Attention book-lovers! From creative outdoor spaces to multiple bookstores to inspiring murals of poetry, Charlotte, North Carolina is a great spot for a literary visit.
Charlotte’s bookishness is probably not the first thing that pops into someone’s head when they hear of the city. Banking, “the Queen city,’ or an unusual need to call downtown, “Uptown,” might rank higher in first responses. For many of you, I’m guessing, visiting Charlotte wasn’t even on your radar.
So, let’s put some options out there for literary travelers. A day or two is what you’ll need depending on how many bookstores you want to check out and what other attractions you want to explore (hint, hint: great museums!).
Orientation to Charlotte
Here’s a general orientation to the roads and area.
I-77 will connect you to I-277 which will get you to Uptown. If you’re coming from I-85, you’ll have an exit to I-77 to switch you over.
I-485 is a giant loop around Charlotte, and it may be an option if you choose to go further away from the city in search of books and activities.
Once you’re in Uptown (which many of you will identify as a “downtown” – it’s the city proper, business area, skyline, skyscrapers, etc), the main intersection is Trade St. and Tryon St (runs North/South). To identify it quickly, you’ll notice four large statues at each of the corners.
Literary Spots in Charlotte
Stretch your legs on a small parcel of green space nestled between the historic St. Peter Catholic Church and a skyscraper and across from the Convention Center. This little park, creatively named “The Green,” is a celebration of all things bookish.
Look at the directional signs as they tell you how many miles away Charlotte, North Carolina is from various cities around the world. Look closely to notice that all the colorful signs spell the names of renowned authors and poets.
Don’t forget to look down then. Word games and inspiring quotes decorate the pathways. Read closely the golden parchment papers unfurled on walkways and walls – they share a poem or reflection for your consideration.
Stand beneath two enormous pillars of literary tomes. Books stacked and piled one on top of the other guard entrance or exit to the creatively sequestered space.
Ready for a walk? Head north towards the city’s center. Pass water features, playful sculptures, and shiny buildings. Make a right onto 7th street. Pay attention crossing the Blue Line tracks. You’re heading toward the colorful children’s library and theater, Imaginon.
Even if you don’t have children, Imaginon is a great space. Just outside the building are black typewriter keys sticking out from the pavement next to sculptures of pencils, a tower of books topped by an ink bottle, and thought-provoking quotes about the power of the written word throughout the space.
Inside the building is an explosion of color. The children’s library space is immediately to your left and they often have fun scavenger hunts and other challenges throughout the area. Ahead and to the back-left area is the entrance to a larger play space. Imaginon often has displays and activities set up around beloved children’s characters or themes to inspire curiosity.
Wall Poems of Charlotte
When you step outside, walk a bit to the right and you’ll see on the side of the building across the street one of several Wall Poems of Charlotte. (Click this link for an article explaining the poems and also a map of several you can find while you wander the city.) After you’ve taken a minute to consider the words of “Bus Stop” by Donald Justice, walk back towards 5th Street and head to the Dandelion Market and another beautiful poem “Salute” by A.R. Ammons.
The Dandelion Market is one of my favorite restaurants in Charlotte. I could make an entire meal out of their yummy Sweet & Spicy Green Beans. So. Good.
Wander back to your car and figure out which of these bookstores you’d like to explore first.
5 Bookstores in Charlotte
Park Road Books
As far as Independent bookstores go, this one is the Charlotte institution. Tucked into a shopping center, it’s easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it. Great staff recommendations, paper products, and a comfy children’s section in the back.
That’s Novel Books
That’s Novel Books just opened, right around COVID-19, in an up-and-coming space called Camp North End. It has a light and airy feel, a sitting space for reading a new book, and lovely curated shelves of used books at reasonable prices.
Julia’s Café and Books
Julia’s Café and Books is connected to a Habitat for Humanity donation center. A coffee counter is snuggled between rows and rows of stuffed shelf after stuffed shelf. I could easily spend half of a day here. Don’t forget to check out the upstairs nook, too.
The Book Rack
The Book Rack is large by used-bookstore comparisons. The children’s book section alone nearly swallowed me for our entire visit. Looking through titles, sorting through piles, and wandering in a maze of shelves and books is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Nestled in a shopping center, Book Buyers has an eclectic range of used books, an organized-chaos vibe, and cat. The owners are friendly and helpful. My girls both found books to enjoy the last time we perused the aisles for a bit.
Best Kept Secret: The Museum of the Alphabet
Okay, technically this is not in Charlotte proper, but it is close enough to make it a day trip, and it is worth it. Located in Waxhaw, NC, it’s about a 45-minute drive from Charlotte. From the city, through new pop-up suburbs, and into rows of corn fields, you’ll see a little bit of everything.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. In fact, the girls and I were shocked at how much was tucked into the brown building.
The museum charts the development of written language from ancient to modern times. There are interactive displays, charts, maps, and visuals abound. I almost wasn’t sure where to focus. The girls stamped their names in hieroglyphics, listened to Arabic alphabet sounds through a puzzle, and played with magnets to explore Mandarin. It took us about an hour-and-a-half to make it through the entire space.
The museum is operated by a group that translates Bibles. Some of the exhibits reflect this background, but most of the displays are focused solely on language.
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
It is very, very likely that we will go again.
There you go. There’s a start to visiting the best of the literary sites Charlotte offers. When you stop by the Queen City, enjoy the museums and parks of Uptown, visit a few of the bookstores, and take a day trip to the Museum of the Alphabet for a unique perspective on languages around the world.