If you plan on visiting Charlotte, you may be a bit overwhelmed with the sheer number of things to see and do – for the best of the best, be sure to put these on your to-do list.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

U.S. National Whitewater Center (Nearby Hotels)

If you like the water, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is the place to go – it offers more thrills on the water than you can possibly do in a day. The 700-acre site that sits along the Catawba River offers not only whitewater rafting, but kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, along with a wealth of things to do on land, like mountain biking the more than 25-mile trail system, zip lines, rock climbing, and a canopy tour. It also hosts the Carowinds amusement park which hosts 17 thrill rides, like the new Fury 325, the world’s tallest giga coaster that soars to heights of up to 325 feet. Open from dawn to dusk, arrive early if you’re hoping to do it all.

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NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR Hall of Fame (Nearby Hotels)

Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, you’ll definitely want to check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame. One of the city’s most popular attractions, the 150,000-square-foot venue hosts driving simulators that let you experience what it’s like to drive a race car, and they’re so close to the real thing, NASCAR drivers themselves have actually come here to practice. There’s a kid zone with kid-friendly activities, a variety of interactive exhibits and hands-on presentations about the cars, the races, and the fans, as well as a theater that features a film about the sport’s history. Glory Road is lined with historic cars, which includes some here are some seriously amazing wheels, including a Rat Car and even a London taxi.

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Mint Museum Uptown

The Mint Museum (Nearby Hotels)

The world-renowned Mint Museum is at the forefront of the city’s arts and culture scene, dedicated to craft, design and all things artistic. It’s the oldest art museum in the state, and showcases a globally significant collection of works along with ground-breaking exhibitions, housed in two separate locations, the Mint Museum Uptown and Mint Museum Randolph. Mint Museum Randolph sits within the original branch of the United States Mint and has impressive collections of European and African art, ancient American art, ceramics and decorative arts, and fashion, while the Mint Museum Uptown hosts collections of American, European, and contemporary art as well as a highly-acclaimed craft and design exhibition. A range of programs are offered as well, like “Taste of the Mint,” a small plate and beverage pairing plus a tour.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (Nearby Hotels)

The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden sits on 450 acres along the banks of Lake Wylie and is a favorite with locals and visitors alike. Part nature reserve and part showcase for the best of Southern horticulture, it features beautiful fountains, brilliant flowers and magnificent buildings like the Robert Lee Stowe Visitor Pavilion, which is topped with a stunning stained-glass dome. There are over 110 acres of themed gardens., including the year-round Four Seasons Garden, the tropically-themed Canal Garden, four distinct Perennial Gardens, the nostalgic Cottage Garden, the aromatic Conifer Garden, and the Lost Hollow Children’s Garden. Visitors can stroll the woodland trail and shop for unique items at the garden store, many of which are hand-crafted by local artisans. The grassy outdoor amphitheater hosts concerts and other events as well.

Discovery Place Science

Discovery Place Science (Nearby Hotels)

Don’t miss Discovery Place Science if you’re visiting Charlotte with kids – although even if you aren’t, it’s a great place to experience and you’re sure to leave with a renewed sense of wonder about the world around you. Considered one of the top science museums in the country, it combines, art, science and all of the sense, to delight people of all ages. There are a variety of interactive, hands-on exhibits covering all sorts of scientific concepts like physics and earth science, and even educational and entertaining animal presentations. Visitors can design and conduct lab experiments, build mock structures and study various ecosystems at the rainforest exhibit and aquarium. The museum also boasts the largest IMAX screen in the Carolinas, which features an ever-changing program of educational films.

Carolina Raptor Center

Carolina Raptor Center (Nearby Hotels)

At the Carolina Raptor Center just north of Charlotte, you can get up close and personal with bald eagles, hawks, and vultures. Focusing on the conservation of birds of prey through education, research, and caring for injured or orphaned raptors, the center is a fantastic place to bring the entire family to learn more about the birds that are so important to our environment. It houses more than 100 birds and offers a unique program to show guests just what it’s like to care for all those birds on a day-to-day basis. Special encounters are offered too, such as walking with the resident vultures during a daily training session, and having “conversations” with the resident bald and golden eagles. A variety of events and camps are held throughout the year.

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Carolinas Aviation Museum

Carolinas Aviation Museum (Nearby Hotels)

The Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a must-experience for aviation enthusiasts, dedicated to providing education about the importance of aviation to society.  Visitors can even hop on board a plane to see what it might have been like to be on the Miracle of the Hudson flight, which made an emergency landing on the river in 2009, as well as explore the impressive array of still-operational historic aircraft, like the B-17, B-24, B-29 and Berlin Airlift C-54. The museum is also home to an extensive research library, the 9,000-volume Dolph Overton Aviation Library, and it showcases a variety of educational exhibits, programs, and activities too.

Charlotte Museum of History

Charlotte Museum of History (Nearby Hotels)

History buffs won’t want to miss the Charlotte Museum of History, situated on a wooded eight-acre campus in east Charlotte. It features a number of historic structures, including the Hezekiah Alexander House, a 5,000-square-foot rock house built in 1774. The oldest surviving house in the county, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the reproduction log kitchen, barn, and reconstructed two-story springhouse. A wide range of exhibits are featured too, spanning three galleries to document the history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County between the 18th and 20th centuries.  A few of the exhibits are hands-on, making for a truly interactive experience that allows the visitor to learn things about the area that can’t be found in a textbook.

Blumenthal Performing Arts

Blumenthal Performing Arts (Nearby Hotels)

To enjoy some of the best of Charlotte’s music, dance and theater, visit the Blumenthal Performing Arts, home to the Charlotte Ballet and Symphony, the Community School of the Arts, and Opera Carolina. It hosts six theaters, with the Booth Playhouse, the Belk Theater, and Stage Door Theater in the Blumenthal Building, while the Duke Power Theater and McGlohon Theater are located in Spirit Square.

Bill’s Spoon Barbecue

Pig Out on BBQ (Nearby Hotels)

You simply can’t leave Charlotte without trying some of its world-famous barbecues. Here, it’s often slow cooked, eastern-style, sometimes with large chunks of juicy pork, or pulled into delicate strands. After the Old Hickory House closed following a six-decade run, Bill Spoon’s Barbecue took over as the oldest in the city, as well as the honors as the No. 1 place for BBQ in Charlotte.  The sign on front reads: “We’ve cooked the whole pig since 1963”—and that’s truly the mantra here as more than a half-century later, it still serves up the mouth-watering barbecue that made it famous throughout the region, topped with the same special house-made hot sauce, and served by the same family. The original founder’s grandson Steve, runs the eatery today.

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