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A local’s ultimate guide to visiting Charlotte, North Carolina

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement Dubbed the Queen City, Charlotte is a metropolitan destination in North Carolina full of craft breweries, colorful street art, and quality barbecue. I've lived in the city since 2007, and after exploring every neighborhood, I've compiled a list of must-visit hotels, sites, and eateries from across the city. Things to know before you go COVID-19 PROTOCOL: As of August 5, 50% of the population in Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is) was fully vaccinated. While there are no mask mandates or travel advisories in North Carolina, the COVID-19 positivity rate is on the rise, and the state's health...

charlotte north carolina skyline

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySummary List Placement

Dubbed the Queen City, Charlotte is a metropolitan destination in North Carolina full of craft breweries, colorful street art, and quality barbecue.

I’ve lived in the city since 2007, and after exploring every neighborhood, I’ve compiled a list of must-visit hotels, sites, and eateries from across the city.

Things to know before you go

mural at camp north end charlotte north carolina

  • COVID-19 PROTOCOL: As of August 5, 50% of the population in Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is) was fully vaccinated. While there are no mask mandates or travel advisories in North Carolina, the COVID-19 positivity rate is on the rise, and the state’s health department recommends that unvaccinated tourists refrain from visiting. 
  • WEATHER: Average temperatures in Charlotte range from 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to over 90 degrees in the summer. If you’re visiting in July or August, it will be hot and humid.
  • CURRENCY: The city uses US dollars. Credit cards and digital payment options are accepted at most places — even at food trucks. 
  • WALKABILITY: Charlotte is definitely a car city. You can explore certain neighborhoods on foot, but you’ll need a rental car if you don’t want to rely on ride-hailing services. The public light rail can take you to a few places, but its reach is limited.

Where to stay

Sonesta Charlotte Executive Park is a budget-friendly option

Whether you’re in town for work or play, Sonesta is a dog-friendly retreat just minutes from the airport.

There are 300 rooms that range from about $125 to $200 a night.

Tip: The hotel has both an indoor and an outdoor pool.

If you’re traveling with the whole family, check out the DoubleTree in SouthPark

The DoubleTree is behind the bustling SouthPark mall and within walking distance of plenty of restaurants.

This hotel is comfortable and clean, and it has a pool. Rates range from about $175 to $275 a night. 

Tip: The “Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show” is performed at the hotel a couple of times a month. Check the schedule or ask about dates when you book your room.

exterior shot of doubletree in charlotte north carolina

The Ivey’s hotel is a worthwhile splurge that’s sure to make any trip special

Give yourself a little treat while visiting the Queen City by staying at a five-star boutique hotel in the heart of uptown.

The 47 luxuriously appointed rooms at The Ivey’s range from $269 to $429 a night.

Tip: The hotel has a partnership agreement with several area attractions, including the Mint Museum, NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. 

exterior shot of oveys hotel charlotte north carolina

If you’re looking for more private accommodations, there’s a luxury condo you can rent

Charlotte has an abundance of selections when it comes to Airbnbs, including a luxury condo in an uptown high-rise building.

The one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo offers skyline views and contemporary style starting at $130 a night.

Tip: Your rental gives you access to all of the building’s amenities, including the pool and fitness room. 

Things to do and see

The botanical gardens are a free way to enjoy nature

The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus, were created for the college’s biology students as a “living classroom.”

There are 16 garden collections to explore. Admission is free, but the gardens do take donations. 

Tip: The two outdoor garden areas are not wheelchair-accessible. The ground slopes and the terrain is uneven.

You never know what you might find at Camp North End

Camp North End, which started as a factory for the Ford Motor Co. in 1924, has gone through several transformations over the years, but the 76-acre property is now full of restaurants, bars, shops, and art. 

You can sip a cocktail at Black Moth Bars, snack on a cheese plate at Babe & Butcher, or shop for unique items at Dupp & Swat. There’s also usually live music to enjoy on the weekends.

Tip: Check the calendar for events like the Van Gogh art exhibit or outdoor yoga

shopping containers with camp north end logo charlotte north carolina

Kids and teens alike can have a fun time exploring ImaginOn

ImaginOn in uptown, accessible via the 7th Street station on the light-rail line, is a library, children’s theatre, and interactive-exhibit space.

There’s a teens-only spot and a multimedia production studio as well.

Tip: ImaginOn offers various workshops and classes throughout the year. 

exterior shot of entrance to imaginon charlotte north carolina

Get your science on at Discovery Place

Opening little minds to the wonders of science, technology, and nature, Discovery Place is an interactive children’s museum in uptown.

Tickets start at $15, but there are up-charges for some of the traveling exhibits and events. Reservations are recommended, as time slots can sell out.

Tip: The museum offers accommodations for visitors with hearing, visual, and mobility impairments. 

two exhibits at discovery place charlotte north carolina

AvidXchange Music Factory is a fun nightlife option

This nightlife and live-music complex opened in 2006 under the name NC Music Factory, but it’s since become the AvidXchange Music Factory.

Here you’ll find concert venues, restaurants, bars, and a comedy club. VBGB Beer Hall and Small Bar are crowd favorites.

Tip: The Holiday Inn Center City offers a free shuttle to the Music Factory for its guests. 

Carolina Raptor Center has more than 20 species of birds

The Carolina Raptor Center focuses on providing environmental education, while rehabilitating injured birds. 

Visitors can walk the trail to see over 20 species of birds. And it offers special exhibits and programs throughout the year. 

Tip: The Raptor Center closes every day from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. for cleaning, so you have to buy either a morning or afternoon ticket.

US National Whitewater Center offers outdoor adventures

There are over 30 land- and water-based activities to choose from at the US National Whitewater Center.

These activities include whitewater rafting, zip-lining, flat-water kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, and rock climbing. In the winter months, there’s also ice skating.

