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101 Fun Things to Do in Charlotte

Whether you’re looking for art, music, dining, shopping, sports, nature or family fun, Charlotte’s got it going on. Check out our list of fun things to do around town.
Intimidator roller coaster, the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in the Southeast. The thrill ride was inspired by NASCAR race legend Dale Earnhardt and has capacity for 1,600 riders each hour, rises to a height of 232 feet, and reaches 80 mph.
Intimidator roller coaster, the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in the Southeast. The thrill ride was inspired by NASCAR race legend Dale Earnhardt and has capacity for 1,600 riders each hour, rises to a height of 232 feet, and reaches 80 mph.

Sample our list of 101 fun things to do in and around the Queen City, from going to a game to shopping and museum-hopping. Check out the whole list, or skip to certain topics by clicking the links below.

Attractions  &  Family Fun  │   Arts  │  Culture & History   Entertainment & Nightlife    Food & Culinary  │  Racing    Shopping & Spa    Sports & Recreation   

 

Attractions & Family Fun

1. Known as “the thrill capital of the Southeast,” Carowinds amusement park is packed with fun for all ages. For the biggest adrenaline rush, ride the Intimidator – the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster in the region – and take a spin on the new 301-foot-tall Windseeker, the park’s tallest ride.

2. Beat the heat (or cold) at Ray’s Splash Planet, a 29,000-square-foot indoor water park and fitness facility. The water park is loaded with fun features: a double figure-eight waterslide, water squirters, a lazy river and tumble buckets.

3. Let your imagination soar at the Carolinas Aviation Museum. Relive the country’s proudest moments with exhibits featuring aircraft from war and peacetime.

4. One of the Carolinas’ most visited attractions, Discovery Place features interactive science lab stations, deep sea aquariums, a digital 3-D theater and other wonder-inspiring elements.

5. Education meets imagination at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center, a LEED-certified facility geared especially for families. Journey to fairytale lands during a Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production, or embark on a teen-approved mp3 scavenger hunt.

6. Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville helps little ones explore their world through play, encouraging new experiences through imagination, fun and learning. Kids up to second grade will have a blast at this interactive museum.

7. Take the family to The Speedpark at Concord Mills and renew sibling rivalry on four scaled race tracks. The premier track at The Speedpark, the Superspeedway, features a quarter-mile oval and 5/8-scale Sprint Cup style cars. Miniature golf is also available.

8. Victory Lane Indoor Karting Center offers a 1/3-mile, European-style indoor road course with Italian-made specialty karts that average speeds of 35 mph.

9. Before the forty-niners struck it rich on the West Coast, Charlotte was the site of the nation’s first gold rush. Conrad Reed stumbled upon a 17-pound nugget that he sold for a paltry $3.50 before he realized its true value. Score your own treasure by panning for gold at Reed Gold Mine.

10. Board the Catawba Queen (a replica of a Mississippi River Paddle Wheeler) or the Lady of the Lake at Queen’s Landing to watch a romantic sunset, or enjoy a dinner cruise on Lake Norman. Got a boat of your own? Tie up at the Floating Dock Bar and cool off with an ice cold beverage.

11. Get swept away with natural beauty at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, featuring 110 acres of themed gardens, a dozen sparkling fountains, a spectacular Visitor Pavilion and a striking Orchid Conservatory.

12. Walk among free-flying butterflies in Butterfly Pavilion, observe live animals in Creature Cavern or just hang out in Our Big Backyard at the Charlotte Nature Museum. Join Charlotte’s only talking tree, Grandpa Tree, for special story time or catch a Puppet Show.

13. Tour Carolina Raptor Center and get a sneak peek at breeds like our national bird, the American Bald Eagle. Plus, see what happens behind the scenes, from the feathered patient’s initial exam to ways they strengthen their wings in outdoor flight cages.

14. Relax and enjoy the serenity of Wing Haven Gardens, a unique part of Charlotte since its creation in 1927. The gardens and bird sanctuary, enclosed by brick walls, encompasses three acres in the heart of Myers Park.

15. Get up close and personal with giraffes, buffalos, zebras and more in your own private safari at the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville. Travel through the friendly confines of this 3.5-mile zoo in the comfort of your own vehicle or by horse-drawn wagon to check out more than 750 animals from six different continents.

16. The lush, three-tier lawn on The Green in Center City lays claim to quirky, novella-themed features, hopscotch paths and three towering fish fountains. Kids are regular fixtures here, but the park hosts a range of events throughout the year including outdoor Shakespeare performances and wine festivals.

