North Carolina may not be the first state that comes to mind when you think of bucket list travel destinations, but it definitely should be! And there’s no better place to start exploring this spectacular state than in Charlotte.
Charlotte, aka the Queen City, deserves its royalty status. This Southern city is dripping with history, from its Revolutionary War-era roots to its present-day status as a hub for culture and commerce.
You can explore all of Charlotte’s charms by foot, thanks to the city’s well-planned grid system and walkable downtown. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take advantage of the city’s mild weather and explore Charlotte by bike, on a hike, or even on a Segway tour!
The Queen City is also blessed with rich natural beauty, from its verdant parks to its winding rivers. Relax in one of Charlotte’s many green spaces, such as Freedom Park or Romare Bearden Park.
Thrill seekers can get their adrenaline fix at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where you can go rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. Bringing the kids along? They’ll love Discovery Place, an interactive museum where they can learn about everything from space exploration to the animal kingdom.
Culture buffs, on the other hand, will adore Charlotte’s museums. The city is home to several art museums where you can admire works by Picasso, Warhol, and other world-renowned artists. Or, if you want to let loose during your trip, Charlotte is surrounded by a range of excellent vineyards and tasting rooms!
Finally, this is the South we’re talking about, and food is part of the city’s soul. Enjoy fall-off-the-bone barbecue, savor fresh seafood, or grab a bite from one of Charlotte’s famous hot dog stands. And don’t forget to drop by the local farmers’ markets for farm-fresh goods and gourmet bites!
With so many things to see and do, it’s no wonder Charlotte, NC, is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the US. Trust us, it’ll be a challenge to narrow down your Charlotte bucket list.
To help you get started, we compiled a list of some of the best things to do in Charlotte, no matter what kind of experience you’re looking for. Stick to our recommendations for a guaranteed good time, or use them as a starting point to create your own Charlotte adventure!
- 15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Charlotte
- 1. Go Whitewater Rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
- 2. Unleash Your Inner Kid at the Discovery Place
- 3. Get a Taste of Charlotte at The Market at 7th Street
- 4. Picnic & Play at Charlotte’s Massive Freedom Park
- 5. Get Your Heart Racing at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
- 6. Conquer the Thrilling Rides at Carowinds
- 7. Relax at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
- 8. Hunt for Treasures at the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall
- 9. See Charlotte’s Wilderness at the McDowell Nature Preserve
- 10. Spend a Day at the Water in Lake Norman
- 11. Go Brewery Hopping Across Charlotte
- 12. Go Wine Tasting for the Day
- 13. Explore the Eclectic Camp North End
- 14. Catch a Show, Concert, or Festival in Charlotte
- 15. Eat Your Way Through Charlotte’s Best Restaurants
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Charlotte
1. Go Whitewater Rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
Located along the mighty Catawba River, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is an outdoor paradise for adventure seekers of all ages and levels of experience. The center offers more than 30 land and water activities, making it the perfect place to spend a day (or two) exploring the great outdoors.
If you’re looking for a thrill, sign up for a whitewater rafting tour. The center is home to the world’s largest human-made whitewater river, and the guides are knowledgeable and experienced.
If whitewater rafting is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are plenty of other activities to choose from, including flatwater kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and rock climbing.
You can also take a zip-lining tour or go mountain biking on the center’s many trails. In other words, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is packed with some of the best things to do in Charlotte!
2. Unleash Your Inner Kid at the Discovery Place
One of the top Charlotte attractions is a paradise for both kids and adults! This science museum slash playtopia boasts interactive exhibits on topics like earth science and physics, as well as a toddler section for the littlest explorers. Check out their aquarium and rainforest exhibit, sound wall, water table, and more!
But what makes Discovery Place truly special is its IMAX screen. It’s the largest in the Carolinas! They always have something new playing, from 3D movies to nature documentaries and kid-friendly movies like The Lorax or How to Train Your Dragon.
You can even see classics like Back To The Future or Jurassic Park on the big screen. No matter what age you are, you’re sure to have a blast at Charlotte’s Discovery Place!
3. Get a Taste of Charlotte at The Market at 7th Street
If you find yourself in Charlotte, be sure to swing by The Market at 7th Street. It’s right on the Blue Line light rail, making it super easy to get to.
The bustling indoor market is the city’s mission-based and non-profit food hall. The mission is to let small businesses showcase their creative and culinary talents in one place.
As a result, The Market at 7th Street is the perfect place to sample Charlotte’s diverse food scene. Follow your nose to the freshly-popped gourmet popcorn, grab a slice of wood-fired pizza, or enjoy a salmon poke bowl for lunch. There’s also beer and wine if you fancy a glass (or two) with your meal!
