Charlotte is often a traveler’s starting point for exploration around North Carolina, as it’s the main transportation hub for both domestic and international travel. So how much time should you spend in Charlotte?
Three days in Charlotte will give you a good overview of the city’s main highlights, along with time to explore pursuits just outside of the city. So when considering what to do in Charlotte NC, you can fit most of them in those 3 days.
The city is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina place, with many good restaurants serving delicious food, important historical sites, and numerous options for outdoor activities within a short drive of the city. You’ll certainly want to spend more than 3 days in Charlotte, but this way you’ll get a taste of what the city is all about.
Before launching into our Charlotte itinerary, with the best that the city has to offer, let’s go over a few tips to make sure your visit to this North Carolina is not only fun but efficient.
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Best Time To Visit Charlotte NC
Charlotte, along with the rest of North Carolina, is a year-round destination. Spring, probably the best time to visit Charlotte. It’s a beautiful time of year if you want to see the best of the state’s flowering plants and the city blooming with dogwoods and azaleas.
Fall is perfect if you’re visiting any of the surrounding state or national parks, as you’ll be able to do some leaf-peeping with some beautiful fall foliage.
If you’re traveling on a budget, it’s always a good idea to avoid school breaks and holidays for cheaper rates on flights and accommodations.
How To Get Around Charlotte?
Charlotte has a few public transportation options for you to choose from once you’re in the city, namely the LYNX Blue Line Light Rail, its network of streetcars, and the CityLYNX Gold Line.
If you’re planning on traveling outside of Charlotte on any day trips or hikes outside of the city limits, it’d be best for you to rent a car to do all that efficiently and on your own schedule. Otherwise, you’ll also have access to the city’s rideshare options to get from point A to point B.
You can also see the best of historic Charlotte on a group tour by electric cart, which is one of the fun things to do in Charlotte.
See Also: Transport From Charlotte Airport To The City Center
Where Should I Stay In Charlotte NC?
As with many North Carolina cities, the neighborhood you choose to stay in while visiting Charlotte will depend on what you truly want out of your visit. For access to some of Charlotte’s best breweries and eateries, consider Uptown or NoDa. NoDa stands for North Davidson, by the way, a fact that you can impress Charlotte locals with if you use it correctly. South End is another popular option for more nightlife options.
If you’re in Charlotte for the sites and historical offerings, Dilworth is an excellent option and a very walkable neighborhood in the city. At the end of this post, you’ll find our recommended hotels in Charlotte. But you can browse some of them already by clicking here.
And now, let’s get going with a Charlotte itinerary for three days worth of the best eats, the best sites, and the best day trips from the city.
3 Days In Charlotte: The Itinerary
1st of Your 3 Days In Charlotte
On your first day, you an visit Charlotte’s historic and natural offerings to get an overview of the city. It’ll include visits to Charlotte’s best museum and lakefront strolls.
Kick things off on your Charlotte visit by fueling up for the day’s activities with one of the city’s best breakfast or brunch picks.
Earl’s Grocery is a great stop if you’re in a rush, as it doubles as a grocery store with the added bonus of fresh baked goods in the morning. For something more substantial, it doesn’t get much better than the Flying Biscuit Cafe for delicious breakfast platters and, you guessed it, the fluffiest biscuits you’ll consume while in the city. Try them on a breakfast sandwich or solo with whatever jam or apple butter the restaurant’s offering that morning.
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Following a light – or more indulgent breakfast – examining the South’s historical past is an important piece of any visit to Charlotte.
The best way to do that is by visiting the Levine Museum of the New South, a museum dedicated to the changes in the city following the Civil War. The museum doesn’t shy away from a difficult past during the Jim Crow era and over the course of the Civil Rights Movement.
It even looks at how much progress must still be made in North Carolina for truly equal rights in the South. Moving exhibits include historical background and more current issues, such as the city’s struggles with police brutality.
If you’re driving today, by the way, the museum does validate parking at the parking garage next door.
