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17 Very Best Things to Do in Charlotte with Kids (by a Local Parent!)

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My family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2009. The past 14 years have taught me what an underestimated city it is to explore and enjoy with kids. My children are now 5 and 9 and have opposite interests and personalities, but we have had great success in finding many attractions in our hometown on common ground.

From large amusement parks to state-of-the-art museums and an Olympic whitewater training ground, the Charlotte area has offerings that cater to a wide range of children’s ages, passions, and pastimes. Whether you are a local looking for some new kid-friendly activities or a visitor to the Charlotte area, here are 17 of the top things to do in Charlotte with kids.

Charlotte NC Skyline
Image courtesy of Charlotte’s Got a Lot.

Editor’s Note (from Leslie): My husband, kids, and I visit Charlotte, North Carolina several times a year to see family, as that is now where my parents, my sister and her family, and numerous cousins live. We’ve done a lot of family-friendly activities in Charlotte over the years, but not all of them. Since no one is more expert on an area than a local parent, I asked my sister to step in and write this piece.

Charlotte, North Carolina Basics

If you aren’t familiar with the Queen City, here are a few facts to get acquainted. Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and the 15th most populous city in America. Between 2005 to 2015 (right in the timeframe of my family’s move here!), Charlotte ranked as the country’s fastest-growing metro area.

Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the United States, behind only New York City. It is home to seven Fortune 500 companies and numerous sports teams, including the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, and the Charlotte FC of the MLS.

The city center area and business district is known as Uptown instead of Downtown. Like a lot of large cities in the South, the suburban sprawl is extensive.

Some of the most popular suburbs close to the city are Myers Park, Eastover, and Dilworth. Nearby Southpark is home to fabulous shopping. The towns of Ballantyne, Weddington, and Matthews are extremely popular suburbs to the south. Just north of the city, Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson (known as the Lake Norman area – where my family lives!) have experienced tremendous growth and construction too.

Tips for Visiting Charlotte with Kids

The weather in Charlotte is sunny and beautiful much of the year. We have mild winters with very little to no snow most years. As you might imagine, we have very hot summers though! The vast majority of the year you can be outside and enjoy the warm climate with friends and family. Kids will need water bottles, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses 3 out of 4 seasons of the year.

The city’s recent population explosion has resulted in an explosion of traffic as well. Traffic is nearly always an issue in many places during rush hour and can also snag travelers at other times of day.

Two major interstates, I-77 and I-85, intersect near the city. A large beltline loop bypass, I-485, was just finally completed in June 2023 around the entire greater Charlotte area. Getting from one side of the metro area to the other can easily take an hour or more, so map out travel routes carefully and be realistic about the ground you can cover.

Flying to Charlotte

Charlotte CLT Airport during Holiday Season

The bonus of all this growth is that the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) has grown. CLT is a hub for American Airlines and now is the 6th busiest in the country. As a result, you will have lots of flight options for getting in and out both domestically or internationally. That said, the airport has been under continuous construction for nearly a decade so plan on some growing pains for awhile longer.

How to Save Money on Attractions in Charlotte

As you might expect with a fast-growing city, the area’s attractions and offerings have grown tremendously in recent years. Luckily, the vast majority of the fun to be had is very family friendly and often quite affordable!

A helpful money saver is the 1 or 2-day CLT Pass that lets you pick and choose several Charlotte attractions at a discounted rate for as much as you can fit in during that time. Many Charlotte attractions also offer discounted or even free admission to members of the U.S. Military and some offer educator discounts, so be sure to check and see what additional discounts you may be eligible for.

Read on to enjoy some of our family’s favorite picks that your kids will not want to miss!

Best Activities & Things to Do in Charlotte with Kids

1. U.S. National Whitewater Center

U.S. National Whitewater Center CLT CVB
Image courtesy of Charlotte’s Got a Lot.
  • Location: 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28214
  • Cost: All day access $75 adult, $65 youth (0-9). Individual activity passes available ($25-55).
  • Parking: $6 per vehicle
  • Recommended Ages: School Age Kids, Teens

The U.S. National Whitewater Center is one of my absolute favorite places to visit multiple times a year in the city. The Center is located on over 1,300 acres of land and offers more than 30 recreational activities.

