Whether you’re new to the city or a native or longtime resident, Charlotte always has something new and exciting to offer. The city is currently in the midst of another wave of development. These days are boom times for sure, much like the city’s explosive growth first in the ‘90s and again right before the 2008 recession.
With so many new sights and sounds to experience, catching one of these local tours is among your best bet at exploring a city you’ve already come to love and adore.
Newcomers will find awesome spots the locals have known about for years. Locals will be able to get a taste of a side of Charlotte they rarely visit, or perhaps a new restaurant that’s just popped onto the scene. Either way, you’re in for a treasure trove of beautiful Charlotte goodness.
Charlotte Segway Tours
These excursions presented by Charlotte NC Tours offer a novel way to explore uptown, especially appealing to patrons in search of a happy medium between the impersonal experience of viewing the city through a bus window and the tedium of schlepping on foot over pavement hot enough to melt the soles of their sensible shoes.
Starting and ending inside the Overstreet Mall, that center city staple featuring a network of skyways extending along College St. on either side of Trade, the standard 90-minute tour includes stops at the Levine Center of the Arts, the Mint Museum, and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. Guides specialize in knowledge of local history, architecture and design, and deliver a mandatory crash course (no pun intended) on Segway safety beginning 30 minutes before departure. Rule #1: helmets are a must.
Because of the requirements of PT (personal transporter) operation, there are a few more guidelines here than you’d find in your average walking tour. Participants must be at least 14, and minors need a companion no younger than 21, along with a waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian. The device is suitable for riders between 100 and 260 pounds.
Tickets are $60 per person for the 90-minute program or $70 for a 2-hour extended version, and tours depart five times a day, the earliest at 9 a.m. and the latest at 6 p.m.
The company also offers holiday and haunted Segway journeys and a bike tour.
Beyond the Grave Haunted History
Every night, just as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, or long after dark in the winter, history buffs and connoisseurs of the weird gather in the plaza outside Hearst Tower on N. Tryon St.
A guide in period garb, lantern clasped in one hand, is there to meet them. This is the Charlotte offering of Carolina History and Haunts, a company whose expertise extends to the creepiest corners of Winston-Salem and Greensboro in addition to the Queen City. Patrons trek through time as they visit the sites of centuries-old battles, haunted houses, cursed theaters and spooky hotels, pubs and cemeteries, all while learning about the birth and growth of the city from the 18th century to the modern day.
The wheelchair-accessible 90-minute walking tour is open to all ages, but operators advise that some content may be inappropriate for children, and kids must have an adult along. Tours operate year-round, rain or shine, and depart hourly between 7 and 9 p.m., as well as at 2 p.m. for those who’d prefer to face Charlotte’s demons in the light of day. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $13 for children 6-13 years old, and free for children under 6. A small discount applies for online purchases.
FEAST Food Tours
A food-lover’s dream, FEAST offers neighborhood walking tours in addition to custom and private activities and workshops.
Regular weekend offerings include Friday evening tours of historic SouthEnd, and the “Soul of the South” program exploring traditional flavors throughout Uptown. Lunchtime on Saturday sees patrons introduced to the quirky dining and gallery experiences of NoDa. A few hours later, tours wind through Dilworth, Plaza Midwood, and Uptown’s contemporary dining scene. Each option seeks to highlight a variety of venues, incorporating around half a dozen stops including everything from timeless diners and mom-and-pop delis to upscale gastropubs. Groups of 8-16 people can book custom tours for weekday afternoons.
The company also works with clients to build private, hands-on culinary experiences to their exact specifications. It cites past programs in which chefs and artisans have guided patrons in cheesemaking, the world of possibilities available at local farmer’s markets, and the intricacies of a great cup of coffee.
Neighborhood walking tours are $60 per person and take place 4-7 p.m. Friday in SouthEnd and Uptown, 11:00 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday in NoDa, and 3-6 p.m. Saturday in Dilworth, Plaza Midwood and Uptown. Custom tours start at $75/person. For custom workshop events, FEAST recommends a starting budget of at least $50/person. High-end private dinner programs are also available with a recommended starting budget of about $125 for food alone.
