Charlotte is an ambitious and very rapidly growing city in the southern part of central North Carolina. It is the largest city in the state with a population of 756,912 (2010 estimate) residents within the city limits. As of 2006, the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury combined statistical area (CSA) had a regional population of 2,389,763, and Charlotte is the county seat of Mecklenburg County. It is the center of finance, industry, technology, and entertainment for the region. Primarily known in the past as a business center, Charlotte is steadily developing its fledgling tourist industry; currently its central core is one of the most visitor-friendly districts in the Carolinas.
Heavy growth in the past 20 years has made Charlotte one of the nation's largest and most successful cities in the South. In many ways, the city is still trying to catch up to its own growth; visitors often comment that it seems understated in terms of culture and development. However, it is changing at a breathtaking speed. A very rapid influx of population and business investment has given it one of the most dynamic urban areas in the region.
Charlotte Info Center 330 S Tryon St and 200 E Seventh St, +1 704 333-1887 ext. 235 or +1 800 231-4636, are the main locations in city center, while a third is inside the airport. Brochures, souvenirs, and advice are available for first-time visitors as well as long-time residents. Along with the public library, this is the best place to go if you are looking for a concentrated source of information about the city. It is worth checking out the brochures for self-guided walking and driving tours.
Charlotte's earliest settlers were Presbyterians of Scots-Irish descent who built a small courthouse, marketplace and village at the intersection of ancient Native American trading paths (the actual intersection is the Square formed by Trade and Tryon Streets) during the middle of the 18th Century. Both Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were named in honor of the Germanic wife of King George III of England. In addition, the main thoroughfare (Tryon St.) was named in tribute to the English Governor of the day. The establishment of a courthouse made Charlotte the seat of Mecklenburg County, and it was known for little more in its early days.
Charlotte's early residents were fiercely independent, in accordance with their rural Protestant heritage. The city was known as a hotbed of separatism well prior to the American Revolution, culminating in the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (signed a year prior to the American equivalent). The Square was the site of a minor skirmish with Cornwallis' army, which led to the city's characterization as a "hornet's nest" of rebellion. Nevertheless, the city remained a relatively obscure village, and was dubbed a "trifling place" by visiting President George Washington.
The first signs of economic prosperity came to Charlotte with the discovery of a huge gold nugget at the site of modern-day Reed's Gold Mine. This triggered the United States' first gold rush, and dotted Mecklenburg County with gold mines. The mines contributed low-grade gold to the city's street-paving program, which led to the joke that the streets were literally paved with gold in Charlotte. Eventually the city earned the establishment of a U.S. Mint for currency production on modern-day Mint St. Perhaps most importantly, the city positioned itself as a railroad hub. With several lines intersecting in Charlotte, the city became a major destination for farmers wishing to distribute their tobacco and cotton crops nationwide. These events presaged Charlotte's future as a city of commerce and distribution.
Thankfully, Charlotte was mostly spared the wide-scale destruction of the Civil War. The city contributed troops to the Confederate effort, many of whom are buried in the Confederate graveyard at modern-day Elmwood Cemetery. Curiously, landlocked Charlotte briefly became the home to the Confederate Naval Yard near the end of the war, as a result of its railroad connections. Also, the city was host to the final full meeting of the Confederate Cabinet, and Jefferson Davis was standing on Tryon St when informed of Lincoln's assassination (Davis' widow later retired to Charlotte). Generally, though, Charlotte was fortunate to play a relatively minor role in the devastating conflict. Its main casualty was the loss of the Mint, which was shut down for obvious reasons by the Union government.
Charlotte has been noted as one of the South's most resilient cities in the wake of the Civil War. Having been spared the widespread destruction of cities such as Atlanta and Columbia, Charlotte was relatively free of obligations to rebuild infrastructure. It jumped quickly onto the "New South" bandwagon, increasing its ties to the railroads and mill industry. Some of the major mills established here after the War are still standing, and have mostly been converted into modern businesses and condominiums. Perhaps most importantly, Charlotte was a site of heavy financial investment by "carpetbaggers" (northern transplants who were eyed with suspicion or outright hostility). These upstart banks were the predecessors to Charlotte's modern banking giants.