As you might expect, hiking is extremely popular onsite whether kids are in running strollers, strapped to your back, or on foot. You will also see recreational cyclists everywhere as well as hard-core mountain bikers throughout the paths.

The center is, of course, most famous for its whitewater rafting. Keep in mind, however, that this activity is only geared to older kids. For the lower difficulty level of rafting, kids still have to be at least 8 years old to participate.

Over the years, I have also loved trying many of the high and low ropes activities. Kids as young as 5 can do both the Ridge Low Ropes Challenge and the Obstacle Challenge.

Another favorite activity for slightly older kids is ziplining. The ziplines require children to weigh at least 45 pounds (which most kids hit around ages 5 or 6) to make sure they are heavy enough to make it across the line. The same weight limits apply to rock climbing as well.

Charlotte US National Whitewater Center Ice Skating in Winter

In the winter, the Center opens a large ice-skating rink, but my favorite time of year to visit is in the summer months (yes, even with the heat!). My pick for a perfect family day in summer is to arrive around noon and participate in hiking, rafting, or high ropes with family all afternoon. Then, I recommend eating at the River’s Edge restaurant on-site.

On nights where River Jam Concerts are offered, stay and enjoy the many on-site locally brewed beer options for adults. As the night goes on, the concert will slowly begin to draw an older crowd, but kids are extremely welcome and often provide adorable entertainment dancing by the water’s edge.

Tip for Locals: Consider the annual pass ($250 adults, $200 youth) if you want to frequent the Center. Keep in mind the River Jam concert series is FREE!

2. Carowinds

Carowinds Kite Eating Tree Camp Snoopy Ride
Photo courtesy of Carowinds.
  • Location: 14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273
  • Cost: $39.99+ per person for individual day passes (pre-purchase rate). Season passes start at $95.
  • Parking: $30 (included for passholders)
  • Recommended Ages: Toddlers/Preschoolers (for Camp Snoopy), School Age Kids, Teens (thrill rides)

Carowinds is a massive amusement park just south of the city. Owned and operated by Cedar Fair (the same company that runs Knott’s Berry Farm and California’s Great America), Carowinds offers more than 60 rides. Admission also includes access to Carolina Harbor which is the largest water park in the Carolinas (even larger than the indoor waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge!).

In 2018, Carowinds renovated and expanded its kid-friendly area called Camp Snoopy. Camp Snoopy now offers 12 kid-friendly rides for younger children and an 8,000 square foot climbing area.

For the teenage crowd and beyond, the roller coaster Fury 325 is a destination unto itself. It holds the title of American’s longest steel coaster at over 1.25 miles long. It regularly rates near the top of coaster lists worldwide. The ride time is more than 3 minutes long, and it actually crosses back and forth over the North and South Carolina state lines!

Fury 325 Carowinds
Photo courtesy of Carowinds.

Carowinds also offers Fast Lane passes for visitors who want to stand in line less. Not surprisingly, the passes usually only include the larger coasters. As of this writing, only one Camp Snoopy ride offers the option, so consider Fast Lane only if you have thrill-seeking older kids.

Tip for Locals: Carowinds offers an amazing Pre-K Pass that is FREE for children three to five-years-old (with Gold Pass purchase by a parent). Pre-registration by August 1 each operating season is required. The pass includes unlimited visits to Carowinds, the Carolina Harbor Waterpark, The Great Pumpkin Fest, and WinterFest.

3. NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR Hall of Fame Exterior
Image courtesy of Charlotte’s Got a Lot.
  • Location: 400 East Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28202
  • Cost: $27 adult, $20 youth (ages 4-12), $24 senior (65+)
  • Parking: $10/day in Hall of Fame’s Caldwell Street Lot (pre-purchase rate)
  • Recommended Ages: Preschoolers, School Age Kids, Teens

Top on my personal list of places to visit is the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte. The Charlotte area, and in particular, Concord, North Carolina, is home to NASCAR royalty such as Jeff Gordon, Kyle Petty, and Denny Hamlin.  In fact, more than 75% of the NASCAR race teams and employees live nearby.

