With a variety of activities to choose from, it’s easy to keep your little princes and princesses busy in the Queen City.
Charlotte may have a reputation for being a business and banking hub, but that doesn’t mean it’s “all work and no play” in this town. As the headquarters of the country’s largest motorsports organization, home to a world-class theme park, and dotted with top-tier museums and abundant natural resources to explore, Charlotte offers a variety of activities that are fun for the whole family. Here are a few top kid-friendly attractions to check out.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
Designed to educate and entertain race fans and non-fans alike, this 86,500 square feet shrine to one of America’s most popular sports features a state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, interactive exhibits featuring more than 50 interactive experiences, and countless artifacts highlighting the history of NASCAR. Kids of all ages especially enjoy getting behind the wheel of a realistic iRacing simulator and experiencing what it’s like to race around one of NASCAR’s infamous tracks at 200 mph. You can also try your hand at Pit Crew Challenge and complete with others to see who can gas up and change a tire at record speed. Car buffs will especially enjoy the center’s signature exhibit, Glory Road, which features 18 iconic race cars driven by Hall of Famers. Of course, there’s also a gift shop and a café on-site for when the littles need a pit stop of their own.
Dedicated to inspiring the exploration of science and the natural world, Discovery Place is actually a network of four hands-on museums in the Charlotte area. All offer amazing opportunities for kids to engage in STEM educational activities in fun and imaginative ways. Discovery Place Science, located in Uptown, features hands-on exhibits, a three-story rain forest with live animals, and an IMAX Dome Theatre. It’s considered a top destination of family visitors to Charlotte and definitely the place to start if you have limited time. Also in Uptown, Discovery Place Nature is located within Freedom Park (another great destination for families) and offers interactive nature exhibits, nature trails and live animal displays, including a butterfly pavilion. Discovery Place Kids is a smaller regional children’s museum with locations in Huntersville and Rockingham if you happen to be further afield.
ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center
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Celebrating the power of the written word, ImaginOn is a unique children’s library and interactive space designed to engage young learners. Located in Uptown, the large and colorful facility offers a library space for kids 11 and under, a teens-only library loft, a multimedia production studio, two large theatres, and an exhibit space where little ones can explore life-sized storybook settings and themes. The center is also home to the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, one of the nation’s top theatres for families, which produces imaginative productions and wide-ranging education programs throughout the year. Check their calendar online before you go to see the daily story time and program offerings. The best part, admission is free! There is a fee for the theatre productions which you’ll want to book in advance if possible.
Located about 13 miles south of Charlotte on the South Carolina/North Carolina border, Carowinds has been the region’s premier theme park for close to 50 years. The park boasts 14 world-class rollers, including the world’s tallest and fastest Giga Coaster, Fury 325. There’s also Copperhead Strike, the Carolinas’ first double-launch coaster. For the little ones, there’s Camp Snoopy, a 12-acre children’s area filled with interactive play areas and family-friendly rides. In the summer months, you can stay cool in the all-inclusive water park within the park, Carolina Harbor. Live entertainment shows, concerts, and seasonal celebrations are offered throughout the year. Dedicated theme park enthusiasts may want to consider purchasing a season pass or staying nearby at Carowinds’ Camp Wilderness Resort which offers accommodations (including camping) and shuttle service to and from the park.
U.S. National White Water Center
There’s an activity for everyone at this massive whitewater center and park located just 15 minutes outside of Charlotte on the Catawba River. On 1,300 acres, the center offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for all ages and skill levels including whitewater rafting and kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, rock climbing, zip lines, ropes courses, and mountain biking on their 40-mile trail system. The star of the show, of course, is the whitewater river course first created in 2006 as the official Olympic Training Center for whitewater slalom racing. It’s the world’s largest manmade, recirculating whitewater river with rapids ranging from the relatively mild Class II to heart-pumping Class IV. Guided family trips are available for kids ages 8 and up. There is also live music, festivals and other events offered throughout the year–including ice skating in the winter months.
INSIDER TIPYou can purchase activities individually or save by purchasing an All-Access Pass which gets you access to all available pass activities on the day of your visit.
Carolina Raptor Center
Nestled in the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve just north of Charlotte, this bird sanctuary and conservation center is home to some 37 species of raptors–including eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, and falcons. All the birds who reside at the center have been injured or are otherwise unable to live in the wild. Start your journey at the Edna S. Moretti Education Center where you’ll learn more about birds of prey and the rehabilitative work of the CRC. From there, follow the Raptor Trail through the forest to visit the birds in their enclosures and explore exhibits along the way. The center offers a multitude of educational programs throughout the year. In the spring and summer months, don’t miss the “Bird Show” for a chance to see the majestic raptors in flight. Check the calendar before you go for the latest offerings
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Located in nearby Belmont, this beautiful 110-acre botanical garden features meticulously designed gardens with annual and perennial displays, water features, walking trails, and a conservatory dedicated to the display of tropical plants and orchids. The Garden is really special for kids thanks to their children’s garden, Lost Hollow. The unique garden space is a fairytale wonderland designed to appear as if it is built around the scattered ruins of a Medieval castle. Highlights include the Fireplace Cave and a Moon Keep surrounded by a moat and sunken pond below. There’s also the Hillside Theatre which offers storytimes and kid-friendly shows. The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden calls itself “a garden for all seasons,” so be sure to check their calendar online for seasonal program offerings. There’s always something blooming.
INSIDER TIPFor a family-friendly retreat that will make everyone happy, consider a stay at The Ballantyne Hotel just outside of Charlotte. The scenic inn is on a golf course and offers a spa, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, yard games and complimentary bike rentals. In the summer months, there’s the “Ballantyne Kids” program to keep the kids busy.