Charlotte (North Carolina), nicknamed the Queen City in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who had become the Queen of England several years before the city’s inception, draws in its many tourists by showcasing the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which celebrates auto racing through interactive exhibits and films, as well as being home to the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets, the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League and many other sporting interests. The city’s population of approximately 2,380,500 in 2014 now makes Charlotte North America’s 17th largest city. There’s a lot more to learn about the location so join me in its exploration of the 25 best things to do in Charlotte!
1. NASCAR Hall of Fame
When planning a visit to Charlotte the thought of NASCAR might cross your mind and, for racing fans, taking a trip to the 150,000 sq ft state of the art Hall of Fame venue should be high on the itinerary. This modern site, dedicated to entertain race fans, includes awesome interactive exhibits such as racing simulators, artifacts and an amazing state of the art theater which holds 278 people. There is also the popular Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant and NASCAR Gear Shop to explore. It will be a real treat to see how the venue honors NASCAR icons over the years and how it has successfully created a lasting tribute to all the drivers, team owners and crew member of the sport.
2. The Billy Graham Library
This is a very appealing venue for those interested in learning more about one of North America’s most famous pastors, Billy Graham. The free entrance library itself is 40,000 sq ft, from which you will be able to learn all about his life and legacy. You can also enjoy the ambiance of the beautiful surroundings, situated on 20 acres of landscaped acres, and very close to where the Pastor grew up. You are free to wander the grounds yourselves but tours are available too for a very reasonable fee, which take approximately an hour and a half. There is also a very nice moderately priced restaurant.
3. BB&T Ballpark
BB&T BallPark is a top notch baseball stadium, hosting the Charlotte Knights, a Triple A International League minor league baseball team. The well laid out ballpark is a very popular venue with families, offering terrific skyline views from its two level tier seating. There are plenty of local food vendors here too (especially between home plate and first base, I hear), and easy parking. And if you really want to treat the family, the experience of being seated in the suites or in the Home Plate Club are definitely worth the premium ticket prices!
4. Discovery Place
A visit here would be a fun and fantastic family experience! There is something of interest for all ages, and where you will be able to see how science can be brought to life by amazing interactive exhibits as well as larger than life IMAX Dome films. See the human body’s life cycle, launch objects into the air, crush a garbage can or even lie on a bed of nails! And don’t miss World’s Alive where you will learn all about the amazing lives of many diverse species, including hands on labs and dramatic photography. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this fascinating world of physical phenomena. There is a nice restaurant on the premises too (though fairly pricey).
5. Carolinas Aviation Museum
This is a fun attraction for aviation and history fans of all ages. Charlotte Airport hangar was erected in 1936-37 and the airport opened its doors in 1938 with Eastern Airlines flying the first commercial flight into Charlotte. The airport at that time consisted of two buildings, an administration/terminal building, one hangar, a beacon tower, two 3,000-foot runways and one 2,500-foot runway. There are lots of other civilian and military planes in the hangar including some that the kids can enjoy playing in. Of great interest is being able to see the actual aircraft known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” – the plane that landed in the Hudson River in 2009 – together with reading matter and videos explaining all about the event.
6. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center
This modern theater, opened in 1992, is a terrific venue to watch a play or musical when you’re visiting the city. The venue prides itself on its comfortable seating and facilities, not to mention its awesome acoustics, too! Every seat offers a great view of the stage so you won’t be missing a thing. From symphony to jazz, a show here will make for a great night out. There is no restaurant on the premises but if you present your tickets before or after the performance you will be given a 10% from their restaurant partners! (You can find out more when you book your tickets).
The whole family will love a day out here at Carowinds, especially if you’re a fan of thrill rides! The venue in fact is known as the ‘Thrill Capital of the Southeast’, so it’s got to be saying something! There are actually 13 world class roller coasters including Planet Snoopy, consisting of Peanuts themed rides and attractions for all ages, as well as loads of other family rides such as Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, Skytower and Rip Roarin’ Rapids, Dinosaurs Alive featuring 30 life sized moving animatronic monsters. There is a wonderful choice of food from quick snacks and treats to delicious dining options available throughout the park.
