Many a traveler moves through Charlotte; fewer stick around. For some, it’s just a busy hub airport, visited occasionally while taking advantage of US Airways’ often reasonable fares to other places. We know it as an important financial capital, we know it’s not Charleston, or Asheville, or any other popular destination located within striking distance.
Why stick around and get to know the Queen City? Out of plenty of reasons, here are 10 good ones to get you started.
• Not just a banking center. Yes, it’s a banking capital, but Charlotte has an attractive creative side. One of the city’s oldest cultural institutions is the Mint Museum, a two-campus set-up known for both an impressive art collection and a popular craft and design museum. The original Randolph campus is housed in a historic building that used to be the United States Mint — hence the name. The central campus of the Mint is part of the city center’s Levine Center for the Arts, a cultural district containing the impressive little Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and a handful of other worthwhile stops.
For some art at street level, head up Davidson Street to Charlotte’s artsy NoDa neighborhood. Here, a twice-monthly art crawl — held on the first and third Friday of every month, starting at 6 p.m. — takes place in and around some of the city’s finest galleries. Soak up the vibe at Dolce Vita, a low-key wine bar and neighborhood gathering spot.
• Food wonderful food. For many visitors, the love affair with Charlotte starts with the stomach. Where to begin? Depends who you ask, but it’s likely many will suggest the delectable fried bird from Price’s Chicken Coop, just a couple of stops on the LYNX train from the convention center. Or the soul staples at Mert’s. Or maybe a little Brunswick Stew, that hearty regional specialty, at Mac’s Speed Shop, a popular ‘cue joint and biker bar? Then there’s the pimiento cheese — caviar of the Carolinas — at Midwood Smokehouse. And the Carolina-style pulled pork at Queen City Q. And fried pickles at the legendary Penguin Drive-In. When your body cries “no more,” do a mini-juice cleanse at Luna’s Living Kitchen, a cheerful South End spot known for its fresh and tasty vegetarian / vegan-friendly menu.
• NASCAR heaven. Got a need for speed? You probably already know all about Charlotte, home to the historic Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And while the lion’s share of visitors to the city are content to remain spectators to one of the South’s favorite pastimes, bolder visitors — and those who don’t mind shelling out a few bucks — can sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which offers a range of experiences, from an affordable ride-along ($99 for three laps) to a knuckle-whitening drive, starting at $449 for 8 laps. Afterwards, repair to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Whisky River, a popular bar and restaurant back in town for a drink and some snacks off the sports fan-friendly menu.
• Lots of great outdoors. From the gentle flow of the city’s beautiful Freedom Park to the top of rugged Crowders Mountain just a short drive west of the city skyline, Charlotte is one of those all-too-rare cities with plenty of room for nature to flourish; driving its many tree-lined streets, it can sometimes feel as if you’re not in a city at all. For a true walk in the woods, disappear into the 737-acre Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, offering plenty of solitude along 10 miles of hiking trails.