Explore Charlotte By Rail
It was a big step for an up-and-coming city. In November 2007, Charlotte became the first city in the Carolinas to open its own light rail system. The LYNX Blue Line runs 9.6 miles from Uptown to Interstate 485 just north of Pineville. Ridership has been much stronger than anticipated, as many commuters are saving gas and avoiding traffic by ditching their vehicles for the comfortable half-hour ride.
Charlotte's LYNX Blue Line
Regular one-way fares are currently $1.50, but $4.50 will buy you an all-day pass for the Blue Line and allow you to ride as much as you please. Depending on your plans, that could be a bargain.
Here are a few ideas for a day (or night) of exploring the Queen City by light rail.
Kids love trains. So, it only seems to make sense for a day of family fun to include a ride on the rails. At the northern end of the Blue Line (7th Street Station), the train is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the creative kingdom of ImaginOn, a joint venture of the Children’s Theatre Of Charlotte and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Here, kids can enjoy a program or theatre production geared toward a young audience, discover an endless supply of children’s media and resources, or learn about animation and technology at Tech Central.
There’s even more exploration for kids and adults at Discovery Place, which is loaded with traveling educational exhibits, hands-on displays, and even an IMAX theatre. Discovery Place is just two blocks from the 7th Street Station on North Tryon Street.
If the weather has the kids itching to get outside, take the train down to the 3rd Street/Convention Center Station and walk over to The Green, a 1.5 acre urban park with whimsical signs and sculptures and an interactive fountain. Purchase a sandwich, hot dog, or pizza from the many restaurants surrounding the park, and eat at an outdoor table or on the grass.
At this point, the young ones are probably all screaming for ice cream. Get back on the train and head south to the East/West Boulevard Station and walk one block down to Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop, where you can reward the kids for a day well spent with a hand-made shake, float, sundae, or other delectable treat.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
From trendy art to pet supplies, from high fashion to hi-tech, there are plenty of places along the Blue Line for shopping. Park the car at the southern end of the line (I-485 Station) and cross South Boulevard to Carolina Pavilion, an 849,000 square foot shopping center filled with national chains and local stores, fast food and a 24-screen movie theatre. If it’s on your shopping list, you can probably find it here.
Drop your shopping bags off at the car and catch the train north to the Archdale Station, where music lovers of all ages will find a sonic paradise at Manifest Discs, an independently-run music and movie store that will likely have that CD you weren’t able to find at the big box stores. New or used, from pop to punk to Puccini, this is the place to fill the holes in your music library.
Those more interested in boutique shopping should exit the train at the East/West Boulevard Station and walk down to the Atherton Mill, a renovated 1890’s cotton mill that is now home to a wide array of shops. If you come on the weekend, you can skip the walk: the historic Charlotte Trolley will pick you up at several light rail stations and bring you to the mill’s front door.
For lunch, if old fashioned Southern cooking is calling your name, walk over to Price’s Chicken Coop, a few steps away from the East/West Boulevard Station and a favorite fried chicken joint for locals and visitors alike. However, Price’s has no seating available, so if you don’t feel like eating outside, take the train to the Transportation Center/Arena Station and walk over to Mert’s Heart And Soul on College Street, another favorite Charlotte soul food restaurant.
Now that you’re Uptown, do a little more shopping at the Overstreet Mall or Founder’s Hall near the Arena station, or take in a little culture at the Levine Museum Of The New South or the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. Both are very close to the 7th Street Station.
The light rail line is especially handy for those looking for an evening out on the town. No driving, no parking, no problem. One caveat, though: the last train rolls out of Uptown at 1 a.m. sharp, so those looking to party into the wee hours may have to find an alternate route home.
If you’re starting the evening with dinner, the food choices along the Blue Line are as numerous and diverse as the people who ride it. From pricey to bohemian, from Greek to Italian to Mexican, you will find your choice of food within a block or two of a train station.
Every month, eight local art galleries participate in the Historic South End First Friday Gallery Crawl from 6-8pm. Nearby restaurants and bars also participate in the event (which includes a free shuttle bus), so start at The Charlotte Art League near the Bland Street Station, and enjoy a glass of beer or wine as you view some of the best art in the Southeast.
For those feeling a little more childlike, there’s Jillian’s, just a few steps away from the Bland Street Station. Play pool, ping-pong, or a vast array of video games while you eat and drink, or just hang out and watch sporting events on the strategically placed TV screens.
If live music is your preference, you can choose between the headliners at Amos’ South End, just behind Jillian’s, or the Tremont Music Hall, a couple of blocks from the East/West Boulevard Station. Both venues feature national and local acts in intimate stage settings.
Light Rail riders also have easy access to Charlotte’s Uptown Entertainment District, with literally dozens of restaurant and bar choices, ranging from Irish Pubs to quiet wine bars to intense dance clubs. Among the newest choices are those at the EpiCentre, a brand new Uptown shopping and entertainment development within sight of the Transportation Center/Arena Station. Currently, you can hang on for dear life as you try to ride the mechanical bull at Whisky River (a bar owned by NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr) or sing along with the dueling pianists at Howl At The Moon, but eventually the EpiCentre will include more shops, restaurants, a six-screen movie theatre, and a bowling alley.
added: December 12, 2008
updated: June 20, 2011
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