7 Places to Play in the Queen City

Charlotte offers families creative ways to have fun and learn together.

Editor's Note: Article updated April 5, 2017.

Charlotte offers a variety of ways to spend quality time and make memories, whether you like reptiles, roaring rapids or roller coasters. Getting out and spending quality time together is easy anytime of the year. No matter your idea of fun, this list is for the nature-lover, thrill-seeker, animal-admirer and those who love being in the fast lane.

Discovery Place Science

Spend the day at this life-size science lab, and you are guaranteed to learn something new. Think It Up in the "thought studio," take engineering to a new level at Project Build, hold a sea creature, visit the rainforest and learn about what's around you in World Alive.

Upgrade your movie-going experience to awesome at the Discovery 3D Theatre in the IMAX Dome, where special glasses transport you to another world with amazing images and state-of-the-art sound. Discovery Place also is fun for the youngest budding scientist at KidScience, where toddlers get hands-on with math and science by exploring water tables, wind tunnels, blocks, gears and more.

Discovery Place also hosts several special exhibits throughout the year from across the country and around the world.

Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St, 704-372-6261, discoveryplace.org

Perfect for: Families who enjoy dabbling in nature, science and technology. Adults can make the most of having the museum to themselves at Science on the Rocks events.

Carolinas Aviation Museum

Spread your wings and reach for the sky at the Carolinas Aviation Museum near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. This unique museum is housed in a 40,000-square-foot aircraft hangar, where visitors explore exhibits and learn about commercial aviation, civil aircraft and the history of military flight.

Visitors are in awe when they come up close and personal with U.S. Airways Flight 1549, now known as the Miracle on the Hudson after making an emergency landing in 2009 on the Hudson River in New York.

Kids get a front row seat when taking the wheel inside a cockpit or riding in a lifeboat. The learning continues with museum-wide scavenger hunts and I-Spy activities.

The aviation museum also offers summer camps, special events and family fun days throughout the year.

4672 First Flight Drive, 704-997-3770, carolinasaviation.org

Perfect for: Families who want the best seat in the house — the cockpit.


If you measure fun by the foot, Carowinds is the place for you. The amusement park that has been thrilling families for generations is now home to the Fury 325. This giga coaster reaches 325 feet with speeds up to 95 miles per hour. The twists, turns and drops continue on the Intimidator, Nighthawk and other high-thrill rides. The younger set can get in on the fun on the Character Carousel or Woodstock's Express at Planet Snoopy.

Included with park admission is the perfect way to cool off in the hot summer heat: Carolina Harbor Waterpark. From waterslides named Blackbeard's Revenge and Hurricane Falls, to Coastal Currents wave pool, Myrtle Turtle Beach for little ones and Seaside Splashworks, there's plenty for all ages and adventure levels to enjoy.

Carowinds, 14523 Carowinds Blvd., 704-588-2600 (from N.C.), 803-548-5300 (from S.C.), carowinds.com

Perfect for: Families who love high-flying amusement parks and are always looking for new ways to have fun.

Discovery Place Nature

Enjoy the wild side up close at this Charlotte favorite. A perfect place for toddlers to 8-year-olds, the nature museum doesn't mark anything as off limits. Observe butterflies in the pavilion; watch turtles swim in the pond; see owls, skunks and snakes; and say hello to all the animals that call Creature Cavern home.

You can explore the night sky at Discovery Place Nature's Planetarium. While relaxing on beanbag chairs, stargaze at constellations, as well as multimedia video presentations that showcase space adventures, such as moon landings and space travel. Recommended for ages 5-8. 

Discovery Place Nature, 1658 Sterling Road, 704-372-6261, discoveryplacenaure.org

Perfect for: Families who enjoy exploring animals and their habitats.

ImaginOn and Children's Theatre of Charlotte

ImaginOn and Children's Theatre of Charlotte pack a multitude of creative ways for families to play under one roof. The colorful, interactive building is home to two state-of-the-art theaters, library space for children 11 and younger, four multi-use classrooms, a teens-only library, a multimedia production studio and interactive exhibit space.

Take the family to a show in the McColl Family Theatre or Wells Fargo Playhouse, where ticket prices start at $12. Or, use your imagination and explore the Charlotte Trolley, Aunt Sara's House, the StoryJar or play a game of I-Spy.
Education and imagination take center stage with theater classes, the "Studio I" movie and music production facility, the Spangler Library for children and multiple story times each week.

ImaginOn/Children's Theatre of Charlotte, 300 E. 7th St., 704-416-4600, imaginon.org

Perfect for: Families who get into stories, games and entertainment.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Start your engines, grab the family and head to uptown Charlotte to the 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame. Don't waste any time hopping into the driver's seat and enjoying the interactive exhibits, or take in a show at the state-of-the-art theater.

Get into the action at the Kids Zone, where the smallest fans can become a race announcer, wave the green or checkered flag then head to Victory Lane for a photo. Are you ready for the Pit Crew Challenge? Go head-to-head and see how fast your crew can navigate the racetrack and set a winning record.

Children have their own special club at the hall. For $40 a year, members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Rookie Racers club receive five free admissions annually, along with a 15-percent discount for an accompanying parent or guardian. Club members also receive a welcome package that puts them right in the middle of the action.

NASCAR Hall of Fame, 400 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., 704-654-4400, nascarhall.com

Perfect for: Families who feel the need for speed.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

With 700 acres of outdoor adventure along the Catawba River, a day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center leaves your family happy, healthy and tired. Ride the rapids, enjoy the ropes course, take a canopy tour, challenge the rock wall or coast down a zip line. If your feet prefer being closer to the ground, you can walk, bike, run and explore the more than 25 miles of trails; BYOB (bring your own bike) or rent one.

The AllSport Pass is your one-way ticket to enjoy everything the center has to offer. Or, come play as many times as you'd like with the annual AllSport Season Pass for adults and children. The facility also offers learning opportunities for individuals, families and groups through summer camps, and certification and training classes.

U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, 704-391-3900, usnwc.org

Perfect for: Families who enjoy adventure in the great outdoors.