What are the best activities to do in Charlotte?

Sarah Crosland

Show up in Charlotte on a sunny day and you'll find a city that loves to be out and about. Nearby mountain trails and vineyard tours may tempt you to the road, but for those who prefer to stay nearby there are plenty of active pursuits in and around town. 

If you want to take a close-up look at uptown sans car, you're in luck. Last year the city rolled out the state's first bike-share system and now you'll find B-Cycle bike stations spread throughout uptown. Check the website for specific locations, then grab a bike and hit the road to charming nearby neighborhoods like South End and Dilworth. Not in the mood for pedaling? Check out Charlotte NC Tours' Segway tour options. There are a variety of versions including ghost and history tours, but the two-hour Taste & Glide featuring brief tastings at local restaurants is a must for food fans. 

Another new addition to the city's active scene is Ten Park Lanes, a recently restored retro bowling alley. Located on the bustling Montford Drive just south of town, this '60s-era spot offers friendly competition, as well as Southern fare and even a bar with moonshine on tap. Three patios flanking the space are perfect for relaxing post-game. 

More in the mood for something under the sun? Go north to Lake Norman or south to Lake Wylie. Both lakes offer a variety of activities—especially during the warmer months. There are boat rentals and charters on both, as well as a few popular public swimming and fishing spots. But for something different, check out one of the Local Paddler stand-up paddleboarding classes that run May through October. 

For a playful twist (and turn) head to Victory Lane Karting where adult karts go up to 40 mph on a track for eight-minute races. Located just north of town in Mooresville (read: NASCAR country), this is a great destination for an indoor adrenaline rush. 

If you'd prefer a slightly more relaxed ride, check out the Latta Plantation Equestrian Center, also located north of town. Settle in for one of their trail rides on more than 16 miles of wooded terrain. The rides, which typically last 45 minutes to an hour, are slow and steady, offering a close up of North Carolina's wildlife on the gorgeous nature preserve. For a seriously picturesque version, opt for the Sunset Ride, which includes a ride as the sun sinks followed by a "Cowboy Dinner" around a barnside bonfire. 

  • On July 29, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are some things to know before visiting Charlotte?

    1. Rent a car. Charlotte’s public transportation system is lacking and because the city is laid out much like Atlanta (pockets of suburban-like neighborhoods make up the city) it’s easiest to get around by car.

    2. The ocean is close but it’s not that close. So often visitors to the Queen City want to head to the beach. But the closest beach to Charlotte—the biggest being Myrtle Beach in South Carolina—is still about three to four hours away.

    3. Southern cuisine is king, but there’s much more to try. Sure, Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and collards can be found on what feels like every corner. But Charlotte’s dining scene is constantly evolving and boasts fantastic Thai and sushi places, modern steakhouses and Mexican spots, as well as high-end seafood restaurants.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are some things to know before visiting Charlotte?

    1. Rent a car. Charlotte’s public transportation system is lacking and because the city is laid out much like Atlanta (pockets of suburban-like neighborhoods make up the city) it’s easiest to get around by car.


    2. The ocean is close but it’s not that close. So often visitors to the Queen City want to head to the beach. But the closest beach to Charlotte—the biggest being Myrtle Beach in South Carolina—is still about three to four hours away.

    3. Southern cuisine is king, but there’s much more to try. Sure, Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and collards can be found on what feels like every corner. But Charlotte’s dining scene is constantly evolving and boasts fantastic Thai and sushi places, modern steakhouses and Mexican spots, as well as high-end seafood restaurants.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What is public transportation like in Charlotte?

    Though Charlotte is a major city, like its Southern counterparts, public transportation is lacking—or at least it’s a far cry from what you’d find in northern cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York, all of which boast a network of public transportation that stretches far beyond the city limits. That being said, Charlotte has made some strides with its public transportation offerings in recent years, the most significant being the addition of the LYNX light rail line. Though the line only runs south from Uptown into South End and down to south Charlotte by I-485, it’s heavily utilized by commuters in south Charlotte who work in Uptown. For those in Uptown, the free Gold Rush Trolley runs along Trade and Tryon streets, the hub of center city, and stops on almost every block. For those looking to exercise, the city’s new public bike sharing system—with several stations throughout Uptown—is the best way to navigate the city.
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  • On July 28, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are the best wedding venues in Charlotte?

    Like most metropolitan cities, Charlotte’s wedding venue options are vast. From modern museums to urban gardens, here are the top spots to get hitched in the Queen City.

    Ritz-Carlton Charlotte
    Since the Forbes four star Ritz-Carlton opened in Charlotte in 2009, it’s been the go-to spot for brides in search of an urban yet upscale setting for their nuptials. While the central location of the Ritz is just one of its appealing qualities, it’s truly the variety of options couples have for their ceremony and receptions. The stunning interior urban garden is the most stunning ceremony location while the ballrooms—equipped to accommodate hundreds of guests—can easily be transformed into breathtaking settings for a couple’s first dance.

    Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
    Not all couples want a city wedding, which is why so often Charlotte brides and grooms look to this Forbes four star property located in the gorgeous suburb of Ballantyne. The hotel exudes Southern charm and with its ballroom options and outdoor patios, which offer views of the sprawling, green golf course, it proves to be the best luxury wedding venue outside of Uptown.

    Mint Museum Uptown
    When the Mint’s Uptown location opened in 2010, couples clamored for a spot on the Mint’s calendar for their upcoming weddings. And for good reason: this urban spot boasts not only stunning cityscape views perfect for photos, but also the museum’s artwork as a backdrop for an elegant city wedding.
  • On July 28, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are the best sports bars in Charlotte?

    Between Carolina Panther fans and diehard Tarheel alums (and those newcomers whose loyalty lies with their hometown teams like the Steelers, Patriots, and Cowboys), the need for quality sports bars in a Charlotte was high. These three spots are the best places to catch the game no matter what team you’re rooting for.

    Hickory Tavern
    Lucky for sports fanatics, Hickory Tavern boasts not one but nine local locations (others outside of town include Hickory, Asheville, Pinehurst, and more). Each location epitomizes what a sports should be—great bar food, lots of beers on tap, and plenty of oversize TVs airing a variety of games at once. It helps that Hickory Taverns aren’t just the perfect spot for adults—the food options for the kiddies like the turkey sliders are a hit.

    Paco’s Tacos & Tequila
    Yes, we know this is a Tex-Mex joint that specializes in the best modern tacos (the Paco’s Taco can’t be missed; a combo of brisket slow roasted for six hours served alongside caramelized onions and chipotle bbq sauce) and margaritas in town, but that’s exactly why this SouthPark spot makes for an ideal place to watch the game. The expansive bar features several large-screen TVs and comfy barstools on which you can nosh on chips and guacamole made tableside while sipping down one of Paco’s signature ‘ritas.

    BlackFinn Saloon
    The location of this Uptown bar is just one reason why it’s one of the best spots to watch the game. Located inside the EpiCenter and only a few blocks from Time Warner Arena (where the Charlotte Bobcats—soon to be Hornets—play), BlackFinn makes for the perfect spot to wind down post-Bobcats game and watch as other NBA teams duke it out. The two-story bar/restaurant features TVs both up and downstairs so there’s never a risk of missing any of the NCAA tournament games once March Madness gets going.
  • On July 28, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What is the weather like right now in Charlotte?

    Most summers in Charlotte are HOT--highs even topping out at 100 or 101 during July and August--but the temperature mainly stays in the 90s from June through part of September. But this summer has been exceptionally temperate with lots of rain, which makes for tremendous blooms on creypt myrtle trees seen throughout the South. (That extra rain plays a role in the quality of the leaf changing colors in the North Carolina mountains, which means you can expect amazing color this fall. For that reason alone, this fall would be a great time to visit towns such as Highlands, North Carolina, home to the Forbes four star Old Edwards Inn & Spa.) Though it stays hotter in Charlotte longer than cities in the Northeast, it also gets warmer sooner, which means even in March you can expect temps in the 60s while by April and May the weather hits the mid-70s with little to no humidity.  
  • On July 27, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are the best steakhouses in Charlotte?

    Steakhouses are a dime a dozen in a large city like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. But in the Queen City, there a handful of steakhouses and only a few that truly standout. Here are the best in town.

    Block & Grinder
    No, it’s certainly nothing like the steakhouses you’d find in Chicago or New York. But this small restaurant in an unassuming shopping area near SouthPark is serving up steaks and its counterparts that rival some of the best on the East coast let alone the South. The idea behind B&G is simple: get back to the basics. Every meat selection on the menu—from the rib eye to the filet mignon—is hand-cut by B&G staff while less traditional steakhouse options like the corned beef and pastrami are brined, steamed, smoked, trimmed, and cut in house, as well. Traditional favorites such as the NY Strip are modernized by the simple addition of duck eggs over easy served atop the savory cut served alongside sweet potato hash. Farm-to-table ingredients add a fresh burst of flavor to the sides (pan-friend corn is to die for). Block & Grinder may be atypical, but it’s one of the best restaurants (and steakhouses) in town.

    5Church
    Don’t be fooled by the modern décor. This uptown spot is not only one of the hottest restaurants in town it’s also one of the best places for steak. No, it’s not necessarily a steakhouse, but you won’t find a better steak in this area of town. The options range from a grilled hanger steak to the Prime 60-Second NY Strip. The latter is fresh-cut to order and cooked on one side resulting in a flavorful crust on one side and a rich, juicy flavor on the other. The sides aren’t to be missed either: sauteed green beans and horseradish mashed potatoes are delicious.

    BLT Steak
    The Charlotte outpost of this popular steakhouse located in the lobby of the Forbes four star Ritz-Carlton Charlotte has become the “it” spot for movers and shakers since its opening. Standouts include the American Waygu skirt steak—a rich and tender cut—which when served alongside the sauteed spinach or jalapeno mashed potatoes is quite possibly one of the best dishes in Charlotte.
  • On July 26, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are the best hotels for golfers in Charlotte?

