15 Must-Do Activities in Chapel Hill, NC

Explore the UNC Campus

Walk through the historic University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university. Founded in 1789, it boasts stunning architecture, including the Old Well and the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. UNC-Chapel Hill stands as the oldest public university in the United States, chartered in 1789 and welcoming students since 1795. Its historical significance is evident in every corner, with buildings that have witnessed centuries of academic achievement and cultural milestones.

The layout of UNC’s campus is centered around the historic quad, lined with majestic trees and surrounded by some of the university’s oldest buildings. The cohesive design reflects both the classical ideals of higher education and the beauty of North Carolina’s landscape.

The Old Well: The iconic symbol of UNC, the Old Well, dates back to the university’s founding. This neoclassical structure, resembling the Temple of Love in the Gardens of Versailles, remains a beloved spot on campus. Legend has it that drinking from the well on the first day of classes brings good luck.

Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower: Standing tall at 172 feet, the Bell Tower is another architectural gem on campus. Built in the 1930s, it honors alumni who served in World War I. Visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of the university and beyond.

Visit the Ackland Art Museum 

Experience over 18,000 works of art spanning centuries and cultures. From European masterpieces to contemporary pieces, this museum offers a diverse artistic journey.

Experience the Carolina Basketball Museum

Dive into the history of basketball at the Carolina Basketball Museum, an immersive experience dedicated to celebrating the legacy of the UNC Tar Heels basketball program. Located adjacent to the Dean E. Smith Center, this museum showcases the team’s storied past, including memorabilia, interactive exhibits, and video presentations highlighting iconic moments and legendary players. Visitors can explore the evolution of the sport, from its humble beginnings to the university’s championship-winning traditions. It’s a must-visit for sports enthusiasts and anyone interested in understanding the cultural significance of basketball in Chapel Hill and beyond.

Try Top-notch Dining

Spotted Dog Restaurant & Bar: Nestled in the heart of Chapel Hill, Spotted Dog offers a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. Known for its Southern-inspired cuisine, this restaurant serves up classics like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and mouthwatering BBQ dishes, showcasing the rich flavors of the region.

Lantern: This upscale restaurant is celebrated for its innovative Asian fusion cuisine. Lantern combines local, seasonal ingredients with Asian cooking techniques, offering a menu that tantalizes taste buds with dishes like crispy whole fish, Korean-style BBQ, and inventive vegetarian options.

Babalu Tapas & Tacos: For those craving a mix of Spanish and Latin American flavors, Babalu is a go-to spot. Their menu features a variety of tapas, tacos, and specialty cocktails. Enjoy small plates like bacon-wrapped dates, street corn, or their selection of delicious tacos filled with unique combinations of flavors.

Mama Dip’s Kitchen: A beloved spot steeped in tradition, Mama Dip’s has been serving up delicious Southern cuisine for decades. Founded by Mildred Council, affectionately known as Mama Dip, this restaurant continues her legacy by offering hearty, home-cooked dishes like fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, and banana pudding. The recipes, passed down through generations, reflect the warmth and soul of Southern cooking, inviting guests to savor flavors that feel like a comforting hug. The restaurant’s cozy ambiance and hospitality make Mama Dip’s a quintessential stop for those seeking authentic Southern comfort food in Chapel Hill.

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen: This unassuming roadside spot has gained a cult following for its mouthwatering biscuits and Southern breakfast delights. Known for its drive-thru service and made-from-scratch biscuits, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen offers a simple yet irresistible menu. Visitors flock here for classic biscuits stuffed with crispy fried chicken, bacon, sausage, or a variety of other fillings. The biscuits, freshly baked and pillowy soft, have achieved near-legendary status among locals and visitors alike, making Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen a must-visit breakfast destination for anyone craving a taste of traditional Southern comfort food in Chapel Hill.

Catch a Show at Memorial Hall

Enjoy a performance at this historic venue that hosts concerts, theater productions, and renowned speakers throughout the year.

Shop at Franklin Street 

Wander along this bustling street filled with boutiques, bookstores, and local shops. It’s also home to a vibrant nightlife scene.

Experience Carolina Basketball 

If you visit during basketball season, don’t miss a chance to catch a UNC Tar Heels game at the Dean E. Smith Center, an electric experience steeped in tradition.

Hike the Bolin Creek Trail 

Nature enthusiasts will love this picturesque trail, offering a serene escape from the city with its lush greenery and calming streams.

Experience the Cosmos at the Morehead Planetarium 

Explore the universe through captivating shows and exhibits. It’s a fantastic destination for both children and adults interested in astronomy and space exploration.

Tour the Horace Williams House

Step back in time by visiting the Horace Williams House, an iconic 19th-century residence turned museum that stands as a testament to Chapel Hill’s rich history. Originally constructed in the 1850s, this elegant Greek Revival-style home served as the residence of Horace Williams, a revered UNC professor renowned for his contributions to education and community service.

The house itself reflects the architectural grandeur of the antebellum era, boasting classic columns and intricate detailing that transport visitors to a bygone era. Its significance lies not only in its architectural charm but also in its function as a cultural center, hosting various exhibitions, lectures, and cultural events that celebrate the legacy of Horace Williams and the local community.

Inside, visitors can explore meticulously curated displays showcasing artifacts, documents, and memorabilia that offer a glimpse into Chapel Hill’s past. From antique furnishings to archival photographs, each item contributes to painting a vivid picture of the town’s evolution over the centuries. The Horace Williams House stands as a living tribute to the town’s heritage, preserving and sharing its stories for generations to come.

Hear Live Music at Cat’s Cradle 

Chapel Hill has a vibrant indie music scene, and Cat’s Cradle is the town’s most iconic music venue. Opened in 1969, this intimate venue offers unforgettable live music experiences.

Try Local Brews 

Enjoy the craft beer scene by visiting local breweries like Top of the Hill and Carolina Brewery, offering tours, tastings, and a chance to mingle with locals.

Relax at Jordan Lake 

Just a short drive away, this reservoir offers opportunities for boating, fishing, picnicking, and birdwatching against a scenic backdrop.

Wander around Coker Arboretum 

For nature lovers and those seeking tranquility, this 5-acre garden within the UNC campus is a hidden gem. Featuring diverse plant species, meandering pathways, and a serene pond, it’s a serene spot for relaxation and appreciation of botanical beauty.

Attend a Workshop at The ArtsCenter 

Get creative by participating in workshops and classes covering visual arts, music, and theater in a vibrant community-centered space.

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