Whether you are a hardened adrenaline junkie who wants to spend a weekend watching NASCAR, an NFL fan who wants to see the Panthers in action or a culture lover who wants to learn all about the history of the South, Charlotte is the place to be.
Charlotte may be fast growing (with around 2 million people in the Metropolitan area), but it has a compact core that is easy to navigate. In one day, you can skip from the masterpieces of the Mint Museum to the galleries of NoDo, to craft ale bars in South End like the Craft Growler Shop and classic soul food eateries like Nana's.
The city's calendar is also crammed with events, from the massive Heroes comic book convention to the celebration of raw speed that is Speed Street, and Taste of Charlotte, the best chance anyone will have to sample the whole spectrum of southern cooking.
On top of all that, Charlotte is friendly, down to earth and constantly changing. It's quickly attracting attention from vacationers across the country, so why not join them?
Charlotte is one of the South's sporting centers. Head to Bank of America Stadium to watch the Panthers in the NFL, catch the Bobcats playing in the NBA or go for minor league baseball action with the Charlotte Knights.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is the US' number one NASCAR circuit, and a number of leading teams make their home in Charlotte. There are frequent race meets throughout the year, and fans should not miss the Speed Street Festival held every May.
Few cities in the South can compete with Charlotte's galaxy of great southern eateries. Dine on mouth-watering regional dishes like bourbon chicken, BBQ pork, and fried catfish at popular local restaurants like Nana's.
Charlotte's music scene ranges from blazing hot blues to acoustic folk, classical and indie, and there's always something to enjoy. Soak up some of the best electric blues around at the Double Door, catch a jazz gig at BluNotes or hear some traditional bluegrass or folk at the Charlotte Folk Society.
Charlotte also has enough museums and galleries to keep the most passionate culture fan happy. Head to NoDo to see prestigious small galleries like the Center of the Earth Gallery or stay in Uptown Charlotte and spend a day visiting attractions like the Museum of the New South or the Mint Museum.
NASCAR is massive in Charlotte, with the Speedway hosting the Coca-Cola 600 every Memorial Day. Sure, you can head over to the track if there's a competition going on, but at any time of year the NASCAR Hall of Fame is an unmissable attraction. Located behind the Convention Center in Downtown Charlotte, the Hall of Fame honors 45 inductees (and their vehicles), with historic cars and the High Octane Theater among the highlights.
The world would be a very different place without two North Carolina natives who carried out the world's first powered flight at Kittyhawk in 1903. The Carolinas Aviation Museum commemorates the achievements of the Wright Brothers, but goes much further. This absorbing museum houses 50 aircraft, including the Airbus involved in Flight 1549 (better known as the "Miracle on the Hudson"). With vintage flight uniforms and memorabilia from passenger carriers, it's an all-round delight for aviation nuts.
Carowinds is one of the East Coast's largest family amusement parks. The 398-acre site is around 15 miles southwest of Charlotte itself, but don't let that stop you. The short drive is well worth it. Created in an effort to provide a "Disneyland for North and South Carolina", Carowinds features 64 rides spread across zones like the Thrill Zone, Celebration Plaza and Planet Snoopy. Adrenaline levels vary from the 95-mph Fury 325 to the Snoopy's Junction miniature train ride, so there are attractions for the most adventurous and shy and retiring types. If you're there in October, SCarowinds sees the whole site become a haunted Halloween wonderland.
Located on North Tryon Street in the Fourth Ward, Discovery Place is one of America's foremost science museums. Built in 1981 and renovated magnificently in 2010, it balances education and entertainment skillfully, with plenty for kids and adults to learn about. The centerpiece of the museum is its advanced IMAX theater, but the program of events is just as appealing. You never know what might crop up, but with accessible talks dealing with everything from the lives of turtles to how scarab beetles roll dung balls, you're ensured an informative experience.
Billy Graham was one of the 20th century's greatest Christian communicators, launching the modern evangelical movement almost single-handedly. Charlotte was his long-time home, and visitors can find out everything about his work at the Billy Graham Library. Star attractions at this site in southwest Charlotte include a reconstruction of Graham's childhood home, recreations of evangelical tents, the well-stocked evangelical bookshop and the splendid library itself -- a fitting tribute to the man dubbed "America's Pastor". One of Charlotte's finest attractions, the Library is a great place to discover America's religious heritage.
Most people prefer visiting Charlotte in the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall. High summer can be a little too hot and humid, but spring and fall are ideal. April is a good month for food fans, with the Charlotte Wine and Food Weekend and Craft Beer Week, but May is the time to visit if you love NASCAR, as major races combine with the Speed Street Festival.
