How to Spend Three Days in Charlotte, North Carolina

Among the skyscrapers of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a balance of natural and cultural activities. The so-called Queen City comes with the tag ‘Charlotte’s Got a Lot’, which should only motivate you to move your trip a little closer.

The historic Uptown district comes with a diverse and award-winning food and craft beer scene, which combines perfectly with the public arts, entertainment and prominent museums. 

Each part of the city has a unique story to tell thanks to a fascinating past and a community that hails from around the country. But let’s not waste anymore time. Our 3 days in Charlotte itinerary will help guide visitors to the top sights and best eats in town. 

The skyline of Uptown Charlotte, and the lake at Marshall Park. Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Where to Stay

There are several spots in Charlotte, North Carolina that have something different to offer travelers. The most popular spot in the city to base yourself is in the Uptown District. 

Uptown is the historic section of the city and is a hub of museums and galleries during the day while dining and nightlife take over in the evening. A lot of the top attractions on this itinerary are within this area. While with the help of light rail and bus, you’ll have several transport options to get around Charlotte.

Other popular options include University Place, the home of UNC Charlotte. Here you’ll have easy access to campus, parks and the NASCAR races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Last up is Pineville. Just out of the city, this is a great spot for budget travelers. The town also has a thriving craft beer and live entertainment scene.

Beautiful Charlotte! Photo credit: digidreamgrafix/Shutterstock

When to Go

As a travel destination, Charlotte, North Carolina, is open year-round. Attractions and activities don’t shut up shop as the winter comes around, although the temperatures get crisp. 

But with so much nature within the city limits and the opportunity to explore greenways, along with national and state parks, arriving in the warmer months will help you explore with a smile on your face.

Spring brings blooming flowers and plenty of color to the urban landscape. The local gardens flourish, while hiking and biking can be easily pursued in moderate temperatures. 

The summer brings the heat, prime tourist season but also a wide range of festivals and events. Public parks are an exciting place to be with outdoor cinema, live music and markets.

The fall foliage in Charlotte is a sight to see, especially if you venture into the nearby state parks or further to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cooler temperatures are also the perfect excuse for a long day on the trails.

Charlotte’s iconic Funny Bus. Photo credit: Nolichuckyjake/Shutterstock

Day 1: Laughs, NASCAR, and Baseball

Whenever you’re new to a city or visiting after a long time, it’s always best to get your bearings early. But what if I told you that you can find your sense of direction in Charlotte and laugh the entire time? Well, that sounds like a great deal and you can do just that on the Funny Bus.

Providing a historical overview of Charlotte, the Funny Bus will take you on a 90-minute journey through the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Along the way you’ll discover a unique angle of Charlotte, local architecture, and plenty of fun facts. All done with a heavy dose of comedy. Oh, and you can bring along your own beer or wine!

For these reasons, the tour books out well in advance and is not suitable for kids. 

Photo credit: Sean Xu/Shutterstock

Once the tour is complete and you wiped the tears of laughter from your cheeks, it’s time to see some beautiful nature around the city, particularly the botanical gardens at UNC Charlotte. Created as an educational resource not just for students, but for the public, the gardens come with three separate areas covering almost a dozen acres.

The three areas are the Van Landingham Glen, the Susie Harwood Garden and the impressive McMillan Greenhouse Complex. Each has a unique display of flora from native wildflowers, ornamental and tropical along with soaring native trees. 

Far from a mere attraction for garden lovers, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden is a top spot for a picnic with friends and family. If you are tracking well for time, why not explore more of the beautiful university campus? 

Hendrick Motorsports. Photo credit: Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock

To prepare for your visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, on your way back to downtown Charlotte, pay a visit to Hendrick Motorsports. The NASCAR champions are based here in town, just a short trek from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

You can explore the campus for free during regular hours. Here you’ll find impeccable facilities, where one of the most successful teams in NASCAR continues to create state-of-the-art race cars. Other attractions include the on-site museum and store. The museum has a series of photo exhibits and signed memorabilia is on sale at the team store. 

NASCAR Hall of Fame. Photo credit: ZikG/Shutterstock

After a thorough introduction into the world of motor sport in the US, it’s time to explore one of the most popular attractions in Charlotte, North Carolina. The NASCAR Hall of Fame isn’t just for motorheads. Anyone with an appreciation of the craft and sports in general will get a kick out of the well-appointed museum.

The Hall of Fame is an expansive venue with hands-on displays, interactive exhibits and fascinating daily presentations about the cars, the fans and iconic races through history. One of the more memorable parts of the experience is the High Octane Theater, a massive film room that guides you through the story of NASCAR from humble beginnings to the present day.

Finish up by exploring the line of historic cars on Glory Road, before testing your skills on the racing simulator. Do you have what it takes to compete with the best? Let’s find out!

As the sun sets over Charlotte, you may wonder what to do for dinner. While we have some recommendations below, Charlotte is home to a thriving culinary scene. Food, culture and neighborhoods are intrinsically linked throughout and a great way to experience all three at once is on a walking food tour.

Feast Food Tours is the best of the lot and combines the best eats in Charlotte with an exploration of several districts from the historic South End to the creative NoDa neighborhood. Along the way, sample local cuisine, especially some mouthwatering BBQ while learning the specific background and history of each area.

BB&T Ballpark at night. Photo credit: digidreamgrafix/Shutterstock

Post noshing on the top eats in town, return to the heart of Charlotte for a ball game at BB&T Ballpark. Home of the Charlotte Knights. With amazing skyline views from every seat in the house, it’s one of the best ways to top off your first day in Charlotte.

The immaculate field welcomes the Triple-A Knights regularly between March and October. With a shorter outfield, you’ll see plenty of action to go alongside the patented ballpark hot dog and ice cold beer. Go Knights!

Where to Eat

For lunch, keep things quick, easy and cheap at Le’s Sandwich. The local institution immediately became a favorite when it opened in 2004. Serving up cheap and delicious Banh Mi’s and vegetarian options, you can’t go wrong.

Although Charlotte’s food scene is booming and becoming more diverse, you still can’t pass up some classic BBQ. Head to Noble Smoke for some bona fide southern BBQ with a twist.

Beautiful Lake Norman on a summer’s day! Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Day 2: Lakes, Museums, and Parks

With a full day to explore Charlotte, you have a bit of time to enjoy a brief road trip out of the city to the gorgeous Lake Norman. Just 15 miles out of downtown Charlotte, the lake was man made in the early 1960s and has been attracting excited visitors ever since, especially in the summer months.

The largest man-made lake in North Carolina has several historic lakefront towns that offer boutique shopping, down-home eats and a laid-back atmosphere. Huntersville comes with its share of cultural and historic sites, including monuments and reenactments of the Civil War. While you’ll also discover plantations and old homesteads.

You can let your inner hiker out around Davidson, which presents an extensive network of hiking and biking trails. Or simply launch a kayak onto the lake and explore the Cowans Ford Dam and get up close to the Marshall Steam Station. Other popular activities on the lake include water-skiing, wake boarding and fishing. 

Levine Museum of the New South. Photo credit: Nolichuckyjake/Shutterstock

After a morning at the lake, return to Charlotte, freshen up and explore one of the best museums in the city. The Levine Museum of the New South is focused on educating visitors about how the past continues to shape the present day and will help form our future.

The main permanent exhibit is Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers. The exhibit goes into great detail with several displays that explore Charlotte from the days after the Civil War to now.

Other exhibits that help inform visitors include the popular African-American Hospital display, the cotton mill, a lunch counter from the Civil Rights Movement and a tenant farmer’s house.

Discovery Place is one of my favorite spots in town! Photo credit: Bryan Pollard/Shutterstock

Another amazing museum and one of the best family activities in Charlotte, North Carolina, is Discovery Place. Featuring dynamic displays that engage visitors young and old, Discovery Place will challenge you and get you thinking about how you see the world.

As one of the best hands-on science centers in the United States, you can get up close to nature. This includes observing the butterfly and insect rooms and exploring the indoor rainforest. Visitors of all ages will love pursuing physics and science experiments in the Lab, and enjoying the colorful displays exploring the Earth’s biodiversity. 

Bridge over Little Sugar Creek, at Freedom Park. Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

After exploring history and the natural world, get back outside and enjoy arguably the most picturesque part of Uptown Charlotte. Freedom Park is centered on the lake that dazzles under the sunlight. Around the lake and through the wooded park, discover peaceful walking trails, along with ample green space to run around on, plus playgrounds and sports fields.

As a park created to honor service members who fought in the Second World War, there are several sections of Freedom Park that are beautifully manicured. Explore blooming wildflowers, landscaped gardens and soak in the lakeside views.

Freedom Park is home to a series of free films, live acts and entertainment throughout the summer. During the Fall, however, Freedom Park fills up with festival-goers enjoying the Festival in the Park. You can stay up to date and see what’s on when you’re in town through the park’s Facebook page.

Breakfast at Tupelo Honey is a must! Photo credit: Bruce VanLoon/Shutterstock

Where to Eat

Start off your big day in Charlotte right by paying a visit to Tupelo Honey. The well-appointed restaurant may look fancy, but it’s deadly serious about their southern style breakfast. Come for the biscuits, stay for the sriracha honey fried chicken and waffles.

Although you’re far from Philadelphia, you can still get a real-deal Philly Cheese Steak at Clover Joe’s. Their central, downtown location makes it the perfect break from exploring the museum.

For date night, bring your loved one to Fin and Fino on the Levine Avenue of the Arts. The dramatic bar layout complemented by amazing craft cocktails, an extensive wine list and the top seafood menu in town. 

Day Three: Markets, Theme Parks, and Picnics

Begin day three in Charlotte at the 7th Street Public Market. In Uptown, the market is a celebration of the many cuisines that have flourished in North Carolina and gives the locals a chance to support farmers, artisans and food vendors who create such amazing food.

On your journey in, you’ll pass several historic buildings and beautiful old architecture as a part of Old Charlotte. Far from just a regular farmers market, here you’ll find a gathering place more akin to a food hall. Grab some tasty snacks to enjoy throughout the day and maybe even get your hands on a snazzy souvenir to take home with you. 

Fury 325 at Carowinds. Photo credit: Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock

Hit Up Carowinds Theme Park

With the final day upon us, there is still plenty to explore and experience. Depending on your goals and desires, you could choose a whole manner of different paths. Our top three picks to finish your adventures through Charlotte begins with Carowinds, a giant local amusement park that will provide you with ample heart-in-mouth experiences.

The park features just shy of 60 adrenalin-packed rides, with ample live entertainment throughout. Plus, if the weather is great, you can explore the amazing Water Park. All this in one place. 

The park is suitable for all ages, with several rides for the kids along with experiences for bigger groups and families. However, nothing tops Carowinds’ signature ride, the Fury 325. To cool off after such an exhilarating time, jump into the wave pools or get the heart pumping once more on the giant water slides.

If you’re visiting Charlotte with kids, you must check out ImaginOn! Photo credit: Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock

Speaking of fun things to do in Charlotte with kids, ImaginOn is a unique attraction. On the inside is a children’s library that’s as educational as it is inspiring. But the library isn’t what encourages so many return visits. No, it’s the many interactive exhibits, the state-of-the-art theaters and production studios. All which are designed to stimulate the young mind and develop their creativity.  

Other fun games and activities for kids include the puppet center, a magnetic poetry wall, the expansive Lego playing area and a fantastic selection of board games. ImaginOn is a great place to take your family if a day at Carowinds is a bridge too far. 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Photo credit: Jill Lang/Shutterstock

If your vision of a perfect last day in Charlotte includes sitting back, relaxing with a picnic and a bottle of bubbly, then the third option may just be right for you. The outstanding Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is just a short but worthwhile 30 minute drive west of Charlotte. The sprawling space was opened by Mr Stowe in the early 1990s and has slowly grown over the years.

Stowe, who was once a textile executive, began with luscious meadows and woodlands along with impressive views of Lake Wylie. In the years since, the gardens have become even more vibrant with the addition of fountains, landscaped areas, a conservatory of tropical plants and a striking pavilion.

As you wander around the gardens, top by the pavilion which features 20 Tuscan-style columns. It’s a brilliant spot to open up that picnic basket, enjoy the shade and soak in the gorgeous scenery. 

Where to Eat

Begin your third day in Charlotte by enjoying a big breakfast at the Yolk. Rated as one of the best breakfast joints in town, you can even come back here and have pancakes for dinner. Stop by on your way through the 7th Street Public Market.

A little out of the way, but worth the quick trip is Tacos El Nevado. Originating in the culinary city of Oaxaca, it serves up authentic $2 tacos that hit the spot every time.

Final Thoughts

The tagline ‘Charlotte’s Got a Lot’, lives up to its billing. The growing city of just under 900,000 people continues to create new and exciting attractions for locals and visitors.

Your three days in Charlotte are sure to fly by exploring the activities on this list. From nearby outdoor adventures, to public markets and insightful museums. Add in some mouthwatering local eats, and you’ll be recommending Charlotte to everyone you see. 

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