way that serves as a beacon for the Carolinas. Charlotte isn’t the capital of North Carolina, but in many ways, it is the de facto capital for the collective Carolinas.
The city is located near the border of North and South Carolina. Carowinds, a theme park with roller coasters and a water park, is located outside of Charlotte on the border of the two states. And when you cross the state line heading north on I-77, you can see the Charlotte skyline from the border.
Plus, the city is an economic powerhouse that draws business expansions and relocations to surrounding counties in both states. There is a reason that the Carolina Panthers are named for the region rather than the city. Charlotte represents all of the Carolinas.
So let’s discover Charlotte and all that it has to offer. Here is your 10-step guide to Charlotte, NC.
1. Explore The Uptown Area
Many of the museums and cultural attractions are located in Uptown Charlotte. There are even things for kids to do. Families enjoy visiting Discovery Place Science (a hands-on learning experience) and ImaginOn (an interactive children’s library). These two family-friendly attractions are near Seventh Street Market and First Ward Park, making it a great place for a family outing.
The entire family might enjoy the NASCAR Hall of Fame too. It’s located across Uptown in the Second Ward, but it’s worth making the visit, even if you aren’t much of a racing fan. The interactive exhibitions include a racing simulator and a pit crew challenge.
For a more refined experience, discover the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvey B Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. The Mint Museum offers something for everyone.
From a temporary exhibition of Picasso’s landscapes to a permanent exhibition highlighting craft and design, there are few experiences like it. The Mint Museum was North Carolina’s First Art Museum, and it’s still one of the most prominent in the South.
And if you are looking for romantic things to do in Charlotte, there are plenty of options, just as there are plenty of things to do alone in Charlotte. We recommend dinner and theater, followed by a night at one of Charlotte’s finest hotels. Catch a Broadway show, the Charlotte Symphony, or Opera Carolina at the Belk Theater. Then stay the night at the Ivey’s Hotel.
2. Experience The Outdoors
While Charlotte is a big city, you can still explore the outdoors. Charlotte is home to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where Olympians train for canoe slalom events on a manmade river. But the rapids aren’t just for Olympians. You can take a rafting ride at the Whitewater Center too.
And that is just the start. The Whitewater Center also offers rock climbing, ziplining, mountain biking, flatwater kayaking, and more. There are more than 50 miles of trails, which are open to hikers and trail runners in addition to mountain bikers.
The Whitewater Center is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, found within the city limits of one of the largest cities in the country! And during the summer, they offer a concert series too, so you can imagine this is a popular spot to hang out when the weather is nice.
Of course, the Whitewater Center is so popular that it sometimes gets fairly busy. But there are other ways to experience the outdoors. Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, and the Catawba River are all accessible from the Charlotte metro area. These are popular spots to go boating or kayaking. Not everyone is ready to kayak through the rapids at the Whitewater Center 😎.
If you like hiking, Crowders Mountain State Park is a must-visit destination. The park is 30 miles west of Charlotte but still within the broader metro area. Hiking at the Whitewater Center is awesome, but it doesn’t offer much elevation. You will find two different mountain peaks at Crowders Mountain State Park that offer fantastic views.
3. Tour Charlotte’s Neighborhoods
Charlotte is home to beautiful and vibrant neighborhoods circling Uptown, each with its personality worth exploring. Dilworth is just south of Uptown and is defined by cozy bungalows and streets lined with Oak trees. You will find a nearly 100-acre park named Freedom Park bordering Dilworth and Myers Park. These might be the most idyllic streets for a family stroll.
South End is just to the west of Dilworth and is one of the hottest development submarkets in the entire country. Charlotte doesn’t have a subway but is home to a popular light rail system. The Blue Line runs through South End, where thousands of apartments, new office buildings, and retail options have all opened near its stations.
The Charlotte Rail Trail runs parallel to the light rail tracks, and the trail is just as transformative because it creates walkable communities. While it might still be inconvenient, you can live in Charlotte without a car. The light rail and parallel rail trail are major reasons for this.
On the north side of Uptown, you will find fun neighborhoods like NODA, which is seeing residential growth like South End saw in the past. NODA is also on the light rail, which means it’s in the crosshairs for future development.
The neighborhoods north of Uptown are an important part of Charlotte’s history. You will find old mills and adaptive reuses like Camp North End.
While the original facilities were used for Model T production and later as an Army factory around WWII, they are different today. Camp North End is now how to co-working and office space, restaurants, retail, future residential, and much more.
