Your kids can have fun in the Charlotte area during their summer break 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.
This list is for 2023.
Also, scroll down for a huge, constantly updated, list of upcoming free and cheap events for kids.
Find all the best (and cheapest) kids’ activities on our list of upcoming kids’ events in Charlotte!
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Summer Movie Programs for Kids
There are five different movie theater chains that are offering very inexpensive kids’ movie programs on weekdays through the summer: Regal Entertainment Group’s Summer Movie Express, Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse, Poppy’s Summer Movie Magic, Gem Theatre’s Summer Matinees, and Cinergy Dine-In Cinemas Kids Summer Movie Series. Tickets range from $1 to $2. Some theaters also offer sensory-friendly screenings. Get the details on all the summer movie series for kids.
Bowl for free (or cheap) All Summer
Kids Bowl Free allows kids to bowl three free games every day. Just pay for shoe rental. Read about the Kids Bowl Free here.
Cook Out Summer Shootout
Cook Out Summer Shootout is back at Charlotte Motor Speedway this summer! This race series provides plenty of good family-friendly entertainment at family-friendly prices — $10 for adults on Tuesdays, $5 for adults on Mondays, and free for kids 13 and under.
Watch racing’s future stars battle in Legend Cars and Bandoleros on the front-stretch quarter-mile!
The series takes place on Tuesdays from June 12 to August 1, 2023, plus two Monday events, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Check out our list of places to swim and splash in and near Charlotte this summer. The list includes pools and spraygrounds, as well as lakes and quarries where you can swim. Prices vary, but there are some very inexpensive options. Swimming lessons are FREE at Charlotte’s two outdoor public pools.
ImaginOn’s Summer Exhibit: Some Assembly Required
ImaginOn has a new summer exhibit! Framed: Step into Art will be available from May 20 to September 3, 2023, Mondays through Saturday. It’s free to visit, as is the rest of ImaginOn. The 1,500-square-foot display is designed to promote art appreciation and connection and present opportunities to visualize thinking strategies among children ages 3 to 10.
ASC Culture Blocks, which is a partnership with Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, presents a staggering number of free workshops, performances and more for both adults and kids. Learn to dance or play an instrument, try out different art techniques, go to a concert, and much more. Check out the list of Culture Blocks programs.
Summer Reading Programs
There are several summer reading programs that not only keep kids engaged in learning throughout the summer, but also offer prizes or other benefits. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Pizza Hut, and Scholastic all have summer reading programs.
Skate for Free
Join the Skate for Free program and skate at participating rinks for free this summer. In the Charlotte area, Kate’s Skating Rinks are participating. Kids 12 and under only. Skate rental is $5.
Mecklenburg County Nature Centers and Preserves
One of the Charlotte area’s most valuable resources is the four nature centers that are part of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. They’re all free to visit. Each is within a nature preserve. The nature centers and preserves host countless free and inexpensive events for kids (and adults), including guided hikes, animal meet-and-greets, crafts, nature programs, stream explorations and much more. Learn about Mecklenburg County Nature Centers and Preserves.
Enjoy an Outdoor Concert
Outdoor concerts are back in full force this summer! Many are family-friendly. And most are free. Check out our day-by-day list of outdoor concerts in and near Charlotte.
Go to an Outdoor Movie
Outdoor movies are scheduled throughout the summer and beyond all around the Charlotte area. Most of the movies are free. Sometimes there are food trucks and additional activities for kids. Our list of outdoor movies around Charlotte is packed with movies!
There are many ways to get out on the water, even if you don’t own a boat of any kind. Read about opportunities to kayak, paddleboat, and more, in the Charlotte area.
Go on a Hike (near or far)
We have put together a detailed list of more than 50 walks and hikes in and near Charlotte. Explore a Greenway, nature preserve, state park, a historical neighborhood and more. The hikes range from extremely easy to very challenging. Pick the ones that’s right for you and your child!
There’s nothing like picking your own produce. Check out our list of U-pick farms in the Charlotte area. This list spans the year, so you can see what you can pick, and when.
Visit a Garden
Learn about 8 beautiful public gardens in the Charlotte area. Each one is very different from the others. Most are free, and a few have a fee to visit, but none are very pricey.
Climb on a Huge Rock
It seems unbelievable, but these giant rocks are right in Charlotte. Big Rock Nature Preserve is at 6500 Elmstone Drive, near Stonecrest at Piper Glen. These are the largest known exposed boulders in Mecklenburg County, by a long shot. It’s pretty majestic. Archaeologists have unearthed American Indian artifacts at this site from as early as 7,000 years ago.
Cool off at a Waterfall
The western part of North Carolina boasts some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. Start exploring with our photo guide to 9 North Carolina waterfalls. Obviously, none of these waterfalls are in Charlotte, but they are worth the drive.
Shop at a Farmers’ Market
It’s fun and important for kids to learn how to plan and cook a meal. Start at one of these farmers’ markets and go from there.
Pick your own Lavender
Dallas Lavender Lane is a family-run lavender farm in Gaston County. During the summer they will be hosting events where you can pick your own lavender. And they will be offering different activities through the summer. They even have animals, including a friendly pig, for you to meet. There’s even the “Lavender Express Train” and a carousel for small children.
Use Groupon to find discounts on everything from bounce houses to trampoline parks to summer camps.
Fly a kite
There are plenty of open places to fly kites. Try Freedom Park or Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, or Frank Liske Park in Concord.
Pan for Gold
Go to Reed Gold Mine, at 9621 Reed Mine Road, Midland, and visit the underground mine. It’s free to visit, and $3 per pan if you’d like to try your luck. Reed Gold Mine is the site of one of the first documented gold finds in the United States.
For times when you’re stuck at home, check out our list of 100 screen-free things to do with cooped up kids. None of them require any hard-to-find materials, and many don’t require a backyard.
New to Charlotte on the Cheap? You might also be interested in:
- Signing up for Charlotte on the Cheap’s daily email
- Big list of indoor play areas
- Outdoor movies
- Upcoming free and cheap events for kids
- Free and cheap things to do this week
- Free museum days in the Charlotte area
More Events for Kids
Check out our huge list of upcoming events for kids in the Charlotte area, or look at a few of them here: