For visitors traveling to Charlotte on a budget, the city offers a wide variety of free cultural attractions, including contemporary art museums and public museum facilities on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus. Many attractions are accessible via the city's CATS public transit system, including its LYNX Blue Line light rail system, Sprinter rapid bus transit system, and CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar system. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.The Schiele Museum of Natural History
© The Schiele Museum of Natural History
The Schiele Museum of Natural History is a museum campus in Gastonia that offers free admission days twice a month for visitors, on both the second Tuesday and fourth Friday of the month during the afternoon and early evening hours. The museum showcases a wide variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits, including the Hall of North Carolina Natural History, which features dioramas depicting the state's native flora and fauna, and the Hall of North American Habitats, which recreates the beauty of the region's natural terrains and ecosystems. Indigenous cultures are showcased in the Henry Hall of the American Indian, while temporary rotating exhibits are on display in the Robinson Featured Exhibit Gallery. Outside, a 0.7-mile nature trail showcases pine and mixed hardwood forest habitats and a children's play area, while a Catawba Indian Village is home to recreated indigenous structures. An 18th-century backcountry farm is also preserved, along with a memorial wildlife garden showcasing some of the region's native plant species.
1500 E Garrison Blvd, Gastonia, NC 28054, Phone: 704-866-6908
2.The Mint Museum
© The Mint Museum
The Mint Museum is one of Charlotte's premiere cultural museums, offering two museum locations that together comprise the city's largest visual arts organization. The original Mint Museum Randolph facility is located in the former Charlotte Mint federal building, opening to the public as North Carolina's first art museum in 1936. Its permanent collections showcase fine art from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including significant pottery, costume, and photography collections. Its adjacent Mint Museum of Craft + Design facility displays more than 2,500 contemporary craft works, considered to be one of the finest contemporary craft museums in the world. At the new 145,000-square-foot Mint Museum UPTOWN, opened to the public in 2010, visitors can see additional works from both original museum collections. Both locations offer free admission during the evening hours on Wednesdays, with 10-minute Art Chats offered at 6:00pm and 6:30pm.
2730 Randolph Rd, Charlotte, NC 28207, Phone: 704-337-2000
3.President James K. Polk Historic Site
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President James K. Polk Historic Site preserves the childhood farm property of 11th United States President James K. Polk, a noted Democratic Party figure who oversaw the much of the nation's westward expansion during the mid-19th century. The site is home to a 150-acre farm that was owned by Polk's parents, Jane and Samuel Polk, and was home to Polk and his nine siblings throughout their childhood. Period-appropriate furnishings and equipment are displayed throughout the site, with exhibits highlighting the life and career of the president and the typical lifestyle of 19th-century North Carolinians. Admission to the historic site is free, though donations are suggested to offset the cost of future facility operations.
12031 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville, NC 28134, Phone: 704-889-7145
4.McColl Center for Art and Innovation
© McColl Center for Art and Innovation
McColl Center for Art + Innovation is a nationally-renowned contemporary art gallery and studio work space, located within the historic Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church facility in Charlotte's Uptown area. The center offers more than 30,000 square feet of gallery and studio space, including 5,000 square feet for rotating public art exhibitions. Nine individual art studios are available for regional artists working with the center's artist-in-residency program, with common-use spaces available for additional use, including a large-scale sculpture studio. The center's galleries and studio spaces are open to the public with free admission Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the morning and afternoon hours or daily with advance appointment. Free parking is available at the center's 10th and Church Street parking lot, with additional free metered street parking spots available nearby after 6:00pm and on weekends.
721 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-332-5535
5.Matthews Heritage Museum
© Matthews Heritage Museum
Matthews Heritage Museum is a living history museum housed within the 1880 Massey-Clark House, one of the oldest extant structures within the Charlotte suburb of Matthews. The home was originally constructed for Civil War veteran and physician Henry V. Massey, equipped with pine flooring and designed according to popular housing trends of the era. The home was sold to Susie and C.C. Clark in 1925 and remained in the Clark family until its was donated to the Town of Matthews in 1977. Today, the home interprets the first century of residential living in Matthews through a variety of restored artifacts and exhibits, including a Lifestyles Gallery and Community Gallery, which feature exhibits on typical civic life in the area during the 19th century. The museum offers free admission each first Saturday of the month, open to the public from 10:00am to 4:30pm.
232 N Trade St, Matthews, NC 28105, Phone: 704-708-4996
6.The Wells Fargo History Museum
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The Wells Fargo Museum is one of 12 museums operated throughout the United States by Wells Fargo and Company, an American financial services corporation that was originally established in 1852 following the California Gold Rush and has become the second-largest bank in the world today. The interactive museum is located in Uptown Charlotte within the Three Wells Fargo building, showcasing exhibits related to the history of North Carolina's gold mining and banking industries. Exhibits on display include a recreated Winston-Salem Wachovia Bank branch from 1889, a climb-aboard 19th-century Concord stagecoach, a recreated underground mining tunnel, and an interactive telegraph. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays during business hours, with the exception of bank holidays. A variety of special event programming is also offered throughout the year, along with guided tours for small groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated tours for school groups.
