The route between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia stretches across three states and includes major highways, scenic byways, and historic landmarks. If you’re looking to travel between the two cities, you’re in luck.
In this post, I’ve compiled your ultimate guide to traveling between Charlotte and Atlanta.
- How far is it?
- Driving from Charlotte to Atlanta
- Other ways to get there
- What's the fastest way to get there?
- What's the safest way to get there?
- What's the cheapest way to get there?
- What's the most environmentally friendly way to travel there?
- Things to do along the way
- Where to stay in Charlotte
- Where to stay in Atlanta
- The Bottom Line
How far is it?
The most direct route is approximately 244 miles and takes around 4 hours by car.
The straight line distance, or “as the crow flies,” is about 20 miles shorter than this. That is also the flight distance, because it’s the most common route direct flights will take between the two cities.
Driving from Charlotte to Atlanta
There are a number of different routes you can take. The fastest route is via I-85. A more scenic route that avoids the highways takes you a long US-29 S.
There are some other routes you can take as well, but we’ll focus on these two routes because they are the most straightforward.
Route 1: Interstate 85 (I-85)
I-85 is the most direct driving route and the shortest distance. The distance between Charlotte and Atlanta via I-85 is about 244 miles and takes on average around 4 hours. However, the time of year, day of the week, and even time of day can affect this duration.
I-85 also takes you through a number of other notable cities, including Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina. Be prepared for some traffic as you approach and navigate through the city centers.
Route 2: US Highway 29 (US-29)
For a more scenic drive, consider taking US-29 S. This route adds some time to your journey, because it has more stoplights and lower speed limits, so your average speed will be quite a bit lower than if you took the interstate.
But US-29 has some advantages. Not only is it a lower stress way to travel than I-85, but it also takes you through some charming small towns and beautiful landscapes.
You’ll go through both Greer and Greenville, SC, where it is known as Wade Hampton Boulevard. You’ll also go through Athens, GA, home of the University of Georgia and a lively college town.
There are a number of other routes you can take, in addition to these two. Some people recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading north from Charlotte, going south down the parkway, and ending up in Atlanta.
But this adds a lot of time, and driving distance, to the route. It will also make the trip more expensive. Overall, this route is just not worth it unless you are specifically wanting to see the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you are wanting to see the Parkway, it’s probably best to plan a separate trip, to a town like Asheville or Hot Springs, and get the chance to spend more time in the mountains and driving along the parkway. It’s a beautiful place, but it just doesn’t make sense for this trip.
The best time to drive from Charlotte to Atlanta
The main thing you’ll want to avoid is rush hour in Charlotte and Atlanta. Rush hour in Greenville, SC can also be pretty busy, so it’s best to avoid that as well.
Leaving Charlotte early in the morning, before rush hour, is one option. That would put you in Atlanta before the afternoon rush hour, when people are going home from work. If you leave early enough, you can also avoid lunch hour rushes around Greenville.
Outside of that, you may want to check traffic conditions, especially on I-85, before leaving. I used to travel between Chapel Hill and Spartanburg along I-85 regularly when I was a grad student and I remember frequent hold-ups because of wrecks or construction. It really depended on the day.
You can check traffic conditions on Google Maps, with the iPhone maps, or with a number of Apps. One highly-rated app is Waze, which gives you live traffic updates, routes, and the ability to change your music within the app.
Other ways to get there
Other than driving, you can also get from Charlotte to Atlanta by air, bus, or rail. Let’s look at these options a little more closely.
There are several non-stop flights that connect these two cities daily. The flight time is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes and flies between Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
However, when you factor in the time it takes to get to and from the airport, check in, go through security, and wait for your flight, the total travel time can actually be about the same as driving.
Also, if you fly, you won’t have a car when you get there. You can rent a car, of course, but that can really add up. Plus you’ll either need to pay for parking at the airport or take an Uber or Lyft to get there.
Both American Airlines and Delta offer multiple nonstop flights. Other airlines, like Spirit Airlines, fly between the two cities, but American and Delta are the two that have direct flights.
The earliest flight is 6AM with Delta. The last flight is 10:30PM. with American. The cheapest flight will depend on the day and time, so it’s best to check rates regularly to find the right flight for you.
Overall, flying may be best for business travelers, who will be reimbursed for their trip, or for those who really prefer not to drive long distances.
Another option is taking a Greyhound bus from Charlotte to Atlanta. The bus trip times vary, depending on the exact station and other factors. But the shortest route currently on Greyhound’s website takes only 4 hours and 20 minutes – almost the exact same amount of time as driving. Other times and routes may take a little longer.
With a bus trip, you can sit back and relax, without worrying about driving. Greyhound is also the most affordable option.
Unfortunately, despite all these enormous benefits, Greyhound Bus is poorly rated. At the time of this writing, there are 45 reviews on Yelp for the Charlotte Greyhound station. They are overwhelmingly negative reviews. Overall, Greyhound Charlotte is rated 1.5/5.
The Greyhound Atlanta Bus Station hasn’t fared any better. There are 172 reviews on Yelp, with a rating of 1.5/5.
One final way to travel from Charlotte to Atlanta is by train. Amtrak offers service between Charlotte and Atlanta on the Crescent Line. The total trip time is just under 6 hours.
Traveling by train allows you to relax and enjoy the scenery in a comfortable setting, without worrying about driving. Plus, unlike driving or taking a bus, you have the freedom to move around. You can stretch your legs, visit the dining car, or even catch up on some sleep.
Not great reviews, but overall better than Greyhound has fared.
What’s the fastest way to get there?
When it comes to determining whether flying or driving is faster from Charlotte to Atlanta, several factors come into play.
If you consider only the actual flight time, flying seems to be the clear winner. However, when you add in check-in times, security checks, waiting for baggage, and travel to and from the airport, the total travel time by air can easily exceed four hours.
On the other hand, driving the fastest route along I-85 takes around 4 hours. But this doesn’t take into account any stops you make along the way for food, fuel, or simply to enjoy one of the many attractions on the route. If you add in even 1-2 stops for lunch and a quick break, you could add an hour or more to your travel time.
So, if speed is your primary concern and you don’t mind the costs, then flying could be your fastest option. Still, driving gives you more freedom and flexibility to stop along the way. If you drive, you also don’t have to worry about getting a rental car.
What’s the safest way to get there?
According to the National Safety Council, your chances of being involved in an accident are significantly higher when driving compared to flying. The tightly regulated aviation industry and the rigorous training pilots undergo make flying one of the safest modes of transportation.
Driving, statistically, is also more dangerous than bus or train too. According to those same statistics, which tracked data over a 10-year period, the passenger death rate per 100,000 miles for driving was more than 20 times higher than buses, 17 times higher than passenger trains, and 595 times higher than flying.
So, by far, flying is your safest option. And keep in mind these are averages – Charlotte and Atlanta have notoriously bad traffic that can lead to a lot of traffic accidents. According to US News and World Report, Atlanta is the 10th worst city in America for traffic accidents, while Charlotte came in at number 27.
What’s the cheapest way to get there?
Whether flying or driving, the two most popular options, are cheaper depends on a number of things. That includes the current price of gas, the fuel efficiency of your car, and the cost of flights at the time of your trip.
The overall cost of your trip is going to be lowest if you use Greyhound or Amtrak. But they are also less convenient options.
Costs of driving
At 244 miles, most cars can get there on around one tank of gas, even if you’re carrying several people. Driving also gives you the ability to pack as much as you want without worrying about luggage fees or restrictions. So you might think of two tanks of has as your rough cost – one tank there and one tank to get back.
However, owning a car isn’t only about the fuel costs. It’s also about the cost of ownership, including purchase, registration, and repairs. According to the American Automobile Association’s 2022 report on driving costs, the average cost to own and operate a new car in 2022 was over $10,000. The cheapest car to own was a small sedan, coming in at around 54 cents per mile.
Charlotte to Atlanta is 244 miles one way, or 488 miles round trip. That means a round-trip drive between the two destinations would cost at least $263.
Costs of flying
On the other hand, plane tickets are priced per person. So, while a single plane ticket might be cheaper than the total cost of gas, it becomes more expensive as you add more passengers.
Additionally, when you factor in the cost of getting to and from airports, parking fees, and car rentals or taxis at your destination, flying can add up.
Costs of Greyhound
Greyhound is the cheapest option for traveling between the two cities. But you’ll likely need a rental car once you get to your destination, which can add to the costs of either one. You may also need to pay for parking at the station during your trip, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Currently, you can get bus tickets between Charlotte and Atlanta for as low as $36.99. The price for the shortest trip is currently only $41.99. Of course, ticket prices vary depending on when you are leaving, but overall Greyhound is far cheaper than flying or driving.
Costs of Amtrak
The best ticket price for Amtrak between Charlotte and Atlanta is about $80. And you can get your own private room for around $370. That is not a bad price at all – likely similar to the total cost of flying or driving, but your own private room is going to be very comfortable.
So what’s the cheapest?
If you’re traveling alone, you may find that flying is about the same price as driving, even when you factor in the additional costs of flying. If you’re traveling with a group, then driving may be a better idea.
Regardless of the size of your group, Greyhound or Amtrak are going to be by far your most cost-effective options. But if you get a private room with Amtrak, your costs will be similar to flying or driving.
What’s the most environmentally friendly way to travel there?
While cost is a significant factor in deciding between flying and driving, it’s also worth considering the environmental impact of your choice.
When it comes to your carbon footprint, driving usually beats out flying, especially if you’ve got several people in the car. Planes also emit carbon dioxide directly into the upper atmosphere, where it’s more harmful.
But this can become more difficult to determine if you are traveling alone. That’s because planes gain some efficiency when they are able to fill up the plane.
This obviously depends greatly on the type of vehicle you own. Fuel-efficient and electric cars are obviously much better for the environment than gas-guzzlers. But even if you have an average car that isn’t the most eco-friendly, driving can still be the greener option if you’re traveling with a group.
Here again, Greyhound and Amtrak are going to both be your most environmentally friendly options.
Things to do along the way
blahedo, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Even though the trip from Charlotte to Atlanta might not be known for being a great road trip, there are actually lots of things to do and see along the way.
As you continue along I-85, consider a detour to Lake Hartwell, which straddles the Georgia-South Carolina border. Here, you can enjoy plenty of water and outdoor activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, and hiking.
Further along the route, in Georgia, you’ll go through Athens, GA. If you time it right, you can catch a game at the University of Georgia. The Oconee Rivers Greenway is a widely loved outdoor park and trail system you’ve got to check out.
Athens, GA, is home to the University of Georgia and makes for a great stop along the way. It is right on US-29, but if you’re taking I-85 it’s not far off the highway either.
As you pull in closer to Atlanta, you can also check out beautiful Lake Lanier. Like Lake Hartwelll, it gives you the opportunity to get in some boating, fishing, hiking, and much more. There are also restaurants, campgrounds, and plenty of parks along its 700 miles of shoreline.
Where to stay in Charlotte
The Queen City, as it’s fondly known, boasts an array of accommodations tailored to different budgets and preferences. Here are a few different options for you to consider.
Keep in mind there are hundreds of places to stay in Charlotte, so be sure to check out places close to where you’re planning to spend time. You may also want to consider other hotel features, like whether or not they allow pets, if they offer free breakfast, and their customer satisfaction ratings.
Luxury option: The Ritz Carlton
For luxury seekers, The Ritz-Carlton with its plush bedding and a stunning city view, offers a perfect blend of comfort and opulence.
This hotel offers a wide range of amenities, including an onsite spa, a pool, free breakfast, and free WiFi.
Boutique Options: The Ivey’s Hotel or the Dunhill Hotel
If you prefer boutique hotels, The Ivey’s Hotel, located right in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, will impress you with its unique design and impeccable service.
They are located right near the Bank of America stadium. The Ivey’s Hotel is pet-friendly, too, so it’s a great option if you’re traveling with your best friend.
If you are fond of history, The Dunhill Hotel, a historic hotel in Uptown Charlotte, might just be your ideal choice. They are also centrally located, just a short walk from the Bank of America Stadium, Spectrum Center, and the Charlotte Convention Center. Dunhill is located about 15-20 minutes from the Charlotte Douglas Airport.
Budget option: Hampton Inn and Suites
For the budget-conscious traveler, options such as the Hampton Inn and Suites, located near the South Park neighborhood, offer affordable rates without compromising on quality.
Amenities include free wifi, free breakfast, a pool, and a hot tub. They are located right next to Phillips Place, about a 20-25 minute drive from Charlotte International Airport.
Hampton Inn is pet friendly. Pets are allowed for $50 per accommodation, per stay. Service animals are exempt from pet fees.
Great Camp Spot: McDowell Nature Preserve
If you love camping, McDowell Nature Preserve is a fantastic spot. It offers campsites with beautiful lake views, hiking trails, and even fishing opportunities.
Where to stay in Atlanta
Atlanta is one of the largest cities in the U.S., and so of course also has plenty of options for accommodations.
If you’re visiting Atlanta, be sure to check out my post on the Best Hotels Near Truist Park for more great recommendations.
Luxury option: Four Seasons Hotel
For a grand experience, consider staying at the Four Seasons Hotel located in the heart of Midtown. Their location puts them just a 10 minute walk from Piedmont Park, and a little over a 20 minute drive from the Atlanta International Airport.
Four Seasons offers luxurious rooms, fine dining, and are in proximity to popular attractions like the High Museum of Art and Atlanta Botanical Garden. Amenities include free wifi, a pool, a hot tub, and an onsite bar, restaurant, and spa.
They are also pet friendly. Pets are welcome for $100 per pet, per stay. Service animals are exempt from pet fees.
If you are traveling with pup, you won’t want to miss out on the Best Dog Parks in Atlanta.
Budget Option: Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown
The Hampton Inn & Suites Atlanta-Downtown provides a comfortable stay in a prime location without breaking the bank. They are in a pretty good location, too: an 8 minute walk from the World of Coca Cola, a 15 minute walk to the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and a 20 minute drive to the airport.
Hampton Inn provides basic amenities, including free breakfast, laundry onsite, and free wifi. Coffee and tea is available in the common areas.
Hampton Inn is also pet friendly. Both dogs and cats are welcome for a fee of $75 per accommodation, per stay. You may bring up to 2 total pets, and service animals are exempt from pet fees.
Great Camp Spot: Stone Mountain Park
For the nature lovers, Stone Mountain Park, located on the outskirts of the city, offers both campgrounds and cabins. This allows you to relax and rejuvenate amidst nature after the long drive from Charlotte, while also being just a short drive from all the action in Atlanta.
The Bottom Line
If you’re planning a trip from Charlotte to Atlanta, I hope this guide has helped you plan your trip. There are several great routes to take, plenty of things to see and do along the way, and great accommodation choices at both locations.
Driving offers the most flexibility and is usually easy on the pocketbook, while flying offers a convenient but typically pricey option. Both Greyhound and Amtrak are the most budget-friendly options, and Amtrak is also very comfortable and generally better rated than Greyhound.