8. Black Out
Take the family to a thinking and strategic game, and one in which you all use your skills and have fun at the same time! As a Black Out agent you will be recruited to complete a highly secret mission (think James Bond!). From solving clues to escaping prison, and from cracking codes to saving the world from a zombie apocalypse (with a few helpful hints if you really get stuck) you will find this totally immersive escape room experience something for the whole family to remember!
9. Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Little Sugar Creek Greenway is a lovely area for the family to stroll through, consisting of about 20 miles of paved walkways and trails. The path switches back and forth over the creek and you can either carry on and end up behind uptown Charlotte, or stop and enjoy a picnic. Along the way you will pass through swamp land, ponds and under bridges – great fun for the kids! It’s a very safe walk and a lovely area to rest and relax.
10. Levine Museum of the New South
The Levine Museum is a great place to learn about the South and its rich contribution to the US and is something the whole family will find of interest. The museum’s mission was to engage an audience into the diverse history of the South from 1865 until today through materials, sights and sounds, and has very cleverly developed a fascinating interactive history giving a wonderful opportunity to learn all about post Civil War southern society. Featuring the inhabitants of every race and color who have helped shape the South, the family can learn about all the topic of slavery together with other important issues.
11. Carolina History and Haunts Ghost Tour
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, this interesting tour is worth an enjoyable candlelit stroll through the city’s streets where you will hear some fascinating stories about the local history and haunts of the neighborhood. The guides are very informative and entertaining and you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about the spooky side of Charlotte. The tour is suitable for all ages, (with kids 7 and under going free) and lasts about 90 minutes, so make sure you’ve got your walking shoes on!
12. Hendrick Motorsports Complex
This would be a fun visit for all motor enthusiasts! Hendrick Motorsports has earned an awesome record 11 car owner championships in NASCAR’s premier division, the Sprint Cup Series, and has opened the complex (free of charge) for visitors to enjoy!
You will be able to see where they create, repair and store their Nascar’s, with the friendly staff happy to answer questions. You can see all the trophies awarded, and also visit the museum. There is also a great gift shop on site as well as actual car body parts for sale from various drivers and the races they participated in!
If you’re into cracking codes and solving puzzles, here is another crime scene adventure for the family to sort out! Codescape features some absorbing real-life adventure game experiences including Shipwrecked, in which your team of archaeologists has to retrieve treasure before anyone else; Deep Space, where you are sent on a mission but your spaceship’s security is breached and you are left to figure out who the real alien life are, and The Residents and Lucidity, two more absorbing puzzle scenarios to solve! This is great entertainment and a chance for all the family to work together. If you get stuck at any stage, help is always at hand!
14. Mint Museum Uptown
The Mint Museum Uptown is chock full of wonderful collections, from American, European and contemporary art to amazing craft and design, which it is best known for. Included are the Lewis Family Gallery and art studios the whole family will enjoy, together with the museum’s progressive exhibitions with its remarkable glass and wood artwork. The exhibitions change regularly so there’s always something of interest for everyone. There is a very pleasant restaurant on site too to enjoy before or after your visit, together with a museum shop filled with interesting souvenirs.
15. ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center
Home of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, ImaginOn also serves as a fabulous open air and fun library with attractions that all the kids can enjoy. There is so much to keep your children occupied, from board games, a puppet center, Lego playing area, magnetic poetry wall, touch screens for the little ones, and much more besides. In fact, a great place for the kids to let their imagination run free! There are vending machines available but just next door there’s also an open market with lots of food options. A wonderful learning and fun time for all your kids!
16. DefyGravity Charlotte
DefyGravity Trampoline Sports Park is the perfect place for the kids to have a great time and burn off energy at the same time! This 26,000 sq ft facility is very cutting edge, with wall to wall steel frame trampolines which include the famous Angled Wall Trampolines, a sprawling Olympic Foam Pit, and one of the largest Trampoline Dodge ball cages in North America! Part sports gym and part entertainment site, this is one of the city’s very popular venues. Watch them bounce around and have fabulous fun! The staff are extremely attentive, making sure the kids come to no harm.
