Charlotte City Guide

Discover Charlotte's best places to stay, eat and have fun.
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With Charlotte hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the city has been thrust into the worldwide spotlight like never before. While once thought of as just a banking capital, the Queen City has long since shed its buttoned-down image and grown into a dynamic destination with a unique mix of cosmopolitan chic and Southern hospitality.

1. What to See & Do

Nowhere is Charlotte’s renaissance more evident than uptown. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art showcases works by the most influential artists of the mid-20th century. Explore African-American art and history at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts Culture. Another impressive uptown venue is Blumenthal Performing Arts, where visitors can enjoy touring Broadway productions like STOMP.

Families will enjoy the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with its thousands of racing artifacts and exhibits. Discovery Place, another popular uptown family destination, showcases hands-on interactive exhibits on science and nature. The museum is also home to the Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre, where you can see tornados, dinosaurs and more in 3D.

For outdoor lovers, you’ll find roaring rapids less than 20 minutes from Charlotte’s uptown. Situated on about 300 acres, the US National Whitewater Center boasts the largest manmade river in the world, which varies from gentle Class II rapids to adrenaline-pumping Class IV waves. Nearby is the Catawba River, where the USNWC offers stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking -- both great ways to soak up Charlotte’s natural beauty.

Come nightfall, try to stay out of the gutters at StrikeCity, a family-friendly bowling alley with dozens of flatscreen TVs. If you feel like taking in a movie, there’s the 5-screen EpiCentre Theaters, where visitors can bring in food from the adjoining Mez restaurant -- think salads, burgers and sandwiches – then kick back in wide, plush love seats and enjoy the show. Another popular nightlife destination is the NC Music Factory. This sprawling complex features several unique concert venues, including The Fillmore, an intimate, 2,000-seat indoor music club.

2. Where to Eat

Charlotte’s South End neighborhood is home to the beloved Price's Chicken Coop, which opened in 1962 and remains one of Charlotte’s most popular eateries, serving fried chicken along with cole slaw, tater rounds, hush puppies and a roll. For dinner, enjoy hip bars and restaurants at the EpiCentre. A great place to start is BlackFinn American Saloon, where you can dine on a variety of meat, pasta or seafood dishes. If Asian fare is more to your liking, try Enso Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar -- a sleek and hip spot with several signature specials, such as Kung Fu Duck.

For authentic Italian dishes, try Osso Restaurant and Lounge. From renowned Charlotte restaurateur Alex Myrick, Osso’s dishes include lobster bolognese, grilled lamb chops and pan-seared Mediterranean sea bass. For a more casual dining experience, try Mattie’s Diner, a popular late-night spot -- it’s open around the clock from Thursday to Sunday night -- that serves meatloaf, sandwiches, burgers and handspun milkshakes.

3. Where to Stay

To stay near the action of uptown Charlotte, a great option is The Westin Charlotte. One of the swankiest hotels uptown, the 25-story, 700-room Westin has a sleek, contemporary style, and is within walking distance to the Charlotte Convention Center and Bank of America Stadium. The Westin also features great views of the Center City.

For true opulence, check in to The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. Adjacent to the EpiCentre, this 18-story LEED Gold-certified hotel offers 146 rooms -- look for unique touches such as the flatscreen TVs built into the bathroom mirrors. For big spenders, the 2,900-square-foot presidential suite features panoramic views of Charlotte, a private study, dining room and even a baby grand piano. The hotel also has several restaurants -- 2 rooftop beehives provide the hotel with fresh honey -- along with a penthouse-level spa with a pool.

4. Getting Around Charlotte

With Charlotte’s LYNX Blue Line, traveling to the city’s uptown has never been easier. The Charlotte Area Transit System’s sleek light-rail train system runs from south Charlotte to the heart of uptown, terminating at the 7th Street Station. (This is within walking distance of Levine Museum of the New South and ImaginOn, a children’s theater.)

There are 15 stops along the 9.6-mile route, including several in Charlotte’s bustling South End. (This neighborhood, located just south of uptown, includes trendy shops such as Niche, an apparel and footwear boutique, and Bead Me, which sells funky handmade jewelry.) The light-rail system complements Charlotte’s expansive bus system, which runs more than 70 routes throughout the city.

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