401 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-715-1866
7.New Gallery of Modern Art
© New Gallery of Modern Art
New Gallery of Modern Art is a free contemporary art gallery located within the Green Complex on South Tryon Street, near the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. The gallery displays the works of regional Carolina contemporary artists, including Aurora Robson, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Elizabeth Turk, Houben RT, and Maja Godlewska. Rotating public exhibitions are offered, with gallery staff on hand at all times to answer questions about art pieces and art purchasing. In-home art advising consultations are offered for prospective buyers, along with a corporate art loan program for displaying works in business settings. The gallery is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday during the morning and afternoon hours, with the exception of major national holidays. Free public special events are also hosted periodically, including exhibition opening parties and artist talks.
435 S Tryon St #110, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-373-1464
8.The Billy Graham Library
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The Billy Graham Library honors evangelical Christian minister and public figure Billy Graham, open to the public Mondays through Saturdays during the morning and afternoon hours. Visitors can explore all attractions at the 40,000-square-foot library and museum complex for free, including the site's main barn-shaped building, constructed to reflect Graham's farm living childhood. The library's Journey of Faith exhibit chronicles Graham's life and career, displaying significant artifacts and multimedia exhibits, including videos of Graham's sermons and Christian music. Its Graham Family Homeplace exhibit showcases the restored homestead Graham lived in as a child, while its Memorial Prayer Garden contains the burial site of Graham, his wife Ruth Bell, and several members of the Billy Graham Crusade Team. Paid attractions at the site include the Ruth's Attic bookstore and the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar restaurant.
4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217, Phone: 704-401-3200
9.The U.S. National Whitewater Center River Jam
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The U.S. National Whitewater Center River Jam offers free live music performances each summer by top names in folk, bluegrass, Americana, roots, and funk music. Concerts are held each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening between May and September, with events starting at 7:00pm nightly. Visitors of all ages may attend concerts, with lawn chairs, blankets, and non-sight-obstructive shade structures such as umbrellas permitted. All shows are performed rain or shine, with the exception of cancellations for severe weather events. Concerts are held at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which has been offering and and water outdoor recreational opportunities for participants of all ability levels, along with public special events and ticketed festivals for the Charlotte community.
5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28214, Phone: 704-391-3900
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The Greenways are a system of linear parks within Mecklenburg County that are intended to connect the county's residential and urban areas, reduce flooding impacts, increase regional water quality, and create and sustain urban wildlife habitats. More than 49 miles of greenway trails have been developed throughout the region as part of the Mecklenburg County Greenways and Trails Master Plan, one of the oldest programs of its kind in the American Southeast, developed in 1996. 17 greenway trails are offered throughout the Charlotte area, including the Briar Creek Greenway, the Four Mile Creek Greenway, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, and the Irwin Creek Greenway. Trails may be used for both transportation and recreation, including walking, jogging, and cycling.
5841 Brookshire Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28216, Phone: 980-314-1000
11.Romare Bearden Park
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Romare Bearden Park is a Charlotte public park named after regional artist Romare Bearden, a leading 20th-century African-American artist and civil rights activist associated with Harlem-based arts and activism group The Spiral. The 5.4-acre park was opened to the public in 2013, located along downtown Charlotte's Church Street across from the BB&T Ballpark. Its landscape design is inspired by collage paintings by Bearden, with landscaping overseen by artist Norie Sato. Two formal gardens are offered, along with a Childhood Muse Plaza play area with interactive chime elements, an event green, a public courtyard, and several waterfalls. Public special events offered at the park throughout the year include the Romare Fest music festival, the Bearden Music Series summer concert series, and an annual Bearden Birthday Bash.
300 S. Church Street, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 980-314-1002
12.McAlpine Creek Park
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McAlpine Creek Park is a 114-acre Mecklenburg County park that offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for local residents and visitors alike, including Ray's Fetching Meadows, the first off-leash dog park overseen by the county's Parks and Recreation Department. An outdoor fitness center is offered at the park, along with five fields for soccer and a court for playing horseshoes. Visitors can also enjoy a fully-stocked three-acre lake with fishing pier access, along with a two-mile bicycle trail and a 1.5-mile nature trail for walkers and joggers. A 5K championship cross-country running course connects the park to nearby James Boyce Park and Campbell Creek Greenway, with competitive races held throughout the year.
