If you haven’t paid much attention to Charlotte, North Carolina yet, now is the time to look more closely. It’s one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, a place bursting with cultural attractions and a standout for people of all ages. Fine dining, museums, beautiful parks, fascinating history – Charlotte has it all. For those on a budget, here are some free things to do in Charlotte.

Public Art Scavenger Hunt

If you’re looking to make art education more interactive, look no further than the public art scavenger hunt hosted by the Arts and Science Council (ASC), a group whose mission is to provide “a vibrant cultural life for all.” As part of the public art walking tour, the hunt stretches along West Trade Street and North Tryon Street, and includes many of Charlotte’s most famous statues and public works of art, such as the mosaic Swimming Suits by Tom Thoune and Life is an Open Book by Brad Spencer, which depicts a brick book enveloped by brick children. The tour and the hunt are both self-guided, and the scavenger hunt map (complete with answer key) may be downloaded and printed from the ASC’s website. Unfortunately, the only prize awarded for completing the hunt is knowledge.

Swimming Suits

Credit: charlotteoutdoorart.org

Wells Fargo History Museum

Nearby the Mint Museum and Levine Center of the Arts, this branch of the company’s museum focuses on gold mining in North Carolina, displaying its collection of gold nuggets and rare coins. The museum also hosts a model of the 1889 Wachovia Bank, the predecessor to Wells Fargo. Admission is free of charge, though tours may be booked in advance through telephone if your group wishes to have a more informed visit. Exhibits include an underground mining tunnel and an interactive telegraph, as well as a real Concord stagecoach that can be viewed up close – you can even sit inside! It is, of course, closed on bank holidays. See wellsfargohistory.com for more information.

Location: 401 South Tryon St.

South End Gallery Crawl

Held on the first Friday of every month and located in Charlotte’s historic South End, this gallery crawl features some of the city’s best art houses, including the Hiddell Brooks Gallery and Lark and Key, a modern gallery that doubles as a boutique and sponsors local and regional artists. Exhibits at these galleries are widely varied; one exhibit at the Anne Nielson Fine Art Gallery showcased the personal art collection of fine art consultant Jacqueline Bennett Holmes. Be warned – not all galleries participate every month, so check historicsouthend.com to see which galleries will be participating during your group’s visit. Afterwards, stop by Camden and Park Avenue for Food Truck Friday, which is held every Friday and is a must for all gallery crawl attendees. The food is as varied as the art; participating vendors sell cake, tacos, kebabs and even Brussels sprouts.

The Light Factory

Famous for its annual art auction, The Light Factory is not your average tourist spot. A museum of film and photography, it offers exhibits and film screenings that help contribute to the community’s culture and open viewers’ eyes to a different kind of art. Open from Wednesday to Saturday, the museum is currently hosting Jerry Spagnoli’s Local Stories which focuses on the history of the world as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. Film screenings are usually done for independent artists, such as for Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty in 2012 – proving that this is one museum that does not shy away from controversy. To see what events will be held during your group’s visit, check out lightfactory.org.

Location: 1817 Central Ave.

ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center

A center that aims to educate and inspire the next generation, ImaginOn was named for two of Charlotte’s most influential citizens. This rainbow-colored building houses two separate theater spaces, a multimedia production studio, an exhibit space and two age-specific libraries: one for teens and one for children under 11. Kids can have fun with ongoing exhibits in the StoryLab, and look outside the box (literally) to see the ImaginOn Mural. Located outdoors, it was designed and created by the art students of South Charlotte Middle School to enhance the center’s vision of challenging young minds. All library services and drop-in programs are free of charge.

Location: 300 East 7th St.

ImaginOn 2

Credit: imaginon.org

James K. Polk Historic Site

Step just outside of Charlotte to see the history North Carolina has to offer. These 21 acres mark the birthplace of James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States – a man famous for spurring on the Mexican-American War, and for making the deal that granted the United States the lands that would eventually become Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The buildings are reconstructions based on historical accounts of the homestead and are inhabited by re-enactors to better impress upon visitors the realities of life at the turn of the 19th century. The museum is self-guided, but tours of the grounds are offered to view areas such as the gardens and cemetery. Two celebrations are held annually – one for Christmas and one in November to celebrate President Polk’s birthday, which includes a cooking demonstration and other hands-on activities. For teachers, the site offers packets for student group tours.

Location: 12031 Lancaster Hwy. Pineville, North Carolina

The Green

A day spent at The Green promises fun and entertainment for both kids and adults. Located across the street from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, this three-tiered popular park boasts a literary theme, complete with statues of books and corners that are reminiscent of famous works such as Alice in Wonderland. The park’s whimsy is beyond compare – just look for the fishy water fountains, hopscotch areas, and signs that point to other Charlottes all over the country; Charlotte, Michigan is just 748 miles away. Along the way, you may enjoy the many restaurants and shops that line the park.

Location: 400 South Tryon St.

The Green

Credit: charlottecentercity.org

Charlotte is one of the great cities of the cultural world. Have we missed any other hidden gems? Tell us in the comments below!