Get ready to experience an energetic and sophisticated North Carolina city that is dripping with Southern charm. Known as the Queen City, Charlotte lives up to its royal name with a rich history and culture, flavorful culinary scene, shopping, adventure and Southern hospitality offered at every turn.
You don’t always have to go to the Big Apple to catch a Broadway show. The Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts brings the best of Broadway to Charlotte. The Broadway Lights series brings first-rate shows like Wicked and Book of Mormon to town. Whether you are seeing the Charlotte ballet, a musical or the Charlotte Symphony, the stage curtain rises almost every day of the week.
Contemporary art lovers will admire one of the best curated craft and design collections in the world at the Mint Museum. The oldest and largest art museum in the Southeast, this family-friendly museum showcases outstanding collections of American, contemporary and European art through cutting-edge exhibits and educational programming. As home to the country’s most comprehensive collections of eighteenth-century British ceramics, the Mint Museum is about to celebrate the first major reinstallation of that collection in nearly four decades with the opening of Portals to the Past: British Ceramics 1675-1825 in 2016. Every Wednesday, the museum offers free general admission from 5-9 p.m.
It’s not too good to be true. You can stay, dine and listen to some of the best music in the Southeast all in one place in the Queen City. The NC Music Factory, a revitalized, historic textile mill, is now Charlotte’s premier entertainment district. Home to the Uptown Amphitheatre with beautiful skyline views of Charlotte
and the Fillmore, an indoor concert venue on site, the Factory gives visitors the best concerts, pubs, clubs and restaurants in one entertaining evening without leaving the premises.
The South may like its sweet tea, but North Carolina knows a thing or two about craft beer, too. Charlotte hosts more than 20 craft breweries, including NoDa Brewing Company, which took home the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Award for its flagship, American-Style IPA,“Hop, Drop n Roll.” The Unknown Brewing Company is definitely not unknown in the Queen City. With the “Pre-Game” session ale in supply it’s the perfect place to imbibe on football Sundays. You can visit area tap rooms on your own or take a craft brew guided tour with Queen City beer experts. The city offers several guided bus, van or bike tours. Grab a pint and have some fun exploring Charlotte’s burgeoning beer scene.
Fresh and local are two words you’ll hear often in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood. Atherton Mill Farmer’s Market showcases some of Charlotte’s best offerings from small local farms, talented chefs and artisans. As part of the Atherton Mill, home to some of the best retail and local cuisine in the area, this market is always lively with gourmet events and tastings.
You can’t visit Charlotte without checking out one of the best French bakeries in North Carolina. French pastries are the stars here, and owner Brenda Ische’s amazing French antique collection, which keeps growing, gives the place its unique charm. Amelie’s will be opening a second uptown location this winter. The original Amelie’s in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood stays open 24/7.
In this urban market, you can find plenty of fresh flavors and local fun. 7th Street Public Market celebrates Carolina’s food culture, artisans, farmers and talented chefs in one large indoor market. Stop into Orman’s Cheese Shop to buy some of the best artisan cheese produced locally, in the U.S. and in Europe. This bustling market is also home to the area’s first all-raw organic restaurant, Viva Raw.
The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, located in the lower South End neighborhood, is Charlotte’s oldest brewery and boasts one of the largest German-inspired outdoor biergartens in the state. Olde Mecklenburg Brewery brews on the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law of 1516, which allows only four ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast.
You can’t visit North Carolina without tasting BBQ. The state has three distinct styles: Eastern, Piedmont (Lexington-style) and Western. Midwood Smokehouse
cooks up some local BBQ in almost every style you can name. Founder Frank Scibelli traveled to several locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., and Florida to learn from pit masters and gain inspiration for his menu. You can find brisket, pulled chicken and traditional BBQ. Or maybe you like your BBQ as a pig sandwich with a side of onion rings. Nothing could be finer in Carolina than Mac’s Speed Shop
, which is located in a former transmission shop. You may even spot a race car driver. The restaurant keeps a list of celebrity sightings. Saucemans BBQ
is perfect for a low-key, no-frill evening or take-out.
Children and parents will love to explore Discovery Place, an interactive science museum with an IMAX Dome Theatre on site. The museum hosts a ticketed exhibit during special times of the year. From now through May 1, 2016, BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life showcases the wonders of human development using real human specimens preserved through plastination.