At the turn of the century, Charlotte was still a small town in spite of its favorable position. But by the 1950s, it had exploded into the largest city in the Carolinas. Aggressive businessmen transformed the city into a financial juggernaut, and the distribution industry made a smooth transition from the railroad-dominated 19th century into the automotive 20th century. As the local textile and furniture industries faltered, Charlotte invested its energy into finance and transportation, enabling it to avoid the depressions suffered in many other Carolinas cities. By the 1970s, the city was into a full-scale economic boom. The population skyrocketed with immigration from around the USA and foreign countries. The city skyline began to transform as office towers sprouted on an almost yearly basis, and the suburbs pushed farther toward the county borders. By the end of the century, Charlotte had transformed from mill town into metropolis.
It could be said that Charlotte's greatest struggle is with its own identity. The city remains tied to its roots as a giant of finance and transportation, but has diversified as it has grown. The rapid growth of the late-20th century lead to the unfortunate demolition of much of the city's historical infrastructure, giving Uptown a glittering feeling of newness despite its 250-year history. The city continues to focus on the development of its core, despite the explosion of suburban communities out of Mecklenburg County and into surrounding towns. One thing is definite, though: all indications are that the city will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, making it one of the United States' most prominent metro areas in the next decade.
The city is full of "transplants" from New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, and a considerable immigrant population. Nevertheless, the city still has a sizeable population of locals who can remember when the city was still a medium-sized town centered around railroad distribution. Like most Southern cities, Charlotte has a large African-American population. Also, it has a significant community of Asian descent, and a very rapidly growing Hispanic population. What was once a white-and-black city has become increasingly colorful with each passing decade.
Charlotte's physical arrangement reflects the growth trends of the 20th Century. Like most Southern American cities, it is "sprawled" over a relatively wide area for its size. Most of the city is suburban in nature, and most of those suburbs are less than 50 years old although some nearby towns such as Mint Hill date back well into the 1700s. These suburbs are encircled by the partially-completed I-485.
However, unlike many of its peers, Charlotte has a very dense urban core that functions as an axis for its business and cultural life. The center of the city is therefore the primary destination for tourists and business travelers.
What is often lost in this arrangement is a diverse, colorful ring of "inner suburbs" that lie in the zone between the core and the new suburban development. Most of Charlotte's most unique neighborhoods lie in this ring, as well as most of the city's "underground" activity. As a result, these areas have a highly local flavor and are just beginning to be discovered by tourists.
The major language is English. In recent years, the number of foreign-language establishments has begun to rise. In particular, Spanish-speaking shops and restaurants have become numerous on the city's east side. Also, there are a fair number of Asian establishments as well. There is a large shopping area called "Asian Corners", and a part of the east side nicknamed "little Hanoi". It is worth noting, however, that these areas make up a relatively small part of the English-dominated city.
The temperature ranges from about 14 °F (-10 °C) to 104 °F (40 °C). On average, a summer high is about 90 °F (32 °C) and a winter low is about 32 °F (0 °C). Charlotte receives 43.52 in (1105.3 mm) of precipitation annually, most of which is in the form of rain (though there is some snow and ice in the winter). Charlotte is not as well equipped for snow and ice as more northerly cities; significant accumulations of snow (more than 2 cm) or ice on the roads can disrupt activity city-wide. Usually, this includes the closing of local businesses and schools, and happens about once a year on average. Charlotte's inland location usually protects it from being hit directly from Atlantic hurricanes (the most recent exception being Hurricane Hugo in 1989), though it often receives heavy rains due to passing tropical systems.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (), is on the west side of town near Billy Graham Parkway. A special bus line called Sprinter runs regularly between the airport and Uptown. The airport is a major domestic and international hub for Star Alliance member US Airways . US Airways serves over 120 domestic destinations from Charlotte/Douglas and over 35 international destinations, including Rome, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Dublin, Madrid, Mexico City and Rio de Janiero, among many others. The airport also receives flights from most other major airlines. Lufthansa , also aligned with Star Alliance, is the only foreign transoceanic carrier, with service to Munich. Air Canada has service to Toronto. Insel Air has flights to Curacao. Though the airport has diversified somewhat in the past few years, US Airways domestic flights are still its primary source of traffic. Due to this dominance by a single carrier, finding fare bargains can be a challenge.