17. One of the best ways to explore the city’s growing thoroughfares, the horse-drawn Charlotte Center City Carriage Tours “clip-clop” through city streets including Fourth Ward, featuring striking Victorian homes and an impressive tree canopy.

18. Themed tours by Charlotte NC Tours hit the high notes of the city’s food scene, haunted history, racing roots and artistic endeavors. On foot, bicycle or riding Segways, local experts dish out the inside scoop on the Queen City’s colorful character.

19. Leave the car behind and hop on the LYNX Blue Line light rail for easy stops at many of Charlotte’s major attractions.

 

The Arts

20. An astounding collection of mid-20th century modern art is housed at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, part of the Levine Center for the Arts. The terra cotta-tiled structure on South Tryon is a work of art itself filled with gems by notables such as Picasso, Calder, Warhol and more.

21. The Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts plants roots in Center City, combining its renowned Craft + Design, Contemporary and American collection with highly sought-after national traveling exhibitions. Check out the Lewis Family gallery for hands-on artistic inspiration.

22. Once the location of the first branch of the United States Mint, the Mint Museum Randolph in Myers Park is a rich and diverse resource with noted collections of American and European decorative art, historic costumes and more.

23. Charlotte is called the city of frescoes. Rare in the U.S., Charlotte is home to several sites painted by Ben Long, a North Carolina native. Frescoes adorn the lobby of the Bank of America Corporate Center, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Transamerica Square.

24. Experience Broadway blockbusters with the Blumenthal Performing Art's Broadway Lights Series. Shows slated for 2012 and 2013 include “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” “Les Miserables,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and more.

25. Nationally acclaimed conductors Christof Perick and Albert-George Schram lead the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in its popular Classics and Pops series. The Pops series brings together the Charlotte Symphony with special guests such as The Four Tops and Chris Botti each season.

26. The North Carolina Dance Theatre reaches new heights with time-honored ballets.

27. Bravo! Opera Carolina is the largest professional opera company in the Carolinas and entertains the region through outstanding operas as well as education and outreach programs. Check out their programming at the new Knight Theater.

28. The first Friday of each month, head to to historic South End’s Gallery Crawl, featuring galleries with everything from fine art photography to contemporary abstracts. Or check out NoDa’s Gallery Crawl every first and third Friday of the month with a self-guided gallery tour.

29. The Light Factory is a nonprofit arts center dedicated to exhibition and education programs promoting the power of photography and film. The Spirit Square facility offers classes throughout the year in SLR and digital photography as well as filmmaking.

30. Visit the McColl Center for Visual Art. The Center supports an active artist in residence program and their works can be viewed by the public. The Center also frequently offers lectures and artists forums.

31. Ovens Auditorium hosts traveling Broadway musicals, national touring comedy acts and popular musicians. Surrounded by its trademark fountains and rose gardens, Ovens Auditorium is truly among the finest Charlotte landmarks.

32. A primary venue for North Carolina Dance Theatre (celebrating 40+ years in Charlotte!) and Opera Carolina, the Knight Theater is an intimate setting for artistic grandeur.

33. Take a tour of Charlotte’s public art with a downloadable iPod walking tour. The Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg provides a map to accompany and shows off public art gems like Raymond Kaskey’s Sculptures on the Square and Ben Long’s frescoes.

34. Take advantage of the Bank of America Museums on Us® program on the first full weekend of every month just for being a customer of Bank of America. Each cardholder gets free general admission to the Mint Museum Uptown, Mint Museum Randolph, Levine Museum of the New South, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

35. Central Piedmont Community College celebrates the arts with the week-long Sensoria Festival each spring. With writers and visual artists ranging from novelists to landscape painters to international poets and multicultural storytellers, CPCC brings a stunning array of talent to Charlotte.

36. Each September, Freedom Park hosts Festival in the Park, bringing together more than 100,000 people to the spirited lanes of one of Charlotte’s most popular green spaces. The arts and crafts event touts more than 150 artists and nearly 1,000 entertainers. There’s also a hodgepodge of food vendors to satisfy even the pickiest eater.

37. First Night returns each New Year’s Eve for a family-friendly celebration in Center City. Musicians, dancers, actors, artists and more fill the streets during the day, and the festivities ends with a firework-filled finale at midnight.

 

Culture & History

38. Shortly after the Civil War, Charlotte exemplified what the “New South” was to become. The Levine Museum of the New South is an interactive history museum that documents this through the timeless and award-winning “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit, among others.

39. One of Charlotte’s skinniest landmarks at just 45 feet wide, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture packs a powerful punch hosting traveling and permanent works by prominent African-Americans. Look for oratory, concerts and lectures too.