Buckle up and get in the fast lane. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is a 150,000-square-foot interactive entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. Whether you are a race fan or not, you’ll have the time of your life doing the Pit Crew challenge. It’s full-throttle fun.
Let your imaginations soar. ImaginOn is a whimsical educational center that’s part library, part theater and all about bringing stories to life. The Joe and Joan Martin Center is a collaborative venture of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children's Theatre of Charlotte.
The self-proclaimed “thrill capital of the Southeast,” Carowinds has been spiking visitors’ adrenaline for more than 40 years. The brand new Fury 325 rollercoaster takes riders to a peak height of 325 feet following a dramatic 81-degree drop and stretches that reach 95 miles per hour. Carowinds is fast-paced fun for the entire family. In 2016, the theme park will debut Carolina Harbor, a new waterpark.
This Charlotte tourist attraction is the ultimate tribute to America’s pastor. The Billy Graham Library is a 40,000-square-foot multimedia museum. Also on the 20-acre property is Billy Graham’s original home. Meticulously restored using 80 percent of the original materials, the Graham family home gives an intimate look at Billy Graham’s roots.
With the use of several overland connectors, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway connects notable neighborhoods and the amenities at Freedom Park to metropolitan shopping and restaurants near uptown Charlotte. The walker, jogger, tourist, nature lover, bench sitter or cyclist will delight in these greenway paths.
How it got its name may remain a mystery, but this nearly three-mile loop in the Myers Park neighborhood loops around multimillion-dollar homes and is perfect for a walker, runner or cyclist. Don’t expect to get the loop to yourself, though, as it can get crowded during peak hours. That’s great for people watching and perhaps a hint at the origin of that odd name.
Staples like Pad Thai and lasagna are on the menu at Luna’s Living Kitchen, but you can still expect the unexpected. Luna's Living Kitchen is an organic, mostly raw restaurant serving plant-based cuisine and cold-pressed juices. Located in the South End neighborhood, each plate is locally sourced and crafted with love.
Adventure is this center’s middle name. The USNWC’s 700 acres offer a wide variety of outdoor activities for all ages and skill levels. Guests can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking, flatwater kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, zip lines, ropes courses, a canopy tour, and mountain biking on a 25-mile trail system. New exciting activities for 2016 feature a new zipline and climbing wall over water.
Two lakes near the Charlotte area offer double the recreational fun. Lake Norman is north of Charlotte, and Lake Wylie is south of Charlotte in York County, South Carolina. Both lakes offer outdoor recreation such as boating, fishing, biking, and walking trails that wind around the lakes. Lake Norman encompasses the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson.
Discover nature at its best in the heart of a city. Nestled between Charlotte's historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods, Freedom Park comprises 98 acres in Charlotte’s uptown and features paved trails, playing fields and playgrounds around its seven-acre lake. Every September Freedom Park is the site of the five-day-long Festival in the Park, which annually attracts over 100,000 visitors and has been recognized as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Located in the Myers Park area of Charlotte, Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary has been a special part of Charlotte since its creation by Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson in 1927. There are over three acres to explore with beautiful winding paths.
Charlotte’s South Park hosts the only Neiman Marcus store, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Tory Burch and American Girl stores in North Carolina. Beyond the mall, boutiques and shops at Morrison, Phillips Place and the Village of South Park offer sophisticated treasures. At Morrison, be sure to explore Capitol, ChezElle and Scout & Molly’s for the newest designer trends.
For more than twenty years, Paper Skyscraper has been the go-to place for gifts of distinction. It started as a tiny bookstore in the historic and quaint Dillworth neighborhood. Today, it’s 5,000 square feet of the best stationery, gifts, pottery and glassware in town.
This sophisticated consignment and antique mall has some of the best home décor in the South under one roof. Here’s where you can find trendy, North Carolina-made brands to fill your space with art, furniture and home furnishings. Once you walk in the doors, you’ll find it hard to leave. Charlotte’s food trucks come to the store on the weekends.
Written by Leigh Powell Hines, founder of #outaboutnc, Hinessightblog and member of the NC Blogger Network