Passengers flying on US Airways, JetBlue,or Lufthansa, will arrive and depart from Concourse B, C, D, or E. Concourse D is the airports international concourse. All other airlines arrive and depart from Concourse A.
Don't worry if you get hungry at CLT - the airport is home to many restaurants and shops. While many of the restaurants are decently priced, the shops are not - charging upwards of $2 for a Coke.
For those who need to remain connected, free WiFi is available at the Bank of America Business center, located in the central concourse. The center has multiple electrical outlets, comfy chairs, and several restaurants nearby. Throughout the airport free WiFi is available. Connect to the SSID CLTNET.
Taxis charge a flat $25 rate for a trip from the airport to Uptown (for one or two passengers; additional charges apply for groups).
The Amtrak station is on North Tryon near Dalton, on bus route 11 (North Tryon) . Charlotte is the southern end of the Carolinian and Piedmont lines, which head north to Raleigh, with the Carolinian continuing to New York City. It's also a stop along the Crescent between New York City and Atlanta and New Orleans, however this train passes through Charlotte very late at night. If you arrive by train, be aware that this area is relatively seedy. Though you will be safe in and around the station, it is not a good idea to "wing it" once you arrive. Try to pre-arrange travel from the station to your next destination; walking is not recommended. A #11 bus meets each arriving Carolinian and Piedmont train to take passengers to Uptown.
The interstate highways through Charlotte are Interstates 85 (northeast-southwest) and 77 (north-south). I-85 takes you to Burlington and Greensboro. N.C. 74 is also a primary route into the city, and links with I-277.
Uptown is very dense, and almost all attractions in that part of town are easily reached by walking. However, only a few other districts (such as NoDa and Dilworth) are truly pedestrian-friendly. Outer districts, such as Ballantyne and University City, are pedestrian-unfriendly areas. If you must walk, give some thought to the weather; summer days in the South are quite hot and it is easy to get dehydrated.
Uptown is laid out in a grid, with numbered streets running east-west with few exceptions. Streets running north-south have proper names. Charlotte's outer suburbs are often difficult to navigate. Most roads are built according to the natural lay of the land; once you leave the I-277 loop, you are likely to find it increasingly difficult to predict the direction (and often, the name) of the road you are traveling on. Therefore, it is a good idea to make certain your directions are specific and trustworthy before venturing into an unknown area. Otherwise, you will likely find yourself relying on the (usually) friendly natives for directions back to your starting point.
Note that while I-277 has been completed for some time, I-485 is incomplete and still under construction. The northwestern quadrant of I-485 is still missing, but the rest of the freeway is quite useful for circling the perimeter of the city.
Similarly, I-277 is very useful when moving quickly around the center city. However, it is important to understand that one side of the "loop" is actually I-77, which interchanges with I-277 in two places. It is easy to misread the signs and end up moving farther along I-77 rather than circling back onto I-277. When using the loop, be sure to follow signs for "Downtown" in order to stay on the correct path.
Secondary roads in Charlotte are notoriously difficult to navigate. In particular, visitors and residents alike are often befuddled by frequent name changes in the roads. To make matters worse, many roads in the city share similar names. Also, very few of the city's roads are based on a grid or similarly organized system; most of the roads outside the city core are winding avenues that follow the natural features of the land.
The city can be a delight to explore by car, but visitors are strongly advised to pick up a free map or purchase a road map upon arrival. A GPS unit with the most current updates can, of course, make travel in and around Charlotte immensely more enjoyable.
Available to any part of Charlotte. There are several prominent companies, and unlike larger cities (for instance, New York City or London) the design of the vehicles is not uniform. However, a taxi is always recognizable by a sign on the roof of the car. If the taxi is vacant, the sign will be lit up; if it has a passenger, the sign will be off. It is customary to give a tip to cab drivers, especially if they help you with luggage or other items. It is usually a good idea to inquire about the fare before boarding if you are planning to make a longer trip; Charlotte's sprawled-out nature can lead to high fares for trips outside the center city.
