21 free and cheap things to do in Charlotte: Holiday parade, tree lightings and more

This list is curated by Charlotte on the Cheap, where you’ll find even more free and cheap things to do every day, and detailed by Denise Casalez.

Friday, Dec. 1

S’mores Please at Stevens Creek Nature Center

Location: 15700 Thompson Rd, Mint Hill, NC 28227

Time: 11-12:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

In the mood for a tasty treat? Stop in at the Stevens Creek Nature Center fire pit during lunch time to make gooey fireside s’mores.

UCity Lights Winter Celebration: The Shoppes at University Place

Location: 8931 J M Keynes Dr, Charlotte, NC 28262

Time: 5-9 p.m.

Cost: Free

Enjoy some winter wonder at the UCity Lights Winter Celebration. This holiday experience includes a tree lighting, Santa and Mrs. Claus, hot cocoa and prize giveaways.

Huntersville Tree Lighting

Location: 201 Huntersville-Concord Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078

Time: 6-9 p.m.

Cost: Free

Join the Town of Huntersville for its annual tree lighting, where there will be rides, food and beverage vendors, plus 50+ craft vendors. You can also expect Santa and a special performance by Maddie Poppe, the season 16 winner of “American Idol.”

Saturday, Dec. 2

Sea of Lights at Sea Life Charlotte-Concord

Location: 8111 Concord Mills Boulevard, Concord, NC 28027

Time: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Cost: $18.99 for adults, $15.99 for kids

Dive into the enchanting holiday scenes at SEA LIFE Aquarium, which is transformed into a mesmerizing wonderland beneath the waves with the Sea of Lights. The event runs from Dec. 1 to Jan. 3.

South End Merry Market

Location: 1117 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203

Time: 10-1 p.m.

Cost: Free entry

Stop by the South End Merry Market, a festive event with a variety of vendors selling crafts, gifts and tasty treats. If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for family, friends or a significant other, then mark your calendar.

¡Celebra! with Criss Cross Mangosauce: A Bilingual Family Holiday Concert

Location: 3500 Shamrock Dr, Charlotte, NC 28215

Time: 11-12 p.m.

Cost: $5 per adult, $3 per child between ages 6-17, free for children under 5

Grab a spot for ¡Celebra!, an interactive bilingual concert that celebrates culture and music with a message of hope and peace. This group of teaching artists and musicians will perform popular holiday songs, traditional Latin American Christmas carols and tell stories.

41st annual North Mecklenburg Holiday Parade

Location: 216 S Main St, Davidson, NC 28036

Time: 1 p.m.

Cost: Free entry

The towns of Davidson and Cornelius present the 41st Annual North Mecklenburg Holiday Parade. The 2-mile festive parade route follows Main Street (Hwy. 115) from Davidson through Cornelius and ends at the intersection of North Main Street and Catawba Avenue in Cornelius.

Sunday, Dec. 3

ThriftCon Charlotte

Location: 800 Briar Creek Rd, Charlotte, NC 28205

Time: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: $12 via website, $20 at the door, free for kids under 13

Looking for more sustainable clothing options or just want to shop around for a nice gift? You’re in luck because ThriftCon, a market with over 150 vintage clothing and collectible vendors, will make its way to Charlotte for the first time ever on Dec. 3. Whether you’re in a ‘70s groove or a Y2K mood, at this “buy-sell-trade party,” you’ll have the option of buying secondhand and vintage clothing with some pieces starting at just $1 and typically ranging from $10 to $50.

Holiday ornament painting at Divine Barrel Brewing

Location: 3701 N Davidson St Suite #203, Charlotte, NC 28205

Time: 12-7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Get your family and friends together — Divine Barrel Brewing is hosting a holiday ornament painting event. Come in and get yourself an ornament, paint and a brush to create a treasure for your tree this year. You can also grab a delicious bite to eat from Soul Gastro, and Feline Rescue Network, Inc. will be there with a cat adoption event.

Regal Holiday Classics

Location: A list of Charlotte Regal Cinemas

Time: 1 p.m.

Cost: $5

Settle into the season with classic holiday movies. Regal is hosting a holiday series for four weekends, and Regal members can bring in a friend for free. Grab your popcorn and enjoy!