    There’s truly only one answer to this: The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge. The Forbes four star property is the only luxury boutique hotel in Charlotte that also has its own championship PGA golf course. In addition to the par 71 course, the property also boasts the renowned Dana Rader Golf School, which has an award-winning team of certified LPGA and PGA instructors ready to analyze and remedy any golfer’s game. A game of golf here would not be complete without a visit to the Forbes four star Gallery Restaurant & Bar, where golfers love to sit at the bar post-game and order a cocktail or, better yet, a sampling from Gallery’s extensive (the best in Charlotte) list of Scotches, bourbons, and whiskeys.
  • On July 26, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    Where is the best pizza in Charlotte?

    Like coffee, ice cream, and burgers, what defines the best pizza is truly a subjective thing. But for those looking for some guidance on where to go for the very best pizza in the Queen City, here’s a look at three spots you won’t want to miss.

    Lorenzo’s
    Sometimes the most unassuming spots for a great piece of pizza are also the ones serving up the city’s top slices. At this Ballantyne pizzeria located just a few miles from the South Carolina state line, you can expect oversize slices oozing with serious Italian spices and flavor. While the classic Grandma’s Pie—a thin crust pizza with mozzarella, crushed tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic—is the go-to choice, specialty slices such as the Lasagna Pizza—a heavenly combination of ground pork and veal, fresh ricotta cheese, housemade sauce, and more atop a hearty crust—are a delightful departure from the norm.

    Pure Pizza
    You’d never expect some of the best pizza in Charlotte to be tucked away among other food vendors, but, alas, Pure Pizza is. Located in 7th Street Market—a similar set up to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market but on a much, much smaller and more high-end scale—Pure Pizza is dishing out what could be the city’s best pizza. Pure Pizza sources almost all of its ingredients from local farms, which means you’re getting the freshest toppings, crust, and cheese—all of which are organic—in town. The crust, though, is the real star here. Options include a sprouted ancient grain, which features a variety of nutrient rich grains such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and whole wheat. The result is a crust that’s the perfect complement to toppings such as Cottonmill Farms Oyster mushrooms, Dan the Pig Man Wild Smoked salmon, and Prestige Farms Chicken, all local purveyors.

    Vivace
    This Midtown spot has long been known as the best modern Italian restaurant in Charlotte. But for those looking for some truly exceptional gourmet pizzas, Vivace is the place to go. These 10-inch pizzas prepared in a brick oven boast toppings such as duck confit, prosciutto, fig, and more. Served on a wood cutting board, these gourmet pizzas are so decadent and flavorful you won’t need a doggy bag.
  • On July 14, 2013
    Blake Miller answered the question: Blake Miller

    What are the best bars in Charlotte?

    Depending on what area of town you’re in, there are a few bars you’ll want to visit for a cocktail. Here are three top bars in Charlotte.

    The Lobby Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte
    Visit the Forbes Four Star property’s Lobby Lounge on any given night and you’ll find some of the city’s most successful and well-known power brokers sipping on classic cocktails or noshing on some of Executive Chef Jon Farace’s small plate creations that incorporate fresh, local products. The dimly-lit, modern lounge area is adjacent to the outstanding BLT Steak so diners come here for pre- and after-dinner drinks such as the specialty cocktail the Triple B—jalapeno-infused Don Eduardo tequila is the base of this spicy libation—and to people watch as local celebrities like Carolina Panther Steve Smith come here to relax.

    Gallery Bar at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
    Much of this Forbes Four Star hotel is traditional in décor, but take one step into Gallery Bar and you’ll be transported to a hip, modern New York-style hotel bar. The dark wood paneling, floors, and coffered ceiling give way to a backlit bar and sleek club chairs and leather barstools. The Scotch, whisky, bourbon, and cognac selections are the best in the city while the specialty cocktails (try the Ballantyne Martini—pearl pomegranate vodka, Malibu coconut rum, pomegranate juice, Chambord, and muddled raspberries) are hugely popular with regulars. But if you plan to dine in, a must is the Gallery burger—a rich coupling of Baucom’s Best Farms beef layered with Guinness-soaked gruyere, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, and served with either hush puppies or sweet potato fries, Want to make it more decadent? Add foie gras.

    5Church
    This hip, urban restaurant and bar in Uptown has quickly become one of the hottest bars in Charlotte. The décor—headed up by co-partner/designer Mills Howell—is modern and fresh. Exposed black ceilings hand painted with white text from The Art of War complement the bar area’s oversize, 18-seat community tables hand made from Himalayan oak, and the sleek concrete floors. Couple the hip, modern aesthetic with some really fantastic specialty cocktails such as the Viper—a spicy concoction of Patron, orange liqueur, cucumber water and cayenne pepper—and outstanding small plate appetizers such as the black bean hummus with house-made flatbread—and it’s clear why Charlotteans flock here. 
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