40. The Billy Graham Library combines iconic memorabilia and multimedia technology to transport visitors into the life and faith of the beloved evangelist. A country kitchen and replica of Graham’s boyhood home complete this not-to-be-missed experience.

41. Delve into American history at the 11th U.S. president’s boyhood home. The President James K. Polk State Historic Site commemorates significant events during his administration, including the Mexican-American War and the annexation of California.

42. Travel back in time at Historic Latta Plantation and Nature Preserve. Once a thriving cotton plantation, Latta Plantation is now a living history farm. Experience what life was like in the North Carolina backcountry during the 19th century and visit Latta Nature Preserve for a look at natural beauty in the Carolinas.

43. Historic Brattonsville, in nearby McConnells, South Carolina, is a 775-acre living history village with 29 historic structures, a battlefield site and programs where docents “relive the past” during a variety of themed days.

44. Take in the breathtaking elegance of three historic residences at the VanLandingham Estate, Morehead Inn and The Duke Mansion, which all now serve as special event venues and bed & breakfasts.

45. Explore the Charlotte Museum of History and the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite for a glimpse of living history. Docents dressed in period attire guide guests through exhibits chronicling the 18th to 20th centuries.

46. A new addition to Center City, the Wells Fargo History Museum houses several artifacts and a real stagecoach that visitors can climb inside. Exhibits on North Carolina’s gold-mining heritage, the beginnings of Wachovia and Wells Fargo history can also be found here.

47. Visit Plaza Midwood, Charlotte's most diverse streetcar-era neighborhood. Its earliest avenues were plotted in 1903 and its newest date from after the Second World War. Buildings range from turn-of-the-century factories and bungalows to the city's most prestigious country club and thriving nightspots.

48. Don a derby and your finest green attire for the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Charlotte Goes Green Festival. Filled with bagpipers, dancers, bands and vendors with traditional eats, the happenings in Center City serve up a little something Irish for everyone.

49. You don’t have to be a Scot to enjoy the Celtic music, piping, highland dancing and plentiful food at the annual Scottish Festival and Loch Norman Highland Games each April. There’s also battle axe throwing, long bow shooting and more – talk about extreme sports!

50. The Mecklenburgers announced their freedom with a proclamation called the "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence," forever dissolving the colonists' bonds with Britain. Years later, Charlotte still celebrates every May 20 with Meck Dec Day.

51. Celebrate all things Greek at the Yiasou Greek Festival, held in September. The event is packed with cuisine, pastries, jewelry and crafts vendors – not to mention live performances that will have you shouting “Opa!” in no time.

52. The Carolina Renaissance Festival brings together over 100 purveyors of crafts, good eats and spirits each October and November. After eating and drinking, be merry with 11 stages of music and comedy shows, jousting and a lively festival village with hundreds of costumed characters.

 

Entertainment & Nightlife

53. Paint the town red at Center City’s most coveted entertainment destination, the EpiCentre. A bevy of retailers, restaurants, nightlife and more fill the open-air corridors, including the 25,000-square-foot event venue called Pavilion.

54. Blend in with the locals at Charlotte’s largest post-work party, Alive After 5. The EpiCentre hosts multiple stages of live entertainment, outside bars and a friendly, relaxing atmosphere. More live music can be found at the nearby Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s Jazz at the Bechtler each month.

55. Rock out with your favorite musical performers from spring through fall at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Charlotte’s open-air music venue attracting the nation’s hottest stars for amazing shows under the stars.

56. Two powerhouse venues in Center City put the ‘music’ in the NC Music Factory. The chandelier and red velvet-adorned Fillmore draws shows like Blues Traveler and BB King. Next door, the Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre features elevated lawn seating and a dramatic backdrop of the city skyline.

57. With top events and performances ranging from rock concerts to monster truck rallies, Bojangles Coliseum has been a Charlotte landmark since 1955.

58. Whisky River, a nightlife creation by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is located in the EpiCentre, one of Charlotte’s most popular destinations with over 20 venues sharing one very cool address. Saddle up to a belt-buckle trimmed bar or test the feisty mechanical bull.

59. Bowling just got an upgrade. After picking up a spare, StrikeCity at the EpiCentre has more projection screens and plasmas than you can count and an Italian menu worthy of a taste test. People-watch from the high-backed leather banquettes before hitting the dance floor.

60. Ready for a night on the town? Head to the Visulite Theatre for great live music, or experience a time-honored Charlotte live music venue, the Double Door Inn.

61. Savor live music or an art gallery ambiance at The Evening Muse. The Muse features original artists in a wide variety of genres. Or cross the street to take in more great live music at The Neighborhood Theatre.

