North Carolina National Guard / flickr
IntroductionA skyline of gleaming skyscrapers welcomes visitors to Charlotte. While this first impression only serves to underscore the city's status as the second-largest financial center in the nation, dig a little deeper. When you peel back the layers, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find neighborhoods with grand Colonial and Victorian architecture, diverse shopping, and eateries offering both upscale and down-home cuisine. The nickname of “Queen City” also reflects this underlying charm—you'll notice street signs regally adorned with the letter “M” honoring Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg.
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In DepthWhat started as a simple crossroads named for a young queen has grown into the second-largest financial center in the country. Still adhering to its nucleus, Charlotte has expanded upward and outward to become the largest metropolitan area in the Carolinas.
German settlers, faithful to both England and Germany, named the town for German-born Queen Charlotte, wife to England's King George III. The county in which Charlotte resides adopted the name of the queen's birthplace: Mecklenburg.
Charlotte's strong ties with England were severed when a convention of North Carolinians met to compose the Mecklenburg Resolves. Signed on May 31, 1775, the statement contained a number of resolutions that were intended to invalidate the authority of the king and parliament. Residents later erected a monument to the signers at the County Courthouse. Thomas Polk, the founder of Charlotte, had built a log courthouse for the new county seat in 1768 at this site, the original crossroads.
The independent spirit that motivated the colonists to compose the Resolves continued, and British general Lord Cornwallis later would call Charlotte a “hornet's nest of rebellion” as a result of Patriot activity during his occupation of the city.
The intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, now known as The Square, historically has been the heart of Uptown and serves as the center of commerce. Past, present and future are displayed in Raymond Kaskey's four bronze statues, found at each corner of the square. The statues tell Charlotte's story: A gold miner illustrates commerce; a female mill worker depicts a strong textile heritage; a railroad builder renders Charlotte's significance as a transportation hub; and a mother lifting her child skyward represents hope for the city's future.
Nicknamed the Queen City, Queen Charlotte's influence is omnipresent; street signs and the city flag are adorned with crowns shaped around the letter “M” for Mecklenburg. When lit up at night, the Bank of America Corporate Center resembles a multitiered tiara. The building contains 60 floors, which matches the number of years of the queen's reign. Another of Kaskey's statues, a patinated bronze of the queen, is found at the north end of the airport. Finally, one of the nicer drives in town can be found along aptly-named Queens Road West, which boasts lavish Colonial-style houses.
Also called the City of Trees, Charlotte is known for its willow oaks, which line many residential and Uptown streets. The trees, which resemble black oaks but sport long, thin leaves similar to weeping willows, are native to Charlotte.
But Charlotte is mostly known for its wealth. The road to riches began in 1799 when a 17-pound nugget was found in nearby Concord, making Mecklenburg County the site of the first gold rush in the United States. This prosperity, coupled with the establishment of a Charlotte branch of the U.S. Mint in 1837, paved the way for Charlotte's current financial prominence.
By CarInterstates 77 and 277 provide access to Center City Charlotte. I-77 traverses north-south through the state, and I-277 circles the city. I-85 is an east-west route that bisects I-77 just north of the city.
From the north or south, I-77 connects directly with West Trade Street, which provides access through Uptown. From the east, US 74 connects with I-277 (John Belk Freeway) to the College Street exit; head northeast on SR 29/49 (Tryon Street) to reach Uptown. From the west, I-85 connects with SR 16 (Brookshire Expressway); head southwest on SR 29/49 to reach Uptown.
I-485 surrounds Charlotte, providing access to neighboring areas.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is west of downtown and can be reached via I-85, I-77, the Billy Graham Parkway or Wilkinson Boulevard.
Street SystemCenter City Charlotte is encircled by I-277, which provides southern access. Uptown Charlotte is easily maneuverable by public transit, by car and on foot; streets are laid out in a simple grid pattern. Numbered streets run southeast to northwest, with named streets running perpendicular.
Charlotte's history is closely tied to its physical nucleus; the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets forms the main crossroads. Trade Street bisects the city east to west, and Tryon Street provides the north-south dividing line.
ParkingCharlotte has ample metered parking in Center City. Rates vary according to location; most metered spaces in popular areas charge 25c for 15 minutes, while those on the perimeter of the city charge 50c per hour.
Metered parking is available around the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on First, Second, Third, Fourth and Davidson streets. Near Center City, metered spots are on College, Trade, Church and Tryon streets. Parking lots can be found on College Street between Stonewall and Second streets. The Plaza at Two Wells Fargo Center, Discovery Place Science, The NASCAR Hall of Fame and Founder's Hall have garages.
About the City
Sales TaxNorth Carolina has a 4.75 percent state sales tax; Mecklenburg County levies an additional 2.5 percent sales tax. Mecklenburg County also levies an 8 percent occupancy tax for lodging, a 1 percent prepared food and beverage tax and a 16 percent tax for rental cars, plus an additional $3.50 fee for vehicles rented at airport facilities.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(704) 336-7600. Info hotline: 311
Fire (non-emergency)(704) 336-4174
HospitalsCarolinas Medical Center, (704) 355-2000; Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy, (704) 304-5000; Carolinas Medical Center-University, (704) 863-6000; Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, (704) 384-4000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe Charlotte Observer is the daily newspaper. The Business Journal is issued weekly.
