It’s fall in the South, which means a few things. The humidity has started to lessen and the temperatures started to lower. The students are back in school. And college football season is upon us. No matter what team you root for, the region has so many great college towns with plenty to offer beyond the campus.
One such is the third element of the Triangle (along with Raleigh and Durham): Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The town was founded in 1793, a few years after the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill in 1789, which is considered to be a “Public Ivy.” There’s so much to see, so venture beyond campus!
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What to Do in Chapel Hill
Despite being a college town, there’s always something going on as Chapel Hill has a full-time population. Check out the free and cheap attractions as well as festivals and events.
Ackland Art Museum– This museum was created as a bequest of Nashville lawyer William Hayes Ackland. Free to visit, it contains 17,000 works spanning across many periods and styles of art. Highlights include a portrait from Kehinde Wiley.
Carolina Basketball Museum– UNC has a long-running reputation for its basketball team, so you can learn all about the sport’s ties to the school at this campus museum, decked out in the famous Carolina blue.
Coker Arboretum– Another element of campus is this part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. The five-acre property has a wide variety of plant life, including dogwoods and spider lilies. They also vary based on the season.
Old Well- The most popular spot to photograph on campus is this landmark, inspired by a Neoclassical rotunda from Versailles. It was built in 1897 and for many years, the UNC football team walked from the well to the stadium before games.
Free Walking Tours of Chapel Hill– Learn about the history of the area from these free walking tours, which operate on weekends at 4 pm, running 1.5 hours.
Where to Eat in Chapel Hill
There is an abundance of great local restaurants as well as eateries dating back to the early years of the university.
Brandwein’s Bagels– Locals love the house-made New York-style bagels at this downtown shop. Enjoy your bagel as a sandwich or topped with schmear and a cup of coffee.
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen– The drive-through-only restaurant has what’s been voted as one of the best biscuits in the country and I don’t disagree. Grab a fried chicken biscuit and coffee before you start tailgating.
Time Out Restaurant– No matter what time you’re hungry, this 24-hour restaurant has you covered! Featured on the Food Network, the menu includes oversized biscuits, eggs, and pancakes.
Carolina Coffee Shop– As North Carolina’s oldest restaurant, this eatery dates back to 1922. Menu favorites include the BLT and burger, along with build-your-own omelets and coffee.
Sup Dogs– The quirky menu at this beloved hot dog joint includes the likes of pepperoni fries, cheesy tots, and funnel cake sticks. They also have boozy slushies.
Suttons Drug Store– The 1923 soda fountain is like stepping back in time. Sit at the counter for classics like hot dogs, burgers, and deli sandwiches.
Hawthorne & Wood– The plant-filled restaurant was opened by a UNC alum and includes local flounder and braised short rib. You can also enjoy wine and cocktails.
Kipos Greek Taverna– The family-owned Greek restaurant has traditional fare like stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, and spanakopita.
Osteria Georgi– The Italian restaurant has incredible dishes like Parmesan souffle, meatballs, and pasta. The wine menu and cocktails are also delightful.
Where to Drink in Chapel Hill
After you’ve had your fill of the college campus and football stadium, make your way downtown for even more fun. You’ll find both sports bars swarming with coeds and upscale local spots.
The Crunkleton– The legendary bar is known for its rare and antique spirits, specifically hard-to-find bourbon. Ask the expert bartenders for recommendations.
Still Life– For club vibes, head to this multi-level bar with a rooftop overlooking downtown. If you’ve got a group, make a reservation for a booth.
Top of the Hill– The restaurant and brewery has something for everyone, including a full food menu, house-made beers, North Carolina cider, wine, and cocktails like the popular Moscow Mule.
Live music– There are some legendary music venues nearby, including Cat’s Cradle, so don’t miss a chance to see a band that might become big!
Where to Stay in Chapel Hill
There are plenty of well-known chains, especially near the highway, but downtown Chapel Hill also has some boutique options. Book your stay well in advance if you’re visiting during a game weekend.
AC Hotel by Marriott Chapel Hill Downtown– The conveniently located and modern hotel has pet-friendly rooms, along with a restaurant, fitness center, and a bar. A European-style breakfast is available for an additional fee.
Carolina Inn (review here)- The hotel is steps away from campus and has rooms inspired by the school’s history. The building itself was inspired by Mount Vernon and a portion of the room rate benefits the university’s library.
Fearrington House Inn– Located 30 minutes south of Chapel Hill, this luxury Relais & Châteaux inn has a popular restaurant and stunning grounds.
Graduate Chapel Hill– The chain of college town boutique hotels has a Chapel Hill outpost, with plentiful Carolina blue decor, along with free WiFi and a restaurant and bar.
The Siena Hotel– This hotel feels like you’ve been dropped in Italy, complete with an Italian restaurant and rooms with balconies. Each room is decorated uniquely.