Once called Charlottetowne, North Carolina's largest metropolitan area is home to NASCAR, the second largest financial center in the U.S., an amazing roster of musicians and an incredible amount of museums, cultural hotspots, sports, nature areas, travel destinations and more.
If you plan to take a trip to the south and Charlotte is your ultimate destination, you will be pleased to know there is an abundance of free and cheap things to do in the "Queen City." So, leave some free time in your schedule and head out to some of the following attractions and resident favorites.
1. Levine Museum of the New South
Take a stroll through the nation's most comprehensive display of post-Civil War Southern history. Featuring interactive exhibits ranging from cotton fields to skyscrapers, both kids and adults will enjoy over 1,200 artifacts, videos, images and more that display rich Southern history from 1865 to the present. Adults, students, seniors and military pay $8, children ages 6–18 are $5, and children under 5 are free. During weekends or evening events, the museum provides parking validation. The museum is open seven days a week.
2. Charlotte Nature Museum
This family-friendly museum has exciting exhibits both indoors and outdoors, from free-flying butterflies in the Butterfly Pavilion to live animals in the Creature Cavern and more insects than you can imagine at Insect Alley. Admission for adults and children ages 2 and up is $6; children under 2 are free.
3. North Carolina Music Hall of Fame
This incredible nonprofit organization honors singers, musicians, songwriters, producers and more who hail from North Carolina. Currently featured artists include Charlie Daniels, Nina Simone, Randy Travis, James Taylor and more. All ages are welcome, and admission is free (though donations are encouraged, as it is a 501C3 organization). Open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 2–4 p.m.
4. Billy Graham Library
Journey through this amazing library, exhibits and memorabilia from one of the 20th century's most influential voices. Take a tour of the Graham family home; find unique gifts and books in Ruth's Attic; have lunch in the Dairy Barn, which is stocked with salads, sandwiches, cookies and ice cream; and leave feeling inspired. Admission is free, and operating hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
5. Carolinas Aviation Museum
This remarkable collection includes aircraft, helicopters, equipment, gadgets and printed material that cover years of aviation history. View a range of exhibits, including the "Miracle on the Hudson," the historic Piedmont Airlines DC-3, and an assortment of military and personal aircraft. Open seven days a week, admission varies from $8–12, depending on student, senior or military ID. Children under 5 are free, and any children under eighteen must be with an adult. Please note: while multiple large fans are placed throughout the museum, it is not air conditioned.
6. Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Unite with nature at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, located on 380 acres next to Lake Wylie. Both adults and children will enjoy the spectacular gardens, fountains, conservatory, nature walks, gift shop and more. Named as one of the nation's best gardens by HGTV and USA Today, this place is a "must-see," especially in the upcoming fall season. Open seven days a week; tickets range from $6 to $12, and children under 4 are free.
7. Freedom Park
Known as the "Central Park" of Charlotte, this 98-acre park has a 7-acre lake, paved trails, tennis and volleyball courts, playgrounds, and even a steam engine that you can explore. Occasional free films and musical performances are featured throughout the year, and the park is right next to the Charlotte Nature Museum. The park is pet friendly, and admission is free (though films and performances are extra).
8. Discovery Place
Explore the world of science at Discovery Place. The entire family will find something they enjoy, from interactive, hands-on exhibits to an aquarium, a rainforest, IMAX/3D theatre and more. Come and visit what has been called one of the top science museums in the U.S. Tickets range from $10–12 for a daily pass, though movie theater tickets are extra. Educators with ID can enjoy free Saturday admission in September for themselves and one guest.