24 Must-Visit Attractions in Charlotte, North Carolina

Freedom Park is a great green expanse in the centre of Charlotte, with a large lake, tennis courts, and batting cages; a moment of tranquility in the big city.
Freedom Park is a great green expanse in the centre of Charlotte, with a large lake, tennis courts, and batting cages; a moment of tranquility in the big city. | © William S. Kuta / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Shawndra Russell
12 November 2020

Charlotte in North Carolina is a sleek banking hub, and one of the fastest-growing cities in the US. With a renewed focus on green, urban planning, and an inspiring cultural scene the Queen City offers a range of activities and venues. Wandering the streetcar suburb of Dilworth, sampling the breweries of NoDa, or taking to water sports on Lake Norman, here are 24 of the best things to do in the blossoming city of Charlotte.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Museum, Sports Center
Map View
Interior of Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte North Carolina
© James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Even if you’ve never watched a race, the NASCAR Hall of Fame strives to be a destination for everyone. In downtown Charlotte, you’ll appreciate the high-tech displays and artifacts relating to all things stock-car racing. Go behind the scenes and live a day in the life of crew members during race week, or admire the display of more than a dozen retired race cars. For the full-throttle experience take in a race at the historic Charlotte Motor Speedway – the track hosts many premier NASCAR events each year.

Billy Graham Library

Library, Museum
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© John A Allen, Jr. / Alamy Stock Photo
Part of the reason the Billy Graham Library ranks so highly on Charlotte’s list of attractions is because the religious icon grew up just a few miles down the street. Graham was born in 1918, and today his childhood home has become a pilgrimage site for many to pay their respects. The Library is set in 20 acres (8ha) of beautiful arable land, and is designed to reflect Graham’s journey from humble beginnings on a dairy farm to life as an international missionary. A highlight of the experience is walking the 1.5-hour Journey of Faith, with its mixture of photos and interactive stops.

US National Whitewater Center

Sports Center
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© Stock Connection Blue / Alamy Stock Photo
Not many major cities can boast a world-class whitewater rafting complex just minutes away, but Charlotte can. There are loads of outdoor activities available to enjoy at this 1,300-acre (526ha) complex; have a blast swinging between trees, or biking more than 30 trails. Of course the highlight is taking to the water to experience class II-IV rapids in which US Olympic teams train. Other water sports include paddleboarding, kayaking, and deep water solo climbing, which involves climbing walls with no ropes or harness, and relying on the water to cushion your fall.

Uptown

Architectural Landmark
Map View
© Eric James / Alamy Stock Photo
Uptown is unique because it’s technically the city’s downtown. This bustling city center offers excellent shopping and serves as the nation’s second-largest financial hub, with towering skyscrapers glistening in the sun. Explore the Overstreet Mall weaving through the district connected by skywalks, then stop for drinks at one of the many buzzing cocktail bars; enjoy the sun on one of the rooftop terraces, and then take in some culture at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

Amélie's French Bakery

Bakery, Pastry Shop, Pastries, Dessert, Fast Food, $$$
Map View
© Bruce VanLoon / Alamy Stock Photo
Many people know that The Hunger Games was filmed in Charlotte, but a lesser known fact is that you can eat like the decadent people from the story’s Capitol of Panem. Just stop at Amélie’s for tea cakes, éclairs or a petit gâteau and you’ll be instantly transported to Paris. As well as divine cakes, this delightful bakery also serves desserts like chocolate mousse and pastries such as twice-baked chocolate croissants. Truly, no matter what dessert you’re craving, you can find it here.

Carowinds

Amusement Park, Park
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Carowinds, USA - August 19, 2019. Attraction nighthawk roller coaster in the theme park Carowinds on August 19, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
© Andrew Vodolazhskyi / Alamy Stock Photo
For a family fun day out, Carowinds amusement park straddles the cities of Charlotte and Fort Mill, covering nearly 400 acres (160ha) with games and rides. Your day pass includes access to the Carolina Harbor waterpark, with its slides and pools, and the 14 thrilling roller coasters which draw in upward of two million visitors each year. If you want to stay and play another day, there are campgrounds, cabins, and hotel options for sleeping over and making a full weekend of it.