8711 Monroe Rd, Charlotte, NC 28212, Phone: 704-552-8213
13.Bechtler By Night
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Bechtler By Night is a free third Friday night celebration at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte's premiere museum space for the display and curation of 20th-century modern art. The museum is noted as the second museum in the United States designed by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, best known for his work on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and showcases a collection of more than 1,400 pieces of art by major 20th-century modernists, including Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely, and Joan Miró. Each third Friday, the museum is open for free between 5:00pm and 9:00pm, offering a chance to explore galleries and collections such as the School of Paris collection and the museum's 17-foot Firebird sculpture, created in 1991 by sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. Interactive art activities and games are offered for visitors, along with live musical performances and a full-service bar.
420 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-353-9200
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ArtBreak Tours provide opportunities to explore Charlotte's top art and cultural museums as part of free guided tours, offered each third Thursday. Visitors may choose from three half-hour tour programs, exploring the city's Mint Museum Uptown, Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Tours are sponsored by the THRIVE Fund and are structured around rotating common themes that are presented for a three-month duration, allowing participants to explore all three museums over three successive months as part of the same themed program. Each theme focuses on an aspect of the museums' permanent collections or special rotating exhibits, often highlighting cultural movements or aspects of American history. After tours, groups are invited to grab lunch at the museum's cafe or restaurant for an additional fee.
15.Stonecrest Music At The Fountain Concert Series
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Stonecrest Music At The Fountain Concert Series is a free concert series held each spring and summer at Charlotte's Stonecrest Shopping Center, an outdoor multi-use shopping and town center. Concerts take place each Friday and Saturday evening between early April and late September, located on the town center's central green around its fountain. Concerts highlight regional rock, pop, and folk acts, with past events featuring performers such as Randy Paul and the Revelry, Brubakers, Flute Praise, and Stella Rising. All concerts begin at 7:00pm and are held rain or shine, with the exception of cancellations due to severe weather. Before and after concerts, visitors can enjoy the restaurants and shops of Stonecrest, including national favorites such as ULTA Beauty, Michael's, Chipotle, and Smashburger.
7832 Rea Rd, Charlotte, NC 28277, Phone: 704-335-5455
16.Music and Movies on the Green at Promenade on Providence
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Music and Movies on the Green at Promenade on Providence hosts free evening concerts throughout the summer on Fridays and Saturdays. All concerts begin at 7:00pm and are hosted rain or shine, featuring regional pop, rock, and folk music acts. Attendees of all ages are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets to enjoy concerts, which typically last until approximately 10:00pm. On select nights throughout the season, children's movies and family blockbusters are also screened. Before and after concerts and films, attendees are welcome to enjoy the shops and restaurants of the Promenade on Providence shopping center, which is home to national retail chains and local boutiques. Top stores include The Fresh Market, Golf Galaxy, and Pier 1 Imports, while dining options include local selections such as Arooj's Wine Room and national chains such as On The Border Mexican Cantina.
10844 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC 28207, Phone: 704-342-9035
17.ASC Culture Blocks Events
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ASC Culture Blocks Events highlight the diverse local cultures of Mecklenburg County, hosted by Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. The program strives to bring cultural events directly to the Charlotte region's neighborhoods, engaging residents with the arts where they live. Six cultural block zones host events throughout the year, including the North End Block, near Charlotte's Uptown, and the Mallard Creek and University City North Block, located near the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A wide variety of cultural events are hosted throughout the year at each site, including music and theater performances, art workshops, and cultural lectures, with many events directly engaging attendees as program participants.
227 W. Trade Street, Suite 250, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-333-2272
18.The Starving Artist Market
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The Starving Artist Market presents opportunities to shop local throughout the year in Charlotte, highlighting the handmade works of local artists and artisans. All markets are presented in conjunction with the Charlotte Art League, hosted at several hip venues throughout the city, including Lenny Boy and Twenty-Six Acres Brewing Companies and Canvas Tattoo. Artists and makers sell goods in a variety of mediums, including print works, jewelry, clothing, bath and body products, and ceramics. Small Business Saturday market events work in conjunction with the national small business initiative, while a Handmade Holiday Market provides chances to shop for presents in advance of the winter holidays. Other market events are presented on select Saturdays throughout the year.
19.UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
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UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens oversees three garden facilities at the University of North Carolina campus, all of which are open to the public seven days a week between dawn and dusk. The gardens' centerpiece is the 4,000-square-feet McMillan Greenhouse, which showcases native and exotic plants from desert and tropical regions throughout the world, including a display of carnivorous plants. Outside, the Ralph Van Landingham Glen showcases a collection of more than 3,500 plants cultivated since 1966, including more than 900 species of indigenous trees and shrubs. The three-acre Susie Harwood Garden displays an Asian-themed gazebo and plantings of Japanese maple trees, while the Dinosaur Garden highlights primitive plants arranged around a replica Deinonychus skeleton. Visitors should note that while garden entrance is free, a suggested donation is appreciated.