4. Picnic & Play at Charlotte’s Massive Freedom Park
If you’re looking for things to do in Charlotte, NC, be sure to add Freedom Park to your list. This massive park, often referred to as the “Central Park of Charlotte,” spans nearly 100 acres.
It’s one of the best free things to do in the city, and it’s perfect for a picnic, a leisurely stroll, or a vigorous bike ride. The park also features four baseball fields, 12 tennis courts, a basketball court, and a playground.
Throughout the year, Freedom Park plays host to a variety of events, including September’s Festival in the Park and the Kings Drive Art Walk, which happens every year in May. And if you need a break from all that fresh air, you’ll find a bevy of restaurants and shops within a mile of the park.
5. Get Your Heart Racing at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is an iconic Charlotte attraction that’s fun for everyone, even if you’re not a fan of racing or NASCAR. This 150,000-square-foot museum is packed with interactive exhibits that tell NASCAR’s six-decade history.
One of the stars at the NASCAR Hall of Fame is the Heritage Speedway exhibit, which uses educational films and genuine artifacts to take you on a journey through NASCAR’s past.
The Race Week exhibit gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how a NASCAR team preps for race day. And the high-tech exhibits will keep you entertained for hours. You can practice a pit stop, call a race, walk through a life-size hauler, or drive one of eight racing simulators. This is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Charlotte, NC!
6. Conquer the Thrilling Rides at Carowinds
One of North Carolina’s most exciting amusement parks, Carowinds is an amazing place, period! The park boasts the world’s fastest and tallest giga coaster, Fury 325. Adrenaline junkies will also love Intimidator 305, a 300-foot-tall steel coaster that reaches speeds of up to 80 mph.
But Carowinds isn’t all about the thrill rides. The park also offers kid-friendly rides, live entertainment, and an array of dining options. And when you need a break from all the excitement, head over to Carolina Harbor, the park’s waterpark. With a lazy river, a three-acre kids pool, and a 27,000-square-foot wave pool, Carolina Harbor is the perfect place to cool off on a hot day!
One thing to note, though, is that you can’t bring outside food into Carowinds. So be sure to eat before you go or take advantage of the park’s dining options.
7. Relax at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a peaceful escape from the chaos of Charlotte’s city center. This 380-acre oasis is filled with beautiful gardens, like the Instagram-worthy Four Seasons Garden. As the name suggests, this garden features plants that bloom in each season, such as magnolias in the spring and holly in the winter.
And if you need a break from all the walking, relax in one of the 12 glistening fountains, including the iconic Tunnel Fountain. You can also take a slow stroll down the Woodland Trail, a short 0.5-mile path lined with native plants from North Carolina’s Piedmont area. The gardens are open all year long, so you’ll have a chance to see them in all their glory, no matter when you visit.
8. Hunt for Treasures at the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall
The Sleepy Poet Antique Mall is a local institution and one of the coolest things to do in Charlotte! This award-winning antique mall spans 60,000 square feet, so be sure to wear your comfiest shoes. We also recommend reserving a few hours to explore the mall, as there’s a lot to see.
The mall is home to roughly 300 stalls, each one filled with vintage treasures. Hunt down a childhood toy in the retro toy section, find a unique piece of furniture for your home, or peruse the racks of vintage clothing.
You can also browse the booths of old records, comic books, and other collectibles. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s amazing to see all that history and nostalgia under one roof.
9. See Charlotte’s Wilderness at the McDowell Nature Preserve
The McDowell Nature Preserve and Center is one of Charlotte’s best-kept secrets. This 1,100-acre nature preserve is home to seven miles of hiking trails and an array of educational exhibits. Roughly 90% of it is undeveloped, so you’ll feel like you’re miles away from the city, even though you’re only a few minutes drive from downtown.
The nature center is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, beavers, otters, and red-tailed hawks. Don’t be surprised if you see some of these furry (and not so furry) friends during your visit!
Spend a day hiking through the woods, wading through streams, and snapping photos at scenic stops along Lake Wylie. The nature preserve is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your four-legged friend along for the adventure.
When you’re done exploring the great outdoors, stop by the discovery hall to learn more about the area’s history and ecology. You can also check out the live animals, exhibits, and the Ozone Garden, a native plant garden that is home to over 100 species of plants.
Want to stay overnight? The McDowell Nature Preserve also offers 56 camping sites for every type of camper. Park your RV at one of the full hookup sites, or set up your tent at a primitive site.
10. Spend a Day at the Water in Lake Norman
Lake Norman is loaded with fun Charlotte activities for families, kids, and anyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors. This man-made lake is the largest in North Carolina, and it’s a popular spot for swimming, fishing, boating, and camping.