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, die-hard racing fans and visitors new to the sport alike can enjoy the multitude of interactive exhibits. The hall, which opened in 2010, is more than 150,000 square feet with exhibits like an iRacing simulator, a 278-person seated theater with in-car feeds, and the Hall of Fame museum itself where new members (including drivers, crew chiefs, owners, and famous broadcasters) are inducted each year. The hall includes an informative history of the origins of the sport as well.

Since 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, the hall is enjoying reinvigorated interest from fans across the nation.

NASCAR Hall of Fame makes our family-friendly list because of its many exhibits geared to kids, its high potential for educational fun, and its kid-friendly pricing. In addition, it has on-site yummy dining with kid-approved options at the Pit Stop Café making it a great way to break up the day without having to leave the site.

4. Charlotte Motor Speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway Track
  • Location: 5555 Concord Pkwy S, Concord, NC 28027
  • Cost: Various
  • Parking: Free for tours, $20 for most events
  • Recommended Ages: School Age Kids, Teens

Concord, North Carolina, located northeast of the city in Cabarrus County, is home to yet another NASCAR attraction – the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Speedway hosts numerous races, most notably the Coca-Cola 600 every Memorial Day weekend.

While many kids may enjoy the thrill of watching a real race, that’s a big outing. And of course, races are only available at limited times. Thankfully, visitors to the area at other times of year can experience the attraction in other ways.

My sister and her kids took one of several speedway tours and were able to ride as passengers in a vehicle on the track for a first hand view of the facility. Some tours are speedier than others, so you can choose one that fits the ages of your kids and their need for speed. The Speedway also offers STEAM programs that focus on the physics of racing to help kids have fun while learning.

During the holiday season from mid-November until after New Year’s Day, the venue hosts Speedway Christmas. The four mile track is covered in four million LED lights. Visitors can drive the course tuned into their car’s radio to see the lights synchronized to holiday music. It’s one of the most impressive holiday displays in the country, with attendees driving in from all over the South for a view.

5. Billy Graham Library

The Billy Graham Library Charlotte
Image courtesy of Charlotte’s Got a Lot.
  • Location: Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217
  • Cost: Free, but reservations required ahead of time
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

America’s most famous pastor, Billy Graham, hails from the Charlotte area, and the Billy Graham Library has been named the “1 Thing to Do in Charlotte” by TripAdvisor and a Top 10 Religious Attraction in the United States.

This attraction has gorgeous Christmas decorations complete with a live nativity scene, petting zoo, and horse drawn carriage rides to enjoy the 20-acre scenery. The library extends its hours during the Christmas season and adds offerings such as Storytime, Christmas dinner, and Christmas carolers.

Another big hit for kids at the Library any time of year is the dairy barn design inspired by Graham’s childhood. The Graham Brothers Dairy Bar is a kid’s dream as it is heavy on the cookies, milkshakes, and ice cream. The ambiance is as enticing as the food with booths designed like stalls plus antique milk cans and historical memorabilia to complete the look.

The Library itself will take you about an hour to walk through slowly. Visitors can also enjoy the homeplace of Billy Graham, the Memorial Prayer Garden and Ruth’s Attic gift shop and bookstore. If you plan to walk around the site, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your own stroller too if little ones are in tow. Note that younger kids will love the Christmas decorations and activities and the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar but likely be bored at the Library tour itself which is better suited to teenagers and adults/seniors.

6. Charlotte Knights at Truist Field 

Truist Field Charlotte NC
  • Location: 324 South Mint St, Charlotte, NC 28202
  • Cost: $14-60 on average, depending on seating
  • Parking: Closest is Mint Street Garage (typically $13 per day pre-purchased on Knights game days). Other lots nearby may charge $20-40.
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

As I noted above, Charlotte offers NFL, NBA, and MLS professional teams, but in my humble opinion you simply cannot beat a night at the ballpark with little kids. Charlotte’s AAA minor league baseball team is the Charlotte Knights. The Knights play in a beautiful ballpark called Truist Field (formerly BB&T Ballpark) in the heart of uptown with a gorgeous skyline backdrop.

Charlotte is known for its many breweries, and the The Knights offer a “Crafts of the Queen City” beer selection for adults. A local beer, All Knight Long Blonde Ale, created by local Birdsong Brewery in honor of the team is on draft.