CBI Bus Tours
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Community Building Initiative has two decades of building bridges under its belt. Seven years ago, the organization launched a pilot program designed to introduce Charlotteans and their neighbors to the region’s history, and deepen their appreciation of its diversity and nuance. The program was soon extended, and the CBI now stages public tours six times a year, on the second Friday of alternating months. Collaboration with the Arts & Science Council, the city’s Historic Districts Commission as well as the Levine Museum of the New South have helped to develop an engaging series of events based on expert knowledge and commitment. In addition, community and corporate groups can arrange for custom private tours. Contact the CBI for program specifications and pricing.
Charlotte Funny Bus Tour
Somewhere at the corner of school field trip and dive comedy club, you’ll find Comedy City Tours’ Funny Bus. Yes, the 90-minute journey in a brightly painted open-air trolley-like craft departs from a popular city park (First Ward, specifically) just across 7th Street from Imaginon, but this ride is definitely not suitable for children. The closest you’ll get to family-friendly is their PG-13 program offered as a rolling Sunday matinee; the other 22 shows a week are rated R. Tour guides aim to keep patrons laughing while they learn, poking fun at the Queen City while feeding interest in neighborhoods and sites from quirky to historic. Check out the Funny Bus website for more information, to purchase tickets ($27) or, if you fancy yourself a performer, to apply for a job.
Charlotte Liberty Walk
Included among the dozens of events making up Charlotte’s most recent City Walks series, the Charlotte Liberty Walk is the brainchild of the May 20th Society. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and what the group describes as “Charlotte’s rebellious and visionary spirit.” While the guided version of the Liberty Walk may have wrapped up for the year, it hasn’t taken a break from educating locals and tourists alike. A brochure and interactive map available online let the public guide themselves, with a proposed route through center city and descriptions of sites no longer in existence.
Operation City Quest
This creative scavenger hunt should be seriously considered by anyone who’d prefer a tour with as much to do as there is to see. Finding a middle ground between trailing a droning docent and wandering alone through an unfamiliar city just hoping to stumble, by some miracle, on your hotel, you’ll be able to set your own pace and make any detour you’d like if your interest should be piqued by some attraction not on the official agenda, while you take comfort in the knowledge that a remote guide is only a text away. There are more than 130 objects to track down, no chance of a sold-out event or a bus leaving without you, and, best of all, bonus points for whimsy.
Charlotte City Walks
Each year when May rolls around, partners including the UNC-Charlotte Urban Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight foundation celebrate the arrival of more reliably lovely weather with an unparalleled display of community engagement. Charlotte City Walks’ most remarkable feature is the open invitation for anyone to propose to organize and guide a walk of their own design. 2018 offerings included a bike tour of Brooklyn, Third Ward, and the West End, with riders meeting with former residents and discussing the link between architectural barriers and extant racial divides; a walking tour of Hebrew Cemetery and the nearby mixed-income community Brightwalk; and an exploration of natural spaces in urban planning at Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary. Stay tuned for updates on the 2019 season.
Fourth Ward Tours
In the vein of the May 20th Society and its Charlotte Liberty Tour, the Friends of Fourth Ward neighborhood association has created opportunities to explore the dynamic center city locale without a guide and at visitors’ convenience. For its primary free walking tour FoFW provides a map and written material pertaining to nearly 50 area homes and other sites of historic or architectural significance. In May 2018 the group hosted a Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward program showcasing extraordinary private gardens and outdoor spaces. Also self-guided, with the exception of special tours of Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery and Fourth Ward Park, the garden event required a $20 admission fee which included access to the B-Cycle bike share service as well as free tastings at local restaurants and stops along the route. The preceding winter FoFW organized the Holiday Home Tour similarly paying homage to the neighborhood’s unique character.
Plaza Midwood Home & Garden Tour
Coinciding with the Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward event and Charlotte City Walks is the Plaza Midwood Home & Garden Tour. For the same $20 ticket price ($25 same-day) attendees are treated to B-Cycle access over the course of the route, which in 2018 ran just over 5 miles. The 10 private homes on display were selected to represent the diversity of architectural styles and periods to be found in what’s often cited as one of Charlotte’s premier gayborhoods. Truffle chocolates in a bungalow on a hill on Tippah Ave., a renovated two-story cottage with a manicured lawn and impressive shade trees on Midwood Pl., a white picket fence around a former fixer-upper on Mecklenburg Ave. – those visitors seeking inspiration for a remodel of their own will find plenty on offer in this ever-evolving part of town.