Check out the 20 best things to do in Uptown Charlotte, NC ... don't visit the Queen City without adding these fun activities to your bucket list!
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I visited Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time a couple months ago. And I have to say ... I was pleasantly surprised. It's such a cool city!
We were there barely there long enough to catch a few z's, but I loved exploring the neighborhood around our hotel. Uptown Charlotte (aka downtown Charlotte) is fun, walkable, and filled with interesting things to see and tempting restaurants to enjoy.
Charlotte is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. But if you're short on time like we were, you can also explore this diverse neighborhood in a day, or even a few hours.
So if you're looking for fun things to do in Charlotte, keep reading. I've rounded up all the best Uptown activities!
About Downtown Charlotte
If you're not familiar with Charlotte, you may be surprised to learn that it's the biggest city in North Carolina and one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. With a population of well over 800K, Charlotte has the perfect balance of small and big city charms.
The city was named after King George III of Great Britain's wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. And you'll see references to the Queen throughout Charlotte, which has been nicknamed the Queen City.
For the purposes of this trip, we're focusing on just one of Charlotte's neighborhoods, Uptown. If you're anything like me, you may be wondering: does Uptown = Downtown? Or is there another Downtown in Charlotte? Well, they are one and the same!
Although Charlotte's center city has alternated between being called Uptown and Downtown through the years, in 1974 the city council officially proclaimed the area Uptown Charlotte. And it stuck.
And in case you're wondering ... Charlotte residents are referred to as Charlotteans. Although I kept referring to them as Charlottans / Charlatans (you know swindlers, shysters, quacks, etc.), at least in my head. Charlotte is not a city full of grifters, thankfully!
Things to Do in Uptown Charlotte
Okay, let's get to the good stuff ... what to do in Charlotte!
Uptown is divided into four wards by the intersection Trade and Tryon Streets, and we are going to explore a little bit of each ward. With parks, historical sites, tasty food, and more, there is something for everyone.
To help plan your trip, I've created a map of Uptown. Take a sneak peek below, then open it on your phone as you're exploring the city. The map will help you pinpoint each of the Charlotte activities mentioned below.
Track Down Historic Landmarks on the Liberty Walk
The Liberty Walk was one of our most pleasant discoveries when exploring downtown Charlotte.
This self-guided walk takes you around a few blocks filled with historical sites and markers. As you wander around, you'll learn about important events, like the the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence from British rule. The declaration, which was signed in 1775, was one of the events that led to the American Revolution.
Download a Liberty Walk map before your visit.
Visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame
If you're a fan of racing (and maybe even if you're not!), it's definitely worth a stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The complex contains a range of interactive displays, including racing simulators, NASCAR history exhibits, historic cars and tracks, and much more.
Escape the City at Romare Bearden Park
The gorgeous Romare Bearden Park, which was named for a prominent local artist, provides a quiet escape from the bustle of Uptown Charlotte.
Located across the street from BB&T Ballpark (home to Charlotte's minor league baseball team), the park is a great place to capture a skyline photo. During our visit, it was filled with an abundance of blooming hydrangeas, which created an especially pretty backdrop for those impressive city views.
The park is often hosts events, so visit its website to see if there's any interesting happening during your visit.
Step Back in Time at Old Settler's Cemetery
The Old Settler's Cemetery was Charlotte's first municipal burial ground.
With graves dating from 1776 through 1884, the cemetery is the final resting place many Revolutionary and Confederate War veterans, plus a number of prominent Charlotteans. Among those buried in the cemetery include Nathaniel Alexander (the 13th Governor of North Carolina), Major General George Graham (a Revolutionary War hero), and Thomas Polk (Charlotte's founding father and the great-uncle of President James K. Polk). If you'd like to find a specific grave, check out the map at the cemetery entrance.
The cemetery is located next door to First Presbyterian Church, a historic Greek Revival church with a towering spire. You may also want to take a peek at that impressive building.
Explore Discovery Place Science with Your Kids ... or Not
Visiting Charlotte with your kids? Stop by Discovery Place Science.
They'll have a chance to experience science first hand through a variety of interactive exhibits, including an indoor rainforest, bug lab, instructor led classes, and more.
Visiting without kids? Stop by the museum on the third Friday of the month for Science on the Rocks! It's the perfect opportunity for adults to enjoy everything from music, crazy activities, costume contests, and more ... all with a cocktail in hand.
Get a Selfie with Buddy Bear
When we visited Paris in 2012, there was an peculiar exhibit of hand-painted fiberglass bears. Not exactly what we were expecting to see by the Eiffel Tower.
