Nestled within hours of the mountains and beaches, Charlotte offers plenty to explore. You might even say that the Queen City is the crown jewel of the South. There are many things to do in Charlotte. It is perfect for a sophisticated weekend getaway and fun outdoor adventures too.
You can attend a Broadway production or enjoy one of several professional sporting events. And there are always great food and family-friendly entertainment options. We could list 101 things to do in Charlotte, but that would be overwhelming.
Instead, we will list our favorite Charlotte activities. Charlotte offers something for everyone, and we are confident that Charlotte offers perfect activities for you.
1. U.S. National Whitewater Center
The Whitewater Center is not only one of my favorite places in Charlotte but one of my favorite places anywhere. And even though I have been to the Whitewater Center dozens of times, I’ve only rafted the whitewater river once. The Whitewater Center offers plenty to do and is a great place to hang out, too.
There is so much to do at USNWC that you can’t finish everything in one day. The Whitewater Center features water activities for adventure seekers, including whitewater rafting. Beyond rafting, the Center also offers whitewater kayaking, SUP, and flatwater kayaking. If water is not your thing, you can go ziplining, climbing, or mountain biking.
You can grab a cold beverage at the Pump House Biergarten when you get a little tired. Then you can listen to a concert at the island-centered amphitheater as the sun goes down.
There are plenty of things to do alone in Charlotte, just as there are plenty of romantic options for things to do. One reason we love the Whitewater Center is it is great for any occasion. Go by yourself, or go with a group. You will enjoy yourself regardless.
Outdoor Activity Center Within Miles of Uptown
The Whitewater Center maintains more than 50 miles of trails. You can purchase an activity pass if you need a bike, but the trails are open to all. Once on-site, the trails are open for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking.
Parking at the Whitewater Center costs $6, and an annual pass is available for those that visit often. Once you pay for parking, you can spend all day exploring the trails. The Parkway Trail and Lake Loop are two of the most popular trails. Still, there are more advanced trails for more experienced athletes and adventurers.
The artificial whitewater river is the largest in the world. So it is no surprise that the facilities act as a training center for kayak and canoe slalom Olympians. Even if you prefer a chill afternoon to adrenaline-pumping activities, you must do whitewater rafting at least once.
This haven for outdoor enthusiasts is only 15 minutes away from CLT airport. In fact, it’s a mere 20 minutes away from Uptown Charlotte.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a must-visit destination.
2. NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is conveniently located in the middle of the city. The iconic Charlotte Motor Speedway sits in a northern suburb and infrequently hosts races. Fortunately, you can experience NASCAR at its finest at the center-city museum and exhibition.
You will likely find that the Hall of Fame is a worthwhile visit even if you aren’t a racing fan. It is both educational and exciting, and the Uptown convenience can’t be beaten.
NASCAR is built on a rich history, born on mountain roads and sandy beaches, but modern-day racing is technically advanced. The Hall of Fame highlights both.
It’s a story that seems like it is more folk lore than reality, but in this case, it is true. The adrenaline-pumping sport was born from bootleggers looking to outrun the law with their moonshine. NASCAR’s early stars honed their expert driving by running moonshine in the North Carolina mountains.
Full-Size Cars, Simulators & Exhibitions
The NASCAR Hall of Fame features permanent exhibits, such as a theater where you can learn more about the sport. It also incorporates the Whelen Hall of Champions.
Other exhibitions celebrate racing legends, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Jimmie Johnson. It’s interesting to see the changing paint schemes and car designs. Technology and styles change, and all of that is archived at the Hall of Fame.
The museum offers interactive opportunities to experience the sport. You will love the racing simulators built into cars. The iRacing technology is about as close as most people will ever come to a real racing experience. And let me tell you that it is more challenging than you might think.
Aside from the racing simulator, the Pit Crew Challenge allows for head-to-head competition in which you can jack up a car and tighten the lug nuts with an airgun.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is entertaining but also educational in more ways than one.
3. Discovery Place
In high school, I loved science because our teacher constantly allowed us to participate in crazy “experiments” and watch various chemical reactions. Had we spent all class memorizing facts in books, I wouldn’t have been interested at all. I think the same is true for many of us.
Discovery Place Science is a series of exhibitions demonstrating science’s true power in our lives. Some experiences are visual illustrations, while others are hands-on. Either way, Discovery Place brings science to life in a transformative way.
