Michelle Harbi discovers fast cars, fine houses and fresh food in North Carolina’s biggest city
1. TRADE AND TRYON
Start your tour at the very heart of the second-largest banking hub in the US. In 1755, Thomas Polk built a house at the crossroads of two Native American trading paths between the Yadkin and Catawba rivers. One of those paths was part of the Great Wagon Road – now Tryon Street – while the other is now Trade Street.
Trade and Tryon is now the epicentre of Uptown Charlotte, and is otherwise known as Independence Square, or simply the Square. On midweek lunchtimes it buzzes with banking staff – one of the city’s biggest employers, Bank of America, has its HQ just by the square – while buskers belt out the blues.
Take a look at the four statues at each corner of the square. An African American labourer represents Transportation, a gold prospector Commerce, and a mill worker Industry, the core threads that have contributed to the Queen City’s growth. All three are facing the fourth, a mother and child, representing the Future. And on that note, it’s time to step back into the city’s past…
2. FOURTH WARD HISTORIC DISTRICT
Head north on Tryon for a couple of blocks and turn left, and you will find yourself in one of Charlotte’s most charming areas.
In the mid-19th century the Fourth Ward was a well-heeled neighbourhood home to merchants and ministers, but as people shifted out to the suburbs, it went into decline and many of its grand Victorian residences were destroyed. From the late 1970s it underwent restoration, and about 40 of the houses have been retained as part of the Fourth Ward Historic District, the tree-lined streets of which make for an enjoyable stroll.
Notable examples include Alexander Michael’s restaurant at 401 West Ninth Street, housed in the neighbourhood’s 1897 grocery store, and the pink-hued Overcarsh House (326 West Eighth), in Queen Anne style.
Pick up a walking tour map at the visitor centre at 330 South Tryon Street. In the centre of the district, Fourth Ward Park is a pleasant spot for a pause – the skyscrapers of Uptown, visible above the trees, provide a striking contrast to the historic homes of the district.
3. LEVINE MUSEUM OF THE NEW SOUTH
From the park, walk east on Seventh Street. At number 200, the Levine Museum is a fascinating place to explore the American South’s post-Civil War history.
Its “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibition explains how the South has moved “from field to factory to finance”, through the dark days of slavery and segregation to Charlotte’s present role as a money centre.
The 1,000-plus exhibits are arranged chronologically and designed to be interactive – you can step inside a tenant farmer’s one-room house and listen to folk tunes from the time, or take a seat at a lunch counter and learn about the sit-in protests of the Civil Rights movement.
It’s a sobering, evocative display of how the past continues to inform the present. Open daily 10am-5pm (from 12pm Sun); entry US$8; museumofthenewsouth.org
4. SEVENTH STREET PUBLIC MARKET
Steps from the museum at number 224, the Seventh Street Public Market opened in 2011 to promote local farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs. Housed in a voluminous industrial-style building, its vendors sell everything from prime meats, cheeses and colourful fruit and veg to fine wines and delectable chocolates.
At Salts of the Earth, UK expat Keith Warner sells 170 gourmet salts from around the world – such as black truffle salt made from French gris de Guérande and Italian black truffles – while Small Keys sells pretty handmade soaps and beauty products.
Local Loaf serves up delicious sandwiches, while other stalls offer up gourmet pizzas, sushi made to order and zingy raw juices. Look around and you may even spot a star from Homeland – the TV series is filmed in and around Charlotte. Open Mon-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat 8.30am-7pm, Sun 10am-3pm (select vendors); 7thstreetpublicmarket.com
5. NASCAR HALL OF FAME
Whether or not your only knowledge of NASCAR has been gleaned from watching Days of Thunder, visiting the Hall of Fame will be an education. Find it by walking east on Seventh Street and turning right on to Caldwell Street until you hit Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard.
Open since 2010 in a striking racetrack-inspired building, the Hall of Fame celebrates the great and the good in the world of NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). The sport has its roots in the South – in Prohibition times, bootleggers in the Appalachians would soup up their cars to escape the police – and has a huge fan base.
There’s a whopping 3,700 sqm of space to explore, including Glory Road, an exhibition of historic cars from Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150 Black Widow to today’s lean machines, and the Hall of Honour, where the sport’s greatest drivers are hailed. If you fancy having a go yourself, you can sit in a stock car in the high-tech race simulator and pit your skills against other visitors. Open 10am-6pm daily, entry US$20. 400 East Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard; nascarhall.com
Visit charlottesgotalot.com. The Ballantyne hotel, a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, is a good option in the wider area: theballantynehotel.com. US Airways flies daily from London Heathrow to Charlotte: usairways.com. American Airlines flies to Charlotte from Heathrow via Chicago, Dallas and Miami: aa.com. Following the airlines’ recent merger, from spring onwards it will be possible to book all US Airways flights from the AA website.