Chapel Hill

The Old Well, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Scenic and regularly decked out in "Carolina blue", Chapel Hill is a lovely college town in North Carolina that makes up the westernmost point of the Research Triangle. The town is the smallest of the Triangle's three cities, with an influence and pull that belies its size. Based around the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the town caters heavily to the local student population, with plenty of bars and restaurants near the university's beautiful campus. Immediately to the west of Chapel Hill is the adjacent town of Carrboro, an old mill town now known for its local shops, restaurants and nightlife.


The town was originally a small village of a thousand people consisting of mostly Scottish and English immigrants arriving in the area during the 1700s; the village took its name from the New Hope Chapel, which happened to be situated on a hill (the Carolina Inn of Chapel Hill now stands where the chapel once was). The town was founded in 1819 to support the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and later was incorporated in 1851. The adjacent town of Carrboro was settled in the 1880s around a spur rail line built to serve the university; the town is named for Julian Carr, who purchased a local cotton mill and installed electricity in the town. Today, Carrboro is where many UNC students live, owing to its cheaper rents, and is home to the Weaver Street Market (a local co-op), a popular farmer's market, plenty of bars and restaurants, and a bunch of festivals.

Like much of the rest of the Piedmont, the landscape is hilly and heavily wooded, becoming very lush and green in the summer months. While much of North Carolina is conservative, Chapel Hill is fairly liberal in comparison. Although legend says that the town became liberal when a Union general married former UNC President Swain’s daughter, Chapel Hill’s liberal politics are similar to many US college towns and are bolstered by nearby Carrboro, which is known for being a bastion of liberalism in the state. It is not uncommon to see a protest in Chapel Hill and/or on the university campus for various liberal causes, with the traditional locus of this being the square in front of the post office on Franklin Street across from the campus.

Visitor information

Get in

By car

Interstate 40 passes along the north and east side of Chapel Hill, with three exits: NC 86 (Exit 266), US 15/501 (Exit 270), and NC 54 (Exit 273). From the west, NC 86 (which becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill) is the best exit. Be warned that Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd is a notorious speed trap through Chapel Hill, where the speed limit is only 35 MPH despite the road being designed to handle much faster speeds. From the east (say, Raleigh or the Research Triangle Park), NC 54 (which becomes Raleigh Road) is the best option. Coming from Durham, US 15/501 is the most direct route.

By plane

The nearest commercial airport is Raleigh-Durham International Airport (IATA: RDU), a 20 minute drive to the east in Morrisville, just off I-40. RDU has two terminals; Terminal 1 services budget carrier Southwest, while the more modern and architecturally impressive Terminal 2 services American Airlines/American Eagle, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and United. Both terminals have restaurants, newsstands and smaller versions of North Carolinian stores such as A Southern Season and the ACC Store. RDU also has rental car services and overnight car parking. If taking public transit, Triangle Transit route #100 takes you from the airport to the Research Triangle Park, where you can then transfer to #800 or #805 to Chapel Hill.

By train

The nearest Amtrak stop is in Durham, which is served by the New York City-Charlotte Carolinian line and the Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont line. The station is across the train tracks from the Durham Station Transportation Center, where you can take Triangle Transit #400 or #405 to Chapel Hill.

By bus

Triangle Transit,  +1 919 549-9999. Routes between Chapel Hill to Durham (routes #400 and #405) and the Research Triangle Park (#800 and #805), where you can transfer to Raleigh and RDU. Stops are marked by signs bearing the TTA logo. Service is fairly reliable, with buses running all day on the weekdays and weekends, but there is no service on some holidays. Fares cost $2.25 per trip, with $4.50 for a day pass.

There is no long-distance scheduled bus service into Chapel Hill. Greyhound and Megabus serve the bus depot in Durham; from there you can take Triangle Transit #400 or #405 to Chapel Hill.

Get around

Chapel Hill is an area which largely requires transportation by car outside of the immediate Franklin Street downtown area. While the UNC campus and the downtown area are very pleasantly walkable, anything outside this immediate area can be frustrating on foot, with long distances, fast-moving car traffic, and roads that simply lack sidewalks. Grocery stores are not within walking distance of downtown Chapel Hill, although downtown Carrboro is served by the Weaver Street Market and a Harris Teeter. Limited public transit service around town is provided by the fare-free Chapel Hill Transit bus system.

Curb parking in the downtown area is available but often full, especially while school is in session, making it hard to find a spot. Paid lots and garages are available along Rosemary Street, just north of Franklin Street. Outside of the downtown area, parking is very easy to find.

By bus

Chapel Hill Transit,  +1 919 969-4900, e-mail: . Routes go through Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the UNC campus. Buses run on weekdays, with limited service on Saturdays and virtually no service on Sundays save for a single route circulating around the UNC campus. Service tends to be less reliable at night, on weekends and times when there is a football or men’s basketball game. For those particular home games, many Chapel Hill Transit buses are used for the Tar Heel Express, a park-and-ride service to UNC football and men's basketball games. Fares are free, save for the Tar Heel Express and PX Route.

By bike

Chapel Hill is a great location for recreational biking, with local mountain biking trails and scenic road riding through local farmland. Commuting by bike is popular in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. The Carrboro area is somewhat bike-friendly, while Chapel Hill is spotted by steep hills and poorly lit stretches of road. Some roads have bike lanes or wide shoulders, and there are also several bike-only paths; however, these tend to be short and do not tend to serve as transportation routes, but rather as exercise areas.


Morehead Planetarium and Science Center


Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower




There are an assortment of local shops along Franklin/Main Street through Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The only mall in town would be the   University Mall on Estes Drive off of Fordham Blvd on the northern side of town, with a small selection of shops and restaurants, including the popular A Southern Season store. However, a much wider selection of shops can be found at   The Streets at Southpoint (off I-40 past the eastern edge of town and technically in Durham), an upscale mall with indoor and outdoor shopping and dining.





Looking down Franklin Street from Columbia Road

Many restaurants in Chapel Hill are located on Franklin Street and the roads nearby Franklin Street, but some restaurants are located away from Franklin and others can be found in residential neighborhoods such as Meadowmont and Southern Village within the Chapel Hill city limits.

If you need to use a bathroom on Franklin Street, remember that most restaurants require a food purchase before using their bathroom facilities, even on nights such as Halloween and nights where Franklin Street shuts down for bonfires (i.e. if the UNC men's basketball team wins against Duke University).




Being a college town, Chapel Hill and adjacent Carrboro have more than their fair share of bars. All the nightlife options are sandwiched along Franklin and Rosemary Streets in Chapel Hill and Main Street in Carrboro, with Thursday and Saturday nights being the busiest.




The Carolina Inn

Most accommodations in Chapel Hill are of the chain variety. If you want to stay in the center of town, you have three options, and they tend to be expensive: the Carolina Inn and the Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill, and a newly opened Hampton Inn in Carrboro. There are cheaper accommodations on two of the main roads out of town, Highway 15-501 and Raleigh Road, positioned to take advantage of their proximity to I-40, and driving into town from one of these will be all but necessary as bus service on the edge of town can be inconvenient at best.





Go next

Routes through Chapel Hill

Greensboro Hillsborough  W  E  Durham Raleigh
Leesburg Durham  N  S  Sanford Southern Pines
Lynchburg Durham  N  S  Sanford Southern Pines

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 05, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.