62. Find inspiration with NarroWay Productions. NarroWay offers dynamic Christian musicals and dinner theater ranging from World War II dramas to Christmas pageants to Western whodunits.

63. Visit Charlotte’s historic South End neighborhood. Once a hotspot for textile mills in the 1850s, the LYNX light rail line now zooms through, a tell-tale sign that this neighborhood is on the move. Embark on a gallery crawl or sample dining and nightlife options.

64. Just on the outskirts of Uptown, the Midtown area has come alive. Metropolitan is a lively mixed-use development with condos, restaurants and shopping, also hosting the MetLive Music on the Greenway Concert Series during the spring and fall months, an after-work favorite with live jazz and swing.

 

Food & Culinary

65. Work up an appetite for Charlotte Restaurant Week, a scrumptious sensation that entices thousands to dine like royalty. Held annually in January and July, the event features countless upscale establishments offering their best appetizers, entrées and desserts for the easy-on-the pocketbook price of just $30.

66. The Taste of Charlotte food festival draws more than 150,000 people to Center City each June to experience a wide array of family activities, live music and fantastic food from the area’s hottest restaurants.

67. Get your hands dirty and your belly full at Harper’s Restaurant Group’s Get Cookin’ classes, with topics ranging from cheese making to Southern tapas, wine tastings and sustainable seafood. Get the inside scoop as the celebrated chefs at Zink American Kitchen, Upstream and Mimosa Grill share their secrets for delectable cuisine in a fun atmosphere.

68. Each fall, the Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues festival combines the likes of legendary Tar Heel BBQ from across the state with the rockin’, expressive blues that feeds our souls. A 5K Hog Jog through the streets of Center City, awards for the festival’s best BBQ and plenty more tasty eats and cool tunes round out this rip-roarin’ good time.

69. Much to the surprise of wine aficionados, North Carolina is home to more than 100 wineries, ranking seventh in the nation’s wine production. The Yadkin Valley’s temperate climate lays claim to dozens including the Swan Creek Wine Trail, which encompasses estates like Laurel Gray, Raffaldini, Shadow Springs and Dobbins Creek.

70. The Tuscan-inspired grounds of Childress Vineyards, owned by auto racing legend Richard Childress, are home to more than 65 acres of vineyards producing nine varieties ranging from Malbecs to Chardonnays. Explore the Barrel Cave’ s cascading waterfall and wine casks.

 

Shopping & Spa

71. Find some of the most sought-after, luxurious brands around at SouthPark Mall. Highlights include department stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus in addition to cult favorites like Michael Kors, Burberry, Tory Burch and Louis Vuitton.

72. A shopping destination all its own, IKEA brings modern décor and Swedish ingenuity to Charlotte with one of few stores in the Southeast. For hungry shoppers, the wallet friendly in-store cafeteria dishes up traditional Swedish meatballs and lingonberries, as well as wraps, entrées and desserts.

73. Shop at new South Charlotte open-air developments such as Blakeney and Morrison, featuring high-end boutiques peppered with designer labels and other coveted luxury goods only found this side of Manhattan. See more Charlotte shopping.

74. Some of Charlotte’s best retail therapy can be found in open-air, pedestrian-friendly shopping centers with tranquil fountains, tree-lined sidewalks and inviting eateries. At Phillips Place in South Park for instance, discover high-end boutiques, hard-to-find labels and fun finds.

75. Shop ‘til you drop at Concord Mills, a bargain hunter’s paradise with deals as far as the eye can see. Offering more than 200 stores, Concord Mills also boasts restaurants, a 24-screen AMC Theatre, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and NASCAR SpeedPark.

76. Twice a year, The Park transforms for consumer shows that draw thousands for decorating tips, one-of-a-kind finds and more. Don’t miss the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show each March and the Southern Christmas Show each November.

77. The Spa & Wellness Center at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of Center City. Besides a full menu of rejuvenating spa services, there’s also a fitness center, pool and separate men’s and women’s lounges. This luxurious urban escape is good for the environment, too – the building is LEED-certified and offers “green” perks like free parking for hybrids.

78. Indulge in the ultimate destination spa experience at The Spa at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge. The award-winning, full-service spa features a variety of natural and organic based treatments using ingredients indigenous to the Carolinas.

 

Sports & Recreation

79. Catch the NFL Carolina Panthers as they compete at Bank of America Stadium each fall.

80. Owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan, don’t miss the excitement of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats as they host the league’s brightest stars at Time Warner Cable Arena.

81. Enjoy America’s favorite pastime at Knights Stadium. Catch the Charlotte Knights as they compete against the best AAA minor-league baseball teams. Don’t forget to say hello to their mascot, Homer.