Cab fares in Charlotte are regulated by the city, and are consistent for all companies. The "drop charge" (pickup rate) is $2.50, and each 1/5th mile is $0.50. During weekday rush hours (7-9AM and 4-6PM), you will also be charged $0.50 for every minute spent in stopped traffic. For a direct one-way trip to or from the airport, the rate is a flat $25. You can save money by sharing a cab with a companion, but be aware that there is a $2 charge for each person after 2.
LYNX Blue Line light rail corridor is a rapid and efficient way to commute from Uptown to the southern edges of Mecklenburg County. It stops at major Uptown destination (Time Warner Cable Arena, the Convention Center), travels through South End, and proceeds along South Blvd all the way down to I-485. Frequency varies from 7-10 minutes on weekdays to 20-30 minutes on weekends. Fares are $2 for a one-way ticket (discounts for seniors and youth) and $6 for a day pass. Tickets are good for 90 minutes and allow for transfer to CATS transit buses.
Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) operates transit service throughout the Charlotte area. Most bus routes start at the teal-roofed Transportation Center in Uptown (across the street from the Time Warner Cable Arena) and go toward the suburbs like spokes on a wheel (roughly). Though they are generally clean and safe, they are usually not the most efficient way to get around the city. Bus fare is $2 one-way, $6 for a day pass. Allow 45 minutes for a one-leg trip, 2 hours for a two-leg trip. Bus transfers can be used on the LYNX light rail and are valid for an hour and 45 minutes after issue. Also, be aware of the colorfully-painted buses in the suburbs that connect neighborhoods to primary routes.
Charlotte Trolley is a replica streetcar system that operates on the LYNX line between the South End and Uptown. The Trolley stops at LYNX Light Rail stations in Uptown and South End as well as stops at Morehead and 9th St.
Some parts of Charlotte are very friendly to cyclists, especially the south-central area around Myers Park and Dilworth, but be aware that most of the city is not friendly toward bikers. It is a good idea to research in advance to identify streets with designated bike lanes on the right-hand side of the road. Be aware that bicycles are subject to the same traffic laws as cars. Helmets are recommended but not required for adults.
There are numerous museums and historic sites scattered throughout the city, especially in and near Uptown. In recent years, a "museum district" has arisen on Tryon Street on the south side of Uptown. The highlights of this district are the Mint Museum of Art and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, both housed in stunning buildings and holding impressive collections of modern and contemporary art. Nearby, adjacent to the convention center, is the new Nascar Hall of Fame, a slick museum with plenty of interactive exhibits and race cars on view. The north side of Uptown is home to two of the city's best museums, Discovery Place, an acclaimed childrens and science museum, and the Levine Museum of the New South, which has a fantastic collection of historical artifacts and displays illustrating the history of the South since the Civil War.
Other museums in the Charlotte area include the Charlotte Trolley Museum in South End, the James K Polk Historic Site in Pineville south of Charlotte, and the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
There are several major theaters and a few fringe groups scattered throughout the city, especially in and near Uptown.
Professional sports are one of Charlotte's most popular forms of entertainment. Though its roots are primarily in stock car racing, the city offers something for fans of nearly every kind of sport. In particular, its success in the NFL and NBA have given it widespread exposure as a growing sports hub.
NASCAR events take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is technically outside of Charlotte in Concord, North Carolina. Charlotte is the de facto hub of stock car racing in the U.S., with several NASCAR teams based in the city. 3 NASCAR Sprint Cup races take place each season, including the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600. Additionally, Charlotte was chosen as the home for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and headquarters, which will be located near the Convention Center in Uptown. Each year Charlotte hosts "Speed Street", a large festival featuring various racing-themed attractions and a long list of musical guests. The Carolina Panthers is the city's NFL franchise. Games are played at Bank of America stadium. In 2002, was awarded a new NBA franchise, the Bobcats after the city's first NBA team left for New Orleans in an ugly divorce ending in 2002. These events take place in Uptown.
