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Nicknamed the “Queen City,” North Carolina’s largest city was named in honor of the wife of King George II, Charlotte of Mecklenburg. NASCAR fans can rally at Lowe’s Motor Speedway or the Hall of Fame, while nature lovers are able to soak in Charlotte’s natural beauty at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Boasting a perfect combination of museums, history, and action-packed attractions, Charlotte is one of North Carolina’s coolest cities and a lively destination for both adventure or relaxation. Discover the city’s cosmopolitan flair and unique charm with these top things to do in Charlotte.
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What Is It? Boasting the world’s largest man-made river, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is a non-profit recreation and athletic center that leaves you spoiled for choice in outdoor activities.
Why Do It? In addition to the river, the Whitewater Center offers a variety of land and water activities for all ages and skill levels to choose from in its 1,110-acre facility northwest of downtown Charlotte.
Good to Know: Nature lovers and outdoor adventurers will be impressed with the variety of activities to go kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and whitewater rafting in addition to the abundance of trails, mountain biking, rock climbing, and zip-lining opportunities.
What Is It? Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, you’ll definitely want to check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? 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.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden sits on 450 acres along the banks of Lake Wylie and is a favorite with locals and visitors alike.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? Don’t miss Discovery Place 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.
Why Do It? Considered one of the top science museums in the country, it combines, art, science and all of the senses, 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.
Good to Know: The museum also boasts the largest IMAX screen in the Carolinas, which features an ever-changing program of educational films.
What Is It? At the Carolina Raptor Center just north of Charlotte, you can get up close and personal with bald eagles, hawks, and vultures.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? 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.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? History buffs won’t want to miss the Charlotte Museum of History, situated on a wooded eight-acre campus in east Charlotte.
Why Do It? 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.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? To enjoy some of the best of Charlotte’s music, dance and theater, visit the Blumenthal Performing Arts.
Why Do It? It’s home to the Charlotte Ballet and Symphony, the Community School of the Arts, and Opera Carolina.
Good to Know: 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.
What Is It? Health-conscious foodies will be in heaven at Charlotte’s 7th Street Public Market.
Why Do It? You will find an indoor marketplace filled with home-grown produce, fresh-baked bread, locally made pizza, and deliciously brewed coffee in addition to stalls selling wine, flowers, and gourmet treats. A bustling scene, the mission of this marketplace is to offer high-quality food, support local farmers and celebrate the vibrant food culture in Charlotte.
Good to Know: With a convenient location next to the Levine Museum and open seven days a week, it’s easy to make a day trip to the two attractions.
What Is It? Setting the standard for any fan of NASCAR, the Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered the home track of the action-packed sport with over 2,000 acres and 1.5 miles of this awe-inspiring speedway.
Why Do It? For an ultimate thrill, immerse yourself in the heart of NASCAR country and join the racing experience by driving one of the real cars on the same tracks as the pros.
Good to Know: Catch an adrenaline-fueled live race or take a behind-the-scenes speedway and race shop tour for an unmatched fan experience.
What Is It? One of North Carolina’s most beloved amusement parks, Carowinds is a family-friendly attraction with a variety of rides that will make any thrill-seeker happy.
Why Do It? Whether visitors indulge in the Dale Earnhardt-inspired roller coaster, the 20-acre water park at Boomerang Bay, or visit the kiddie rides at Planet Snoopy, families will be spoiled for choice at this “Thrill Capital of the Southeast”.
Good to Know: Visit the interactive 3D digital theater, explore the dinosaur exhibit, watch the live acrobatic show, or cross over the North and South Carolina line inside the park.
What Is It? A peaceful oasis in the midst of the Uptown hustle and bustle, Freedom Park is over 100 acres of pristine natural beauty and offers activities for outdoor lovers of any age.
Why Do It? Considered the “Central Park” of Charlotte, the park surrounds a 7-acre lake and boasts paved trails, tennis and volleyball courts, athletic fields, and a children’s playground.
Good to Know: Films and musical performances in the park are common, in addition to locals spending the day enjoying the abundance of picnic, jogging, and dog walking spots.
What Is It? You simply can’t leave Charlotte without trying some of its world-famous barbecues.
Why Do It? Here, barbecue is often slow-cooked, eastern-style, sometimes with large chunks of juicy pork, or pulled into delicate strands.
Good to Know: Some of the best barbecue joints in Charlotte include Midwood Smokehouse, Sweet Lew’s BBQ, and Sauceman’s.
What Is It? Perfect for history buffs, the Levine Museum of the New South is an interactive history museum that boasts the most comprehensive post-Civil War history exhibits in the United States.
Why Do It? You will be enthralled with the permanent exhibits like the Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers that highlight the history of Charlotte and enjoy exploring temporary exhibits that detail the social and political change in the South.
Good to Know: Engaging and hands-on, you are presented with opportunities for learning and gaining an appreciation of the area’s rich history.
What Is It? The Billy Graham Library takes visitors down a journey of the famous television pastor’s life.
Why Do It? Set in 40,000 square feet and 20 landscaped acres, visitors can join the 1.5-hour tour of the Graham family home to explore Billy Graham’s personal library, a memorial prayer garden, and other notable memorabilia.
Good to Know: You can learn about his life, from a humble farm boy to an international sensation through a series of displays and multimedia presentations.