9090 Craver Rd, Charlotte, NC 28262, Phone: 704-687-0721
20.McGill Rose Garden
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McGill Rose Garden is one of four designated All-America Rose Selections public gardens in the state of North Carolina, located in Charlotte's NoDa neighborhood. The garden is located on land formerly owned by prominent philanthropist Henry McGill, which was cultivated by his wife Helen and opened to the public for Mother's Day celebrations beginning in 1967. Since 1996, the 1.3-acre garden has been managed by the City of Charlotte, showcasing more than 1,000 rose bushes across more than 200 varieties. Annual and perennial plants are also showcased, including native and exotic blooms and herbs. Design elements throughout the park have been crafted by Charlotte native Tom Risser, including sculptures and fountains.
940 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28206, Phone: 704-578-2072
21.ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center
© ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center
ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center is a 102,000-square-foot learning center that is open to the public daily for free, featuring a variety of library, audiovisual, and performing arts studios and libraries for use by Charlotte's youth. The center was opened to the public in October of 2005 and is Mecklenburg County's first LEED-certified facility, designed by the Holzman Moss Bottino and Gantt Huberman architectural firms. It is operated as a joint venture between the Children's Theater of Charlotte and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, offering a full children's library facility, the Spangler Children's Library, on its first floor. The 4,000-square-foot Loft features a collaborative hangout space for local teens, while Studio I lets teens try their hand at animation technologies and production. The center is also home to the McColl Family Theater and the Wells Fargo Playhouse, which present regular season and touring theatrical performances by the Children's Theater of Charlotte.
300 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-416-4600
22.Charlotte's Historic Fourth Ward
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Charlotte's Historic Fourth Ward is one of the city's most historic neighborhoods, spanning approximately 30 blocks throughout the northwestern section of the city's Uptown area. The neighborhood is home to a number of Charlotte's most historic buildings, including its St. Peter's Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, and First Methodist Church, which may be explored as part of walking tours of the district. Tree-lined streets are home to century-old residences and magnificent courtyard gardens, with top restaurants such as Alexander Michael's housed within converted historic buildings from the 19th century. The district is also home to the city's central arts and cultural district, with venues such as Discovery Place, the North Carolina Music Factory, and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center offering opportunities for cultural experiences for visitors of all ages. Annual special events include the Fourth Ward Holiday Home Tour, which showcases the district's Christmas lights and displays.
23.Randy Moss Fitness Boot Camp
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Randy Moss Fitness Boot Camp offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to train with legendary NFL wide receiver Randy Moss at Charlotte's STAX fitness center. Sessions are presented each Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, open to the public for free to participants of all fitness and ability levels. Sessions are co-hosted by certified CrossFit boot camp trainer Emily Ross-Watson, the owner of yoga and exercise center Moga Charlotte. Participants learn key skills for weight loss and muscle toning, along with tips to improve stamina, strength, and energy levels during exercise regimens. Participants should note that weekly sessions generally attract more than 100 participants and are advised to arrive early to secure exercise slots, especially for those attending the event in groups.
3722 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28217, Phone: 980-237-8158
23 Best Free Things to Do in Charlotte, North Carolina
- The Schiele Museum of Natural History, Photo: The Schiele Museum of Natural History
- The Mint Museum, Photo: The Mint Museum
- President James K. Polk Historic Site, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- McColl Center for Art and Innovation, Photo: McColl Center for Art and Innovation
- Matthews Heritage Museum, Photo: Matthews Heritage Museum
- The Wells Fargo History Museum, Photo: Courtesy of sablinstanislav - Fotolia.com
- New Gallery of Modern Art, Photo: New Gallery of Modern Art
- The Billy Graham Library, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- The U.S. National Whitewater Center River Jam, Photo: Courtesy of Sirius125 - Fotolia.com
- The Greenways, Photo: Courtesy of Guy Bryant - Fotolia.com
- Romare Bearden Park, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- McAlpine Creek Park, Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Mercer - Fotolia.com
- Bechtler By Night, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- ArtBreak Tours, Photo: Courtesy of guruXOX - Fotolia.com
- Stonecrest Music At The Fountain Concert Series, Photo: Courtesy of dizfoto1973 - Fotolia.com
- Music and Movies on the Green at Promenade on Providence, Photo: Courtesy of phpetrunina14 - Fotolia.com
- ASC Culture Blocks Events, Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Ernst - Fotolia.com
- The Starving Artist Market, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of robert Casacci - Fotolia.com
- McGill Rose Garden, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, Photo: ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center
- Charlotte's Historic Fourth Ward, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Randy Moss Fitness Boot Camp, Photo: Courtesy of Parilov - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com