The best Charlotte neighborhoods are very diverse. You are bound to find something new around every corner.
4. Attend A Professional Sporting Event
Professional sports really put Charlotte on the map. The NBA expanded to Charlotte (the first time) in 1988, creating the Charlotte Hornets. Owner George Shinn then moved the Hornets to New Orleans in 2002.
Charlotte rejoined the NBA ranks in 2004 when a second expansion team name the Bobcats entered the scene. In the NBA’s most complicated team history, Charlotte regained the Hornets’ name in 2013 when New Orleans rebranded as the Pelicans.
Despite the complicated early history, the Charlotte Hornets changed the game for the city. Now, the Carolina Panthers (NFL), Charlotte Hornets (NBA), and Charlotte FC (MLS) all call Charlotte home.
Attending sporting events at any of these venues is a fun time. While all three are great, they are very different. Charlotte FC likely has the rowdiest crowd, the Carolina Panthers have the largest and loudest crowds, and the Charlotte Hornets offer an indoor/climate-controlled entertainment option.
While the Charlotte Knights are in the minor leagues, watching a baseball game at their Uptown stadium is a ton of fun too.
5. Discover The Main Attractions
Charlotte is home to some big-time attractions and things to do. We already talked about a few. In Uptown, you will find the likes of the Mint Museum and the Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Away from the city center, you will find the ever-popular Whitewater Center.
Still, that is just the start. The Charlotte metro is home to Carowinds, a Six Flags-like amusement park with roller coasters and a water park. If you’re ever in the Charlotte area around Halloween, visiting the SCarowinds programming is a must. It’s the premier Halloween activity in the Carolinas.
Plus, we mentioned that the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Uptown, but the Charlotte Motor Speedway is actually in Concord (which borders Charlotte). You will also find race team headquarters, museums, drag racing, a dirt track, and more. There are a lot of things to do in Concord that will complement your Charlotte experience.
The big concerts roll through Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC) and the Spectrum Center (Charlotte Hornets). But music lovers will also want to familiarize themselves with the PNC Music Pavilion and the AvidXchange Music Factory.
Charlotte offers nearly endless entertainment options. Looking for a guide to Charlotte, NC? Start with this list of attractions and then go from there.
6. Learn Charlotte’s History
The city of Charlotte has a rich history. In many ways, the evolution of Bank of America and the addition of professional sports put the city on the map. There is no denying that the city exploded in recent decades. Comparing pictures of Uptown from the 1960s and 1970s to today is astonishing, but a unique history is still worth noting.
Notably, the county celebrates Meck Dec Day, which is a celebration commemorating the Mecklenburg Declaration. Today, historians debate whether the declaration was authentic, but many North Carolinians believe the state succeeded from British rule a year before the Declaration of Independence.
Today, you will find Independence Blvd and other nods to this disputed history. One minor league soccer team is known as the Charlotte Independence. And just east of Uptown, you will find a statue of Captain Jack, who supposedly rode the declaration to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
What about the Charlotte Hornets? Have you ever wondered where they got their name? Legend says that when General Cornwallis of the British Army fled the Battle of Charlotte, he was heard saying that Charlotte was a hornet’s nest of rebellion.
Regardless of the exact origins and authenticity of these stories, Charlotteans boasts a proud heritage. Ironically, the city also proudly represents the Queen’s name, but the combination creates unique imagery and a distinctly Charlottean identity.
7. Take Flight at CLT and Sullenberger Aviation Museum
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the country. Why? Well, Charlotte serves as the second largest hub for American Airlines. The city of Charlotte is sometimes called CLT because that is the airport code.
Chances are good that if you’ve traveled along the east coast, you’ve flown through Charlotte. It connects many of the larger airports across the country to many of the smaller airports east of the Mississippi.
But there are other reasons it is fun to visit. The CLT Airport Overlook offers fantastic views of the runways with the Charlotte skyline as a backdrop.
And the Sullenberger Aviation Museum is home to the US Airways plane involved in the Miracle on the Hudson. Flight 1549 left LaGuardia Airport and headed for Charlotte before losing engine power. Captain “Sully” glided the plane safely to the Hudson River, and everyone aboard the plane survived.
Flight 1549 didn’t make it to Charlotte that day, but the plane now lives in Charlotte, alongside several other planes and exhibitions at the Sullenberger Aviation Museum.
8. Stroll Through Charlotte’s Parks and Greenways
The hustle and bustle of the city are exciting, but we all need a little serenity in our lives. The best parks in Charlotte offer just that. Plus, we love the variety you will find. Some parks are urban oases surrounded by high rises, while others are much more secluded. And the greenway system connects many of the parks to the city.
First Ward Park and Romare Bearden Park are two of our favorite urban-centric parks in Charlotte. We already mentioned that First Ward Park is near 7th Street Market and ImaginOn, and just blocks from Discovery Place Science.
Romare Bearden Park is interesting because it is surrounded on three sides by high rises. The park’s southern edge is across the street from Truist Field, where the AAA Charlotte Knights play baseball. Romare Bearden Park is Uptown’s most prominent park.
Several road races (running) start at or near Romare Bearden, and it is a great place for a stroll after a nice dinner. Here is another tip: There are public restrooms at Romare Bearden, which is helpful for events like the Thanksgiving parade. Romare Bearden is also the perfect place to watch fireworks in Uptown.
While Park Road Park and McAlpine Creek Park are very nice, Freedom Park is our favorite park outside of Uptown.
Freedom Park in Charlotte is a 98-acre park featuring a large lake, multiple playgrounds, volleyball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields, and baseball fields. The Little Sugar Creek Greenway also runs along Freedom Park and continues to the edge of Uptown. This makes the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and Freedom Park the perfect place to jog.
9. Taste Charlotte’s Culinary Scene
Foodies give Charlotte a hard time for its food scene, but the truth is there is something for everyone. There are hole-in-the-wall barbecue spots, new concepts set for regional and national growth, and everything in between.
We love local places like Beef ‘N Bottle, Mama Ricottas, Ace No. 3, and Midwood Smokehouse. Plus, there is no better spot for sweet Treats than Amelie’s French Bakery.
If you are unsure where to start, we recommend you check out one of the Food Halls. Optimist Hall is our favorite food hall in Charlotte, and it has everything from Ethiopian food to empanadas.
Optimist Hall is an old textile mill under the shadows of the skyline. The light rail runs alongside Optimist Hall, too, making it very accessible. We recognize that a food hall isn’t Michelin-star quality food some of you are looking for, but the food is great, and the options are nearly endless.
And that really is just a good place to start. I listed some of my favorite spots above, but if you ask a local, we are confident you will receive a long list of favorite places to eat. Everyone’s tastes are different, and Charlotte offers something for every taste.
If you are looking for a guide to Charlotte, NC, you must know where to eat. This is a great list giving you a place to start.
10. Take a Day Trip To Nearby Attractions
While Charlotte doesn’t have a beach or mountains, it is uniquely positioned within a day trip of the beach and the mountains.
Wrightsville Beach, near Wilmington, and Folly Beach, near Charleston, are about 3.5 hours away from Charlotte. That’s the perfect distance for a long weekend at the beach, but my family has also driven there and back for a day trip.
Still, the mountains are closer and much easier to make a day trip to and from. Asheville is a popular destination, and the Biltmore Estate experience is second to none. Even so, we like to visit the high country near Boone and Blowing Rock.
It only takes two to two and a half hours to drive to all attractions near Boone and Blowing Rock.
You can go hiking at Moses Cone Manor or Grandfather Mountain. Or, for a more adventurous experience, you can ride the alpine coaster at Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster. We recommend that you check out Hawksnest Snow Tubing and Ziplining during the winter.
And if you have kids, you must ride the steam locomotive at Tweetsie Railroad.
If you are looking for a guide to Charlotte, NC, it might seem odd to talk about the mountains and beaches. Still, as awesome as Charlotte is, part of its allure is its access to many other Carolinas destinations.
We love North Carolina, and Charlotte is a big reason why. Access to mountains, beaches, and more is the cherry on top.
Enjoy Your Guide To Charlotte, NC
Why is Charlotte, NC, so popular? Well, here is your guide to Charlotte. The city offers big city amenities while maintaining its southern charm. The light rail enables walkable communities, and there are nearly endless museums to visit and professional sporting events to attend. Plus, the Whitewater Center is one of a kind.
A Big City With Southern Hospitality
If you are looking for a guide to Charlotte, NC, the first thing to understand is that this is a big city with southern hospitality. You find all of the amenities and attractions you need. The light rail facilitates urban, walkable neighborhoods, but there are still quaint ring cities with a more traditional feel.
We recommend visiting the Whitewater Center and spending some time exploring Uptown. When you are hungry, we recommend checking out Optimist Hall or finding something to eat as you walk along the Rail Trail.
Charlotte’s got a lot, and The Queen City truly offers something for everyone.