Take a driving tour one one of these routes in North Carolina on your next visit to Charlotte © Pgiam / Getty
From major league baseball to modern art, Charlotte, North Carolina is a never-ending source of entertainment and inspiration. That kind of energy can be a delight to the senses, but can also lead to overload.
For a relaxing reset to combat the frazzled or frenetic pace of the city, strike out on any of these six day trips from the Queen City.
Enjoy small a small-town vibe in the historic city of Belmont © J. Michael Jones / Getty Images
Why go? To enjoy a dose of small-town simplicity
The city of Belmont has a Norman Rockwell-esque feel and makes for an ideal last-minute trip. Located about 25 minutes from Charlotte, Belmont’s downtown is only a few blocks long so you’re safe from decision-overload.
Get that classic English pub feel at Jekyll & Hyde’s Taphouse and Grill on Catawba Street. Unwind as the kiddies run wild at Stowe Park on Main Street or indulge on a Nutter Butter shake at Two Chicks Sandwiches and Scoops. If there’s still time to kill, browse the crowded shelves of secondhand treasures at Piccolo Antiques.
How to get to Belmont from Charlotte: By car, jump on 85 South for 15 miles. Take Exit 27 and turn onto NC-273 South until you reach Main Street. Alternatively, hop aboard a Route 4 CAT bus (adult single-fares start around US$2) to Abbey Square in Belmont.
Why go? It’s the “ballooning capital” of the country
Hot-air ballooning is the name of the game in Statesville, located about 45 minutes from Charlotte. The season runs 365 days a year. Reserve a romantic sunset ride and see the Piedmont region of North Carolina from new heights. Save time for a visit to Southern Distilling Company for a guided tour and bourbon tasting.
Once the taste buds are primed, satisfy your appetite with down-home American fare from 220 Cafe on South Center Street. Go ahead and put in an order of the stuffed Portobello mushrooms while you decide on your main dish.
How to get to Statesville from Charlotte: Take I-77 North out of town for roughly 40 miles. Look for exit 49B and Salisbury Road to lead you in the direction of the historic district.
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A pedal-powered touring vehicle taking tourists around Asheville, stopping at pubs en route © J. Michael Jones / Shutterstock
Why go? For a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway
You can’t drive all 500 miles on this iconic byway but you can stop at interesting points like the Folk Art Center or North Carolina Arboretum.
If you decide to tour Asheville, pick one neighborhood like Montford or the River Arts District, and spend your time there.
While the city has always had a killer food scene, more diverse culinary options have been opening up around town. A short distance from downtown, in trendy South Slope, Little Chango is a brand new place highlighting Latin American dishes.
From there, walk to any of the 10 breweries in the district like Catawba Brewing, Green Man Brewery or Burial Beer.
How to get to Asheville from Charlotte: The most direct route is via Interstate 40 but you’ll leave Charlotte by way of I-85 to 321. Once you’re in Asheville, follow the signs to enter the BRP from any of its access points. Greyhound does offer round-trip service. It takes about three hours and fares start around US$50.
Why go? Ski the slopes
If you fancy a few runs, you can get to the snow in a matter of hours. The Beech Mountain resort is about two and a half hours from Charlotte and offers an array of lodging, some spots just minutes from the ski lift.
Not a skier but still want to do some exploring? Visit the Land of Oz theme park for an under-the-radar attraction that’s unlike anything else in the state. It’s been around since the 1970s but went defunct for years due to neglect and lack of funding.
Its abandoned ruins in the middle of the woods added to its eerie, oddball mystique and eventually a growing interest led to its reopening. Now, it hosts sold-out shows and Autumn at Oz, the world’s largest Wizard of Oz festival.
How to get to Beech Mountain from Charlotte: Take 85 South to 321 until you get to I-40. Head east and around Morganton you’ll jump on NC-181. Follow that, heading north, as it winds up into the mountains.
Best time to visit Charlotte
Why go? To find out what a “whirligig” is
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum is worth the three-hour drive from Charlotte and there’s no cost to view the whimsical, wind-powered sculptures. The colorful, metallic folk art looks like a small-scale cross between a carnival ride and a cell tower and the pieces are all the more intriguing when you see them in person.
Check the park’s website for activities and the yearly festival. The Electric Light Fantasy laser show during the holiday season is worth checking out as is the local food truck round-up Beats and Eats.
How to get to Wilson from Charlotte: Take 85-N to 40-E. On the other side of Raleigh, you’ll catch 264-E to NC-1163 into Wilson.
If you can spare the time, plan an overnight stay at the seaside city of Wilmington © Getty Images
Why go? Because the beach is calling
At four hours, a visit to Wilmington is a stretch. But, it’s the coast and there’s no respite quite like the sea, so if you have the time make this one an overnighter.
Carolina Beach’s boardwalk is home to the ultra-popular Britt’s Donuts. Bobby Nivens has owned the donut shop for nearly 50 years (though the shop originally opened in 1939). Be ready for long lines and don’t bother asking what flavors they make – Britt’s only serves glazed donuts.
At Wrightsville Beach, get deep into the marshy waterways with a SUP rental or fish for flounder from historic Johnnie Mercer’s pier. Upscale dining abounds with restaurants such as Soundside, Bluewater Waterfront Grill, and the Bridge Tender. The more casual Ceviche’s is a popular favorite for Panamanian fare and colorful cocktails.
How to get to Wilmington from Charlotte: It’s an easy 200 miles on Interstate 74 E until you reach Highway 17. Follow signs to Wrightsville Beach or take 421 South towards Carolina Beach.