Airport Guide: Best Places to Shop, Dine & Relax
Whether you’re taking off, landing or have some time in between flights, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a destination to discover in its own right.
by Kristen Moore
Airy and open corridors, signature white rocking chairs and friendly faces greet you as you walk through Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the fifth busiest airport in operations and sixth in passenger traffic in the world. As you explore the airport, which serves as the second-largest hub for American Airlines, you’ll quickly discover its offerings are fit for the queen. From casual to high-end shopping, local to international eats, and amazing amenities to inspiring art pieces, there is something to discover around every corner and in every concourse.
And with Destination CLT, the airport’s ongoing $3.1 billion multiphase capital investment program, visitors are likely to find something new during every visit. The project has already significantly boosted the offerings and experiences at the airport, including terminal renovations and enhancements, expanded roadways, a new runway, additional gates to accommodate expanding air service, and new retail and culinary options. And more is on the way, too. Construction is underway for the final phases of a major terminal lobby and roadway expansion (which includes the re-unveiling of the beloved Queen Charlotte statue), new sky bridges and tunnels, and 10 additional gates in Concourse A. And planning phases have kicked off for the expansion of Concourses B and C.
No matter where you’re going, coming from or what concourse you’re in, here’s how to experience the royal treatment at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Eat & Drink
Move over grab-and-go sandwiches and bottled drinks. Charlotte Douglas International Airport takes the definition of “airport food” to a new level from the first steps out of the security line. In the Main Atrium, travelers can’t miss 1897 Market, an expansive full-service restaurant and shop featuring locally sourced products and a globally inspired menu. For a more casual eating experience, pop by Brookwood Farms BBQ for Carolina barbecue or Salsarita’s, a fast-casual Mexican grill born in Charlotte. If you only have time for drinks, grab a local beer at First Flight Bar or enjoy a wine flight at Beaudevin.
Relaxation is the name of the game when you are traveling through Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Stake out a seat in one of the rocking chairs in the Main Atrium and admire the “First in Flight” mobile art installation hanging above Hissho Sushi and the First in Flight bar. Then stop in for a massage at XpresSpa, a shoeshine at Executive Shoeshine, a nap at Minute Suites, or reflection time at the Interfaith Chapel. The Main Atrium is also home to the USO Lounge for military personnel, retirees and their families as well as the International Currency Exchange desk.
Concourse A & A Connector
Eat & Drink
Enjoy local eats and craft beer at The Taproom and Uptown Minibar in Concourse A. Other local watering holes have opened spots in the airport, including Charlotte favorite NoDa Brewing Company, where patrons can sample 11 different pours including ever-popular picks like Hop, Drop ‘n Roll and Jam Session. Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. is serving up local whiskey at The Broken Spoke. A Starbucks is also located in the concourse in case you need your caffeine fill before boarding.
Stock up on snacks and supplies before your flight at Charlotte News & Gifts or Charlotte’s Landing. Stop by the TripAdvisor store to grab a book from the “Read & Return” shelf, where you can buy it, read it and return it for a 50% refund. If you forgot any makeup, lotion or soap, stop by The Body Shop to grab what you need or peruse the products.
The No. 1 must-do if you’re in Concourse A – especially if you have a long layover – is to check out The Club CLT between gates 21 and 29. Opened in early 2022, The Club CLT is a 4,800-square-foot lounge featuring a full-service bar and restaurant, self-serve drinks, and useful amenities like a shower, work pods, family spaces and private restrooms. It’s open to any passengers no matter what airline with a $45 day pass through the Priority Pass network or with participation in the AAA Members Reward program.
If you’re more in the mood for walking, create your own art tour through Concourse A:
Gate A1 – “Connections CLT” by artist/photographer Ben Premeaux features photos of Charlotte locals that represent the paradox of contemporary life.
Gate A3 – “Playful Race of Life Patterns” by artist Jonathan Grauel features paintings that represent the joy of travel intertwined with important pieces of Charlotte’s history like textiles and NASCAR.
Gate A4 – “Texture of Time in Flight” also by Grauel and the same style as its neighboring art piece features patterns of energy and rest that represent travel using shapes and designs from Charlotte’s past.
