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Choosing among Charlotte's best attractions isn't easy. The city is packed with parks, lakes, sporting venues, and cultural destinations—each tempting in their own way. But if you have limited time, here are a few top spots to hit.
The US National Whitewater Center is located just west of town on the Catawba River. It features 400 acres full of activities from kayaking and canoeing to rock climbing and biking. And, of course, the star of the show is the center's recirculating river that is an official Olympic training site. During warm weather evenings and weekends often offer live music, festivals, and competitions. Need a break from the activity? Grab a bite and a craft beer at The River's Edge Bar & Grill, overlooking the rapids.
Art lovers shouldn't miss uptown Charlotte's Levine Center for the Arts. This relatively new cultural campus includes the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, the John S. and James L. Knight Theater, and the Mint Museum Uptown. Each museum boasts impressive exhibits—both permanent and traveling, while the Knight Theater features top international performers and speakers. Enjoy a pre-theater dinner or a post-exhibit cocktail at one of the restaurants on the campus, Halcyon Flavors from the Earth or e2 Emeril's Eatery.
If you're going to be in NASCAR country, you should be able to talk the talk. No place is better for learning the local lingo than at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A trip to the uptown museum includes more than 50 hands-on activities (think tire-changing stations) and an exhibit featuring more than 50 cars.
For those seeking a less pedal-to-the-metal Charlotte experience, check out Freedom Park, just south of town. It's a 98-acre park with a picturesque seven-acre lake. Soak up some sun on one of the grassy hillsides next to the lake and its ever-present geese, or take a stroll on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, which runs through the park and ultimately into uptown Charlotte.
Finally, make a stop at the NC Music Factory—preferably after dark. This music and entertainment hot spot is set in a renovated mill. You'll find restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and concert venues in a rustic urban setting. Some of the top places to hit on an evening out here include VGBG Beer Hall & Garden (for beer), The Fillmore (for music), and Osso Restaurant & Lounge (for cocktails and dining).
Easily one of the biggest draws to Charlotte is its racing scene and with that comes the attraction of the relatively new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown. Filled with memorabilia from racing decades past, here is where you'll learn about the history of the sport. Not to be missed is one of the best features of the museum, Glory Road. This banked ramp simulating various racetracks also showcases 18 historic cars not to mention highlights 40 current and historic tracks.
Just a short walk from there is the Levine Center for the Arts, an impressive campus featuring five museums and theaters including the Mint Museum Uptown, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the John S. and James L. Knight Theater. Expect a vast array of revolving exhibits that range from Native American art to Broadway shows such as The Lion King.
If you’re willing to make the drive out of town, head to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, situated on 400 acres of pristine land. With over 24 activities (including riding the rapids or biking the trails), a restaurant, live music shows, and events including the Microbrew Cruise—a sunset paddle along the Catawba River followed by a fireside dinner with craft beer tastings from local breweries such as Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDad Brewing Company—you’ll find plenty to do here.
For the shopping fanatic, a visit to SouthPark is a must. The main shopping destination in the city and state, SouthPark is anchored by SouthPark Mall, which features showrooms by designers such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., St. John, Tory Burch, Hermes, and soon-to-be-opened Gucci.