Lake Norman Community Singers Holiday Concert

Location: 214 N Academy St, Mooresville, NC 28115

Time: 3 p.m.

Cost: Free

Lake Norman Community Singers are hosting a holiday performance at Central United Methodist Church, where they’ll sing holiday classics like “The Story” and “Fum, Fum, Fum.”

NoDa Tree Lighting Celebration

Location: 3025 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205

Time: 5-8 p.m.

Cost: Free

Join NoDa neighbors on the front lawn of the Johnston YMCA for its annual tree lighting. Pop-ups, photos with Santa and family-friendly activities will be taking place.

Monday, Dec. 4

Sycamore Book Swap

Location: 2151 Hawkins St, Charlotte, NC 28203

Time: Starts at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free

Are you a reading fanatic and looking for ways to connect with other book lovers? Join Front Paige Media in a book discussion on ‘The Housemaid’ by Frieda McFadden at Sycamore Brewing. Bring three books to swap for three new books, engage in a round of literature trivia, write a letter to a swap mate and join the hunt for a blind date with a book. While you’re there, you can enjoy $5 drafts, wine bottles and charcuterie specials.

Story Time & More

Location: 11318 N Community House Rd, Charlotte, NC 28277

Time: 10-11 a.m.

Cost: Free

Join the Ballantyne Arts Center and the YMCA of Greater Charlotte for a family-friendly event that engages imaginations of all ages. It will feature a live reading and performance from selected story books, along with a sensory-rich visual art experience.

Tuesday, Dec. 5

Yoga at the Mint

Location: 500 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202

Time: 5:15-6:15 p.m.

Cost: Free for Mint members, $15 for nonmembers

Stay strong through the holiday season with a one-hour yoga class with Dancing Lotus Yoga + Arts every Tuesday at Mint Museum Uptown.

Wednesday, Dec. 6

Sip & Sculpt: Holiday Gnome Clay Class

Location: 1331 Central Ave Suite 104, Charlotte, NC 28205

Time: 6:30-9 p.m.

Cost: Free

Get in the holiday spirit with a fun gnome sculpting class with Pilot Brewing and LHK Clay Studio. Join master clay sculptor Laura Holling Kaplan for a 2.5-hour class in which you will use clay hand-building and sculpture techniques to create your own holiday clay gnome.

Drive around Charlotte for holiday displays and nominate your favorite!

Location: Anywhere in Charlotte

Time: After sundown

Cost: Free

Grab some hot cocoa and your keys — CharlotteFive is taking nominations for who has the best holiday display around Charlotte. Drive around to see where you can find truly exceptional examples of seasonal cheer, and share them with us.

Thursday, Dec. 7

Thursday CLT Morning Run

Location: 125 Remount Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203

Time: 6:30 a.m.

Cost: Free admission

Start your day off with some exercise: The CLT Morning Run meets every Thursday morning, taking off at 6:30 a.m.Whether you’re a beginner or an expert runner, the event welcomes all paces.

Girl Tribe Pop-Up Holiday

Location: 8709 Townley Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078

Time: 12-6 p.m.

Cost: Free

Join Girl Tribe for its pop-up holiday market at Birkdale Village. You can expect a joyful space filled with goods and gifts from local small businesses that will last three weeks.

Gingerbread House Competition at Urban District Market

Location: 2315 N Davidson St #300, Charlotte, NC 28205

Time: 6-9 p.m.

Cost: $20 per team

Grab your team and gingerbread-making skills and head to Urban District Market for a competitive —and fun — gingerbread house contest. It’s open to all ages, and it’s only $20 for a maximum of four people in each group. Winners can receive up to four $100 gift certificates.

Hanukkah begins

Location: Multiple

Time: After sundown

Cost: Free

Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish celebration also known as the Festival of Lights, lasts from sundown on Thursday, Dec. 7 through Friday, Dec. 15. Tonight, you can attend a menorah lighting at Birkdale Village in Lake Norman or StoneCrest Shopping Center, or attend the Drinks + Dreidels event. Get all the details on those events and more in our CharlotteFive guide to celebrating Hanukkah.

Visit Charlotte on the Cheap for an expanded list of things to do in Charlotte every day. You’ll find festivals, kids’ activities, date night ideas, art, trivia and much more. You can sign up for a daily email that will keep you in the loop.