How to Spend 48 Hours in Charlotte
In two days, sample great food, art, beer and theater at some of Charlotte’s newest additions and historic musts.
by Virginia Brown
Picture it: you’ve only got a couple of days to see and explore the Queen City. It can feel overwhelming with all the options to choose from. What do you see first? Charlotte, with its bustling growth, takes longer than 48 hours to fully explore, but these newcomer hot spots and historic must-sees are a good place to start. (Don’t have a car? No worries. Charlotte’s light rail system affords visitors easy transportation across the area’s popular neighborhoods.)
Morning: Rise & Shine
Start in booming South End and fuel up at ROOTS Cafe, which serves breakfast all day. The “Breakfast Sammy” comes with corn cob smoked bacon or not-to-miss North Carolina Neese’s Country Sausage, two fried eggs and gooey cheddar on a biscuit. Grab a quality cup of joe at Not Just Coffee, a local go-to with a cozy satellite location in nearby historic Atherton Mill and Market. Spend some time perusing this former textile mill creatively reimagined into a shopping market that now offers top retailers like Anthropologie and Warby Parker, plus smaller shops with handmade independent designers’ goods.
Lunchtime: Fill 'Er Up
For lunch, options range from the inventive, all-raw Living Kitchen to relative newcomer Lincoln’s Haberdashery, which serves up creative sandwiches like the “El Wapo Gallo Blanco,” served with poached chicken salad, Sriracha, pickled jalapeno, bacon, cucumber and cilantro. Another top option is Hawkers Asian Street Fare, known for its sharable, small-bite fusion options in a low-key, buzzy atmosphere. Or, step back in time to 1962 and pop into Price’s Chicken Coop for a quarter-dark fried chicken meal from the counter. Many Charlotteans consider this the best fried chicken in the city, if only for its nostalgic vibe.
Afternoon: Art in Uptown
Hop on the LYNX Light Rail blue line and, in just a few stops, you’ve arrived in Uptown. Along a one-mile strip of Tryon Street, Charlotte offers a variety of museums and galleries to explore. Make a stop at the Uptown branch of The Mint Museum and peruse the wide array of American, contemporary and European art. The Mint opened in 1936 as the state’s first art museum, housed in an original U.S. Mint building a few miles down Randolph Road. (Photo op: Don’t miss your chance to snap a photo with artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s iconic Firebird statue, which locals call the “Disco Chicken,” located in front of The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.)
Evening: A Night in NoDa
Continue on the light rail and make your way over to NoDa’s arts district (NoDa is short for North Davidson, the main street that runs through the area.) This one-time grungy arts district has seen great growth over the years. And while it still angles toward the artistic, new breweries and restaurants are popping up everywhere, mingling well with the established music venues and dive bars.
Stop into Charlotte native Chef Chris Coleman’s latest venture, The Goodyear House for a few small bites. The restaurant is just two blocks from the 35th Street light rail station and once served as a 1900s textile mill home. Go with your gut and order the “shaken fry bag,” a brown bag filled with crispy fries doused with your choice of three seasonings, shaken until irresistible. Finish off your visit with a creative craft cocktail or glass of wine. Next, walk over and catch a live music show at the intimate Evening Muse or the rocker-friendly Neighborhood Theatre. Both venues are classic mainstays of the NoDa neighborhood and book local, regional and even national acts most nights.
If you’re lucky enough to have another day in the Queen City, don’t worry – there’s still plenty left to experience.
Morning: A Stroll in Myers Park
While Charlotte is well-known for NASCAR, growth and development, there’s plenty of history to be explored in some of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. For a slow-paced (and free!) stroll through a peaceful garden, head over to the historic Duke Mansion, tucked away in the coveted Myers Park neighborhood. Built in 1915 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion is the one-time estate of James B. Duke, for whom Duke University and Charlotte-headquartered Duke Energy was named. Now, the Duke Mansion serves as a bed and breakfast and event space. To get there, take a leisurely drive along Queens Road West for a beautiful look at the Queen City’s enviable oak canopy.
Afternoon: Long Live Lunch
Nearby in the Elizabeth neighborhood, you’ll find Viva Chicken, a thriving local Peruvian chicken joint. Go for the Inca Wrap or Tacu Bowl and fill up for the rest of your afternoon of exploring. In need of some energy? Grab a to-go cup of coffee at Earl’s Grocery just down the street, and while you’re there, pick up some local goodies, too.
Afternoon: Pit Stop in Plaza Midwood
Charlotte’s craft-brewing scene has exploded in recent years, with both local breweries popping up as well as national breweries opening new locations. Grab a Juicy Jay IPA at Legion Brewing in funky Plaza Midwood. With what time you have left, walk around this fun area, known for its quirky shops like Common Market and Boris & Natasha.
Evening: Dinner and a Show
Back in Myers Park, treat yourself to an elevated dining experience at Stagioni, a creative Italian seasonal restaurant located in a charming home. Go with one of their tasty pizzas, accompanied by cut-it-yourself pizza shears. Once you’ve had your fill, take in a show at the beloved Theatre Charlotte, which has delivered high-quality local theater since 1941. Be sure to grab a throwback box of popcorn from the antique popcorn machine.
While you may feel like you’ve seen all Charlotte has to offer over this 48-hour period, don’t be fooled. The Queen City has so much to see and do and you’ve only scratched the surface. Go ahead and start planning your trip back.