Discovery Place also features an IMAX Dome Theatre where you can watch informative movies and documentaries in an unparalleled experience.
Educational Fun For All
Discovery Place offers summer camps, field trips, and various other classes. Sure, it is kid-focused, but there is plenty for the entire family to enjoy. You might take your kids back because you enjoyed the experience too.
Beyond the IMAX Dome, which is loads of fun, the Thinker Space is a workshop and lab designed for hands-on learning. You can learn new skills, like fundamental woodworking, sewing, or soldering. You can also interact with cutting-edge technology, like laser cutters and 3D printers.
The lab hosts instructor-led classes for teenagers and other self-guided challenges for families to complete together. If the Thinker Space isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you would be interested in an exhibition like Unseen Oceans.
There is an entire world of the unknown living in our oceans and seas. Further exploration will require new technologies and courage. Unseen Oceans offers a glimpse into the secrets of the waters. The experiential exhibition will teach you about the oceans while also triggering your further curiosity to learn more.
Unseen Oceans is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to visit Discovery Place Science to appreciate how fascinating it is.
4. Bank of America Stadium
When the NFL expanded to Charlotte with the Carolina Panthers, it changed the city in many ways. First and foremost, it added a national spotlight to the still sleepy city. That spotlight has acted as a catalyst for further growth. And yes, I realize that the original version of the Charlotte Hornets was established in 1988, half a decade before the Panthers, but it is hard to argue with the allure of being an NFL city.
Beyond the intangible, Bank of America changed the physical orientation of Uptown. For years, Trade and Tryon was the center of all things Charlotte. When Bank of America was built (then called Ericsson Stadium), the stadium was on the fringe of Uptown.
As the city developed Romare Bearden Park and BB&T Ballpark (now Truist Field), new skyscrapers sprouted south along Tryon. The Uptown central business district slowly moved toward BOA Stadium. Nowadays, when you watch a Panthers game on TV, you will see several high rises in the background.
The result is a one-of-a-kind experience for tailgating, watching sports, and attending concerts.
NFL, MLS, Concerts & More
Of course, they use the stadium for more than a handful of NFL games each year, which is even more true in recent years. In 1997, The Rolling Stones played in front of 54,000 spectators for the stadium’s first concert. Unfortunately, the Panthers former owner didn’t fully utilize the stadium and only hosted a handful of shows.
But that has all changed. Since David Tepper bought the Panthers, the stadium has hosted many concerts, including a return of the Rolling Stones. Locals will remember the picture of Mick Jagger at the Thirsty Beaver. Billy Joel, Kenny Chesney, Def Leppard, and Garth Brooks have also graced the field. More impressive acts are still scheduled to come.
The new ownership team plans to utilize the stadium as often as possible. The most obvious example is Charlotte’s newest professional sports team, Charlotte FC. During the inaugural season, Charlotte FC set a record for the largest MLS attendance and history, and the city has continued to support the team.
So check out a concert, a conference championship game, a FIFA event, and of course, the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC. You will be glad that you did.
5. Rail Trail in Southend
On the surface, a trail alongside Charlotte’s first light rail line probably doesn’t sound that exciting. And back when the light rail opened in 2007, it wasn’t all that exciting. The light rail and parallel trail contributed to the emergence of Charlotte’s new center of gravity. It is one of the hottest real estate markets in the United States.
Simply put, Southend has transformed into the place to be in Charlotte. Apartments were the first to spring up, followed by improved retail experiences and high-end office space. You may not care all that much about real estate development. Still, the result of the increased density means the Rail Trail is a must-visit while in Charlotte.
It is a great place to take a stroll or go for a jog. As you pass down the Rail Trail, you will encounter dogs, scooters, bikes, ice cream, breweries, trendy restaurants, and up-and-coming retail establishments. What is fascinating about Charlotte’s Rail Trail is that you don’t have to head there with any specific plan in mind.
People-watching is enough to keep you entertained, but you will find a restaurant, brewery, or ice cream shop to stop and enjoy along the way.
Vibrancy, Food & Fun
Today, Charlotte’s Rail Trail is not only a destination but also a place where people live, work, and play. Southend is the most urban environment in Charlotte for those who don’t want to own a car. You could get by without owning a car, and have access to everything you need.
