You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time in Charlotte. Here’s a list of some of the best free things to do in the Queen City. Whether you’re into music, art, the outdoors or beer, there’s something for you. Yes, you might have to pay for parking. And yes, you should tip your bartender. Maybe you love the music you hear and should consider buying a CD or leaving a tip for the band. But these are all activities or events that have no admission charge.
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Free Museum Days
Charlotte’s museum scene is thriving, with museums focused on art, history and culture. You can get a taste of many of these museums for free if you know the schedule. The Mint Museum is free every Wednesday night. Both The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture have monthly evening events where admission is free and there’s entertainment and hands-on arts activities. This list of free days at Charlotte museums includes these, as well as many more.
Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. Cities around the globe present monthly events focusing on a common theme, like “serendipity” or “equality.” Charlotte Mornings CLT is one of the most dynamic chapters of Creative Mornings. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance. When reservations open they sell out within minutes. (More on that in a moment.)
Each Creative Mornings event includes free breakfast food, free coffee, a little bit of live music, a Charlotte-based quiz show, and a talk. Don’t be scared off by the term “creative community.” Creative Mornings CLT is adamant that “everyone is creative.” If you can get there you will leave with new ideas and some inspiration to face your day.
Sign up for the newsletter on Creative Mornings CLT and be ready when reservations open Monday morning at 9 a.m. the week of the event and sign up immediately. If you don’t get a ticket, you’ll be on a waiting list, and some tickets are always released.
To say that Charlotte’s microbrewery scene is exploding is an understatement. Breweries are popping up all around the city and provide a relaxed setting for enjoying an afternoon or evening, often with an in-house menu, or food trucks, as well as live music, and sometimes even Yoga. Here’s a list of free brewery tours.
Idea Box at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Have you ever wanted to try out a 3D printer or laser cutter? Do you have an idea for an invention that you’ve been talking about and would like to prototype? The Main Library’s Idea Box provides you with the tools you need: 3D printers, CAD stations, vinyl and laser cutters, sewing machines, knitting machines and a variety of tablet devices like the Nexus, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and iPad. Other equipment includes: MakerBot Replicator, LulzBot Mini, Epilog Laser Engraver/Cutter, Roland Vinyl Cutter and three desktop computers.
There’s a small charge for materials that you use.
Mountain Biking at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
Some of the best mountain biking trails in the area are at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Bring your bike. Parking is $6 but it’s free to ride the trails. Also free at the Whitewater Center are the concerts (held twice weekly in warm months), festivals, yoga and more.
South End Gallery Crawl
The first Friday of every month the Historic South End holds the South End Gallery Crawl. Many of the galleries hold opening receptions for new exhibits during these crawls. Visitors can meet the artists and enjoy live music and other entertainment. There’s often free beer or wine.
Free concerts in Uptown parks
Charlotte’s Uptown parks, Romare Bearden Park, First Ward Park and Fourth Ward Park, all host free concerts and festivals. Freedom Park, which hosts the Freedom Summer Jazz Concert Series, is included in the mix, although it’s not strictly in Uptown. The concerts take place in the warm months and feature a wide variety of artists, including Americana, blues, jazz, roots and pop music. Romare Bearden Park and First Ward Park have live music during lunchtime on Tuesdays and Fridays in the warm months.
During the bigger events, you’ll find food trucks, beer, lawn games, kids’ activities and more. This list includes the concerts at Charlotte’s Uptown parks as well as a plethora of other free outdoor concert series.
Goodyear Arts is a program that uses otherwise empty buildings as studios for artists of all kinds. The artists who have residencies with Goodyear Arts have private studios and their work is displayed in the galleries. Residencies last two months, with 24/7 studio access. The resident artists are also paid a stipend. At the end of the two month residency, a showcase event is held. It’s free to the public and features visual art, film, sometimes music and dance, and free beer.
Goodyear Arts is a success story in so many ways. It uses previously unused space. It supports artists. It creates a space where artists can collaborate. It gives the public access to arts events. Right now Goodyear Arts is finishing up its time at 516 North College Street, and will be moving to Camp North End at the end of the summer.
Camp North End deserves more than a mention too. It’s a large site off of Statesville Avenue that was used in the past by Ford Motor Company, the U.S Army and more. It’s now being developed so that the space can be used by the community while the past can be preserved. On Friday nights in the summer Camp North End hosts live music and food trucks. Read about Camp North End and enjoy some photographs.
UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
Explore both native and exotic plants at the McMillan Greenhouse and the two gardens, Van Landingham Glen and Susie Harwood Garden. The UNCC Botanical Gardens delight with more than just plants, though, including walking paths, bridges, and a pond with waterfalls.
Make sure to stop at the greenhouse to visit the carnivorous plants. Also at the greenhouse are two Titan Arum plants, Bella and Odie. They’re notable because of their size, but even more so because when they bloom every 7-10 years, they emit a stench that draws a crowd. Seriously: people stand in line to get a whiff of it.
The McColl Center for Art + Innovation, at 721 North Tryon Street, is home to 30,000 square feet of artist studio and gallery space. It’s in an historic neo-gothic church. It’s free to visit the galleries. The McColl Center hosts open studio events, which are also free, and these often include live music and hands-on arts activities for adults and kids. Of special note in Uptown Charlotte: the McColl Center has a parking lot, where you can park for free.
Some bonus items:
- Hike nearby Crowder’s Mountain.
- Open Mics–some on the list of Charlotte open mics are free.
- Wine tasting: The Bottle Shop at Charlotte Marriott City Center has a free wine tasting every night.
- Disc Golf is very popular in Charlotte. Learn about the best disc golf courses in Charlotte for beginners.
- In-store performances in record stores Repo Record and Lunchbox Records.