Gate A6 – “Walk Together Children” by Charlotte native and folk artist Nellie Ashford shows children of all ethnicities coming together on the journey of life.
Gate A7 – “Honoring All Teachers,” also by Ashford, tells the story of people and places in her city that are easily forgotten as the city grows.
A Connector – “Interconnected” by artist Refik Anadol is a 2,147-square-foot LED media wall that brings the complex data of airport movement (think takeoffs, landings, people, baggage) to life through colorful visuals.
Gates A21 & A22 – Anadol also installed two live visual art pieces in these locations featuring the same data as “Interconnected” presented in a different way.
Eat & Drink
Head to Bojangles for Cajun fried chicken, biscuits and all the fixins – and don’t sleep on the Bo Sauce for dipping. This Charlotte original is a fast food favorite in the Carolinas and beyond. If you have the need for speed, stop into the NASCAR-themed Stock Car Cafe for a meal and beer. The Charlotte area is full of NASCAR history and experiences. In fact, the first race in NASCAR’s top series was held at the former Charlotte Speedway in 1949. A Starbucks is also located in Concourse B for pre-flight coffee.
Based on qualifying memberships, class of service or AAdvantage® status, you may have access to American Airlines Admirals Club®, a private lounge with complimentary food and drinks, a full-service bar and free Wi-Fi. If you aren’t a member, take some time to explore the art on display in Concourse B:
Gate B3 – “Journey 2” by artist Ráed Al-Rawi evokes the surreal, dream-like experience we have when we travel, further brought to life in the landscape of North Carolina’s beaches.
Gate B4 – Also by Al-Rawi, “Journey 1” is a similar piece but set in the North Carolina mountains.
Gate B7 – “Queens of Catawba” by artist Nico Amortegui is an ode to the culture and history of Charlotte’s people.
Gate B10 – “We Are All On The Same Plane” by Amortegui features a mermaid that symbolizes love, overseas travel and our coexistence as humans.
Eat & Drink
Enjoy a juicy burger and cocktail from Charlotte-born Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar or grab some crab cakes of other seafood favorites from Phillips Famous Seafood. You’ll also find a Starbucks here to help hit your caffeine quota for the day.
Make a quick stop at Charlotte News & Gifts, On the Square Gifts & News or News2You for snacks, drinks, local gifts and Charlotte souvenirs. Swing by The Scoreboard for game day apparel for your favorite Carolina teams.
Concourse C is home to one of American Airlines’ largest Admirals Clubs®. The private space offers complimentary food and drinks, a full-service bar and complimentary Wi-Fi for qualifying members. Travelers can also take a quick walk through the concourse for a mini art tour:
Gate C4 – “We Are” by artist Amy Bagwell is a colorful collage with the words “our days are made of each other,” representing how important people are to each day of our lives.
Gate C7 – “Our Days,” also by Bagwell, is another collage with the words “we are made of our days,” signifying that every moment is a part of the life we are living, including the time we spend in transit.
Gate C10 – “Interplay I” by local artist Ruth Ava Lyons incorporates stylized flight patterns into the artwork, illustrating our connectedness and balance with nature.
Gate C15 – “Interplay II,” also by Lyons, is an extension of her first piece of art but with different representations of nature.
D/E Connector & The Plaza
Eat & Drink
Head to The Plaza food court for Bojangles, a beloved Charlotte institution whose first location opened in the city in 1977, or Shake Shack for a tasty burger, fries and shake. Grab a beer to pair with your food from Asheville favorite Wicked Weed Brewing, whose airport spot is the first Charlotte-based location of the brewery.
The corridor leading to Concourses D and E feels like you're in a high-end shopping mall. Get a new outfit at Johnston & Murphy, Brooks Brothers or Spanx. Make a stop at Kiehl’s, MAC or The Body Shop for cosmetics and other body care products. Pop into Pandora for a new piece of jewelry or a gift for someone special. And you’re sure to find any last-minute tech or personal items you need at Charlotte Supply Co. or iStore.
