This list has been updated for 2018. Your kids can have fun in the Charlotte area this summer without putting a hurting to your wallet. Most of these activities are free, and the ones that aren’t are pretty cheap. Follow the links for details on each. Bookmark this page and keep checking back. There will be more added. Do you know of other free or cheap things for kids to do this summer? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. Have you subscribed to Charlotte on the Cheap’s daily emails yet?
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- Roller Skating: Skate For Free is a national program that allows kids to roller skate for free this summer in many rinks across the country. Kate’s Skating Rinks (two in Gastonia and one in Indian Trail) are participating. If you follow the above link, you can see the details for each.
- Bowling: Several bowling centers participate in a program called Kids Bowl Free, which, you guessed it, allows kids to bowl for free all summer. Shoe rental is required. AMF Bowling Centers also have a summer bowling program that costs around $25 a summer and lets kids bowl up to three games a day. AMF’s deal includes shoe rental.
- Free Swim Lessons: Charlotte’s two public outdoor pools, Cordelia Pool at 2100 N. Davidson Street, and Double Oaks Pool, at 1200 Newland Road, offer free swimming lessons throughout the summer. Normally Ray’s Splash Planet offers free swimming all year, but it’s undergoing maintenance, so the year-round lessons are at West Charlotte High School. Read about how to sign up for these lessons.
- Reed Gold Mine: Reed Gold Mine, just a short drive away in Midland, is a great outing for kids. It’s free to tour the mine. Pay just $3 to pan for gold.
- ASC Culture Blocks: The Arts and Science Council, along with many arts organizations in the community, is offering free arts experiences all over Charlotte. Everything from dance workshops to concerts to plays to hands-on art classes.
- Dan Nicholas Park: Also a short drive away, Dan Nicholas Park in Salisbury is definitely worth a visit or two this summer. Everything there is either free or just a couple bucks, including an old-fashioned carousel, a mini-train ride, sprayground, nature center, paddle boats, mini golf, animals, and gem mining. A bucket of gems is $7.
- Terrific Tuesdays: On six Tuesdays from June 19th to August 7th there are free shows for kids at ImaginOn. Terrific Tuesdays is a shared program of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. These shows are hugely popular. Reservations open 12 or 13 days before the show and you’d be wise to grab yours as soon as they open. Follow the link above for the schedule.
- ImaginOn: ImaginOn is a joint project of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. It contains the Spangler Children’s Library and presents dynamic shows for kids of all ages. Although tickets are require for theatre presentations, visiting ImaginOn is always free and there’s plenty to do. Young children play dress-up and stage impromptu performances and teens create movies. This summer, the exhibit Storyland: A Trip Through Childhood Favorites will be open June 9 through September 9. It’s free to visit. ImaginOn is a perfect activity for a rainy (or sweltering) day.
- Get discounts: Use Groupon to find discounts on everything from bounce houses to trampoline parks to summer camps to water parks.
- Cheap pools and free spraygrounds : Charlotte Park and Rec’s spraygrounds and swimming pools opened for weekends and will be open every day of the week starting The spraygrounds are free and the swimming pools cost just $1 to visit.
- Go to the beach: Ramsey Creek Park is Mecklenburg County’s only public beach on Lake Norman. If you park at the park ‘n’ ride and take the free shuttle, there’s no admission charge.
- Free outdoor movies: Once again, several Charlotte area locations are showing free outdoor movies this summer. They’re mostly in parks and start when it gets dark. Get there early, though, so you can get a good spot for your blanket. These movies are a great way to relax outside with your kids as the evening (hopefully) cools off. List of free outdoor movies around Charlotte area.
- $4 (or less!) Weekday Morning Movies : Many Charlotte area movie theaters are offering weekday movies for $4 or less for kids. Follow the above link for details. Most are $1 or less. The one theatre with the $4 ticket includes a kids’ combo pack with the ticket.
- Outdoor concerts: Free summer concerts are held all over the Charlotte area. These are family-friendly and sometimes include special activities for kids like face-painting and bounce houses. Check out the list of free outdoor concerts in the Charlotte area.
- Libraries: Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries offer free activities and events for all kids, from babies up through teens. Search their events listings for dates, time, ages, and the type of event your child is interested in. You’ll find crafts, story times, performances, and much more.
- Schiele Museum: The second Tuesday of every month, Schiele Museum in Gastonia is free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’s also free the fourth Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This nature museum is a popular one with kids.
- Energy Explorium: Always free to visit, Energy Explorium at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville gives kids a chance to learn about energy, weather, the environment and nature through interactive activities at the visitor’s center. There’s a mile-long walking trail along the shore of Lake Norman and a picnic area.
- Nature Centers: Charlotte Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation operates three nature centers, each within a nature preserve, Reedy Creek, McDowell and Latta Plantation. They’re free to visit. They also host many free activities for kids every month, everything from hikes to crafts to animal encounters. Follow the above link for a list of some of those activities.
- Greenways: Mecklenburg County maintains over 35 miles of developed greenways, and more are on the way. The greenways run along creeks and are a great place to walk and ride bikes. Some offer much-needed shade in the summer too.
- UNCC Botanical Gardens: UNCC Botanical Gardens include two outdoor gardens to explore, and a greenhouse. Kids love the butterfly terrace, Asian Garden, bridges and ponds with waterfalls. It’s free to visit.
- Mint Museum: Get a summer family membership for just $50. This will give you free admission all summer, plus free admission to a number of other museums around the southeast for when you travel.
- Concord Mills: Concord Mills has a new, free 1,200 square foot play area with interactive elements for toddlers to teens. It’s near the Nike Factory Store.
- Even more free stuff: Every Sunday night, Charlotte on the Cheap publishes a free event list for the week. Learn about festivals, special events, free food, and more. Subscribe to the email list, and follow on Facebook and Twitter so you don’t miss a thing.