Most visitors arrive in Charlotte via Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which is a few miles west of the center of town. After you touch down, the cheapest way to reach the city center is Route 5 of the CATS bus network, which departs from Zone D at the main terminal. Buses run until 7:00 p.m., so if you arrive in the evening, a taxi or shuttle bus may be required. Taxis generally charge $25 for the trip into town.
Charlotte's Amtrak station is on N Tryon Street, not too far from the Uptown district. The station is a stop on the Crescent service between New Orleans and New York, as well as the Carolinian and Piedmont routes. The best option if you are arriving by train is to pre-book a taxi.
I-85 connects Charlotte to Alabama, Louisiana and other southern states, as well as Richmond to the north, while I-77 links the city with states in the Appalachians and the Midwest. Be aware that when you reach Charlotte, you will be fed onto I-485. This ring road circles the city, with both inner (clockwise) and outer (counter-clockwise) lanes, so pick the one that best suits your route.
The two major intercity bus operators to Charlotte are Greyhound (who stop in the Uptown district) and Megabus (who stop at the Charlotte Transportation Center). Both provide connections to regional centers like Richmond and more distant cities like Washington, Atlanta or New York City.
The city center is home to all of Charlotte's highest-quality accommodation, and it's the place to base yourself if you want to see all the sights as conveniently as possible. Luxury options in Uptown Charlotte include the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel and the Hampton Inn Charlotte University Place while the La Quinta Inn and Suites is great if you need somewhere close to the airport.
Uptown Charlotte – Charlotte's "Downtown," Uptown is home to a cluster of impressive skyscrapers, but it's much more than a business center. It's also where Charlotte's art, sports and music lovers go, with attractions like the Time Warner Cable Arena and the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium. Nowhere else is as convenient for basic tourist needs.
NoDa – A shortened name for North Davidson, NoDa is the city's bohemian neighborhood. You can tour prestigious smaller galleries like the Center of the Earth Gallery, check out folk and jazz concerts at the Evening Muse Cafe and shop at quirky stores like Yarnhouse, the city's knitting hub.
South End – Just south of Uptown, you'll find South End, a family-friendly neighborhood characterized by its huge range of southern food restaurants. With popular eateries like Price's Chicken Coop and Rudino's in the area, it's easily the best neighborhood for gourmet food fans.
The CATS bus network provides decent coverage, but isn't the most reliable way to get around the tourist attractions. However, at $1.75 per journey and $6.60 for an adult day pass, rates are reasonable. If you need to get from the suburbs into the center, the LYNX light rail network is your best option, and tickets are also $1.75 per journey.
The city of Charlotte operates a fixed taxi rate of $2.50 for the meter drop, then $2.50 for every subsequent mile, with an extra charge of $0.50 for every passenger over 2 people. UberX vehicles are much cheaper, with a basic rate of $1 and a charge of $0.75 per mile.
Charlotte has two handy ring roads, the outer ring (I-485) and the inner ring, which circles Uptown (I-277). Inside I-277, Uptown is arranged on a standard grid, with numbered streets running east to west and named streets running north to south. Outside of the center, Charlotte is a city that really benefits from GPS, as streets can suddenly change name and direction without warning. There are a number of parking lots in the Uptown area. Look on N Tryon Street and S Church Street for affordable parking options.
Central Charlotte isn't really a major retail destination, but you can find some great places to shop for apparel, crafts, art and jewelry in NoDa. N Davidson Street is the place to look for souvenirs. Check out the art at Pura Vida Worldly Art and Blended Bartique, an unusual fusion of boutique and bar. If you are looking for a standard mall, head to the SouthPark Mall, around 6 miles south of Uptown, where you'll find major brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, the LEGO store and the North Face.
Charlotte is an excellent place to buy fresh produce, with places like the NoDa Farmers' Market and Simpson's Produce very close to the city center. There's a Whole Foods on Fairview Road, a Trader Joe's on Metropolitan Avenue and plenty of suburban supermarkets like Walmart, Aldi and Compare Foods. Prices are generally lower than most American cities. Expect to pay around $3.20 for a gallon of milk and $12-13 for a good bottle of wine.
Southern food like yams, grits and fried chicken are king in Charlotte, and the best places to try them are local favorites like Nana's Soul Food Kitchen, Lola's and Mert's Heart and Soul. For Mexican dishes like chicken and black beans, head to the Roasting Company while King's Kitchen is the place to head for fried chicken. There's a large Asian community in Charlotte as well, and some of the best Asian options include Seoulfood Meat Co, the Viet-Thai Noodle House, and Genghis Grill. In fact, there's plenty of choice, no matter what kind of cuisine you prefer. Prices shouldn't be more than $15 at a mid-range place, and $25-35 for a high-end meal.