For the car racing fans out there, another option rather than the Levine Museum of the New South would be the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The center looks at not only the history of the sport, but NASCAR’s biggest stars alongside a number of rotating exhibits.
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If that bit of education made you hungry, delicious things await you if you’re willing to drive north up toward Lake Norman. Don’t get distracted by the beautiful waterfront views just yet. You’ll have time to explore after lunch.
Your best bet for quintessential North Carolina cuisine is Hello Sailor, a laid-back eatery from the same owners of Kindred, an eatery that’s been on a number of “best of” lists over the years. (Kindred is only open for dinner, by the way, in case you have more time in Charlotte and want to check it out!).
The more casual Hello, Sailor, is an airy space right on Lake Norman in neighboring Cornelius, North Carolina. Ingredients are locally-sourced and dishes are Southern-inspired. Expect hushpuppies, juicy fried chicken sandwiches, and pickles prepared in more ways than you thought possible.
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Walk off some of that lunch returning to those sights you drove in on at Lake Norman. If you want to while away the rest of the afternoon into the evening, this is where you’d do it, with opportunities to swim on hot days. You’ll have access to a number of trails around Lake Norman, as well, if you want to burn a few more calories.
If you want to see more of what the city has to offer or you got rained out on your visit to Lake Norman, return to Charlotte for a walking tour of one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods: NoDa. The neighborhood is home to fantastic murals and Charlotte’s art community and a hub for Charlotte’s live music and entertainment scene.
NoDa is home to a number of Charlotte’s best breweries. You’ll have access to Divine Barrel Brewing, Heist Brewing – this one is one of the city’s first breweries – and the aptly-named NoDa Brewing Company.
If you’d rather share the experience, you can also book a Charlotte brewery tour, which also includes a meal. Just note that this tour does to different breweries – not the ones mentioned above.
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For dinner, you won’t have to leave NoDa. The Crepe Cellar Kitchen and Pub is a fantastic stop for both sweet and savory crepes and more substantial French-inspired food. If you want something more casual, Benny Pennello’s has slices of pizza that you may need two to finish, even hold.
Day 2 of Your 3-Day Charlotte Itinerary
You’ve done your own tour on day one, and now it’s time to allow someone else to take over. Laugh a bit and indulge some more on your second day in Charlotte.
Start off your second day in a leisurely way, returning downtown for a walking tour of your own making to take in some of the historical buildings on your way to your first stop: the 7th Street Public Market.
The Market, as it’s known by locals, is both a food hall and a place to pick up local goods and gifts to take home with you. It’s a place where Charlotte’s small businesses are able to shine, and a hub for delicious eats to fuel the rest of a very fun day. Have a bite there as an early lunch, or take some goodies along with you for the rest of the day.
Your next activity will be a ride on the Funny Bus, Charlotte’s best – and funniest – city tour. The tour is a great way to fill in some of the blanks you may have had after your first day in the city, as you will get a broad historical overview of Charlotte and its neighborhoods and the city’s architecture. You’ll learn about how the city’s different areas are both unique and connected, along with fun facts about some of the best places to stop after you’re done.
Make sure you’re booking these ahead of time, as they do sell out. Tours are adult-only because there is some colorful humor involved alongside stops at breweries along the way. Tour times happen throughout the day, but you’ll have an option between an afternoon or evening tour.
You’ve likely laughed your way to some hunger by now, so consider taking part in a Charlotte tradition: a visit to Price’s Chicken Coop. While they have a menu full of fried Southern bites, you’ll want the fried chicken here. Get a mix of light and dark meat and a few sides for good measure. Fries are to be expected, but their hushpuppies are delicious, too.
You only have 3 days in Charlotte, so consider exploring more of Charlotte’s beer scene. The Wooden Robot Brewery is considered by many to be an essential Charlotte brewery stop. Several of their beers feature unique, locally-sourced ingredients.
