Perhaps known as the best college town in America, Chapel Hill is home to the first state-supported university in the country.
With a population of roughly 51,000 people, the town has a long history and many cultural activities to choose from.
Chapel Hill was named for the Church of England’s New Hope Chapel, which stood on a hill at the crossing of two main roads. It has a nickname of “the Southern Part of Heaven,” from the title of a book by William Meade Prince.
The town was created for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which opened to students in 1795. It has a 729-acre campus and is a part of a 16-unit statewide system. The university enrolls 27,000 students and employs 3,100 faculty.
The heart of Chapel Hill’s downtown is Franklin Street, named after Benjamin Franklin, which has more than 300 businesses. Just blocks from the campus,
the tree-lined streets are very pedestrian-friendly. There are many boutiques, restaurants and North Carolina Tar Heel memorabilia shops to browse through.
Shopping continues at the University Mall, Chapel Hill’s first enclosed shopping mall. It offers more than 60 businesses including A Southern Season, which was once a small coffee shop that has grown into a 59,000-square-foot gourmet food and kitchen accessories marketplace. The New York Times refers to it as “wall to wall and floor to ceiling, a visual and gustatory delight.”
Chapel Hill is known for its Shakespearean plays. In 1916, an outdoor drama was performed in a 93-acre wooded park known as Battle Park to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A permanent theater known as Forest Theatre was then developed, dedicated to “Proff” Frederick Koch who came to the University and is the founder of the Carolina Playmakers. The historic stone amphitheater is used for plenty of events including concerts and weddings and is one of the icons on the campus.
The Old Playmakers Theatre, a National Historic Landmark, is a Greek Revival structure built in 1851. During the Civil War, the Union Army stabled horses here. It served briefly for classes on the campus and in 1924 was turned into a theater dedicated to American folk dramatic art.
Memorial Hall, a performing arts center on the campus, offers music, dance and theater performances as well as lectures. It opened its doors in 1931 and recently went through a three-year transformation.
Another huge attraction for Chapel Hill is its gardens. Take a stroll in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the largest botanical garden in the Southeast. It covers 800 acres of land including natural trails, aquatics and herb gardens.
Coker Arboretum, named after William C. Coker, is also a popular place to visit with five acres of garden. Located in the heart of the campus, Coker Arboretum features more than 500 species of shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants. It has a recently renovated 300-foot vine arbor and a stone gathering circle.
If museums are of interest to you, there are also plenty of those to choose from.
Ackland Art Museum has a collection of over 15,000 objects including the art of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Work ranges from ancient times to the 21st century.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is a leader in science education. It was the first planetarium in the South and opened in 1950. It features a 68-foot domed star theater, and a sundial rose garden outside.
Other historic places to visit in Chapel Hill include the Horace Williams House, a 19th-century farmhouse, and headquarters for the Chapel Hill Preservation Society. It has been owned by various university professors. Many art exhibits and chamber music concerts are held here. The society also features a free self-guided walking tour to showcase the historic homes in the district between the Horace Williams House and downtown Chapel Hill.
Carolina Inn, which is located on the University campus, is a landmark listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The inn opened in 1924 and has played an important part in the life of the university and Chapel Hill. It is one of the most popular sites in North Carolina for business meetings, special events, and weddings. The inn stands on the place where Chapel Hill got its name (New Hope Chapel Hill).
Chapel Hill proves to be a very diverse community with educators, students and business professionals.
There are historic neighborhoods with Victorian and Colonial-style homes. Many family-oriented communities include Ironwoods, North Haven, and Mt. Bolus.
There are also plenty of new neighborhoods including Southern Village, which has an architectural design featuring two- and three-story buildings with shops, offices and residences.
There is also Meadowmont Village, which offers that same “Main Street” feel.
Chapel Hill has become a very popular place for retirees. Some of these retirement communities include Carol Woods Retirement Community, Carolina Meadows and the Cedars of Chapel Hill, which is part of Meadowmont.