RadioWBT (1110 AM and 99.3 FM) is an all-news/weather station; WFAE (90.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority 501 S. College St. CHARLOTTE, NC 28202. Phone:(704)331-2700 or (800)231-4636
Air TravelCharlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is 7 miles west of the city on Josh Birmingham Parkway, and is accessible from Billy Graham Parkway or Wilkinson Boulevard. A hub for US Airways, the airport is served by other major airlines as well; phone (704) 359-4910. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) provides an express bus service between the airport and Uptown. Concord Regional Airport (JQF), 9000 Aviation Blvd., is in nearby Concord; phone (704) 920-5555.
Rental CarsHertz, 5489 Birmingham Pkwy., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (704) 359-0114 or (800) 654-3131.
Rail ServiceAmtrak, (800) 872-7245, has a station at 1914 N. Tryon St.
BusesA Greyhound station serves Charlotte at 601 W. Trade St.; phone (704) 375-3332 or (704) 372-0456.
TaxisCabs are metered and charge a base fare of around $2.50 plus approximately $2.50 per mile. Two companies—Crown Cab Co., (704) 334-6666, and Yellow Cab, (704) 444-4444—increase the base fare $2 per person for more than two passengers.
Public TransportationCharlotte Area Transit System (CATS), (704) 336-7433 or TDD (704) 336-5051, serves the city with more than 70 local and express routes. Local fare is $2.20; $1.10 (ages 5-12, ages 62+ and the physically impaired). Express fare (buses pick up in a limited area and travel directly to Uptown) is $3.00; $1.50 (ages 5-12, ages 62+ and the physically impaired). Transfers from local to express are 80c; local to local transfers are free.
The free Gold Rush rubber-wheeled trolley service resembles historic streetcars and runs along Tryon and 4th streets, stopping at key locations (Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and Johnson & Wales University) every 15 minutes Mon.-Fri. 7:34 a.m.-5:14 p.m.
The hybrid-electric Sprinter Bus connects Center City with Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Passengers can count on a ride every 20 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends for $2.20 each way.
The 10-mile LYNX Blue Line provides rapid-rail service between South Charlotte and the city center. One-way fare is $2.20; $1.10 (ages 5-12, ages 62+ and the physically impaired).
Mark Clifton / flickr
EssentialsStep back into Mecklenburg County’s beginnings at Historic Rosedale Plantation (3427 N. Tryon St.). Nicknamed Frew’s Folly by its neighbors, the plantation with its striking Federal-style architecture and yellow trim provides a contrast to the usual plank-and-log homes of the early 19th century. Along with showcasing the plantation's obvious aesthetics, tours examine the lives and times surrounding the antebellum property and its residents.
Chart the growth of Charlotte as well as the region at the Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. Seventh St.). Multisensory displays and themed stations characterize social culture and history of the post-Civil War years. The area’s reliance on cotton gave way to industry, and though slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws continued to segregate the races. To get a sense of the times, have a seat at an old-fashioned “diner” and relive sit-in protests with on-site videos and commentary.
Reflect on African-American contributions to the arts at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture (551 S. Tryon St.). Within a building clad in panels designed to look like West African textiles, the museum features diversity-inspired paintings and other art objects.
Expand your repertoire with a trip to the Mint Museum Uptown (500 S. Tryon St.). The modern, 145,000-square-foot museum includes notable American, contemporary and European collections. Even kids can get involved with creative, in-gallery activities.
Add the Mint Museum Randolph (2730 Randolph Rd.) to your itinerary for a fully rounded arts experience. The museum, once a branch of the United States Mint, became North Carolina’s first art museum in 1936. Highlights include period clothing and decorative objects as well as a student artists' gallery, a theater for lectures and performances, and an adjoining green space with fountains and walkways.
Introduce yourself to the life of “America’s Pastor” at The Billy Graham Library (4330 Westmont Dr.). The grounds, which include the international headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, are only a few miles from the dairy farm where the Rev. Billy Graham grew up. The library’s exhibitions look back at the ministry and personal life of the man who counseled presidents.
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Ride the Intimidator at Carowinds Amusement and Water Park (14523 Carowinds Blvd.) for one of the fastest, tallest and longest thrills in the Southeast. The theme park straddles the border between North and South Carolina, so once your car screeches to a halt you can boast you’ve ridden through both states—on the same roller coaster. You can even get a bird’s-eye view of the park and Uptown Charlotte on the 262-foot Carolina Skytower.
Brake for The NASCAR Hall of Fame (400 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), where racing simulators, memorabilia and automobiles provide an interactive racing experience. Atlanta, Ga., and Daytona Beach, Fla., also bid for the museum. However, Charlotte’s racing background gave it an edge, and the hall of fame was built in the Second Ward.