If it’s a warm day, cap things off on your second day with a visit to Golden Cow Creamery, a small-batch ice cream shop. Their flavors change regularly and are inspired by the seasons. You can’t go wrong with a taste or two!
What To Do In Charlotte In 3 Days: Last Day
You’re likely well aware by this point of how special Charlotte truly is. But part of its appeal is that it’s a fantastic base for adventures outside of the city on a Charlotte day trip.
Choose from the best Charlotte day trips within an easy drive of the city center.
If you’re traveling with the kids, consider the Carowinds amusement park or Winston-Salem, home to the very popular North Carolina Transportation Museum and a variety of important historical sites.
Natural lovers and outdoor enthusiasts have a plethora of options to choose from for hiking trails and scenic driving loops near Charlotte. The city is spoiled by the number of parks and green spaces within a short drive.
Closer to Charlotte, Crowders Mountain State Park, and Morrow Mountain State Park both offer trails at a variety of skill levels and opportunities to breathe in that wonderful North Carolina mountain sir.
Further out, Chimney Rock State Park and Lake Lure offer iconic North Carolina scenery on the backdrop of a very famous scene from the film Dirty Dancing. Fans will recognize the lake once they arrive! If you have more time, a road trip out to the Blue Ridge Parkway will take more time, but the scenery there is spectacular, particularly in the fall when the colors are changing. You’ll certainly want to linger once you see it for yourself.
And wine lovers will be happy to hear that there is a popular wine region within about an hour-and-a-half of the city. It’s the Yadkin Valley, with scenic views to boot of the surrounding mountains for you to enjoy while you sip and practice some of your favorite wine descriptions.
Return to Charlotte proper to finish your visit off right with dinner at one of Charlotte’s best restaurants.
If you’re wanting to finish off your trip in style, go to the Haymaker, a farm-to-table eatery featuring ingredients that are inspired by North Carolina and the changing seasons. The restaurant is known for its fried chicken sandwich, which you may sound silly ordering in a stylish place like this…until you take a bite.
Haberdish is another option for one last bite of Southern comfort food and an extensive craft cocktail menu. The expected platters of fried chicken and okra are offered alongside North Carolina trout and kale grits. Leave some room for banana pudding if you’re feeling extra indulgent or just don’t want your Charlotte visit to just yet.
Three days in Charlotte certainly just scratches the surface of what’s possible on a visit to this North Carolina city, but no matter how much you’re able to give it, Charlotte is one of North Carolina’s best cities.
Charlotte Hotel Suggestions
Frontdesk Uptown Apartments offers suites with amazing city views. Located bang in Downtown Charlotte, guests can swim in the indoor pool and use the fitness center. It offers spacious, modern accommodation, ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments at good value for money. Booking.com customers rated it 9.2/10. See prices on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
Another option is The Westin Charlotte. Also a Downtown hotel, located next to Charlotte Convention Center., close to many of the city attractions and many restaurants. The hotel has a swimming pool, fitness center and a restaurant, spacious rooms and suites, with option for family accommodation. Rated 8.6 by Booking.com guests. See prices on Hotels.com or Booking.com.
Best Tours in Charlotte NC
If you want to do something a bit different from what’s suggested in this Charlotte itinerary, there are plenty of fun tours in Charlotte. Many of these are group tours, so you can also make friends along the way.
Here are some of the best tours in Charlotte are
SEA Life Aquarium: If you’re into marine life or traveling with children, one of most fun things to do in Charlotte is a visit to SEA life. You can buy your ticket in advance here.
- Historical tour by electric cart
- Queen City scavenger hunt
- Private photoshoot (1-hour session)
The Author: Agnes is a regular person behind Travel on the Reg, a travel blog focused on sharing her collected wisdom and (hopefully) amusing truths about travel when it’s done in a regular way. Travel can be messy, awkward and amazing, sometimes all at the same time. She’s here for all of it. A Chicago native, Agnes moved to San Diego, America’s Finest City, in 2014, and has been enjoying the sunshine ever since.
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