Dilworth

Architectural Landmark
Map View
For a piece of cozy city history visit the Dilworth neighborhood – the first suburb in Charlotte served by the streetcar. Billed as cute and walkable, streetcars have been operating here since 1891, and it’s a charming place with a fascinating history. Keep your eyes peeled for the adorable historic bungalows, and make sure to stop into some of the boutiques and cafés you pass along the way.

Freedom Park

Park
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© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Charlotte is working hard to keep its urban sprawl in check with the help of green spaces like Freedom Park. Within its 98 acres (40ha) the park houses a large lake and several ballfields used by recreation leagues and weekend warriors. With batting cages, tennis courts, soccer fields, two playgrounds, baseball fields, two volleyball courts, and five outdoor shelters with grills, there’s plenty here to keep you, your kids, friends, and family entertained.

Discovery Place

Museum
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© Andre Jenny / Alamy Stock Photo
This museum enterprise dedicated to science and nature is cutting-edge in its interactive exhibits and events, one of which – the unique Science on the Rocks – is geared towards adults, with alcohol, themed activities, and experiments each month. There’s plenty here to entertain kids both big and small (liquid-nitrogen wine coolers anyone?) and a wealth of hands-on exhibits, labs, and an aquarium make this a fantastically entertaining day out for all.

7th Street Public Market

Market, Farm Shop, Farmers' Market, American, Street Food, $$$
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Charlotte has lots of farmers markets, but this unique indoor venue merges the energy of fresh produce stalls with the convenience of a central Uptown location. It celebrates the diverse regional food cultures of the Carolinas and helps support food artisans, all while selling frankly incredible food.

Lake Norman

Natural Feature
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Boat in Lake Norman, seen from Jetton Park, in Cornelius, North Carolina.
© Jon Bilous / Alamy Stock Photo
This enormous lake sits just outside of the city and has long attracted NASCAR superstar residents to its 520mi (836km) of pristine shoreline. Water sports take over the waves during the warm months, with fishing charters, brightly-colored kayaks, and boats of all sizes zipping over the waves. Created between 1959 and 1964 as part of the construction of the Cowans Ford dam, it’s the largest man-made body of freshwater in North Carolina – something to ponder while you’re splashing around on a hot day.

Mint Museum

Building, Museum
Map View
© Rose-Marie Murray / Alamy Stock Photo
Charlotte has a number of specialty museums, and the Mint has the distinction of being North Carolina’s first art museum. As a result it has one of the largest collections in the southeast, while the building itself is a gem of modern architecture stretching to 145,000sqft (13,470sqm). With a range of temporary and permanent exhibitions arranged over five floors, there’s much for you to feast your eyes on.

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Building, Museum
Map View
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Another museum that should be on your radar is the iconic Bechtler, which houses art from some of the world’s most renowned artists including Picasso, Warhol, and Giacometti. You might be lucky enough to find your new favorite painting hanging here, especially as many of the works have been held in private collections for generations, and are often viewed here by the public for the first time. Like the Mint, the building itself has architectural significance, and was designed by the great Swiss architect Mario Botta.

Good Food on Montford

Restaurant, Authentic, $$$
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Considered a top restaurant in Charlotte Good Food on Montford was a contender for James Beard’s best new restaurant award in its first year. Since then it’s earned many accolades and nominations, including for best chef. The wait can be long during peak times, since it doesn’t take reservations, but thankfully it does use the Yelp Waitlist (NoWait) app. We recommend the catch of the day – no matter what it is, it will always be delicious.

South End Brewery District

Brewery
Map View
Each Charlotte neighborhood has a personality worth getting to know, and for beer-lovers the hip South End area can’t be beaten. You’ll find a string of breweries and two cideries here, along with food trucks, cute shops, and live music. You can easily walk between the various stops, so it’s a great option for a beer crawl if no one’s keen to be designated driver.