Friday Night Fireworks are a tradition at the ballpark that started in 2014, concluding every Friday home game. As far as I’m concerned, a ballgame, a hot dog and fireworks are a home run with kids every time!

If you want to make a whole day of it, the ballpark is conveniently situated in uptown within walking distance to a few of our favorite uptown museums: The Mint Museum, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. These museums are some of the best of the Queen City, but potentially best-suited for kids over 10 or teens.

Tip for Locals: Consider a Flex Ticket Plan (such as their $22 per ticket plan for a minimum of 20 purchased tickets) where fans can select games they want to attend and redeem tickets in the package as needed.

7. Discovery Place Science

Discovery Place Science in Uptown Charlotte NC
  • Location: 301 N Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28202
  • Cost: $23-29 adults, $18-24 kids (2-13), $20-26 seniors (60+)
  • Parking: $14 daily rate per vehicle (pre-purchased)
  • Recommended Ages: Toddlers, Preschoolers, School Age Kids

The Charlotte area is particularly blessed to have a number of great children’s hands-on, learning museums. Three of these bear the Discovery Place name and are located in different parts of the Greater Charlotte area.

Discovery Place Science is located in uptown Charlotte and has an emphasis is on hands-on scientific exploration. Kids can learn through its many interactive exhibits and its free play lab areas. It also offers an aquarium and an indoor rainforest area complete with jungle noises! An adjacent IMAX Theater plays engaging science-related films several times daily (additional admission required).

Discovery Place Science is also known for its hugely popular exhibits that are featured throughout the year. Its newest in-demand exhibit is Marvel’s Universe of SuperHeroes that is running until January 1, 2024.

One important note about the featured exhibits is that they are not included as part of regular admission (season passholders do get discounts). While pricey, the exhibits tend to be massive showstoppers that can leave a lasting impression on your little ones. My now 9-year-old still remembers the special dinosaur T-Rex exhibit she went to when she was 5-years-old! For these types of experiences, it may be worth the rare splurge every now and then.

Discovery Place Science Charlotte T-Rex Exhibit
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Fetzer.

Tip for Locals: Consider annual membership at your closest Discovery Place location.

Tip for Visitors: If you are a visitor to the Charlotte area and have a membership with your local science or technology museum, check to see if you may be eligible for free admission with the ASTC Passport Program.

8. Discovery Place Kids

Discovery Place Kids Huntersville NC
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Fetzer.
  • Location: 105 Gilead Road, Huntersville, NC 28078
  • Cost: $14-20 adults, $14-20 kids (1-13)
  • Parking: Free (in Huntersville Town Center parking deck behind the Museum)
  • Recommended Ages: Babies/Toddlers, Preschoolers

Discovery Place Kids is located north of the city in a suburb called Huntersville, North Carolina and is the location closest to where my family lives.

Discovery Place Kids is more of a traditional children’s museum with a wide variety of indoor play spaces and exhibits for younger kids to explore. Kids can play firefighter and climb aboard a fire truck, build with blocks and Legos, participate in creative arts and crafts projects, or watch (and even sometimes be in!) a show at Town Center.

The museum offers a whole-family annual membership at just $150 a year. I took my youngest there at least six times last year and my oldest three or four. So, including myself and the kids, that was at least 15 total admissions which averaged out to just 10 dollars per person per visit. In my mind, this was a huge win for us to enjoy both short visits in between activities and nearly all-day outings too. Unless my kids just got insanely hungry, I had an incredibly hard time pulling them out of the museum despite the many times they had already visited. It simply was a win every single time we went!

9. Discovery Place Nature

  • Location: 1658 Sterling Rd, Charlotte, NC 28209
  • Cost: $8 adults, $8 children (2-13)
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: Babies/Toddlers, Preschoolers, School Age Kids

Discovery Place Nature is located just south of the city center by Freedom Park. It’s the only one of the three I have not personally visited although my fellow local parent friends attest to its amazing kid offerings!

This museum is, as you might suspect by its name, more geared to outdoor adventures and learning such as teaching kids through hiking, gardening, searching for bugs, and exploring nearby ponds. Discovery Place nature has an outdoor play space where kids can build in the natural world, insect exhibits, a naturalist lab, and nature trail.