17. McDowell Nature Center and Preserve
This lovely nature center and preserve has an outdoor amphitheater, native animals and an exhibit hall, and acts as a central source that teaches all about the location’s natural flora and fauna. It is a great place to bring the family as there are a generous variety of trails from easy to advanced, each one simple to see on the maps that are provided at different entrances, playing areas for the kids, water fountains for dogs and, being right on the edge of Lake Wylie, provides perfect fishing opportunities and affordable canoe rentals as well. You can even make a weekend of it as there are camping facilities on site too!
18. Hall Family Farm
If you’re in the mood to try some hand picked (you doing the hand picking, that is!) sweet strawberries in the spring and plump pumpkins in the fall, take the family to the Hall Family Farm, which has been personally owned and operated for over 70 years. Besides enjoying a great day out picking your patch, there are also hayrides available and covered picnic tables as well as things for kids of all ages to get involved in! Admission is free and your hand picked goodies are sold to you at a very reasonable price. There are also slushies or hot drinks to enjoy as well as local produce on sale which include tasty breads, salsa, jams and ciders.
This unique sculpture is worth a stop while you’re here in Charlotte. Created by Czech artist David Cerny, this 23 ft high structure consists of an amazing arrangement of horizontally moving stainless steel plates forming and reforming a giant metal head. There are plenty of benches to sit and wonder at this amazing contraption and watch as the water washes down the sides of the fountain. The kids can enjoy splashing the water too!
20. Historic Rosedale Plantation
Situated on approximately eight and a half acres of fabulous grounds which include stately century old trees, a visit to this luscious plantation will transport you back to life in the south in the 1900s. The house itself, built in 1815 by merchant and tax collector Archibald Frew, is known and admired for being one of the best pieces of Federal period architecture in North Carolina. Restoration and work on the historic gardens are continuing, but public tours are available and certainly worth a visit. The family can also enjoy learning all about plantation life and what was involved, from the well informed guides.
21. The Sleepy Poet Antiques Mall
For a shopping mall with a difference why not drop into the Sleep Poet Antiques Mall? With more than 250 booths to explore selling everything from vintage clothing, jewelry, books, pictures, antique furniture as well as modern and classic home furnishings, this is 55,000 sq ft of fun shopping experience for everyone! The aisles are wide so there’s no problem if you have a stroller. And if the kids get a little restless there are plenty of food trucks with delicious offerings like Cupcake Delirium to keep them interested!
22. Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary
This serene spot is perfect for the bird lovers of the family or if you’re simply in the mood for some quiet time. The Gardens and Bird Sanctuary were created between 1927 and 1930 by Elizabeth Clarkson who was diagnosed with a chronic disease and had turned her attention to ornithology. Built with an emphasis on providing nesting sites, together with food and water for birds and other wildlife, the gardens are protected with high walls which keep the sanctuary calm and peaceful. There is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the various plants and spot some of the amazing variety of birds scampering around. Bring bird food just in case!
23. Romare Bearden Park
This gorgeous 5 acre public park is a real hit with the locals and worth a visit while you’re here, too! It was named after locally born artist Romane Bearden and opened in 2013. It is extremely child friendly with plenty of places to sit and lots of different things to amuse the kids, together with a great waterfall feature helping to cool things down on hot days! The wide open, well maintained green areas are a real pleasure to sit and picnic with the family. You can enjoy a nice evening of music too when concerts are performed in the summer months.
24. Wells Fargo History Museum
This is a really interesting venue that the whole family will enjoy, as it explores the history and highlights of Wells Fargo. Besides showcasing the story of gold mining in North Carolina and the inception of Wachovia Bank, the museum also includes a model of an 1889 Wachovia Bank branch as well as featuring a rare Concord stagecoach you can climb aboard that had been built in the 19th century. There are also gold nuggets, rare coins and an interactive telegraph to fascinate all the family when using Morse code and money which you can then enjoy putting your own personal face on!
25. Ray’s Splash Planet
For a splash of a time, drop into Ray’s Splash Planet which is the largest water park in Charlotte. With over 29,000 sq ft and 117,000 gallons of water to play around in which include slides, inner tube rides and a whirlpool area as well as a fitness center and an aerobics and dance studio situated on the second floor, there is plenty to keep the whole family busy. There are plenty of options for all kids regardless of their swimming level, from a toddler friendly shallow pool to the deeper swimming areas that include water basketball. Entrance fees are very reasonable.