Explore Art, History and More in the Queen City
Charlotte, NC, is the quintessential metropolitan destination, with art, culture, culinary delights, sports and entertainment around every corner. The best part for visitors, though, is that many of these offerings are available for free, so they can experience them without breaking the bank. Plus, many have family-specific offerings that are great for kids.
President James K. Polk Historic Site
At the President James K. Polk Historic Site (12031 Lancaster Highway, Pineville, NC), just outside of Charlotte, see where the 11th president (and the only president born in Mecklenburg County, NC) was born. Owned by Polk’s father, Samuel, the birthplace features historic structures as well as a historic cemetery and walking trails. Guided tours are available, or guests can peruse the self-guided museum filled with artifacts from Polk’s administration. Plus, a brief video provides a look at Polk’s legacy. Visiting with the kids is a great way for them to learn presidential history. Don't forget to check the website for special events such as "Bubble Day!" which includes kid-friendly activities like arts and crafts, bubble-making stations and water play areas. Admission is always free.
Levine Museum of the New South
For a detailed and intriguing look at the city and region’s history, make plans to visit the Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. Seventh St., Charlotte, NC). The museum’s permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Reinventing Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South,” documents history following the Civil War using Charlotte and its 13 surrounding counties as a case study. The story is told through more than 1,000 artifacts, images, video clips, music and oral histories. Kids will love the many interactive exhibits that provide a more immersive experience into history. Admission is free the first Sunday of each month.
The Billy Graham Library
Encompassing 40,000 square feet, the Billy Graham Library (4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte, NC) showcases the life and legacy of a pastor who began life as a humble farm boy and grew up to be an international ambassador for the Christian faith. The primary exhibit, “The Journey of Faith,” takes approximately one and a half hours to complete. It is filled with multimedia presentations, interactive kiosks, photos and memorabilia spanning Graham’s life and ministry. You also can tour the Graham family home place, which features original materials and furnishings from the family. Don’t leave without taking a walk through the Memorial Prayer Garden. Visitors receive free admission year-round.
During the year, the Billy Graham Library holds family-focused events such as a Mother's Day Breakfast with Tour, Doughnuts with Dad, Military Appreciation Luncheon, Gold Star Families Breakfast and Tour, and the annual Teddy Bear Tea for kids ages 5 and older. Some of these events do require a ticket purchase.
ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center
When visiting Charlotte with kids, you must stop by ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center (300 E. Seventh St., Charlotte, NC). This free, 102,000-square-foot facility features two state-of-the-art theaters, a dedicated library space for kids ages 11 and younger, four multiuse classrooms, a teen-only library, a multimedia production studio and interactive exhibit space. Activities include story time, games, LEGO tables, movie times and learning robotics.
Mint Museum Uptown
Home to various collections featuring American and international art and design, the Mint Museum Uptown (500 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC) seeks to engage visitors with art and what it brings to those who see it. Exhibits and collections are distributed throughout the five-story, 145,000-square-foot building, and visitors can visit the museum for free every Wednesday after 5 p.m. The museum also hosts a number of events for families and children, including ARTventure scavenger hunts, Sunday Fun Day and art classes. Some of these events may require an admission or registration fee.
Make Your Plans
These and many other Charlotte attractions are open year-round, so there’s no reason not to go when you want to go. That being said, the winters do get cold, so avoid that timeframe if you prefer warmer weather. Also, May is a very busy month for NASCAR in Uptown Charlotte, with numerous activities taking place around the city and at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. If you are not a motor sports fan, then avoid this month as well.
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Karon Warren has covered travel for nearly 20 years with numerous print and online publications. Her byline has appeared in USA Today, USA Today’s 10 Best, WorkingMother.com, FamilyVacationCritic.com. and many others. She is a member of both the Society of American Travel Writers and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. In addition to her freelance work for other clients, she also writes for her own travel site, ThisGirlTravels.com