Minor league sports include the Charlotte Knights (AAA baseball) which operates in Fort Mill, South Carolina, one exit past Carowinds. The Charlotte Checkers ice hockey team play in Uptown and is cheap fun (Charlotte was the first city south of Baltimore to host professional hockey and has had a team for most of the last 50 years). The Carolina Speed is the fourth professional indoor football team to be based in Charlotte, with games taking place in East Charlotte. The Charlotte Eagles soccer team play near SouthPark. Charlotte Rugby Football Club , which play northwest of Uptown, and Charlotte Roller Girls, with games in Elizabeth complete a vast list of professional, minor league and club sports to enjoy in the city.
Charlotte has been noted for its "green" appearance, due to its extensive tree canopy and abundance of parks. See the individual district pages for listings of major city parks. Outdoor adventurers may revel in the pleasures offered at the U.S. National Whitewater Center .
Golf is a major sport in the Carolinas, and is played nearly year-round due to the mild autumn and spring seasons. Several private, semi-private and country clubs courses are available.
Charlotte is a city that thrives on big business (specifically banking and is thus the second leading banking center in the country). Its most visible employers are Wells Fargo/Wachovia (the city's largest employer), Bank of America, Duke Energy, Nucor, Sonic Automotive, Continental Tire NA, SPX, Lowe's and Family Dollar. Though the Uptown area has the largest concentration of business offices, the entire metro area has sprouted office and industrial parks. In particular, the gleaming mid rises of SouthPark and Ballantyne are worth noting if you're in those areas. There are several Fortune 500 companies and is regularly listed as one of the U.S.'s fastest-growing business areas, as well as one of the best places to do business in the nation.
One of Charlotte's biggest weaknesses is the relative lack of retail shopping in the center city. Though this will change somewhat in the near future, you will generally have to venture into the suburbs to do your shopping. As with most American cities, most retail is in malls and shopping centers, though some areas (especially the inner suburbs) have stores along the streets.
For the most part, Charlotte's culinary tastes are in line with the rest of the American South. Standards such as grits, sweet potatoes (yams), and greens are common in kitchens and restaurants. Southern food is typically high in fats and carbohydrates, so dieters should be careful to stick to higher-end restaurants that serve a more cosmopolitan fare. Otherwise, dig in and enjoy the richness of the Southern diet.
Many of Charlotte's older restaurants are owned by Greek families. Often, you will unexpectedly find Greek items on the menus of restaurants that otherwise serve American fare.
North Carolinians have long been fiercely competitive about their barbecue, and Charlotte's eateries reflect that heritage. Outsiders beware: Carolinas "barbeque" is chopped and sauced pork. The sauce will depend on which region it comes from (east or west), and it all works well as a sandwich (though you usually get to choose between sandwich or plate). Barbecue sandwiches are invariably served with slaw (either a vinegar-based red slaw, or a mayonnaise-based white slaw) on the meat, though it will be left out or on the side if you request. This is a local custom and one of the many things that makes Charlotte and more generally NC interesting.
"Carolinas style" hamburgers and hot dogs are typically served with mustard, chili, and cole slaw, though some restaurants will vary their toppings slightly to create a "signature".
Krispy Kreme donuts are produced in nearby Winston-Salem, and are widely available. Also, Lance Snacks is based in Charlotte.
The dominant local grocery chains are Harris Teeter and Food Lion, both owned by N.C. companies. Harris Teeter is relatively expensive but more upscale. Food Lion is a middle-class favorite, and usually has an extensive ethnic section. Other groceries include Bi-Lo, ALDI, Lowes Foods, and Bloom (a high-tech spin off of Food Lion). The city is also dotted with dozens of ethnic groceries, especially Hispanic, Indian and Vietnamese. Check out Compare Foods stores dotted around the city.
The specialty grocery store scene is also growing, as Charlotte has three Trader Joe's stores, two Earth Fare stores and two Fresh Markets. These stores specialize in natural and organic foods. For something a little bit more local, try the Home Economist or the quaint Berrybrook Farms.
Liquor is available by the drink in the city of Charlotte. However, some smaller towns in the region prohibit liquor sales. If you plan to explore nearby counties, there is a chance you may encounter a "dry" area. Open containers of alcohol are never permitted on the street; if you order a beverage you must finish it before leaving the restaurant or bar. If you want to buy liquor by the bottle, you must do it at state-run ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) stores, rather than at traditional liquor stores. Beer and wine are available for purchase at most markets, grocery stores and gas stations.
Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored soft drink, is a local favorite. Sundrop , available in a unique citrus blend and cherry-lemon, is based out of Gastonia and is a favorite among locals. R.C. Cola is also a "traditional" Southern soft drink.
If you are not from the American South, you may be surprised to see sweet iced tea is the predominant non-carbonated drink (and is arguably sweeter).
The city's nightlife is centered in Uptown, which is host to a wide variety of nightclubs. The largest concentration of clubs in the city is around College St. near its intersection with 5th St.; however, a quick check of local listing reveals plenty of alternatives for those who are seeking a more reserved atmosphere. See district listings for more details.
If you are not driving or renting a car during your visit, it is highly advisable to try to find lodging near the center city (these can be found in the district articles). Otherwise you will be stuck paying cab and bus fares, and you will find it quite difficult to move around as freely as you'd like. Most of the city's large hotels are located either uptown, near the airport, or in the University area. There are also some luxury hotels appearing in Ballantyne, and there are the typical options off the highways and interstate exits.
Below are listings for locations near the airport and Carowinds theme park, neither of which belong to a designated district.
The city of Charlotte has mandatory 10-digit dialing, so you must include the area code even on local calls. Charlotte has two area codes: 704 and 980.
There are some public pay phones scattered around the city, but they are becoming increasingly rare with the predominance of cell phones. It is not safe to assume you will be able to find a pay phone at any given time.
All ZIP codes in the city of Charlotte begin with 282. The central district's code is 28202.
Though the crime rate is not astronomical, Charlotte is still a city -- don't let your guard all the way down. If you are uptown, the biggest worry is auto theft/break-in, which is hardly rampant. Violent crime is relatively rare in the central district, as well as the affluent southern side of town. The most dangerous areas are the west and east sides.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) almost always maintain a visible presence in crowded areas. If you have trouble, look for an officer. Note that in certain parts of the city the police are deployed on bikes as well as cars.
Charlotte is not a good allergy city, due to the abundance of flowering trees and greenspace.
Smog has become an increasing concern in recent years, as the city becomes more populated and in turn hosts more auto traffic. Local authorities monitor ozone levels and make public announcements when "vulnerable" groups (children, the elderly, etc.) are at risk. These announcements are carried on local television, radio, and newspapers.
North Carolina is known as "Tobacco Road", and cigarettes are almost ubiquitous in Charlotte. However, due to changing attitudes about smoking, North Carolina passed a law that went into effect in January 2010 banning smoking in all bars and restaurants in the state. It is still legal to smoke on the street, though you may want to be considerate of others if you are in a crowded area. Smoking is also permitted at most nightclubs provided they do not serve food. At concert venues (such as Bobcats Arena) there are outdoor decks for smokers.
In general, it is a good idea to be polite about smoking... whether you smoke or not. If you smoke, try to do it in an area in which others won't be bothered by it. If you are a non-smoker, be aware in advance of whether you will likely be bothered by smoke in a particular place. In North Carolina people tend to be much less sensitive to smoking than in other parts of the country, so you will likely be received with a bit of bewilderment if you make a scene about it.
Library branches are scattered across the city, and vary in size and function. Typically there are street signs nearby to direct you toward the nearest branch. Also, there are substantial libraries at each of the local universities.
Compared to large tourist destinations, Charlotte has a relatively small international population. Locals are usually quite friendly toward foreign visitors, especially those who are able to speak English. Speakers of other languages may find the language barrier more difficult to break than in "international" cities (though Spanish-speakers will likely have an easier time). It is recommended that international visitors keep their passport handy at all times.
Charlotte's sister cities are Arequipa (Peru), Krefeld (Germany), Baoding (China), Voronezh (Russia), Limoges (France), Wroclaw (Poland), and Kumasi (Ghana).
Like most cities in the American South, Charlotte's communities have historically been centered around Protestant Christian churches (though this is changing as the city diversifies and urbanizes). A complete list of worship sites is impractical; below are listings which don't fit into a (as of yet) specified district so be sure to check out the district articles.
There are many foreign-language places of worship in the Charlotte area. For information about them, contact the International House at +1 704 333-8099.