The Charlotte Rail Trail is a significant pedestrian thoroughfare that makes this possible. This also means it is a great place to hang out.
Aside from enjoying fresh Carolina air, the Rail Trail is home to both permanent and temporary art displays. These are sure to capture your imagination and creativity. Colorful paintings look like a magic carpet on the asphalt, and rainbow-colored pipes protrude from the ground in a whimsical and inviting manner.
The trail is lit with one-of-a-kind interactive light installations during the “I Heart Rail Trail” event. On multiple occasions, we’ve taken our kids to see the lights, grabbed some selfies, and then enjoyed some food or ice cream. Taking in interactive light installations is a fantastic way to spend an evening.
The vibrancy you will find along the Rail Trail is unique. You will see young professionals filling the breweries alongside local residents walking their dogs (usually Golden Doodles). And families stroll the pathway with their little kids.
Not only is it fun, but going for a walk is cheap entertainment. If you enjoy some of the establishments alongside the Rail Trail, then good for you.
6. Truist Field (Formerly BB&T Ballpark)
Once upon a time, Charlotte’s AAA affiliate played in South Carolina next to a tall water tower painted like a baseball. It might have been a fun way to spend an evening with your kids, but it wasn’t an exciting environment. It was also inconveniently located for most Charlotteans.
Fast forward to today, and the Charlotte Knights play at Truist Field in Uptown. The new stadium is one of the most unique settings in all AAA baseball. In fact, it is one of the most unique settings in all of baseball, period.
Truist Field sits across the street from Romare Bearden Park in Uptown Charlotte, with plenty of restaurants within walking distance of the stadium.
The Charlotte Hornets, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte FC, and Charlotte Knights are all nestled among skyscrapers and all within walking distance of each other.
Critics may suggest this isn’t a prime use of Uptown land since these facilities aren’t used daily. Still, they are also one of the main reasons some people in Charlotte venture to Uptown. The Charlotte Observer infamously published an article back in 2014 detailing how hard it was to find a Snickers candy bar in Uptown after hours.
Uptown Charlotte has changed significantly since 2014, but sporting events remain one of the main draws for non-workers to venture into Uptown. Apartments are added seemingly daily for those that might consider living in Uptown. Nonetheless, sporting events add foot traffic that might otherwise be lacking.
With as many as 75 home games for the Charlotte Knights, 40 home games for the Charlotte Hornets, and 17 home games for Charlotte FC, these sporting events are an excellent avenue for experiencing the downtown area. That’s not to mention all the other events hosted by these venues, including Truist Field.
Minor League Baseball With Skyline View
While Truist Field is the venue hosting a minor league team, it is also one of the best all-around experiences you will ever have at a ball field. Promotion nights include fireworks, pre-game catch on the field, kids running the bases, a splash day, and a bark in the ballpark evening.
The outfield opens to the skyline stretching down Tryon Street. The addition of several high rises surrounding Romare Bearden Park makes this an even more beautiful sight.
The Knights set off post-game fireworks on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the season. Fireworks are set off on other evenings to mark special holidays. Watching the fireworks reflect off the high rises at night is a beautiful experience.
In addition to the Charlotte Knights, Truist Field hosts various college games and special events. During COVID, the team allowed individuals to rent space to work remotely during the business day. After unexpectedly spending months (and years) at home, this offered an excellent opportunity to do something a little different with your work day.
If you plan on visiting Charlotte during the winter, this is a surprising instance in which it may be the ideal time to visit a baseball field in the off-season. The stadium now hosts an event called Light the Knights Festival, in which holiday lights shine across the center city. The expanded Lights the Knights event now features snow tubing, public skating, and a youth hockey venue.
Truist Field is more than just a place to watch minor league baseball.
If you haven’t been to Charlotte before, you might be surprised that it sits just above the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina. While there is plenty of rivalry between the states, plenty of organizations have tried to leverage Charlotte as a geographic center of the two states. The Carolina Panthers, for instance, use the motto of: “Two States. One Team.”
Carowinds is situated directly on the state line and is the best theme park between Atlanta and the D.C. area. While the roller coasters and waterpark are the big draws, locally, the Halloween event known as “Scarowinds” might be the most popular time to visit the theme park.
