The Queen City – young, chic core of the new Old South
As we drove into Charlotte, North Carolina we were impressed by its magnificent skyline. We had heard that the “Queen City” had transformed itself into the second largest banking city in the U.S., yet had been able to keep its southern hospitality with its cosmopolitan flair. After spending several days in Charlotte, we can definitely attest to this claim, and we certainly found that its moniker, “Charlotte’s got a lot,” holds true.
Charlotte was founded in 1768 and was named for Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III of England, hence its nickname, “The Queen City.” Once in Charlotte we wanted to get a feel for its history and its neighborhoods. As in many cities, downtown neighborhoods often reflect the pulse of the city. We found several activities originating in Charlotte’s downtown neighborhood, which is referred to as Uptown. We were confused about the term Uptown and learned that a major trading path in the 1700’s was located at the highest elevation points in Charlotte, and the city grew around it. So, when people traveled to this point they said they were going “up” to town, and that expression evolved simply into “Uptown.”
Our first stop was The Levine Museum of the New South, which tells the story of the South since the end of the Civil War. Its permanent exhibit, “From Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” depicts how Charlotte went from farms, to cotton mills to skyscrapers. The social, class, and racial challenges that the South has faced are explored in many of the exhibits as well. More than 1,000 artifacts, images, video clips, music and oral histories are included in the museum. We loved the many interactive, hands-on experiences to engage in as we traveled through the 6 different “environments” in the exhibit.
We then took the Taste and Glide Segway Tour with Charlotte NC Tours. This 2-hour tour was fun and informative and included samples from popular eateries along the way. Our tour guide provided interesting cultural and architectural history as we glided through parks and various neighborhoods. Two of the stops on our tour, Merts Heart and Soul and Alexander Michaels, highlighted southern local cuisine. The third stop was Amelie’s French Bakery & Café to sample their famous salted caramel brownies. Scrumptious!
The third experience to familiarize ourselves with Charlotte was The Funny Bus Comedy City Tour. This 90-minute, “adult-friendly” tour on the Funny Bus was unique (to say the least). We toured several neighborhoods in an open-air bus with a tour guide who narrated the history of Charlotte while adding comedy club style jokes. Patrons are encouraged to bring along wine and beer to make the tour even more fun. This tour was a great way to get a feel for the city while enjoying a few drinks and laughs.
Now that we felt “familiar” with the city, we began to concentrate on some of the more active attractions that Charlotte has to offer. Three of Charlotte’s most popular attractions are the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center boasts the largest man-made re-circulating river in the world, offering visitors Class II-IV whitewater rafting experiences. The USNWC is quite unique as it utilizes adventure sports and natural environments throughout the entire facility. Other water activities at the Center include kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Ziplines, ropes courses, mountain biking, obstacle course trails, rock climbing and a canopy tour are also available. Visitors can purchase an All Sport, CoolSport, QuickSport, or a Canopy Tour Pass, depending on the activities they want to participate in. Visitors can simply come into the Center as a “spectator” (merely paying the $5.00 parking fee) and enjoy watching others participate in the various activities offered. We enjoyed kayaking on the Catawba River and then watching whitewater rafters tumble down the falls as we had lunch at the River’s Edge Bar and Grill.
A visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame became a highlight of our visit to Charlotte. You certainly don’t have to be a fan of NASCAR to enjoy this attraction. The Hall of Fame contains 4 floors of exhibits, more than 50 of which are interactive. When you enter the Hall of Fame you are issued a Hard Card – an all access pass to use the hands-on activities and to track your achievements throughout the facility. Points are earned at 8 different stations that test your skill, knowledge and performance. A huge collection of race cars and NASCAR memorabilia also await you. Highlights are the Pit Crew Challenge and the Race Car Simulators.
A visit to the Charlotte Motor Speedway continued our NASCAR experience. Two van tours are offered daily on non-race days. We opted for the hour-long “Feel the Thrill Speedway Tour.” The first thing our tour guide told us was that 85% of National Touring Series teams are based in the Charlotte region – quite impressive! Our van tour took us to see the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Garage, two infield race tracks, the zMAX Dragway and the Dirt Track. A drive down Pit Road and feeling the full-tilt force of the 24-degree banking on the Speedway were truly exciting and exhilarating. For those who really want a more intense experience, the Speedway also offers a Ride-Along Experience and a Driving Experience.
When the sun goes down and the lights come up on the Charlotte skyline, the city comes alive with a young, hip vibe. What better place to be than a rooftop restaurant/bar that captures the city at sunset? We were staying at the Hyatt Place Charlotte Downtown, Uptown’s newest hotel, and merely had to go up the elevator to the rooftop restaurant, Fahrenheit, with its open-air sky bar, to experience the skyline at sunset. Delicious food and creative drinks made the experience special and there were views of Charlotte’s skyline from every table in the restaurant.
Only a few blocks from Fahrenheit is City Lights Rooftop Bar at the Le Meridien Hotel. This is Charlotte’s newest and largest rooftop bar offering lounge music and 360 degree views of Charlotte’s skyline. Feature signature cocktails are crafted here. We especially enjoyed the Sparkle and Pop Cocktail, which pairs bubbles (cavo, prosecco, brut or rose) with one of King of Pops hand-made, fresh fruit popsicles (the blackberry ginger lemonade pop was amazing).
But if you’re afraid of heights – and even if you’re not – The Cellar at Duckworth’s is another popular venue for hand-crafted classic cocktails, an eclectic beer list (ask to see the beer cellar) and small-plate gastropub fare served in a speakeasy, prohibition-era atmosphere.
Charlotte certainly “has a lot.” We were only able to experience a small part of what this southern city has to offer. Whether you are looking for outdoor adventures, a romantic escape, family friendly activities, history/arts/culture or are interested in sports or the brewery scene, Charlotte has something for you.
Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of the authors and have not been influenced in any way.
All photos by Jeff and Stephanie Sylva