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- 17 Free Things to Do in Charlotte, NC
- 1. Wells Fargo Museum
- 2. Splash Pads
- 3. ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center
- 4. Art Murals
- 5. Concerts
- 5. Movies Under the Stars
- 6. Picnics
- 7. Art Museums
- 8. Nature Watching
- 9. Free Classes
- 10. Explore the Great Outdoors
- 11. Vinyl Shops
- 12. Famous Movie Mentions
- 13. Gold Panning
- 14. Religious Experience
- 15. Presidential Trivia
- 16. Triple D Crawl
- 17. Botanical Gardens
- Beyond Free: More Fun Things to Do in Charlotte
North Carolina’s Queen City is a treasure trove of things to see and do—especially for families. Options ranging from sprawling urban parks to beautiful art museums to places filled with history. This list includes free things to do in Charlotte NC (who doesn’t love free??) and a bonus list of other attractions that are worth the price of admission.
17 Free Things to Do in Charlotte, NC
Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, may be one of the most energetic and fastest-growing on the East Coast. With an arsenal of pro sports teams, a dynamic art scene, and modern feel, it is no surprise that Charlotte has a ton of things to do.
Here is our list of 16 free things to do in Charlotte with your family because free is always a popular choice.
1. Wells Fargo Museum
Step into Wells Fargo Museum to learn about how the 1799 Gold Rush shaped our country and 200 years later, how the banking industry took over. You’ll see a collection of coins minted in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans and ride along with a Concord stagecoach just for fun. This museum offers free admission.
2. Splash Pads
Let the kids splash around in the fish fountains at The Green, one of Charlotte’s urban parks, while enjoying the epic Uptown scenery and beautiful landscape.
3. ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center
ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center is part library, part performing arts center. Located in the heart of Charlotte’s cultural arts district, ImaginOn is a collaboration between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. The 102,000-square-foot facility features two theaters, a dedicated library space for kids 11 and under, four multi-use classrooms, a teen-only library, a multimedia production studio, and interactive exhibit space. Check the website for free programming.
4. Art Murals
Take a self-guided walking tour around NoDa for fantastic street art and murals. NoDa, short for “North of Davidson” is the historic arts and entertainment district of Charlotte. There are colorful, Instagrammable scenes on every block. Walls that can’t be missed? Yoda in NoDa and E.T. for sure!
Slip into the sound of live music at Uptown’s Romare Bearden’s Party in the Park featuring twice a month free concerts for four months. Genres include rock, country, jazz, and party, often with tribute bands and beach music. Romare Bearden Park’s concert hours are 6 PM to 9 PM. Leashed pets are permitted.
5. Movies Under the Stars
Movies in the Park sounds like a great way to spend the evening in Huntersville. Bring your lawn chair or blankets and cop a squat while you enjoy being entertained by the big screen in this highly-anticipated family-friendly event. You can find the schedule here.
Take a picnic lunch out to Freedom Park and spend the day with nature. Better yet, bring along the bikes and go for a ride along one of the trails. Little Sugar Creek Greenway is another great urban park for picnicking and hiking. If picnics aren’t your style, check out the international food scene in Charlotte?
7. Art Museums
If you’re a member of a museum participating in the Southeastern Reciprocal Museums program, you can use that membership for free admission to the Mint Museum Uptown and the Mint Museum Randolph. Both locations also are free on Wednesdays from 5-9pm. The Mint Museum celebrates international art and design.
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art showcases post-WWII art work collected by the Bechtler family of Switzerland. The museum was created by Andreas Bechtler in Charlotte, his adopted home town.
TravelingMom Tip: You can see another incredible garden option at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden but there is a charge for admission.
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8. Nature Watching
Do some butterfly and bird watching (nearly 100 species) at Charlotte’s Latta Nature Center. You’ll also find amphibians, reptiles, and mammals there. The center houses a museum, outdoor amphitheater, gift shop, and is the gateway to the massive 1,460-acre preserve for endangered plants and natural heritage site. You’ll see butterfly outdoor gardens and bird-feeding stations but can also take part in several program offerings.
