Wondering what to do with the kids over break? Look no further. Here’s a list of some cheap and free things that will be fun for kids. Included are special holiday activities to do the first few days of break, plus some Charlotte area activities that are always free or cheap. Make sure to subscribe to Charlotte on the Cheap by email so you will learn about all the free and cheap events all year. Check out Groupons for kids’ activities in the Charlotte area, including museums, skating, Sea-Life Aquarium, trampoline parks and much, much more!
1 - Santa (and more) at Bass Pro Shops: Every day through December 24th, kids can meet Santa (free photo op), create crafts and play games at Bass Pro Shops at Concord Mills. It’s all free.
2 - Gingerbread Lane: Visit Ballantyne Hotel and view an amazing collection of gingerbread houses. It’s free to visit and a minimum donation of $1 to Levine Children’s Hospital to vote for your favorite. Through December 28th.
3 - Sea-Life Aquarium: Sea-Life Aquarium, at Concord Mills, offers kids a close up look at fish and other aquatic creatures. To save money, go on Tuesday. One kid is free with a paying adult. Adult tickets are discounted to $15 on Tuesdays. And additional kids get in for just $5.
4 - Visit ImaginOn: There’s always something fun and free for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, at ImaginOn, including the children’s library; Studio I, where teens and families can create videos; the StoryLab, computers that allow kids to create stories; and much more. In addition, check out the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library website for free programs at ImaginOn and all the other libraries. You’ll find movies, story times, PAWS to Read (kids read to dogs), video gaming and much more. Free.
5 - North Carolina Transportation Museum: This museum in Spencer is a hit with train buffs. Visits are $6, or $12 with a train ride. ($4/$8 for kids.) The museum also offers a Christmas themed train ride, Polar Express, which is not frugal but could be a fun splurge.
6 - Bouncing, bowling and skating: Before you take the kids skating, to bounce houses or bowling, make sure to check for groupons. Here’s a list of kids’ activities that Groupon has deals for right now.
7 - Parks and Rec: Mecklenburg County Parks and Rec has a full schedule of hikes, nature activities, sports and more during break. Many are free and all are reasonably priced. Search by date, facility or keyword here.
8 - Leonard Bearstein Symphonic Orchestra: These animatronic musicians perform holiday tunes every day at Founders Hall. Free to watch.
9 - Christmas Town USA: Nearby McAdenville boasts one of the best Christmas light displays in the country. It’ll be going through December 26th. Lines can be long. Try on a week night. Free.
10 - Mecklenburg County Greenways: The Greenway system in winter can be wonderful. No bugs, no humidity! Walk or bike these trails to be close to nature and get some exercise. Check out the new history statues on Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Free.
11 - Reed Gold Mine: Tour the underground mines for free. Pan for gold for $3. Reed Gold Mine is in Midland.
12 - Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: These gardens in Belmont are well worth the visit, especially around the holidays. The children’s garden, Lost Hollow, will excite kids’ imaginations, and the nightly light show and visit with Santa are lots of fun too. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores around the fire. Admission is $14.95 for adults and $8.95 for kids. Here’s are Groupon for nighttime, daytime and membership.
13 - Ice Skating: There are two seasonal outdoor rinks in the Charlotte area. Holiday on Ice is outside NASCAR Hall of Fame and costs $14, including skate rental. The Ice Park is at Concord Mills and costs $12, including skate rental. The Ice Park also offers combo deals on skating plus mini-golf and go-karting. Here’s a Groupon for a combo deal.
14 - Kannapolis Christmas: Kannapolis’ holiday celebration is one of the best. Every night Village Park lights up with multiple displays. Walk through the park for free or take the Winterland Express train for $2.
15 - CLT New Year’s Eve: CLT New Year’s Eve is the city’s official celebration. It takes place at Romare Bearden Park. It includes plenty of family friendly activities and will be capped off by a fireworks show. Free.
16 - Speedway Christmas: Charlotte Motor Speedway’s enormous light display ranges from $25 to $30/car to drive through, depending what night of the week it is. Obviously the way to make this one frugal is to make sure you have a packed car or minivan. Cost includes entry to Christmas Village, when open, and holiday movies on the big screen.
17 - Library: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library hosts a ton of free activities for kids and teens at different branches. There are movies, music programs, craft projects, technology sessions and much more.
18 - James K. Polk State Historic Site: This site is always free to visit. Learn what life was like in the 1800s for one of our presidents.
19 - Christmas Lights: Here’s a list of some of the most spectacular displays at private homes around the region. Free.
20 - Charlotte’s museums: Winter break is a great time to take the kids to Mint Museum Uptown, Mint Museum Randolph, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture and Levine Museum of the New South. Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler and the Gantt Center are all on the Levine Center for Arts, so are very easy to visit together. On Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons there is be a i: This museum is geared toward young kids and features a Butterfly Pavilion, Insect Alley, and Creature Cavern. Maybe best of all, you can take the fun outside at Ford Wild (a play area), the Paw Paw Nature Train, and Freedom Park. Admission is $8.Free shuttle for Mint Museum visitors between Mint Museum Randolph and Mint Museum Uptown. This means you can park for free at Randolph and get a ride into the city to visit all the others. Another parking tip: Park in 7th Street Station, get your ticket validated at Levine Museum of the New South and you have a an hour and a half of free parking, or free parking all day on Sunday. Read more about Free Museum Days in the Charlotte area.
21 - Discovery Place Museums: Visit Discovery Place Science ($17 for adults, $13 for kids), or Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville ($10).
22 - Discovery Place Nature: This museum is geared toward young kids and features a Butterfly Pavilion, Insect Alley, and Creature Cavern. Maybe best of all, you can take the fun outside at Ford Wild (a play area), the Paw Paw Nature Train, and Freedom Park. Admission is $8.
23 - College sports: It’s basketball season and individual tickets are reasonably priced. UNC Charlotte men’s basketball team has home games on December 31st and January 2nd, and you can get individual tickets for as little as $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Davidson College’s men’s basketball team has several home games as well during break and tickets start as low as $14.92 for adults and $7.46 for kids. Davidson College’s women basketball team has some home games too and tickets are even cheaper: $6.53 for adults and $3.73 for kids.
24 - Idea Box: Idea Box is a Maker Space at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. It lets you creating meaningful projects from start to finish, using tools like a 3D printer, vinyl and laser cutters, sewing machines, CAD stations and more. There are scheduled classes as well as time to work on whatever you want. Great for teens. Free.
For other fun and inexpensive ideas in Charlotte visit www.CharlotteOnTheCheap.com.