So imagine our surprise when we learned that Charlotte had its own Buddy Bear! Charlotte's Buddy Bear was designed by Sharon Downell, the winner of a public art contest. The bear features images of Princess Charlotte, birds of paradise flowers, and binary code which represents the advancement of technology in Charlotte. You can spot this charming bear by the Main Library's fountain,
A larger exhibit of these life-size bears travels around the world, so you may catch it on your travels, too. Two German artists came up with the concept, which is meant to promote peace, international understanding, and tolerance among the nations, cultures, and religions of the world.
Explore the Main Library
Once you grab a Buddy Bear selfie, walk over to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the city's main library.
The columns on the front of the building are decorated with quotes from famous authors. And if you're visiting with kids, you may want to check out the ImaginOn Children's Library. It features a theater, maker space, and more ... perfect for engaging kids.
Take a Walking Tour of the Fourth Ward Historic District
If you love historic buildings as much as I do, you'll want to take the Fourth Ward Historic District Walking Tour.
The self-guided tour is a great way to learn more about Charlotte's history ... and see some charming old houses, too!
Chow Down at 7th Street Public Market
I don't know about you, but I love a food hall. And downtown Charlotte has a great one at 7th Street Public Market.
The market is filled with tempting restaurants, including one of my faves, Not Just Coffee. You'll also find some cute local shops, which are a great place to pick up a non-cheesy vacation souvenir.
Another place you may want to check out is Epicentre, an entertaining and dining complex in the city center. Epicentre is home to quite a few restaurants (many of which are chains). There's also a movie theater and bowling alley, perfect for keeping the kids entertained.
Grab a Pic of Queen Charlotte
During your walk around the center city, stop by the life-size bronze statue of Queen Charlotte and her dogs. Charlotte takes its name from the Queen, who was the wife of King George III of Great Britain.
You'll find the statue of the Queen City's namesake on the corner of S. College Street and E. 5th Street.
Check out the Four Corners Statues at Independence Square
The intersection of Tryon and Trade Streets marks the center of the city. It's also known as Independence Square.
Statues representing the history and future of Charlotte tower over the four corners of this intersection:
- Transportation: This statue represents the importance of African Americans in building a railroad that turned Charlotte into a transportation hub in the 1800's.
- The Future: The mother and child in this statue represent the city's future.
- Commerce: America’s very first gold rush happened in Charlotte, and this statue shows a 19th century gold prospector.
- Industry: This statue represents a female mill worker (with a child at her hem), a nod to Charlotte's history as a mill town (and the use of child labor).
Get a Photo of the Giant Bronze Wheel Statue
On the south corner of Independence Square you'll spot Il Gran Disco, a giant bronze disc.
The sculpture was created by an Italian artist, and it commemorates the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. At 15 feet in diameter, it's hard to miss!
Escape the Weather at Overstreet Mall
Charlotte is known for its hot, steamy summers. Escape the bad weather at the Overstreet Mall.
This skywalk network connects a number of downtown office buildings, and it's home to a variety of shops and restaurants.
Cool Off at the Wells Fargo Plaza Fountain
We happened upon this playful fountain in the Wells Fargo Plaza, and it's worth a peep if you're in the area.
The bronze statue, created by artist Dennis Smith, depicts a group of children play in a cascading fountain.
Eat Your Way through the Latta Arcade
One thing I love about London and Paris are all the covered arcades filled with charming shops and restaurants. These atmospheric spaces aren't as common in the U.S., but Charlotte's city center has its own: Latta Arcade.
This two story arcade, which connects with Brevard Court, is a great place to enjoy window shopping and grab a bite to eat!
Explore Charlotte's Art and Culture Scene
Uptown Charlotte is filled with museums and performing arts spaces! Here are a few to keep you busy:
- Blumenthal Performing Arts Center - This space is home to a variety of art organizations (including the Charlotte Symphony, Charlotte Ballet, Opera Carolina, and more), and it's a stop for touring Broadway shows.
- Bechtler Museum of Modern Art - Home to the Bechtler family collection, this museum is home to over 1400 works from a who's who of mid-century modern masters, including Miró, Picasso, Calder, Hepworth, Warhol, Le Corbusier, and more.
- Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture - The center celebrates the cultural contributions of Africans and African Americans through a program of music, dance, theater, visual art, film, arts education programs, literature, and community outreach.
- Levine Museum of the New South - This museum covers the history of the south since the Civil War, focusing on Charlotte and the surrounding Carolina Piedmont.
