Charlotte, North Carolina, was in the spotlight recently as host of the Democratic National Convention. This forward-thinking city that has thrived in the New South is a good place to visit anytime, with plenty of free and inexpensive offerings around town. Here are the top five free and cheap things to in Charlotte:
- ImaginOn, a joint project of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, celebrates the story in all of its forms. Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s popular productions are affordable and are aimed to a wide age range, with some plays specifically for teens. Throughout the colorful building are free activities for kids of all ages. Kids and teens create videos at animation stations, and preschoolers dress up in costume for impromptu skits and put on puppet shows.
- Gallery Crawls: Two of Charlotte’s neighborhoods schedule regular gallery crawls. The Historic South End, located just to the south of Uptown, hosts a gallery crawl the first Friday of each month. It’s not just the art that attracts the locals. It’s the collection of food trucks that show up on Friday nights to offer a wide variety of culinary treats. NoDa, the arts district centered around 36th Street and North Davidson Street, has gallery crawls the first and third Friday of each month. The artwork is often found in businesses other than traditional art galleries: hair salons, gift shops and restaurants, as well as on tables on the sidewalk. Live music abounds inside and outside of venues in this small, quirky, walkable neighborhood.
- Free concerts: Music lovers, even those on a budget, won’t be disappointed. Free concerts are held in a variety of settings all year. In the summer time, the U.S. National Whitewater Center hosts the free Whitewater River Jam series, featuring rock, blues, bluegrass and Americana bands, every Thursday from May through September. Free chamber music concerts are held at First Presbyterian Church, located on 200 West Trade Street, the first Tuesday of every month from October through May. The Charlotte Folk Society holds free monthly concerts that are followed by welcoming jam sessions and song circles. (So pack your banjo.) That’s just a start. To find free live music during your visit, check out Charlotte on the Cheap’s events calendar.
- Uptown museums: In the last few years, Charlotte has developed a vibrant culture center, with several museums within walking distance. All are reasonably priced to visit. Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture cluster on South Tryon Street around The Green, a small, but lovely park that is home to the free Charlotte Shakespeare Festival in the summer. Mint Museum is always free on Tuesday evenings.
- UNCC Botanical Gardens: Even many native Charlotteans don’t know about this oasis, just a few minutes from Uptown at University of North Carolina Charlotte. UNCC’s Botanical Gardens include the McMillan Greenhouse complex, the Susie Harwood Garden and the Van Landingham Glen. All are free to visit. The Susie Harwood Garden features walking paths, a butterfly garden, an Asian garden and a water garden. Kids find it a magical place to explore. The Van Landingham Glen is home to native trees, shrubs and flowers, and the McMillan Greenhouse offers a chance to see exotic plants, including the rare Titan Arum, otherwise known as a “stink plant,” which draws curious crowds when it blooms.