82. Don’t miss the cuts, scrapes and power plays of minor league hockey! The AHL Charlotte Checkers take to the ice each October through April at Time Warner Cable Arena.

83. The UNC Charlotte 49ers are sure to grab your “A10tion” as part of the Atlantic 10 Conference. With the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center and Dale F. Halton Arena serving as the centerpiece, the 49ers boast some of the country’s best collegiate sports teams and facilities.

84. Experience one of the world’s most unique outdoor adventure attractions at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Complete with class III-IV rapids, hiking and biking trails, one of the country’s largest climbing surfaces and a 1,100-foot Mega Zip line, the facility draws everyone from Olympic-caliber athletes to nature novices.

85. For an evening of leisurely paddling and beer tasting spring through fall, sign up for the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s monthly series, the Moonlight Micro Brews Cruise. Flatwater kayaking on the Catawba River is followed by dinner around a campfire and beer tastings from a different brewery each month. In summer, the weekly River Jam concert series offers another chance to take in outdoor live music and the Center’s laid-back vibe.

86. Home to sailboats, speedboats, pontoon boats and some impressive cruisers, Lake Norman is the largest manmade lake in the Carolinas. From spirited tie-up parties bobbing along the shoreline to a selection of dockside watering holes perfect for a leisurely afternoon, this 34-mile-long lake can’t be beat.

87. Walk, bike or jog along Uptown’s scenic 12.5-mile Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Get a taste of Charlotte’s past along with some beautiful weather with the Trail of History series of bronze statues. The first statue pays homage to Captain James Jack, famous for carrying the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to the 1775 Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia.

88. Any way you slice it, Charlotte’s got plenty of golf courses to choose from. More than 40 public ones to be exact. Whether driving the impressive wetland-shrouded 15th hole of Rocky River Golf Club or teeing off at the championship course at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, you’ll find a lot of links to your liking.

89. Giddy up! Take a horseback ride at Latta Plantation Equestrian Center. Guided trail rides and individual and group riding lessons are available here.

90. Each early May, the Wells Fargo Championship returns to the breathtaking grounds of the private 50-year old Quail Hollow Club, attracting the best and brightest talent on the PGA Tour. The course will also host the PGA Championship in 2017.

91. The CIAA Men and Women’s Basketball Tournament just can’t get enough of the Queen City! The excitement of this 100-year old NCAA tourney brings more than 150,000 fans to Time Warner Cable Arena for the much-celebrated dribbles, drives and dunks on the court.

92. The tackles and touchdowns of the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship rally football fans each year. Don’t miss one of the Southeast’s most anticipated match-ups at Bank of America Stadium, bringing ACC football fans to their feet.

93. Along with the holidays, December brings with it the highly anticipated arrival of college bowl games. And Charlotte’s home to a biggie – the Belk Bowl. Pitting a Big East rival against an ACC challenger, the game kicks off each late December at Bank of America Stadium.

 

Racing

94. Injecting some high-octane energy into Charlotte’s already substantial auto racing roots, the NASCAR Hall of Fame touts a feast for the senses to honor its heroes. Look for interactive exhibits like racing simulators and pit crew experiences in addition to unforgettable tributes to NASCAR’s legends.

95. The Richard Petty Driving Experience and NASCAR Racing Experience put you in the fast lane. Ride shotgun with a professional driver or train and get behind the wheel yourself, racing at speeds of over 160mph.

96. Celebrate spring in the Piedmont countryside with the prestigious Queen’s Cup Steeplechase, every last Saturday in April during the Charlotte area’s only horse racing event. Sundress-clad ladies and seersucker-sporting gentlemen can be found enjoying the loads of festivities during the event’s races.

97. The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is a spring ritual of speed and daring resulting in yearly additions to the book of NASCAR lore. Catch the excitement as motorsports history is written at over 180mph each May.

98. Celebrate the May races during the Food Lion Speed Street 600 Festival. Featuring stars, cars and guitars, the fest transforms the streets of Charlotte into a showcase of motorsports with nonstop entertainment, appearances by top Sprint Cup Drivers and fun for all ages.

99. Charlotte Motor Speedway, home of NASCAR’s only 600-mile race, hosts the Coca-Cola 600 each Memorial Day weekend, a week after the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

100. As the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup heats up, racing action returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway as it hosts the Bank of America 500 each October. The fifth race out of the final ten for the Sprint Championship, the Bank of America 500 promises high-speed action and excitement.

101. So you’ve zoomed through the top 100 and are still looking for more things to do? Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook – then you’ll stay connected to Charlotte with up-to-the-minute news and events from across the region. See our Facebook page!