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Charlotte airport, or CLT as its known by locals, is all about NASCAR, airport rocking chairs and the Billy Graham Library. But nearby, you’ll find tree-lined streets and off-the-beaten path sites that make for a great stopover in the Queen City (named after the wife of Britain’s King George III).
Whatever your kids’ ages, there’s something for them to do in Charlotte. TPG has talked about the 4 best credit cards for a Charlotte-based traveler but much of the advice also holds true for families that use this hub as a connection point en-route to their final destination.
While sometimes your schedule may necessitate never leaving the airport, if you have 24- to 48-hours to spend on the ground in Charlotte, here is our parent-approved checklist to: Get outside, get food, get Uptown and get smart in Charlotte.
The key to a good vacation (or stopover) with kids: wear them out. In Charlotte, that means getting outside. Weather-wise, you can get your kids outside most days of the year in Charlotte, though you may need to leave the hotel earlier in the summer to catch the cooler weather. Charlotte is peppered with parks and you’ll find neighborhood playgrounds tucked away down side streets and on the corners of major intersections. These two parks have enough to do for all ages, from toddlers through pre-teens:
Freedom Park (1900 East Boulevard) is a clear standout in Charlotte. First, it’s huge. There are playgrounds for young and old, a duck pond, walking paths and the Discovery Place Nature Museum that has a trail and play area made of tree stumps and rocks. The main playground area has swings, a train engine, classic equipment and an NFL Play 60 obstacle course put up by the Carolina Panthers football team.
Park Road Park
If possible, bring two adults to Park Road Park (6220 Park Road) so one can supervise the toddler playground and another can keep an eye on the big-kid one, assuming you have different aged kids. There’s a seesaw (something we don’t see very much in playgrounds these days) and some old-school climbing equipment that will make your kids feel like they’re living dangerously.
Charlotte has something for everyone and most restaurants invite kids, or at least don’t bat an eye at an order for plain pasta or a moderate temper tantrum.
Amelie’s French Bakery is a must-do in Charlotte. The NoDa (North Davidson) location (2424 N. Davidson Street) is adjacent to a large open space in a warehouse-type building, so the kids can play tag while you enjoy a macaron and café au lait.
For on-the-go kid-friendly chicken, check out Viva Chicken. There are three locations (Elizabeth, Huntersville and Ballantyne). It’s a simple idea: good Peruvian chicken and tasty sides. Get extra yellow sauce; you’ll want it.
Kids are welcome at CLT breweries, and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (4150 Yancey Road) has led that trend. Your little ones might make a friend or two in their biergarten while you sip a local brew.
Pinky’s Westside Grill (1600 W. Morehead Street) is kitschy so there’s lots to look at (think: getting a good game of I Spy in while waiting for food). Get the pickle chips and the crab puppies (crabmeat cooked into hush puppies) and expect for the whole family to nap afterward.
The combination of sushi and burgers at Cowfish (4310 Sharon Road) is crazy — delicious. Kids can order a bento box with salad, fries, sushi roll and more.
Of course, don’t leave CLT without some good southern fare. Mert’s Heart and Soul in Uptown (214 N. College) is everything good about southern cooking — fried okra, catfish and grits. Consider it a cultural experience for your kids.
While you are eating out at some of these CLT spots, be sure and bring along one of the best credit cards for families who eat out, such as the American Express® Gold Card which awards 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining or the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card that awards unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases.
Uptown is Charlotte’s downtown. It’s small, clean, walkable and easy to navigate with strollers. Read: wide sidewalks and good accessibility. There’s the free public library, ImaginOn (300 E. 7th Street), that doubles as a museum with rotating exhibits. Visit The Greene, an open area, across from the Mint Museum (500 S. Tryon) for a space to run and play. (Insider tip: In the spring and summer, always bring a swimsuit and change of clothes for younger kids. There are splash parks all over Charlotte, including one across from ImaginOn and one in The Greene, so you’ll never know when you’ll need a dry set of clothes.)
Embrace being a tourist with a horse-drawn carriage ride in the center of Uptown at Trade and Tryon. Twenty-, 40- or 60-minute tours are a memorable way to see the city.
If you plan ahead, attend a matinee at the Charlotte Symphony or Charlotte Ballet. Kids are welcome, there are activities hosted before the show and no one will bat an eye if your child talks through the performance.
Charlotte also presents some educational opportunities for the kiddos.
The Carolina Raptor Center (6000 Sample Road) is 57 acres inside the Latta Plantation and Nature Reserve. Walk a trail to see eagles, hawks, vultures, falcons and owls and find fun facts about more than 30 species of birds. Future veterinarian alert: They have regular keeper programs for kids who want to learn more about their work as the largest raptor medical center in the country (plan ahead).
Convince your kids that they’ve got it pretty good with a visit to the Latta Plantation (5225 Sample Road, Huntersville). The 52-acre living history site focuses on pre–Civil War life in North Carolina between 1800–1860.
Charlotte is a banking town, and a stop in the (free) Wells Fargo Museum (401 S. Tryon) teaches kids about the history of the organization and you can take a photo inside the iconic stagecoach.
When it comes time to get some sleep on your CLT layover, know that there are lodging options to fit all budgets in Charlotte. On the higher end, there is the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte in Uptown, bookable for 50,000 Marriott Rewards points. Families looking for a mid-range stay could choose the Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte Uptown. This family-friendly property is located virtually next door to the NASCAR Museum and a couple of blocks from The Green, a small but lively urban “pocket park.” A true two-room 610-square-foot suite at the Embassy Suites Charlotte Uptown is often bookable for 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night — and remember, Embassy Suites stays come with included hot breakfast and evening drinks and appetizers.
Your family can easily spend a day (or two) in Charlotte and fill every minute with a plethora of kid-friendly activities. Plan a stopover and you too will rule the Queen City, even if you only have 24- to 48-hours to spend on the way to your final destination.
Has your family visited Charlotte? What were the must-visit spots?
Featured image by Sean Pavone / Getty Images
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