Tip for Locals: All Discovery Place locations offer an impressive array of summer camps for local children, but if your children tend to be more leaning toward the outdoorsy type, then I would definitely recommend letting them get their hands dirty through Discovery Place Nature.

10. Lake Norman

Tubing on Lake Norman NC
  • Location: Lake Norman, NC (north of the city just west of I-77). Popular marina harbor is located at 100 North Harbor Place, Davidson, NC 28036.
  • Cost: Free to access the lake. Boat rentals vary ($200+ per day)
  • Parking: Mostly free
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

Charlotte itself is not on a lake, but just north of the city is Lake Norman, the largest manmade lake in the state of North Carolina. The suburbs of Cornelius and Mooresville have direct access to Lake Norman, with a sizable percentage of locals enjoying lakeside living.

If you are not so lucky to enjoy a lake view from your back door every day, visiting is super easy. Lake Norman is a watersports paradise for all ages with swimming, boating, sailing, jet skis, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, skiing, and more! Fishing is also a favorite pastime in the area.

There are several marinas on Lake Norman, and renting a speedboat or a pontoon boat for the day is a super easy and fun family activity. Life vests are included, and most marinas offer rentals for other equipment like skis and tubes to pull behind a boat. I typically like to go in with one more family (also with young kids), and we each pack a large cooler of drinks, lunches and snacks for the kids and head out for a day on the lake. Just be aware that the destination is quite popular on summer weekends so traffic and crowding in some areas can be a challenge.

If you stay out all day on the water, you might want to check out some of the lakefront restaurants popular in Lake Norman for dinner. Our family’s favorites include Hello, Sailor, Port City Club, and North Harbor Club. You can boat up directly to each of these and get your food in style (either to-go or dock your boat to eat in!).

For those looking to spend the big bucks, Lake Norman also offers a number of chartered cruise options which tend to be favorites among the retirees and the city’s corporate crowds. However, for super large families or events such as family reunions, there is no better way to explore the lake with a crowd.

For advice on a day out at Lake Norman, check out the official visitors guide at Everything You Need to Know About Boat Rentals on Lake Norman.

11. North Carolina Transportation Museum

Polar Express at NC Transportation Museum
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Fetzer.
  • Location: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr., Spencer, NC 28159
  • Cost: General museum admission: $6 adult, $4 children (3-12), $5 senior/military (62+).  Special Events: Prices vary per car and per event. Polar Express tickets generally start at $30 and Day Out with Thomas starts at $20.
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: Babies, Toddlers/Preschoolers for Day Out with Thomas. Babies, Toddlers/Preschoolers, School Age for Polar Express

Located approximately 40 minutes from Charlotte is the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina. The museum offers historical tours and exhibits related to the state’s transportation history, making it a great fit for kids who can’t get enough of planes, trains, and automobiles. It also has a train ride pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive select days of the year for an additional charge.

The museum is perhaps best known by families for its massively popular “Day Out with Thomas” and “Polar Express” events. The Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine events usually occur for a few weekends in the early Fall. At these events, Thomas fans can take a ride with Percy or add-on a pancake breakfast with Sir Topham Hatt. Additional on-site kid activities such as mini golf, a hay bale maze, and inflatable games are available.

Polar Express is, of course, offered in the months of November and December leading up to Christmas. Keep in mind that this event is so popular that tickets sell out months in advance, with tickets opening for sale as early as June!

We have enjoyed this event twice, once when my oldest was just two-years old and last year when the kids were 8 and 3. One of the most adorable parts of the event is seeing a train full of little kids in their Christmas jammies along with local kids performing as actors in the story. The train takes a journey through a mini narrative of the book, The Polar Express, with story reading, songs, and treats onboard. It then stops at “The North Pole” where kids see Santa and his elves, then re-board to travel back. 

12. SEA LIFE Aquarium and Concord Mills

Sea Life Aquarium Charlotte Concord
  • Location: 8111 Concord Mills Blvd, Concord, NC
  • Cost: $15.99-22.99 adult, $12.99-18.99 child (3-12)
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: Toddlers, Preschoolers, Young School Age Kids

One of my favorite activities to do when my kids were toddlers was to visit Concord Mills for the day. We would typically start off the morning when the mall opened at the SEA LIFE Aquarium where kids 2 and under are free. SEA LIFE has an interactive touch pool that is a big hit with the preschoolers, a Sea Turtle Rescue Center, and it also boasts North Carolina’s only Ocean Tunnel.

