Just north of the Carolinas’ state line lies “The Queen City,” named after Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Germany. Perhaps one of the more overlooked destinations in the U.S., what lies inside Charlotte’s historic and wondrous city leaves nothing to be desired. Below are 16 of the most surreal and surprising places in North Carolina’s largest city.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be difficult to catch a glimpse of the looming skyscrapers while weaving between city traffic. Besides, any true Tar Heel knows that the skyline is best appreciated from afar—especially at sunset when the Bank of America Corporate Center (BoACC) building catches the rays just right.
The BoACC building is actually the tallest (and arguably most iconic) among the 28 completed high-rise skyscrapers, standing at an impressive 871 feet. Its crown-like top conveys a sense of regality matching The Queen City’s namesake. But perhaps the most notable characteristic of Charlotte’s scenic cityscape is how clean and clear the surroundings are, making its beauty visible even in the famous Smoky Mountain fog.
If what you see from a distance isn’t enough to captivate, just what until you see what lies inside those far-away high-rises. The BoACC in particular hosts some truly jaw-dropping features you’ll have to see (or scroll) to believe.
Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
Before entering Charlotte’s city confines, you’ll have to check out the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, located just north towards Lake Norman. Boasting nearly 1,500 acres, the nature preserve is dedicated to protecting the integrity of the area’s indigenous nature and wildlife.
The lands feature native animals, a discovery hall, an outdoor amphitheater, and a gift shop. Visitors can also enjoy interactive exhibits and breathtaking vistas in the Backyard Habitat Garden, including bird-feeding stations, butterfly gardens, a garden pond, and a demonstration compost area. (Pro Tip: Latta Plantation’s fall foliage is a must-see, so be sure to plan a trip in the autumn months.)
Camp North End
Camp North End is home to the city’s largest collection of historic buildings. Once known for its Model T assembly lines and U.S. Army missile production, the warehouse-like neighborhood reopened to the public for the first time in 100 years in 2017 and has become a gathering place for local residents.
On Thursdays, food trucks line the historic streets at lunch hour—an event that is scarcely missed in the heavily-trafficked district. With ample outdoor, lighted seating and an industrial, historic backdrop, you’ll never want to leave the comfort of this strange yet familiar neighborhood.
Probably one of The Queen City’s most popular areas is up-and-coming Plaza Midwood. Heavily influenced by nearby NoDa, Plaza Midwood is as eclectic and artsy as they come.
With consignment shops and tattoo parlors cohabitating with upscale restaurants and high-end retailers, the graffiti-clad buildings in Midwood are a hipster’s dream come true. Walk down these colorful streets and be transported to a world of shameless self-expression.
You can’t go to Charlotte without experiencing NoDa. Known as the city’s arts district, a collection of North Carolina’s finest musicians, chefs, mixologists, and muralists have flocked to the area since artists Ruth Ava Lyons and Paul Sires opened a gallery in the mid-1980s.
The nickname “NoDa” comes from the main street running through the district, North Davidson. Gallery crawls, unique retailers and craft breweries are just some of the things that make NoDa a crowd favorite. An artist paradise unlike any other, NoDa is a place for all who crave limitless creativity. And beer.
Divine Barrel Brewing
Speaking of beer, one of NoDa’s newest breweries is also one of the most eye-catching in the district. An industrial warehouse meets an upscale bar, Divine Barrel Brewing welcomes patrons with a courtyard-like atmosphere as hanging plants dangle from the light fixtures. You’ll think you wandered up to New York City after stepping through the doors of this bold and bright brewery.
Look no further for the perfect girl’s night out than Bartique. A full bar and boutique located in the heart of NoDa, Bartique offers a completely unique experience to its quirky customers. Shop bohemian fashion and local art as you sip on locally sourced spirits and listen to the house music filling the boutique with a welcoming, warm vibe. Be careful, though, friends: This dangerously fun combo might have you wondering where all your money went the next day!
Right in the middle of downtown Charlotte (or uptown as it’s referred to here) is an unexpected surprise called The Green. Surrounded by 60,000 square feet of retail and office space rests a 1.5-acre park complete with lush, green grass and adorned with interesting sculptures that possess a Hogwarts-like quality. At one end of the park, you can find the famous Mint Museum--another of Charlotte’s magical locations you’ve just got to see.
