Feel Like Royalty in the Queen City
A 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.
A stop at any one of Charlotte’s stellar museums will help round out your sightseeing experience in the “City of Trees,” another appropriate moniker. To gain a historical perspective, stop by The Charlotte Museum of History. To learn about what factors shaped Charlotte into a financial tour de force and leading American city, visit the Levine Museum of the New South. If art history piques your curiosity, head to the Mint Museum Randolph. The rich collection of American and European works is in the building that once served as the first branch of the U.S. Mint. For a hands-on learning approach to science and technology, engage in interactive activities at Discovery Place Science. (The Historic Fourth Ward, a revitalized neighborhood with some 75 colorfully painted Victorians, is just a stone's throw away.)
Behind the MoneyWhat started as a simple crossroads named for a young queen has grown into the second-largest financial center in the country. Charlotte has expanded upward and outward to become the largest metropolitan area in the Carolinas and a popular vacation destination.
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 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. The 1775 statement contained resolutions 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—hence the local NBA team name.
The intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, known as The Square, 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 and child represents hope for the city's future.
flickr / CC BY /Nan Palmero
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.
Charlotte's road to riches began in 1799 when a 17-pound nugget was found in nearby Concord, making Mecklenburg County the site of the first U.S. gold rush. This fame, coupled with the establishment of a Charlotte branch of the U.S. Mint in 1837, paved the way for the city's 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.
ParkingSeveral LYNX Blue Line stations have park-and-ride lots with free parking; using this option will save you the hassle and expense of downtown driving and parking. But if you do need to drive your car, here are some parking details that should help you.
Charlotte has ample metered parking in Center City. Rates vary according to location; most metered spaces in popular areas charge 25c for 15 minutes.
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. Numerous lots and garages are located in the Charlotte Transportation Center and Spectrum Center vicinity, including parking lots on College Street between Stonewall and Second streets and garages at The Plaza at Two Wells Fargo Center, Discovery Place Science, The NASCAR Hall of Fame and Founder's Hall.
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 15.25 percent tax for rental cars.
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 HealthCare System University, (704) 863-6000; Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, (704) 384-4000.
Visitor InformationCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority Other centers are at 501 S. College St., in the Levine Museum of the New South at 200 E. Seventh St. and at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Air TravelCharlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is 6 miles west of the city on Josh Birmingham Parkway, and is accessible from Billy Graham Parkway or Wilkinson Boulevard. A hub for American Airlines, the airport is served by other major airlines as well; phone (704) 359-4910. If you're looking for things to do this weekend, check AAA.com or ask a AAA Travel Agent about airline tickets—sometimes available as part of a AAA Vacations® package.
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) 920-5900.
Rental CarsHertz, 5489 Josh Birmingham Pkwy., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (704) 359-0114 or (800) 654-3080.
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) 372-0456.
TaxisCabs are metered and charge a base fare of around $2.50, plus approximately $2.50 per mile or 50c per minute when the vehicle drops below 15 miles per hour. These companies operate from the airport's queue—City Cab, (704) 333-3327; Crown Cab, (704) 334-6666; Green Cab, (704) 777-1117; and Yellow Cab, (704) 444-4444; they all 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. One-way fare is $2.20; $1.10 (children in kindergarten through grade 12, ages 62+ and the physically impaired); free (ages 0-5). Express fare (buses pick up in a limited area and travel directly to Uptown) is $3; $1.50 (children in kindergarten through grade 12, ages 62+ and the physically impaired); free (ages 0-5). Transfers from local to express are 80c; local to local transfers are free.
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 nights and weekends for $2.20 each way.
The 18.9-mile LYNX Blue Line provides rapid-rail service between I-485 in south Charlotte and UNC Charlotte’s main campus. The service operates every 7.5 minutes during weekday rush hour and every 15 minutes the rest of the day. On weekends the service is available every 20 minutes most of the day but every 30 minutes late at night and early mornings.
The CityLYNX Gold Line, a free streetcar rail service, runs from Spectrum Center to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Operating hours are Mon.-Thurs. 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri. 6 a.m.-midnight; Sat. 8 a.m.-midnight; and Sun. 9-7.
The Charlotte Transportation Center, 303 E. Trade St., is open daily 4:50 a.m.-1:30 a.m., but shops and restaurants have shorter hours. Phone (704) 336-3159.
Levine Museum of the New South
What to do in CharlotteTravel back in time to 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.
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.
Courtesy of Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
Courtesy of NASCAR Hall of Fame
flickr / CC BY SA/CMLibrary Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Follow
Charlotte Travel with Kids
Fun Things to Do for Kids Under 13Engage the imagination at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center (300 E. Seventh St.), a library and facility dedicated to children. In addition to educational programs and a multimedia studio, you can stop by ImaginOn’s service center to book a Children’s Theatre of Charlotte performance.
Wikimedia Commons/Ken Thomas
Fun Places to Go for TeensGet to know the inner workings of Uptown Charlotte…by staying inside. A network of skywalks and corridors over several blocks make up Overstreet Mall (200 S. College St.), a nontraditional destination where you can shop or dine in a local restaurant above street level (and avoid inclement weather if necessary). Two of the most popular access points are the buildings of either Bank of America (Tryon and 2nd streets) or Wells Fargo (Trade and Tryon streets).