Fortunately, the Aquarium is big enough to engage the kids but small enough that they are not exhausted by the time they’ve toured all the exhibits.

My kids still enjoy the SEA LIFE Aquarium at 5 and 9, but nowadays, the LEGO store is also a can’t miss destination in their book at Concord Mills as well. Once they have worked up an appetite, we head to the food court area for lunch and also take a ride on the carousel there.

If the kids still have energy to get out, I recommend simply walking around the mall and stopping at the numerous open play spaces until you get them tuckered out. In addition to the LEGO store, another must-visit is the Bass Pro Shop that also includes amazingly large fish prominently featured throughout the store and free Santa visits during the holidays.

For older children and teens, Concord Mills is also where The Speedpark is located, an entertainment complex with go karts, arcade, mini golf, bungee trampolines, a giant slide, and more. The mall also has an Escape Room and 24 screen theater with an IMAX Theatre.

13. Lazy 5 Ranch

Lazy 5 Ranch near Charlotte North Carolina
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Fetzer.
  • Location: 15100 Mooresville Road, Mooresville, NC 28115
  • Cost: $15 adult (12-59), $11 child (2-11), $11 senior (60+)
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

About 30 minutes north of the city is the Lazy 5 Ranch located in Mooresville, one of the towns along Lake Norman’s shoreline. Mooresville offers several great outdoor activities for families such as pumpkin patches and strawberry farms, but our favorite activity there is Lazy 5 because of the amazing up-close animal encounters.

The ranch is an animal sanctuary that exists to educate and entertain the public and aid in the recovery of several endangered species. Several hundred animals roam freely on the property, and many come up literally to your car window for feed! Conveniently, the ranch sells feed buckets at $6 a pop, and you want to be prepared with lots of food because the animals are on the hunt.

We were shocked by how many animals got close enough for even our kids to feed from the backseat. During our visit, we saw antelope, cattle, deer, elk, water buffalo, and zebras as well as sheep, goats and many pot-bellied pigs. We also got to see a giraffe enclosure (one of the few that you cannot feed and that do not roam freely).

Other animals include ducks, camels, llamas, lemurs, and kangaroos. As the animals and the feed are messy at times, we don’t recommend taking a brand new car (we take our old van) as you don’t want to get any accidental scratches or feed crumbs all over a nicer vehicle.

Lazy 5 also offers horse-pulled wagon rides complete with a guided tour for a slightly higher fee where the rangers educate you on the different animals and the history of the property. The animals are also quite accustomed to these wagons full of visitors, so expect them to come right up to your seat sniffing for your buckets as well.

Hours at Lazy 5 vary widely by season, so I highly recommend contacting the ranch before you make the drive.

14. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens Charlotte
Image courtesy of Lauren Margrave.
  • Location: 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont, NC 28012
  • Cost: $14.95 adult, $7.95 child (2-12), $12.95 senior (60+)
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens has been a family favorite of mine since they opened Lost Hollow: The Kimbrell’s Children Garden in 2014. For your imaginative or creative child, there is nothing more magical than its Moonkeep play area, manicured gardens, and amphitheater in the children’s play areas.

Located in Belmont, North Carolina just west of the airport, the gardens are internationally recognized for their award-winning lush green plants and colorful flowers. In addition to the children’s garden, there are more than 8 other themed gardens to explore along the more than 3 miles of walking trails on its 450-acre property. The visual centerpiece of the garden is undoubtedly the 13,500 square-foot Visitor Pavilion with its stunning stained-glass dome.

The uniquely magical setting and great prices for kids make Daniel Stowe a must-visit in our book.

Tip for Locals: Family membership is also relatively affordable at just $110 for the entire year.

