Free and Cheap Things to Do in Charlotte
Here are the tips, deals and discounts that prove the Queen City is both fun and affordable.
by Rosa Sprinkle
Budget friendly? Never fear. Charlotte has plenty of activities that don't cost a dime. We've curated a list of free and cheap things to do in the city. Many options listed here are priced under $10, keeping your focus on the memories.
Save on top museums and attractions with the Explore CLT Pass.
1. Charlotte is home to farmers markets both large and small. From the airport to Uptown, Dilworth to Camp North End, find the market nearest to you and discover the season’s freshest fruits and vegetables, flowers, plants and local crafts.
2. For a more hands-on experience with your fruit and veg, there are many area farms and orchards that offer pick-your-own opportunities. Hunter Farm in Weddington, Hodges Family Farm in East Charlotte, Wise Acres Organic Farm in Indian Trail, The Ivy Place in Lancaster and Windy Hill Orchard in Fort Mill are just a few of the places you can pick tomatoes, apples, pumpkins, berries and more.
4. Take advantage of the deals found through Explore Charlotte Marketplace for 1-, 2- and 3-day passes offering discounted entry to museums, gardens and the Raptor Center and discounts on beer and merchandise at various breweries.
5. Many of Charlotte’s finest museums offer free days to tour. Wednesday Night Live features Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and The Harvey B. Gantt Center and often includes live entertainment and programming.
6. Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries host free events such as family storytimes, author lectures and film screenings. Search by location to find an event that piques your interest.
8. Charlotte has a plethora of parks. Whether you’re looking for playgrounds or pickle ball courts, nature trails or dog runs, you can find the one that fits your fancy and make a day of the outdoors.
9. When the days are long and hot, nothing cools off quite like the inside at a bowling alley. Kids are eligible for free summertime bowling at Sports Connection Charlotte and Stars and Strikes Concord.
10. You can laugh until your ribs ache and not bust your budget when you take a class or attend a show put on by CATCH Improv.
11. Test your knowledge at free trivia. Brewers at 4001 Yancey has music bingo on Mondays, Free Range Brewing hosts trivia on Tuesdays and Rhino Market in NoDa has music bingo on Wednesdays and general trivia on Thursdays.
12. Have yourself a Light Rail Day. Start anywhere along the line and hop off for easy access to some of Charlotte’s most happening neighborhoods. Hop back on to keep exploring.
13. Grab your bike, scooter or running shoes and use the CLT Trail Guide to navigate Charlotte’s greenways and trails full of wildlife, history and sculptures.
14. See where some of your local television shows are made by taking a PBS Charlotte Studio Tour.
16. Visit the Faerie Village and create your own faerie houses and forts at Latta Nature Preserve along the Audubon Trail.
17. Enjoy live music at one of the many free concerts and music shows Charlotte has to offer during the summer.
18. Pack a basket and blanket and find a perfect picnic spot for you and your friends, family or special sweetheart.
19. Gather your team and choose a night to test your knowledge, as Charlotte boasts multiple Trivia Nights throughout the city, including Mondays at Sir Edmond Halley’s, Tuesdays at Common Market South End and Wednesdays at Tipsy Burro.
20. Choose your own adventure on the U.S. Whitewater Center Adventure Trail and pay only the parking fee for a full day of fun.
21. Bring your mountain bike or hiking shoes and explore the beautiful 2,100 acres of Anne Springs Close Greenway.
22. For just a few dollars, enjoy a night of live music at The Evening Muse on Monday Open Mic Night.
23. Mingle with the alpacas and take selfies with the llamas on a tour of Good Karma Ranch.
24. Lend a hand by volunteering. Organizations like HandsOn Charlotte and Share Charlotte offer hundreds of opportunities, searchable by interests, locations and skills, that connect you with causes that need a hand.
25. Treat yourself to gardens full of lush flowers, bushes and trees, all planted to attract birds at Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary.
26. You don’t need to lay out a bunch of bills to have a good time at Pins Mechanical Company. Many activities (patio pong, giant Jenga, skee-ball and arcade games, to name a few) are always free.
27. Retrace Billy Graham’s dynamic journey from humble farm boy to “America’s Pastor” at the Billy Graham Library.
28. Explore the cool mines and try your hand at panning for gold at Reed Gold Mine.
29. Take a guided tour of the James K. Polk Historic Site, including log cabins, nature trail and 18th century cemetery, as you learn about our country’s 11th president.
30. Take the kids to the library created just for them. ImaginOn has activity spaces that encourage kids of all ages to explore and learn.
31. A popular spot for families, photographers and plane enthusiasts, the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Overlook will give you a free front-row seat to watch airplanes take off and land.
32. Explore all 10 acres of one of Charlotte’s prettiest outdoor gardens at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, complete with a sensory garden and gigantic orchids.
33. Many breweries in the Charlotte area have started offering free tours for a behind-the-scenes look. Find foeders, barrels and fermenters and become an aficionado of Charlotte’s favorite beverage.
35. Dig deeper into Charlotte’s history and learn how residents influenced the American Revolution on a Charlotte Liberty Walk.
37. Charlotte hosts many parades and festivals that are free or low-cost. Ones not-to-miss are Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade, Durag Fest, Festival of India, Festival in the Park and Yiasou Greek Festival.
38. There’s always something interesting happening at Camp North End. This 76-acre converted industrial complex hosts regular vendors, cafes and art installations along with pop-up art, markets, food trucks and festivals. It’s free to wander around, play games and snap pictures, so take your time taking in the sights and history of this unique campus.
40. Take a Joy Ride, a pedal-assist electric bike that makes exploring easier. Zip along one of the many nearby sections of the Carolina Thread Trail, tour the beautiful Johnson C. Smith University campus, meander through Uptown or wind your way through Freedom Park.
41. Put on your best walking shoes and learn about Charlotte on foot by joining a Walking Tour.
42. Mini Golf at Frankie’s Fun Park is entertaining for kids and full of nostalgia for grown-ups. Cost is just $10 per player - with children 3 and under playing for free when accompanied by a paying adult.
43. Pickleball is rising in popularity for good reason. It’s fun, active and low cost. Because of this popularity, Mecklenburg County has added many pickleball courts to its public parks that are open to people of all skill levels.
44. Another feature Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation keeps improving on is its free nature centers. Check out the brand new Quest at Latta Nature Preserve and Stevens Creek Nature Center that join the ranks of McDowell Park and Reedy Creek Park. Don’t forget to explore the trails surrounding the centers to put newfound knowledge into practice.
46. Wander the McGill Rose Garden while enjoying a glass of wine or coffee from Rosie’s Wine Bar. This hidden gem tucked off North Davidson Street offers respite and relaxation amidst blooming vines and bushes.
47. The Schiele Museum of Natural History & Planetarium in Gastonia is one of the most informative and affordable museums in the region. Admission is under $10 for adults and youth and provides entry to indoor and outdoor exhibits. A membership brings the cost per visit down even more and allows free entry into science centers across the country through the ASTC reciprocal program.
49. Get a crew together for some high-energy laser tag. Games at Frankie’s Fun Park are just $9 per person and a two-story laser tag match is only $34 for a four-person team at Stars and Strikes in Concord.
50. More friendly, communal games can be played at any of several Game Night meetup groups held at various locations throughout Charlotte. Most meetups are free or the low cost of a soda, beer or appetizer.