Get Your Culture Fix at Charlotte's Top Museums
Discover art, history, science, racing and nature at the Queen City’s award-winning museums.
by Jen McGivney
To you, fine art may be a painting by Pablo Picasso or Edgar Degas. Maybe it’s the architecture of a historic home or a walk-through pavilion surrounded by butterflies. Or perhaps your idea of art is a ’67 Corvette. Charlotte has dozens of museums celebrating beauty of all kinds. Find a few that offer your favorite art, and enjoy an outing of inspiration and education.
You’ve seen the Firebird. Step inside to discover more. Explore the work of masters of modern art, including Picasso, Miro, Calder, and Degas. The building is a stunning work of art itself, only the second in the country designed by postmodern Swiss architect Mario Botta.
The artwork here is more than painting and photography. It’s film. Theater. Dance. Literature. Lectures. Discussions. All of it celebrates the contributions of artists of African-American and African descent.
Housed in an old neo-Gothic church, this museum not only introduces you to new art, but it introduces you to the artists themselves. Resident artists frequently open their studios to the public, offering a glimpse into the artistic process.
In 1936, this became North Carolina’s first art museum. Today it offers a wide variety of art, from ancient American art to European decorative arts, housed in a former U.S. Mint building in a beautiful Eastover setting.
Craft and design (including glass, wood art and jewelry) and contemporary art (from paintings to sculptures to video) shine at this beautiful museum. It’s close enough to other Uptown arts venues to create a day of cultural exploration. (Purchase the $20 Levine Center for the Arts Pass, which grants you access to four of them for 48 hours.)
Come to this Uptown gallery to admire art, to learn more about it through conversations with artists, or even to bring a piece home with the help of in-home consultants.
With an architectural design inspired by the dairy barn where Billy Graham grew up, this museum holds multimedia exhibits and personal items that teach about the man behind the pulpit.
Aviation enthusiasts can get behind the controls of flight simulators and see historic aircraft up close, including the “Miracle on the Hudson” passenger jet that crash-landed on the Hudson River in 2009.
Learn what life was like here centuries ago for residents—including the Catawba Nation, European immigrants, and African-Americans—through housing replicas, artifacts, maps, and historic exhibits.
Learn about Gaston County’s history during its textile years through exhibits that include a 19th century hotel, horse-drawn vehicles and—most impressively—one of Thomas Edison’s original electric generators.
This museum doesn’t only explore our city’s past; it shows the intersection of past, present and future. Exhibits and events present an inclusive and thorough examination of the lives and events in Charlotte.
This modest museum in downtown Matthews offers a glimpse into life there during its mill days. The museum itself is an artifact: the Massey-Clark House, built in 1880, is one of the oldest in town.
Learn about the evolution of language through the history of alphabets—including cuneiform, Native American alphabets, braille and even music—in this museum, created by a Christian nonprofit dedicated to Bible translation.
Listen, watch, and learn about great musical performers and composers with North Carolina roots, like Charlie Daniels, Shirley Caesar and James Taylor.
Step inside an 1889 bank, sit in an old stagecoach, or try your hand at Morse code. This small Uptown museum offers a fun peek into the city’s early banking years.
To kids, it’s all about play—race cars, experiments, art projects! But adults know the secret: Kids here are learning valuable lessons in science, health and creativity while they’re having fun.
Budding naturalists can take kid-friendly hikes, walk in a butterfly pavilion, build forts and maybe even pet a snake in this nature museum adjacent to Freedom Park.
Explore an indoor rainforest. Try a 3D printer. Touch a starfish or crab. This hands-on museum makes science come alive for kids of all ages, even us big kids.
At this hands-on play place, kids can take part in real-life theater productions and other innovative educational programming. A large collection of picture, bilingual, fiction and other books bring imaginations to life.
Step inside this 1774 home to discover what life was like for the Alexander family in the 18th century. The house has been restored to its 18th century interior, and the nearby log kitchen has been reconstructed on its original site. It’s also the oldest surviving structure in our county.
With 52 acres, this living museum offers a peek into life on a cotton plantation in the 1800s for planters, slaves, and settlers. Get a guided tour of the plantation home, step inside a reconstructed slave cabin, and see farm animals, like sheep, chickens and pigs.
When it was built in 1815 as the home of Archibald Frew, this yellow-trimmed home was so extravagant it was known as “Frew’s Folly.” Now this home and its gardens are open to the public for tours.
During Polk’s presidency, America expanded its territory by a third, for the first time extending from Atlantic to Pacific. This site teaches about Polk’s life—which began here in Pineville—as well as this monumental chapter in history.
The first gold discovered in the U.S. was discovered here, and people continue to come here to learn about the history of mining—and some even pan for gold themselves.
Whether your idea of a classic car is a 1922 Model T, a ’67 Corvette, or the ’04 Monte Carlo driven by Will Ferrell in “Talladega Nights,” this car museum near Charlotte Motor Speedway will have something that catches your eye.
From its early years in moonshine running to the high-tech racing of today, the story of racing is on display here. With over 150 cars—including some driven by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt—it boasts the largest collection of privately owned NASCAR and vintage racing cars in the world.
With its grand opening in spring 2019, this museum will honor all things Mustang: the history, the racing, and the specialty builds. Exhibits will rotate regularly, bringing new displays about this iconic car.
A must for NASCAR fans, this large Uptown museum offers all kinds of entertainment and education about the sport, including hands-on exhibits, a theater, historic cars and racing simulators.
The NCARHOF is partly a museum that teaches the history of racing and partly a gallery that showcases the beauty of the cars. Exhibits include both drag racing and stock cars.
Learn about the contributions that the Petty family has made to motorsports—in design, construction, and safety—in the place where it began. One exhibit is inside the shed where Lee Petty designed his first car in 1949.
Begin inside the center, learning about the region’s plants and animals in the discovery hall. Then venture outside to the butterfly gardens, bird feeding stations and nature preserve trails to interact with nature firsthand.
Learn about natural history through exhibits on wildlife and habitats, gaze up at the stars in a planetarium, and explore outdoors on trails, a wildlife garden and even a Stone Age heritage site.