Explore Charlotte

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Charlotte

Gardens, outdoor delights and more in Charlotte are just the ticket to make (affordable) memories.

There are so many fun things to do in Charlotte, from watching the races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway to screaming through vertical loops on the Carolina Cyclone at Carowinds. But after a while, all of that fun takes its toll on the wallet. Here we've rounded up some fun things to do in the Queen City that don't cost a dime. 

UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens (©Paula Gruss/Courtesy UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens)

University of Charlotte Botanical Gardens

Stop and smell the flowers at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. The gardens hold curated collections of plants and flowers in three outdoor gardens and the McMillan Greenhouse—which also contains living fossils—and a Carniverous and Bog collection that features plants that prey on insects. Don’t forget to visit Bella and Odie, two Titan Arum plants that call the gardens home. The unusual tropical plants are described as strange and stinky, but bloom spectacularly every seven to 10 years.

Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserves

Pack a picnic and a fishing pole and visit this preserve that covers 832 acres of natural forest. There are more than 10 miles of hiking trails that feature scenic views of lakes, fields, streams and wildlife. Enjoy fishing in a quiet stream or set up a picnic near the playgrounds. The park also features an 18-hole disc golf course.

Reed Gold Mine
Reed Gold Mine is a place to try your hand at panning for gold. (©Zack Frank/Shutterstock)

Reed Gold Mine

The first documented gold find was in Charlotte on a farm in 1799. Mining operations began four years later and ultimately yielded more than 100 pounds of gold. Visit the museum to learn more about the gold rush in North Carolina, and then take a guided underground tour of the mine. Also try panning for gold. You just might find a nugget.

Crowder's Mountain State Park
Crowder's Mountain State Park (©digidreamgrafix/Shutterstock)

Crowder's Mountain State Park

Two peaks at this state park—The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain—offer views up to 25 miles atop several of the 11 hiking trails. Rock climbing on Crowders Mountain can be a challenge with 150-foot cliffs or go bouldering after a one-mile hike from the Boulder Access Area. For a less adventurous visit, there are plenty of prime fishing holes and canoe rentals for a peaceful day at the lake.


For the little ones, the Charlotte Parks and Recreation Department operates five spraygrounds from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Little ones will love jumping through water features, while their parents can just sit down and cool off. Most parks include walking trails, picnic shelters, and playgrounds for an afternoon of free fun for everyone.


This one-of-a-kind children’s center is a collaboration between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theater of Charlotte. Kids 11 and younger and older teens will find their own library space. A 40-foot-tall Story Jar is the main feature in the Park Family Story Lab. Young ones will have a blast choosing backgrounds and dressing in costume to create their own stories. Plus, a puppet theater will produce impromptu puppet shows.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Overlook Park
Charlotte/Douglas International Overlook Park (©James Willamore/Wikimedia Commons)

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Overlook Park

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Overlook Park is the perfect vantage point for watching airplanes take off and land. A picnic area and benches are provided for watching planes zoom by just a few hundred feet away.

President James K. Polk State Historic Site
President James K. Polk State Historic Site (Courtesy James K. Polk State Historic Site)

President James K. Polk State Historic Site

This state historic site is located on land once owned by the 11th president of the United States. Exhibits commemorate significant events during his presidency, such as the Mexican-American War and the annexation of California. See what life was like during the early 1800s by touring reconstructed homestead buildings and participating in period arts and crafts demonstrations, such as making corn husk dolls.

Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery offers free tours every weekend. (Courtesy Olde Mecklenburg Brewery)

Brewery Tours

Charlotte has a thriving craft beer scene, and several breweries are more than happy to show off their facilities for free. Olde Mecklenburg Brewery offers free tours every Saturday and Sunday to show off their German-style beer. The Unknown Brewing Co. offers tours every Wednesday and Friday, and Birdsong Brewery will make a new batch during tours every Thursday. Of course, you might want to spring for at least one mug of your favorite brew.

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports (Courtesy Carrabus County Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Hendrick Motorsports

Located a mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports offers tours of the its museum and Team Store. Rick Hendrick owns four teams on the NASCAR circuit with drivers with such recognizable names as Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon. The facilities feature state of the art technology and is where teams get ready for race day. Learn about the history of Hendrick Motorsports, or find a souvenir to in support of your favorite driver.