During Scarowinds, Carowinds transforms into a Halloween lover’s dream. You might have trouble sleeping after experiencing the haunted mazes and scare zones. We jest, but Scarowinds is an incredible Halloween experience.
Roller Coasters, Waterpark, and Special Events
The theme park offers a little bit of something for everyone. In addition to the roller coasters, Carowinds also features a waterpark and kids’ rides. In total, Carowinds features 57 thrill rides. If you like roller coasters, check out Fury 325.
Fury 325 was voted the top steel roller coaster in the world! It is also North America’s tallest, longest, and fastest gig coaster. Since Carowinds operates under a local name rather than a national brand such as Six Flags, some might assume that Carowinds is sub-par.
This isn’t true, and Fury 325 is the prime example. At more than 1.25 miles long, Fury 325 is a premier roller coaster right in the Carolinas.
But Fury 325 is far from the only roller coaster. Copperhead Strike, Carolina Goldrusher, Caroline Cyclone, and Afterburn are just a few of the other roller coasters. For kids, Beagle Scout Acres offers a fun place to play and take a break from standing in line. Kids-specific rides include Charlie Brown’s Wind-up, Camp Bus, and the Flying Ace Balloon Race.
Carowinds has so much to offer that it will keep you busy all day. If you can afford it, we recommend you consider the Fast Lane Pass. This will enable you to skip ahead of the lines. The Fast Lane Pass isn’t cheap but will help you get the most out of your day.
The worst part of visiting a theme park is standing in line for a ride that is over within a few minutes. The Fast Lane Pass removes this pain point, making Carowinds even more enjoyable.
8. Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center
Belk Theater – Uptown Charlotte
While some might prefer outdoor activities like roller coaster rides and visiting the local ballparks, some people have a more refined sense of entertainment. Charlotte may be an up-and-comer southern city, but it still offers plenty of high society culture.
The Belk Theatre at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center is a great place for date night, but you might also find something for your kids and family. At any given time, you can find classic entertainment like the Blue Man Group or childhood favorites like Disney’s Frozen.
Still, whether you see a classic or something a little more fun, visiting Belk Theatre is a great reason to dress up in your finest clothes and spend a night in town with your loved ones.
The Belk Theatre features state-of-the-art equipment and has been known to host everything from annual corporate meetings to Hamilton. And if there is any question regarding whether the Belk Theatre is a worthwhile evening, consider this: Even though there are 2,000+ seats in the Theatre, no seat is more than 135 feet from the stage.
Big City Culture In Center City
The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center puts on the most prolific Broadway season anywhere in the Carolinas, which should be expected in the largest city and de facto center of gravity. Each year the Theatre hosts at least 18 weeks of Broadway shows for your pleasure.
The Charlotte Symphony is one of the recurring events on the Belk Theatre schedule. We especially appreciate the Charlotte Symphony for the variety that they offer. In one month, they may be offering a classic like Brahms Symphone No. 4. Soon after, they may perform a Star Wars or Rolling Stones-themed show.
Parking can get a little expensive in Uptown. Thankfully, the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center offers preferred rate parking of only $5 in designated garages. Save the money on parking so you can spring for better seats inside the Theatre!
9. Freedom Park
Sometimes you just need to get out of the house, but you don’t necessarily want to do anything serious. Freedom Park is the preeminent public park in Charlotte, featuring a 98-acre park anchored by a 7-acre lake, and it is the perfect place to take some strolls and relax.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone for a run along the Sugar Creek Greenway and the park. Freedom Park is also one of our family’s favorite locations for a stroll. This is especially during the fall when the air is cool, and the leaves are changing.
Freedom Park is also one of the most interesting places in Charlotte to do some people-watching. During the interactive Pokemon craze a few years ago, you could find dozens of people walking around with their phones out, trying to catch their latest prize.
Then on one occasion, my son and I had to navigate around a couple proudly walking their pet snake. No joke. The lady proudly walked around the lake several times with her arm held high. Her snake fondly wrapped around her arm and tried to do some sunbathing while the couple walked. It’s the type of place that attracts all walks of life, and we mean that most positively.