- Mint Museum of Craft and Design - The Mint is home to an important craft and design collection, as well as American, contemporary, and European art.
- Wells Fargo History Museum (CLOSED) - Learn about the history of gold mining in North Carolina and see a rare 19th century Concord stagecoach at this museum.
Check out the Funky Firebird Statue
You'll spot the Firebird Statue outside the Bechtler Museum.
It's hard to miss this towering statue that's covered with over 7500 pieces of mirrored and colored glass! The statue depicts a bird sitting on an arch and was created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle in 1991.
Explore Literary-Inspired The Green
Near the intersection of W. 1st Street and S. Tryon Street, you'll find The Green.
This petite, charming park has a world literature theme and is filled with unique sculptures. You'll find many cute Instagram-worthy photo ops here, so stop by to snap a few pics and enjoy a little shade.
Catch a Game
Charlotte is home base for a number of professional sports teams. Here are the tops spots in Uptown for catching a game:
- BB&T Ballpark - Home to minor league baseball team, the Charlotte Knights.
- Bank of America Stadium - The Carolina Panthers football teams calls this stadium home.
- Spectrum Center - This stadium is home to both the Charlotte Hornets (basketball) and the Charlotte Checkers (hockey), plus it's a stop for touring big name music acts.
Track Down Uptown Street Art
I always love discovering public art while traveling, and in addition to numerous outdoor sculptures, Charlotte is home to some interesting street art.
Here are few pieces worth checking out as you explore the city (my map has exact locations):
- The Local - The large mural shown below can be found on the outside of this bar. It was created by local artists Matt Hooker and Matt Moore.
- 7th Street Public Market - Step inside this food hall to enjoy a colorful work by Rosalia Torres-Weiner of Red Calaca Studio.
- Harvey B. Gantt Center - David Wilson's “Divergent Thread, Lucent Memories” located in front of the Gantt Center is sure to catch your eye.
- Green Parking Deck - The "Effervescence" Mosaic by Jeanette Brossart is located next to the light rail tracks downtown.
- Spirit Square - This mural depicts a man feeding the poor.
- Aerial CLT Building - Although it's a little further from the city's core, the Women's Face Mural by Nick Napoletano is definitely worth seeking out.
- Stonewall Parking Station - It's almost impossible to miss the massive, folded metal Wanderwall by Marc Fornes.
This is just a short list of Charlotte street art. For more public art, I'd recommend exploring this interactive map.
Planning Your Visit to Charlotte
I hope you enjoyed reading about these fun things to do in downtown Charlotte! Here are a few tips to help plan your visit:
Uptown (Charlotte's downtown) is centered on the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets. The neighborhood is nestled in a highway loop and is divided into four wards (First, Second, Third, and Fourth)
The compact city center is very walkable, so I wouldn't recommend driving around to see the sights. If you want to get around a little faster, try renting a bike from Charlotte B-Cycle or a scooter. And of course, Uber is an option if you're going further afield.
Where to Eat
We didn't have time to try too many restaurants during our short trip, but the ones we did visit were wonderful! I have to give a shout out to Susannah from Feast + West for the awesome recommendations (stop by her blog for lots of amazing recipes and more info on Charlotte).
- Lincoln's Haberdashery - Find delicious sandwiches and pastries here, plus an amazing selection of beer and wine. This place is actually located just outside of Uptown, but it's definitely still worth a visit. I actually liked my sandwich here so much that I recreated it when I returned home!
- Amélie's French Bakery & Café - Amélie's has numerous locations throughout Charlotte, including one in Uptown. Their pastries are super delicious, but you can grab a full meal here, as well as coffee, tea, wine, and beer.
- Not Just Coffee - Uptown has a couple Not Just Coffee locations. We visited the Packard Place one (pictured above), but you'll also find them located in the 7th Street Public Market. Stop by for their yummy avocado toast, and of course, coffee. I enjoyed a cold brew, and my husband had a special coffee that was orange scented (mmm).
- 7th Street Public Market - You'll find everything from crepes to cheese to pizza at this welcoming food hall. If the weather is nice, grab a meal, then head to the nearby First Ward Park for a picnic!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is located right by the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The hotel has a great city skyline views, although it's located toward the edge of Uptown (yet still within walking distance of everything). There are many other Uptown hotels, from the gorgeous new Kimpton Tryon Park to boutiquey The Ivey's Hotel to the swanky Ritz-Carlton. Check out TripAdvisor for more options (the reviews are super helpful!).
Have you been to Charlotte?
P.S. Check out all my travel stories for more vacation inspiration!