The Mint Museum
Also called “Charlotte’s Great Lady,” this internationally-renowned institution gets its name from its location in the original branch of the United States Mint. The building was set to be demolished in order to expand the nearby post office, but Mary Myers Dwelle founded and led a small group of citizens to save the building and transform it into an art museum. As a result, the Emergency Relief Administration gave the group a grant for the relocation and reconstruction of the historic U.S. Mint building.
The Mint Museum has two locations: Randolph and Uptown. This year is the “Year of Fashion” for the museum, and it has many exhibits currently on display showcasing bold and daring fashions unlike any you’ve ever seen.
Fun Fact: The Mint Museum hosted the tryouts for the most recent season of American Idol!
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
If you want to escape into a fairytale forest without traveling too far away, head over to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This massive, 400-acre beauty was donated by the retired textile executive, Daniel Stowe, in 1991 to “provide beauty and joy to future generations.” Gorgeous meadows, lively woodland, and lakefront vistas create an ethereal and unforgettable experience.
In 1994, the Board of Directors of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden approved the master plan for development on the property, which was set to take place over the next half-century. The most recent completed installment was the Orchid Conservatory in 2008, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Dilworth Tasting Room’s Secret Garden
Didn’t get your fill of forested fantasy at the botanical garden? Head over to Dilworth Tasting Room to check out Charlotte’s premier secret garden. This wine bar is housed in a 1940s-style building and harkens back to the Enoteche of Europe. The open-air private courtyard and patio offer a discrete and luxurious wine-tasting experience, perfect for those seeking an escape from the bustling cityscape beyond.
Housed within Charlotte’s tallest skyscraper is Founders Hall, home to Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and two venues where weddings are often held. The vaulted glass atrium spills diamond-like sunshine onto the classic marble floors, giving the hall a regal and majestic quality unmatched by any of The Queen City’s other high-rise buildings.
The spacious lobby was designed by local artist, Ben Long, and features red-brown marble floors and three hand-painted murals. An elegant curved staircase adds even more opulence to the scene. It’s no wonder so many southern brides want to tie the knot here.
One of the city’s smaller skyscrapers goes unnoticed by most residents and visitors passing by, but what appears to be a normal office building is actually home to one of Charlotte’s largest, most elaborate pieces of public art. The 40-foot-tall kinetic masterwork designed by Swiss artist, Jean Tinguely, was installed in 1991. The piece--titled “Cascade”--was finished shortly before his death, but Tinguely died before the work was officially dedicated.
The massive collage of sorts features found objects, Charlotte artifacts, lights, colored metal and collected junk, all powered by 15 motors driving pulleys, chains and cables. The suspended vertical mobile dangles from ceiling cables over a shallow pool, spinning and dancing to a precisely choreographed ballet set to a silent symphony. Across the street stands “Firebird,” a public artwork by Tinguely’s wife, which is one of the most-photographed artworks in the city.
Affectionately called Charlotte’s Central Park, this beautiful landscape sits on 98 acres and features four baseball fields; batting cages; 12 tennis courts; four soccer fields; a full basketball court; two volleyball courts; a concession stand; a seven-acre lake; two playgrounds; an NFL Play 60 KidZone; and walking trails.
Sleepy Poet Antique Mall
This hodge-podge of endless antiques has been a must-see destination in the Charlotte area for 20 years. With two locations--one in Charlotte and one in Gastonia--Sleepy Poet has everything you could imagine, from antique furniture and vintage clothing to costume jewelry and vinyl records. There’s a ton to take in, and it’s impossible to see it all in just one visit.
About an hour’s drive west towards Gastonia is Crowder’s Mountain, a favorite hiking destination that’s well worth the trip. Two main peaks--Crowder’s Mountain and The Pinnacle--offer challenging hikes, impressive cliffs and 25-mile views of surrounding Piedmont.
Trail difficulty levels vary, and visitors can access more information about the park in the museum-like visitor center, featuring various exhibits and interpretive programs for all to enjoy. You’ll feel unstoppable and carefree as you gaze out on the magnificent North Carolina mountains, unable to detect Charlotte’s city streets just a few miles away.
From artist hangouts and historic buildings to secret gardens and surprising shops, there’s no end to Charlotte’s mystery and intrigue.
Did your favorite destination fail to make the cut? Let us know in the comments below and tell us why it deserves to be on the list. In the meantime, be sure to check out these hidden gems and take in all that this amazing city has to offer.