Of course, you are much more likely to see someone going for a jog or rollerblading than you are to see people walking their snakes. Rollerblading can result in some interesting people watching too. 👀
Beautiful & Spacious Outdoor Park
In addition to the ever-popular paved trails, Freedom Park also features tennis and volleyball courts, baseball fields, soccer fields, and playground equipment. Freedom Park is home to a Carolina Panthers Play 60 installation. This is where kids can time how fast they can run a 40-yard dash and play on equipment mimicking various football drills.
In times past, a jet fighter and army tank made their home at the park. An old steam engine is still near the playground equipment. It is well fenced off, but a bridge allows kids to walk directly into the cab to experience the steam engine in all its glory.
In the middle of the park, near the lake, sits an amphitheater, and Freedom Park hosts various festivals, musical performances, and free films throughout the year. Festival in the Park takes place during September, and more than 100,000 visitors grace the park trails.
10. Optimist Hall
Optimist Hall Food Hall
Just north of Uptown, along the Blue Line of the local light rail, sits a beautifully restored old mill. Today that mill is called Optimist Hall, but back when it was built in 1892, it was referred to as Highland Park Gingham Mill. Charlotte grew into a textile powerhouse, and Highland Park was at the center of Charlotte’s textile boom.
Over the years, the mill took on various purposes, including serving as a hosiery mill. While pantyhose aren’t very popular anymore, they were a mainstay for several decades. Still, the facilities deteriorated with age, and the time came for adaptive reuse.
Fast forward to today, and the facilities have been completely remodeled to serve as Charlotte’s first food hall. The facilities also feature an innovation center for locally based Duke Energy, but that isn’t the reason you will want to plan a visit to Optimist Hall.
The beautiful building and great food are worth the visit. Camp North End may be the only adaptive reuse in Charlotte with more history than Optimist Hall.
Eclectic Food Hall in Historic Mill
The food hall is also exciting as a small business incubator. For years, the best food truck in town was Papi Queso, which serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. If that sounds contradictory, you will just have to trust us.
You’ve likely never had a grilled cheese like this. Eventually, the team behind the street food concept decided to put down some roots in Optimist Hall.
That’s just the start of the fantastic tastes. If you’ve never been to a modern food hall, this isn’t like an old-school mall food court featuring Sbarro’s. Optimist Hall serves food inspired by every corner of the globe. The empanadas are delicious, the dumplings are locally famous, and the ramen and steamed buns are unbeatable.
Plus, there are plenty of American favorites like hamburgers, pizza, and tacos. If you want to make an entire evening of your visit, you can get ice cream and drinks too.
The food hall offers multiple food choices and an invigorating ambiance. Grab an empanada as an appetizer, gourmet grilled cheese as your entree, and locally-made gelato as your dessert.
If you haven’t yet been to Optimist Hall, add it to your list of things to do in Charlotte.
Big City Amenities With Southern Charm
The local tourism arm advertises that “Charlotte’s Got a Lot.” While that non-descriptive motto is a little cheesy, it is also very accurate. There are a lot of things to do in Charlotte. It is a city where NASCAR happily co-exists with Broadway shows, and we are all the better for it.
Whether you are new to the city or planning a weekend trip, there is no shortage of fun experiences ahead.
Notable Mentions: Things To Do In Charlotte
Charlotte is a vibrant city, and everyone’s tastes are a little different. If you’ve done all the things listed above, here is a list of other things to do in Charlotte that you should Consider.
Carolina Reniassance Festival
While it’s a seasonal activity stretching from October through November, you must visit the Carolina Renaissance Festival at least once. Around 200,000 visitors attend the fair each year to see elaborate costumes, eat smoke turkey legs, and watch the jousting.
Parks All Over the Town
We called out Freedom Park above, but Charlotte is full of great parks. The best parks in Charlotte include Freedom Park, First Ward Park, and Romare Bearden Park, among others. Plus, Park Road Park is an epicenter for softball, while McAlpine Creek Park features a major dog park and a championship cross-country course.
Camp North End
Once you’ve hit up Optimist Hall and the Rail Trail a few times, you might be ready for a change. Camp North End isn’t along the light rail, but it is close to Uptown and offers a funky and vibrant place to hang out. You will find murals, industrial art, co-working, food and drinks, offices, and residential units at Camp North End. And it is just fun that the on-site warehouses were previously used by Ford to make Model Ts and later in the production of WWII missiles.