Courtesy of Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
What to Do for All Ages
flickr / CC BY SA/Mike Kalasnik
Courtesy of NASCAR Hall of Fame
Shopping in CharlotteAntique Destination Shopping
Antique 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 and other fun things to do.
Plan a Trip to a Mall
SouthPark Mall , 4400 Sharon Rd., features several restaurants and 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.
Bargain Hunting in Charlotte
Charlotte Performing ArtsThe Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Ballet, Opera Carolina, Community School of the Arts and Caroline Calouche & Co. all are resident companies at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St. With no shortage of things to do, the center, which also presents Broadway musicals and various performing artists, includes the Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Stage Door Theater. Plan your trip ahead of time, and make reservations for a show and dinner at one of the nearby restaurants.
Vacation Destination for the Arts
Fun Places to Go with Children
Charlotte Sports and RecreationCharlotte sports fans are enthusiastic rooters for their home teams. The Spectrum Center, on East Trade Street in Uptown, is where the NBA's Charlotte Hornets shoot hoops; for tickets phone (704) 467-6387 or (800) 745-3000.
flickr/North Carolina National Guard
The AHL's Charlotte Checkers play hockey at Bojangles’ Coliseum; phone (704) 342-4423 for tickets.
UNC Charlotte added football to its list of sports teams with the 2013 inaugural season of the Charlotte 49ers at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Phone (704) 687-4949.
Stock car racing, courtesy of NASCAR, takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway in nearby Concord, with events held May through October. Phone (704) 455-3200 for information, (800) 455-3267 for tickets or (704) 455-3223 for tours.
More than 160 area parks provide a multitude of recreational opportunities. Most parks have picnic areas, and many feature lakes; phone the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department, (980) 314-1000, for more information.
Daily bicycle rentals are available with Charlotte B-cycle, the city's bicycle-sharing system. Two-wheelers may be rented and returned at self-service kiosks scattered throughout the downtown area. A 24-hour membership costs $8 and includes all rides under 30 minutes; longer rides incur an additional fee of $4 per half-hour up to a daily maximum of $75. Phone (704) 332-9585 for more information. A number of cycling opportunities can be found in nearby Rock Hill. Head toward the Rock Hill Outdoor Center and Riverwalk (575 Herrons Ferry Rd.) for numerous trails and a 3.35-mile paved course; phone (803) 326-0085. Rock Hill BMX Supercross Track is at 1307 Riverwalk Pkwy.; phone (803) 326-2441. The Giordana Velodrome offers riding and racing (with proper certification) at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center; phone (803) 326-2453.
The following companies also participate in bicycle sharing: Lime, Mobike, Ofo and Spin. Each company's fleet can be recognized by a different color combination.
Northwest of Charlotte, Lake Norman is North Carolina's largest man-made lake. Some 520 miles of shoreline make it a popular spot for camping, swimming, sailing, windsurfing and water skiing. Phone (704) 987-3300. Jetton Park on Lake Norman at 19000 Jetton Rd. offers hiking and bicycling trails as well as tennis courts and a playground. Lake Wylie, which runs along the Carolina border just south of Charlotte, offers similar activities.
For those who prefer chlorinated water, there are facilities at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, 800 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and the Marion Diehl Recreation Center, 2219 Tyvola Rd.; phone (704) 336-3483 or (980) 314-1300, respectively.
Self-guided TravelExploring on foot is a great way to get to know the Queen City, allowing you to take in the sights, venture to nearby restaurants and see all there is to offer. A walking tour of Uptown highlights 24 places of interest; maps are available at all Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority Visitor Info Center locations. 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 want to make a trip to 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 around the neighborhood and at the Visitor Info Center, which is full of more recommendations for things to do in Charlotte, such as the best places to eat and visit while on vacation.
A Revolutionary Destination
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 Battle of Charlotte Monument on S. Tryon Street and is marked by red granite pavers.
Courtesy of Carowinds Amusement and Water Park
1-day ItineraryAAA editors suggest these activities for a great short vacation experience.
MorningWake up with the whoosh of Fury 325, the record-breaking steel roller coaster at Carowinds Amusement and Water Park (14523 Carowinds Blvd.) that zooms up to 95 mph in 3.25 minutes—and also crosses both borders of North and South Carolina. Other fun things to do include family-friendly rides, shows and an adjacent water park.
flickr / CC BY SA/Joe Ross
Locals flock to Alexander Michael's (401 W. 9th St.), a storefront-turned-tavern. You'll want to order the “What It Is,” a blackened chicken dish served with Cajun cream sauce over a bed of pasta. The wine menu is limited, so order a pint of local craft beer.
Charlotte EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your vacation.
Wintertime Things to Do
Queen City residents can always find things to do in Charlotte; 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.
A Springtime Destination
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 in Full Swing
Courtesy of The Fig Tree Restaurant at The Lucas House
There are more NASCAR events for racing fans in September and 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 late September or early October to mid-November find nostalgic residents reliving the past at the Carolina Renaissance Festival .
What to Do During the Holiday Season
The Southern Christmas Show takes place in November. Then Victorian homes are dressed up and put on display for the Fourth Ward Holiday Home Tour in early December.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity