Oh, those bright lights of big cities! Business men and women in black, navy, and grey suits hustling along the sidewalks, talking on cell phones and rushing toward the towering skyscrapers that surround them … swarming traffic a cacophony of roaring engines, squealing tires, blaring sirens, and the sharp blasts of horns … day and night, there are shops to visit, restaurants to discover, shows to attend, museums to browse, and events to enjoy. The best thing about a big city is there's always something going on.
But what if you want to slow it down just a little? Not so much that you're living in a pastoral scene reminiscent of a Monet painting, but just enough so that things are just a little quieter, a little slower paced, and a little less expensive? Small cities deliver all of that, and often they are close enough to a major city that you can enjoy the best of both.
Belmont, North Carolina is a perfect example of a great small city. Located just east of Charlotte, Belmont is flanked by two rivers. It is in the Piedmont region so it offers those rolling, green hills you'd expect to find in a landscape painting, but the lovely setting is just the beginning.
Since the Dutch settled the area in the 1750s, Belmont has been attracting settlers. In the early years, they arrived to farm, then later to open mills. When the railroad arrived, the town's station attracted even more settlers. Soon, general stores and inns were opened to cater to travelers. The small community was finally incorporated in 1895.
Downtown Belmont is a historic district that shows off its Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Tudor Revival architecture. This pedestrian-friendly area is home to art galleries, coffee houses, boutiques, stores, and restaurants. Settle in and enjoy discussions and local gossip at the neighborhood coffee house – where you might even be greeted by name after settling into your Belmont apartment and getting to know the town's residents. Many of the city's events and festivals are held downtown at Stowe Park and include Friday Night Live, a summer concert series. Stop in at the Belmont General Store before heading home. This great local landmark is located in the historic Stowe Mercantile Building, and the upstairs contains an art studio and jewelry shop.
Belmont may be small, but it is packed with things to do. Take in a show at the Belmont Drive-In – at just $10 a carload, you can enjoy a great movie on the (really big) screen while munching on nachos and popcorn from the snack bar. Or spend the afternoon at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This garden covers 400 acres and features 11 gardens and an orchid conservatory. Several events are also held on the grounds, such as AutumnFaire – a great festival featuring pottery, mosaics, and handmade jewelry. Other events include Fall with a Flourish, Horticultural Highlight Walks, and Holidays at the Garden.
The more adventurous can head over to the US National Whitewater Center and enjoy zip lines, whitewater rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, climbing, mountain biking, and even eco trekking – exploring with a GPS device. The adventure Course is a challenging aerial obstacle course that overlooks the USNWC – from 20 feet up. (Giving true meaning to "bird's-eye view!") Not enough of an adrenaline rush for you? Then perhaps you'll enjoy the Mega Jump – a 46-foot-tall tower where you can look, then leap, in a controlled free-fall that lands you on the ground with an assisted free fall system. If you like to work for your view, the climbing center at USNWC is one of the world's largest. Scale the 46-foot climbing wall and get a great view of the whitewater rapids (far!) below.
USNWC is surrounded by Tuckaseegee Ford Park, which stretches along the eastern bank of the Catawba River. The park features 14 miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking. It also contains remnants of the historic Tuckaseegee Trail and Ford, the first documented crossing place along the Catawba River.
Across Lake Wylie from the USNWC, Tailrace Marina isn't your typical marina. Located along the historic Tuckaseegee Ford, this beautiful area was the location of a mill during the 1880s. The marina has 191 private and public slips, public docks, four picnic areas with grills, and a store that rents canoes, kayaks, and pontoon boats.
If all of that isn't enough to keep you busy, Belmont's festivals and events are spectacular – some are even award-winning, such as Christmas Town USA, which was named one of the Top Ten Christmas Attractions by Yahoo. Other events include the Belmont Fall Festival, the Halloween Bash, Juneteenth, and the Garibaldi Festival.
In fact, Belmont may keep you so busy that you forget that you're just 15 minutes from Charlotte, a major city with great nightlife, shopping, businesses, museums, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.