Before you head to the lake, pick up some lunch at one of the nearby Davidson Farmers or Huntersville Growers Market. These markets are loaded with fresh, local produce that makes the perfect picnic lunch.
Once you’re at the lake, there’s no shortage of things to do! Lake Norman has 500 miles of shoreline, and it’s up to you how you want to explore it. You can rent kayaks, pedal boats, and canoes to get out on the water. Or, if you’re feeling more energetic, bike or hike the nearly 40 miles of trails that wind around the lake.
Need to cool off? Take a swim in the refreshing waters of Lake Norman, catch some rays on the shore, or splash around in one of the fountains.
The lake also has a number of exhibits and interpretive programs that are perfect for families. And, if you’re looking for a place to stay overnight, there are 38 sites at the campground or eight private cabins where you can spend the night.
11. Go Brewery Hopping Across Charlotte
For adults-only Charlotte activities, it’s hard to top a brewery tour. Explore solo or with a group on the Trolley Pub, which is a pedal-powered, open-air trolley that makes stops at some of Charlotte’s best breweries.
We also recommend following the tipsy path of NoDa’s Craft Beer Trail! It’ll take you to some of the best breweries in Charlotte, including Birdsong Brewing Co., Free Range Brewing, and Heist Brewery. Each brewery has its own unique style, so you’re sure to find a flavor that you love.
12. Go Wine Tasting for the Day
One of the most fun things to do in Charlotte is to take the day and hit up some of the many nearby wineries. If you plan to imbibe and you don’t feel like driving, you can easily book a tour that will take you to three beautiful vineyards. That way, you can sip and swirl without worrying about a thing!
Animal lovers will love Divine Llama Vineyards. Located 90 minutes from the heart of Charlotte, this place is set on 91 acres of vineyards and is home to a bunch of adorable llamas. You can also sample Divine Llama Vineyards’ 11 different wines before snapping photos with the llamas!
For something a bit closer to home, you can sample seven different Muscadine wines at Treehouse Vineyards. If rosés are your thing, pay a visit to Serre Vineyards. Or, if you prefer Italian varietals, Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery just so happens to boast a range of fine Italian wines.
Whatever your taste, you’re sure to find a Charlotte winery for you!
13. Explore the Eclectic Camp North End
Camp North End is filled with some of the most unique things to do in Charlotte! You can easily lose track of time here wandering around the 76-acre converted industrial complex.
This place is a haven for local artists, and you’ll find pop-up art booths and art installations around almost every corner. It’s a terrific place to score one-of-a-kind decor for your home or a unique gift for someone special.
Camp North End is also home to artisan cafes and creative food trucks, so come hungry! Bring cash and loose change as well because many of the vendors here are cash-only.
Throughout the year, Camp North End also hosts regular markets, food truck rodeos, and festivals. Try your hand at some of the games set up around the campus, or take a selfie in front of one of the colorful murals!
14. Catch a Show, Concert, or Festival in Charlotte
Charlotte also takes the crown when it comes to live music and entertainment. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something going on in the Queen City!
Spring is all about music, parties, and beer. Time your trip right, and you can catch the Charlotte Jazz Festival, where you can enjoy free concerts all over the city. Or, indulge in over 100 different craft beers at the Queen City Brewers Festival.
If you’re visiting in the fall, dress up as your favorite medieval character and enjoy the Carolina Renaissance Festival. Or, get your fill of German beer and food at one of Charlotte’s many Oktoberfest celebrations.
And if you’re traveling in the summer, take advantage of the city’s free concert series! You can enjoy live music at Symphony Park or in the heart of Uptown Charlotte.
Sports are also a huge thing in Charlotte, and you can catch a Charlotte Hornets game at the Spectrum Center. Or, show your support for the Carolina Panthers by tailgating at the Bank of America Stadium!
15. Eat Your Way Through Charlotte’s Best Restaurants
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Charlotte is eat! This city has some of the best Southern food you’ll ever taste, and we highly recommend that you try as many different dishes as you can.
Don’t miss the local BBQ joints. Charlotte’s ribs, pulled pork, and chicken are some of the best in the state. For a true taste of the South, order a plate of fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits.
And no trip to Charlotte would be complete without a slice of red velvet cake from Amelie’s French Bakery. Of course, you’ll also want to wash all of this down with a sweet tea or glass of local wine, craft beer, or fresh lemonade.
You’ll also love how there are so many food trucks and hole-in-the-wall eateries to choose from here. Come hungry because this is a city for foodies!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Charlotte, NC. What’s your favorite thing to do in Charlotte?
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