The luxurious American Express Centurion Lounge is hidden away on an upper level of the airport near the intersection of Concourses D and E. Local chef and James Beard Award nominee Gregory Collier is at the helm of its kitchen. The 13,000-square-foot lounge, which is only accessible to qualifying members, also features a full bar, personal workspaces, a family room, high-speed Wi-Fi and more. If you’re not a member, you can still treat yourself in this area of the airport with a manicure at XpresSpa, a refresh of your shoes at Executive Shoeshine, or a moment of quiet at Minute Suites. Be sure to look up when you walk through The Plaza to see “Loops” by kinetic artist Christian Moeller, who created this moving 3D abstract metal installation that’s inspired by the white vapor trails airplanes leave behind in the sky.
Eat & Drink
Many international flights depart from Concourse D. Before you leave the country, enjoy a local beer and pub fare from Carolina Beer Co. If you’d rather grab something to-go, stop by Ciao Bakery & Cafe or The Local. There is also a Starbucks to get your caffeine fix before a long day of travel.
Before you head to your sunny travel location, make sure you’re prepared with sunglasses from Shades of Time. Enjoy tax-savings with goods from 3Sixty Duty Free & More. Another TripAdvisor store is located in Concourse D, where you can partake in the “Read & Return” program: buy a book, read it and return it for a 50% refund.
Concourse D is home to one of the airport’s only Currency Exchange International locations. As you walk through, don’t miss “Vulcan’s Gate,” a colorful abstract acrylic painting on canvas by artist Herb Jackson.
Eat & Drink
A 34,000-square-foot expansion of Concourse E opened in summer 2022 with new amenities and more offerings on the way, including popular local craft brewery Sycamore Brewing and fast-casual restaurant PDQ (both opening soon.) Concourse E is also home to Captain Jack’s Tavern, a restaurant and brewery concept from The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, featuring popular brews including the namesake Captain Jack and seasonals like Mecktoberfest. And a must-visit spot is Whisky River, founded by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. It’s a great pick when you’re looking for elevated bar food in a fun atmosphere. A Starbucks is also located in Concourse E.
Charlotte News & Gifts is your go-to for drinks, snacks, souvenirs or any personal items you may have forgotten for your trip.
Near Gates E38 and E39, look up to find 29 suspended blown glass sculptures adorning the ceiling. The installation titled “Antinomies” by artist Jonathan Michael David consists of 5,000 pieces of blown glass that are illuminated by lights that change color every four hours.
Eat & Drink
If you’re hungry while you’re waiting for your ride or getting your baggage after arriving from an international flight before re-entering security, there are a few places where you can enjoy a quick bite to eat in Baggage Claim including Charlotte Bistro or Farmers Market.
Find snacks and other essentials at Smart N Go Market, or enjoy a sweet treat from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
As you wait for your bags, don’t miss “Postcards from North Carolina,” a series of six murals in cut aluminum highlighting features of the state including the Charlotte skyline, the mountains and the coast. Then stop by the Visitor Info Desk to get a rundown from the experts about all there is to do and see in the Charlotte area and be sure to grab a free Charlotte City Guide to help you along the way.
If you have a layover that’s four hours or longer, plan a short adventure to one of these nearby hot spots:
Just west of the airport, Belmont is the epitome of small-town charm. Peruse local shops and then enjoy a meal at popular spots like Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, started by the Jonas Brothers’ father, Kevin Jonas Sr., or Heirloom Restaurant, a farm-to-fork fine dining restaurant that brings the flavors of the Carolinas to life.
Enjoy discounted prices at more than 100 stores at this outdoor outlet mall, featuring favorites like Adidas, Coach, Gap, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Nike, Old Navy, Polo Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley and more.
This year-round local market is one of the largest in the Charlotte area and closest to the airport. With five buildings, you’ll find everything from produce, meat, dairy products, and baked goods to fresh-cut flowers, handmade crafts and local products.
Home to the largest man-made whitewater river in the world, this outdoor adventure center is a one-of-a-kind experience in Charlotte. Get a day pass and squeeze in as many land, flatwater and whitewater activities as you can.