Tip: The center hosts special events as well, like concerts, races, and competitions. 

sign for us national whitewater center charlotte north carolina

Adrenaline junkies should plan a day at Carowinds amusement park

If roller coasters are your thing, Carowinds amusement park on the border of North and South Carolina has nearly 60 rides to keep you busy.

On hot summer days, cruising down the water slides feels mighty refreshing, and if you visit in the fall, you can enjoy the annual Scarowinds Halloween event for spooky fun.

Tip: The amusement park offers a “Fast Lane” pass for an added fee that helps you skip some of the lines.

Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air at Freedom Park

After a couple of adrenaline-filled days, you may be looking for a chill one at Freedom Park.

You can picnic, play sports, or stroll around the lake, and you’ll often find outdoor yoga classes, live music, and other happenings.

Tip: Parking can be hard to find on Saturdays because of the athletic events at the park, so it might be easier to visit during the week.

Explore the art district with a NoDa art walk

North Davidson, or NoDa, is home to intimate music venues, eclectic shops, art galleries, and delicious restaurants.

Art lovers can travel the streets on the hunt for murals, tile work, and sculptures. Using the NoDa art-walk guide, you can find popular pieces like the “Bloom” mural and the Smelly Cat.

The artsy neighborhood can be reached via the 36th Street station on the light-rail line.

Tip: The art is always coming and going in this neighborhood, so some pieces you’ve seen before may no longer exist, and new ones may have taken their place.

murals on the noda art walk charlotte north carolina

Where to eat and drink

Rise and shine for breakfast at the Original Pancake House

One of the best breakfast options in the city is the Original Pancake House, which has SouthPark and midtown locations.

Both open early, and they close just after lunchtime, so don’t dawdle if you want a chance to nibble on comfort food that’s been perfected over the past 20 years.

In addition to pancakes, you can get omelets, salads, crepes, and freshly brewed coffee. 

Tip: The bacon pancakes are a must-try.

LittleSpoon is a funky spot for fresh, seasonal offerings

If you want a boozy-breakfast option, swing by LittleSpoon Eatery.

It updates its menu often with seasonal and regional options, but the vibes are always amazing. I highly recommend the cinnamon-toast brûlée when it’s on the brunch menu.

Tip: Head to the Selwyn Avenue location if you’re looking to enjoy your brunch on a patio. 

(left) a drink next to a menu at little spoon (right) entree dish little spoon charlotte north carolina

There are all sorts of options to choose from at Optimist Hall 

For your midday meal, head to the “happiest place on earth.” Previously an industrial complex, Optimist Hall is now home to eateries, bars, and specialty shops. 

It’s a fun place to spend a few hours roaming the different offerings after you’re done eating, too.

Tip: You won’t want to miss the food at the Dumpling Lady.

Reigning Doughnuts’ hot-and-fresh offerings make the perfect snack or treat

Anytime you visit the NoDa neighborhood, make sure to snag something from Reigning Doughnuts.

This walk-up window hands out heavenly treats with flavors that vary from day to day. The doughnuts are cooked to order, which means you’re guaranteed a hot-and-fresh treat.

Tip: The stand is card-only and doesn’t accept cash. 

exterior shot of reigning doughnuts charlotte north carolina

There’s a husband and wife duo serving up dinner at Mert’s Heart and Soul

For dinner, head uptown for Mert’s Heart and Soul.

The Charlotte establishment serves traditional Southern dishes and was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.”

Tip: You don’t want to miss the corn bread.

exterior shot of sign at mert's heart and soul charlotte north carolina

Your late-night sweet tooth can be satisfied at Crave Dessert Bar

Crave Dessert Bar offers a cozy, cool atmosphere with tasty treats.

Here you’ll find farm-to-glass cocktails, desserts to die for (I recommend the s’mores platter), and some great savory options.

Tip: Crave is a 21-plus establishment.

You can’t leave Charlotte without a visit to Amélie’s

With its quirky style, delectable desserts, and expansive hours, Amélie’s French Bakery is a Charlotte staple.

You can sample one of the bakery’s spectacular pastries, tarts, and cakes, or snag your favorite flavor from its rainbow selection of macarons.

Tip: The NoDa location is open 365 days a year, barring any terrible blizzards in the winter. 

interior shot of amelie's charlotte north carolina

The Crunkleton has a full staff of knowledgeable bartenders serving up vintage cocktails

The Crunkleton has a highly curated spirit collection that’s unrivaled in the city.

Don’t worry if you don’t know your way around vintage cocktails, the staff is all very knowledgeable and can help answer any questions you may have.

Tip: I recommend giving the elderflower sour a try.

The Park Road Shopping Center is an unexpected destination for a night out

A shopping center may not be the first place you think of when you consider your nightlife options, but Park Road has one of the best cocktail lounges in the city, Dot Dot Dot.

In addition to the Prohibition-style bar, the shopping center also boasts Sir Edmond Halley’s Irish pub and Burtons Grill and Bar, which both offer great drink options. 

Tip: Dot Dot Dot is a members-only establishment. Learn how to become a member here.

exterior shot of sign at park road shopping center charlotte north carolina

Final tips before your trip

charlotte north carolina

  • Even if you visit in the winter, you might want to pack some summery clothes. The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for anything. There have been December days when I’ve needed a tank top and April days when I’ve worn a coat. 
  • Parking can be expensive in uptown. It isn’t uncommon to find a spot for just a few bucks, but if there’s a Panthers game or another big event, the rates can shoot up.
  • You can purchase liquor only at an ABC store. In North Carolina, liquor can’t be sold in grocery stores or other shops. It can be purchased only in state-owned liquor stores called ABC stores. Otherwise, if you want a drink, you have to order one at a restaurant or bar.

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