15. Carolina Thread Trail, the Greenways & Freedom Park

Greenways near Charlotte in Davidson NC
  • Location: Multiple. Full trail maps can be accessed here.
  • Cost: Free
  • Parking: Mostly free
  • Recommended Ages: All ages

Many people overlook the fact that the greater Charlotte area is home to a massive system of connected trails. The Carolina Thread Trails, which are part of the Catawba Land Conservancy, connect 1,610 miles of trails, greenways and blueways across 15 counties in North and South Carolina!

In my hometown suburb of Davidson, North Carolina, we have multiple entrances to our greenway system weaving into Cornelius, Huntersville and beyond. Every weekend, the greenways are filled with families walking, jogging, and biking. You might often see a timed race or event happening on a portion of the greenway for one of the many races throughout our city.

Closer to the center of Charlotte, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway extends almost 4 miles, connecting the Metropolitan Shopping Center, Central Piedmont Community College, and Freedom Park.

Freedom Park is also one of Charlotte’s best-known park areas, particularly for families with little kids. It has a massive playground system, picnic areas, batting cages, and many free festivals and events throughout the year. Among the most popular activities is the duck pond where kids and adults can feed or simply watch the ducks. The Freedom Park system connects to the trail system that Discovery Kids Nature uses as well.

Other particular areas of note in the trails are the McAlpine Creek and Campbell Creek Greenway (located Southeast of the city) as well as the beautiful Town of Matthews segment. But there are simply far too many to note. I highly recommend finding a greenway close to wherever you live or are staying.

16. Carolina Raptor Center

Kids at Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville NC
  • Location: 6000 Sample Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078
  • Cost: $16 adult (23-64), $14 youth(13-23) $12 child (3-12), $14 senior (65+)
  • Parking: Free
  • Recommended Ages: Toddlers/Preschoolers, School Age Kids

The Carolina Raptor Center is located northwest of Charlotte. The center houses more than thirty birds of prey. Guests can walk a short nature trail to visit their enclosures to see hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, ospreys, vultures, and others in a variety of habitats. Many of the birds are rescues, and the Center also takes in injured animals as well.

Visiting takes about 1-1.5 hours depending on how much your kids want to linger on the trails and at each enclosure. On weekends and at peak periods, center staff also host creative and educational activities along the trail that may take more time.

The center is just one of several offerings within the Latta Nature Preserve, which includes Quest Nature Center and numerous hiking and biking trails.

17. ImaginOn & Children’s Theatre of Charlotte

  • Location: 300 East Seventh St., Charlotte, NC 28202
  • Cost: FREE Admission; Children’s Theatre: Prices vary per show. Reduced cost tickets available for those who qualify.
  • Parking: Limited parking available in the parking deck below ImaginOn, which is accessed from 6th Street. There is direct elevator access from the parking deck to the ImaginOn entrance.
  • Recommended Ages: Babies/Toddlers, Preschoolers, & School Age Kids for ImaginOn, Teens for The Loft Library. School Age Kids for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (unless otherwise designated)

ImaginOn, is more than 100,000 square feet of fun and is among the top children’s libraries in the country. In fact, more than 300,000 people visit ImaginOn each year!

Located in the cultural arts district of Charlotte, ImaginOn connects several libraries (including the Spangler Library for children and The Loft Library geared toward teens), classrooms, a multimedia production studio and an interactive exhibit space. The Spangler Library is especially designed to engage all children’s levels, hoping to instill a love of lifelong reading in its young visitors. There is something there for your baby or toddler as well as your emerging and fluent readers.

ImaginOn is also connected to two state-of-the-art theaters. Through its outreach programs at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, it is instrumental in introducing thousands of North Carolina’s youth to theater and performance. The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte offers sensory-friendly shows, ASL-interpreted shows, and has a reduced-cost ticket program for families receiving public assistance. Its show offerings are incredibly diverse from classics to musicals to shows geared toward young children.

More Information for Travel to North Carolina

Planning a visit to North Carolina? Here are other related guides:

About the author: Elizabeth Neeland Fetzer is a well-traveled mom of two kids from Davidson, North Carolina. She’s a former marketing and communications professional and current freelance writer with a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. (She also happens to be Leslie’s sister, but don’t hold that against her!).

Planning a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina with kids? The best family-friendly things to do, from amusement parks to NASCAR to outdoor adventures. Plus, lots of tips for Charlotte locals looking for new kid-friendly activities too!

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