NoDa Arts District

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Solstice Tavern, NoDa district, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.
© Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo
Short for North Davidson Street, a visit to NoDa is a must if you’re keen to tap into the local arts scene. Charlotte’s quirkiest neighborhood has colorful murals and buildings that make for a pleasant walk between stops at breweries, tattoo studios, and exhibitions. Gallery crawls are held bi-monthly, so you can get a taste of the offerings from the many arts venues. Film screenings, block parties, and other community gatherings regularly take place; it’s no wonder this place is known as the city’s cultural epicenter.

AvidXchange Music Factory

Theater, Theatre
Map View
Charlotte has a music venue to suit every taste and atmosphere, and the AvidXchange (formerly NC) Music Factory contains nearly all of them. Nightclubs, an outdoor amphitheatre, and dive bars: there’s something here for everyone. The complex houses 11 different music and comedy spaces, including the Fillmore which is modeled on the iconic venue in San Francisco that’s hosted some of the most famous bands in the world, including the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden
Map View
© National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
For a bit of nature to balance out Charlotte’s towering skyscrapers, the beautiful Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden has a lake, more than a dozen beautiful gardens, and manicured paths that’ll have you feeling like you’re miles away from the city. A full calendar of events and the opportunity to soak up a bit of peace and quiet has long been a draw for locals, along with 110 acres (45ha) of gardens to explore, including a children’s garden, a conservatory of tropical plants and orchids, and several ornamental fountains.

Carolina Raptor Center

Zoo
Map View
© Rob Walley / Alamy Stock Photo
The largest bird of prey treatment facility in the US, this special center rehabilitates injured raptors, and treats around 900 patients annually, including eagles, hawks, and owls. Around 35,000 visitors come to walk the fascinating Raptor Trail each year, a short path that features over 30 birds of prey, including the peregrine falcon, vulture, magpie, and barn owl. The center’s mission is to educate and inspire – so come here to experience life on the wing.

Charlotte Douglas Airport Overlook

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Plane nerds assemble. The overlook at Charlotte’s international airport is an underrated yet interesting place to check out. It’s the sixth-busiest airport in the world – great if you like to watch the non-stop takeoffs and landings – and plane spotters will delight in being able to see all the latest airplane models and features.

Lake Wylie

Natural Feature
Map View
sunset at lake wylie. Image shot 12/2013. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re in Charlotte in the fall, Lake Wylie should be at the top of your list. This area has stunning fall foliage, and the forest looks as if it’s been painted red, gold and brown, made doubly striking by its reflection in the surface of the water. The man-made lake is perfect for boating, paddleboarding, swimming, and any other water-based activity you can think of. A beautiful lakeshore, plenty of hiking paths, and play areas for the kids make this a hit with all the family.

Levine Museum of the New South

Museum
Map View
© Vespasian / Alamy Stock Photo
On a mission to communicate the history of the South since the Civil War to as many people as possible, the Levine Museum is well worth visiting if you’re in Charlotte. Exhibits here focus on life in the North Carolina Piedmont following the American Civil War, up to the present day. Founded in 1991, the museum features permanent and temporary exhibitions – and also has a nice gift shop.

Optimist Hall

Building
Map View

A funky food hall offering delicious fare of all kinds, the Optimist Hall is a great hangout. Previously called Highland Park Gingham Mill, Optimist Hall used to be Charlotte’s largest textile mill, and was also the birthplace of Spanx. Now it offers boutique stationery and cute pet products, as well as every kind of delicious food under the sun, including dumplings, gelato, hamburgers, and grilled cheese. Truly the happiest place on earth.

Metalmorphosis

Art Gallery
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Sometimes, no matter what the question, art is the answer – and nowhere is this more true than at Metalmorphosis. Commissioned by Count Arco and conceived by Czech artist David Černý (whose weird and wonderful sculptures are dotted all over Prague) its home is the Whitehall Corporate Center. Consisting of stainless steel plates, it’s a rotating, morphing, spitting masterpiece. The entire head (split into seven segments) rotates seemingly at random. Sometimes the sculpture looks like a head, or like a huge amorphous blob of metal – and then at other times like something else entirely.

Additional reporting by Alice Johnston.

These recommendations were updated on November 12, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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