9. Free Classes
Who knew the library could be so fun? At the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, partake in literary scavenger hunts, movies, baby/family/preschool/toddler storytimes, Spanish classes, Anime, puppetry, and more from the cram-packed schedule.
10. Explore the Great Outdoors
Charlotte is surrounded by natural beauty. It’s easy to find hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and nature trails, all free. Head to nearby Lake Norman State Park for paddling. Just be aware: There are no horsepower or speed limits on the lake, so you’ll be sharing the waters with everything from power boats to pontoons to stand-up paddleboarding. Another option in Crowders Mountain State Park. It’s all about the trails. The rugged terrain of Crowders Mountain lends itself to rock climbing and bouldering (permit required).
11. Vinyl Shops
Go down memory lane with your children leafing through old and new vinyl records at Plaza Midwood’s Lunchbox Records. This independent record store specializes in indy, rock, punk, and metal. Share stories with your kids about what you were doing when those songs came out and what special memories are triggered by hearing them. Do they know the same songs?
12. Famous Movie Mentions
Browse the beautiful made-from-scratch pastries that were featured in the Hunger Games movie train scene at Amelie’s French Bakery and Café. Be sure to check out the “kaleidoscope of furnishing and fixtures” in these clever bakeries, found in five locations including NoDa, Park Road, Rock Hill, Carmel Commons, and Uptown Charlotte. Smells are free!
13. Gold Panning
Did you know that the first gold was found in North Carolina? Learn about it with a free walking tour of the Reed Gold Mine. It’s just minutes from Charlotte in Cabarrus County. This National Historic Landmark commemorates where commercial gold was first found in the whole country. Tours of the mine and admissions are free, but bring cash. The kids will want to pan for their own gold and that costs $3. North Carolina led the country in gold until it gold was struck in California in 1848.
14. Religious Experience
Experience the journey and faith of southern Pastor Billy Graham in the Billy Graham Library. For Christians, it is one of the best free things to do in Charlotte. The library is found in a gorgeous barn that sits on 20 acres with interactive kiosks and exhibits, memorabilia, and photos. It takes about 90 minutes to tour. Hours are 9:30 AM to 5 PM.
15. Presidential Trivia
Learn about James Polk, the 11th President of the United States at the James K. Polk State Historic Site. A reconstructed log cabin, living history interpreters, nature trail, and kitchen garden sit on the property owned by the President’s parents.
16. Triple D Crawl
See the local restaurants from the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives by visiting JJ’s Red Hots, The Improper Pig, Pinky’s Westside Grill, and Cabo Fish Taco just like host Guy Fieri did. Be sure to take selfies and share to social media!
17. Botanical Gardens
You will be in awe of the arsenal of plants and flowers at the Botanical Garden on the UNC Charlotte Campus. Did you know Venus Fly Traps were native to North Carolina? You’ll see them, plus desert succulents, orchids, pitcher plants, and ferns as you meander through the specialty exhibits in these amazing outdoor gardens.
TravelingMom Tip: You can see another incredible garden option at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
Beyond Free: More Fun Things to Do in Charlotte
The list of family-friendly fun extends well beyond the free things to do in Charlotte.
A visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of the most beloved offerings in Queen City, or actually, attend a NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Before you go, read our 10 tips for NASCAR newbies.)
Baseball fans will love attending a Charlotte Knights minor league game in Uptown Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark. A world-class offering at the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers families the opportunity for zip lining, biking, live music, and naturally, whitewater rafting.
Discovery Place, a terrific science museum for kids, is not free, but it has a whole page on the website dedicated to ways to make a visit more affordable, including military discounts and programs for low-income families living in North and South Carolina. Discovery Place is located in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood, home to a laid-back, global restaurant scene.
The Levine Museum of the New South is a history museum that looks at the South from the Civil War until today. This museum, with exhibits on lynching of African-Americans and other difficult topics, is best for older, more mature children.
Lastly, thrill-seeking families will go crazy for Carowinds, the thrill ride amusement park of the Carolinas.