Catch a show in the city receiving more and more recognition for its arts scene. The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (130 N. Tryon St.) in Uptown is home to Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Stage Door Theater and features performances from Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Ballet, Opera Carolina, On Q Productions, Community School of the Arts and Caroline Calouche & Co.
Tom Hannigan / flickr
ShoppingAntique hunters frequent shops in Dilworth, Myers Park and South End. Morrison and Phillips Place, in South Park, at the corner of Sharon and Fairview roads, features shops in a quaint setting.
SouthPark Mall , 4400 Sharon Rd., has more than 200 stores, including Belk, Crate & Barrel, Dillard's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Pottery Barn. Charlotte Premium Outlets , 5404 New Fashion Way, has some 100 outlet stores including Fossil, Kate Spade, Le Creuset and Saks 5th Avenue Off Fifth. In Uptown Charlotte check out the retail stores at Founder's Hall , 100 N. Tryon St. in the Bank of America Corporate Center.
Other malls include Northlake Mall , 6801 Northlake Mall Dr., which has Belk, Dillard's and Macy's. Pineville's Carolina Place Mall , SR 51 and I-485, offers Belk, Dillard's, JCPenney and Sears. For holiday decorations head to the Peppermint Forest Christmas Shop , behind Carolina Place Mall on Carolina Place Parkway, October through January.
The 7th Street Public Market is at 224 E. 7th Street (between N. College and N. Brevard streets) in the Uptown neighborhood. The collection of vendors, food trucks and food-related businesses also supports local and regional farmers by offering a farm-stand selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
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Performing ArtsThe Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Ballet, Opera Carolina, On Q Productions, Community School of the Arts and Caroline Calouche & Co. all are resident companies at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St. The center, which also presents Broadway musicals and various performing artists, includes the Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Stage Door Theater.
The Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts, 430 S. Tryon St., the Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square and McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square, both at 345 N. College St., and Ovens Auditorium at 2700 E. Independence Blvd., also come under the auspices of the Blumenthal organization, staging concerts and other performing arts programs and sponsoring art exhibits. The box office for all Blumenthal theaters is in Belk Theater; phone (704) 372-1000.
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Self-guiding ToursExploring on foot is a great way to get to know the Queen City. A walking tour of Uptown highlights 24 places of interest; maps are available at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, 330 S. Tryon St. Sites on the route include First Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1857; The Green; Kaskey's bronze statues at The Square; Thomas Polk Park; and The Plaza at Two Wells Fargo Center, which features a fountain complete with bronze figures of frolicking children.
Those interested in Victorian architecture will not want to miss the Historic Fourth Ward. In 1869 residential Charlotte was divided into four voting districts called wards. Fourth Ward, the northwest quadrant, was occupied by merchants and ministers. This area, between 10th, Graham, 5th and Tryon streets, eventually deteriorated until restoration efforts began in the late 1970s. Today the neighborhood contains approximately 75 “Grand Old Ladies,” colorfully painted Victorian residences. A fountain marks the entrance to Fourth Ward Park, bordered by Pine, Poplar, 6th and 8th streets. Descriptive brochures with a detailed map are available at the Visitor Info Center as well as at various locations in the neighborhood.
PROOlga Khomitsevich / flickr
The Charlotte Liberty Walk walking tour connects more than a dozen Revolutionary War sites throughout Uptown, including Independence Square, Old Settlers' Cemetery and the Thomas Polk Homesite; the walk begins at the Liberty Hall DAR Monument on S. Tryon Street in front of The Plaza at Two Wells Fargo Center and is marked by red granite pavers.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Queen City residents can always find something to do; an array of special events occur throughout the seasons. In late February or early March the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show offers the first glimpse of the season with gardens, seminars, crafts and indoor and outdoor floral displays. The show takes place at The Park, located off Briar Creek Road.
Charlotte's spring schedule is filled with ethnic festivals and community events. The third weekend in April finds residents engaged in a friendly competition of piping, drumming and dancing at the Rural Hill Scottish Festival and Loch Norman Highland Games . The festival features Celtic music and is held at Rural Hill Farm in Huntersville. Also in April, the Queen's Cup Steeplechase , in Monroe, features some of the most athletic thoroughbreds and jockeys being cheered on by spectators.
The NASCAR season kicks off in May with the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race , the Coca-Cola 600 and the Speed Street Festival .
Summer months bring outdoor festivals and entertainment. Charlotteans can eat and drink their way along five blocks of Tryon Street during Taste of Charlotte in June, when notable restaurants dish out more than 100 menu items. On Sundays in June the park adjacent to SouthPark Mall comes alive with classics from beloved musicals to Beethoven's best at Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's Summer Pops at Symphony Park .
There are more NASCAR events for racing fans in October, namely Bojangles' Pole Night , Drive for the Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Bank of America 500 . Weekends from early October to mid-November find nostalgic residents reliving the past at the Carolina Renaissance Festival . The Southern Christmas Show takes place in November.
Victorian homes are dressed up and put on display for the Fourth Ward Holiday Home Tour in early December. In late December college football fanatics flock to Bank of America Stadium for the Belk Bowl . Check the weekly Creative Loafing publication, found at newsstands, for additional entertainment and events information.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity