Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau
Welcome to Orange County
Since the founding of Orange County in 1752 and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1785, this area has championed its natural beauty, history, and its writers, artists and musicians like no other. Consider: the nation’s first public university is here. UNC was the only university to award degrees in the 18th century. The university was built in Chapel Hill, near the ruins of a chapel, due to its central location in the state, right in Orange County. While visiting, stop by the Visitors Center, 501 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.
Contact the Visitors Bureau
Since 2002 the Visitors Center has provided information and assistance to those interested in visiting the communities of Orange County NC including Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough. The Center provides suggested itineraries, directions, visitor guides, North Carolina & local maps, and brochures from many of the areas favorite attractions. Free parking off South Roberson Street, Chapel Hill. ADA access & parking in the front.
Address: 501 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Phone Toll-Free: (888) 968-2060 | Phone: (919) 245-4320 Fax: (919) 968-2062
Hours: Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 am - 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am - 3 pm
The Chapel Hill and Orange County area is serviced by the Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) located in Raleigh, about 18 miles east of Chapel Hill.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Official Parking Program
ParkRDU provides easy, convenient options allowing you to choose your experience. Select from a variety of short-term or long-term products, meeting various budget needs. ParkRDU options are fully-accessible for people with disabilities.
Helpful Tourism Links
- Area Hotels
- Events Calendar
- Chapel Hill
- Local Farms
- University North Carolina
- Visit Chapel Hill App
For a list of meeting and conference facilities, contact Orange County Sales Director, Marlene Barbera, 919-245-4320
Overview of Orange County
Orange County, North Carolina is a remarkable place to visit. Its three main towns: Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough have everything a visitor wants in a destination: beautiful climate, historic neighborhoods—many on the national historic register, a cutting-edge arts scene, and some of the best food you’re going to get anywhere in the country.
To view the Orange County Neighborhoods Guide online, click here.
12 Ways to Enjoy Chapel Hill/Orange County
|Experience Iconic Places|
There are many unique to this area, but we’ll just mention a few to get you started. Sutton's Drug Store established 1923 serving up shakes, burgers & more. The Carolina Coffee Shop – longest running restaurant in North Carolina. The Cat’s Cradle celebrating 50 years of top name and upcoming bands. He’s Not Here, home of the ‘blue cup’ and a favorite collegiate haunt. Julian’s, established in 1942, brings Ivy League style to Chapel Hill. Open Eye Café, brings international coffees to Carrboro and the Chapel Hill mural, which is probably the most instagrammable spot next to the Old Well on campus.
Whether your interests lie in the foodie scene, historical places, or nature, you are sure to find a tour guide that speaks to your passion. For the foodie, Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours takes you on a sampling of the best restaurants in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. If history is your passion, join the ‘Free Walking Tour of Chapel Hill’ guide that covers UNC campus and Franklin Street history. The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough offers guided tours of one of North Carolina’s oldest small towns. For garden lovers, the North Carolina Botanical Garden offers free guided tours the second Saturday of every month.
There isn’t a day that goes by without a live performance happening somewhere here in Orange County. It might be a local band playing at Local 506, a ballet or opera singer at UNC’s Memorial Hall, a local play performed by the Orange Community Players in Hillsborough, stand-up comedy at The PIT-Chapel Hill, or a multi-platinum selling recording artist at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. You’ll find every type of genre in the performing arts here all year long.
|University of North Carolina|
Walk the campus of the oldest public university in the country and look for historic landmarks like the Davie Poplar and the Old Well (Guided and self-guided tours available). Be sure to check out the North Carolina Collection Gallery that provides an immersive experience of North Carolina’s history and culture through historic rooms, changing exhibitions, and permanent displays. For the sports enthusiast, The Carolina Basketball Museum highlights the history of UNC basketball. Lastly, catch a star show at the largest planetarium in the southeastern United States at the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro are very proud of their building murals. They define us as a community. There are over 30 murals in all mostly in the downtown areas. Some have faded, some refreshed, some painted over. Local artist Michael Brown created the first mural, titled The Blue Mural in 1989 and the most recent one in Chapel Hill called The Lighthouse, was completed in 2019. There are a couple of outliers too, Children’s Faces can be viewed from Hwy 54 heading west, a tribute to legendary coach Dean Smith can be seen at the intersection of Smith Level Rd. and Hwy 15-501 S, and the most recent one in Hillsborough that pays tribute to Billy Strayhorn.
While Carrboro and Chapel Hill along with the University of North Carolina have a long standing history, Hillsborough’s downtown historic district in itself is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and features more than 100 homes, churches, school and other structures from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Among those buildings, open to the public is the Alexander Dickson House, which houses the Hillsborough Visitor Center. There you can join a group tour or venture out on your own to other notable buildings such as Ayr Mount, the Burwell School, the Old Courthouse and the Old Town Cemetery.
|Signature and Ongoing Events|
No matter the month, there is something special going on. From the famed Carrboro Music Festival and Fridays on the Front Porch, to JawsFest and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s Annual Harvest Dinner to Film 919, Hog Day and Festifall. We have beer & cider fests, sculpture exhibitions, farm tours, arts shows and much more.
When visiting a new town it’s always fun to seek out unique shops. Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro is home to 10 local and family owned shops ranging from American Lifestyle goods to toys. For the selective antique buyer, check out Whitehall Antiques in Chapel Hill. And you’ll find the cutest boutique shops on Churton Street in Historic downtown Hillsborough.
Just within a two-mile stretch between Chapel Hill and Carrboro lie five distinct craft breweries. Begin your tasting tour at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, make your way down Franklin Street to Carolina Brewery, and then head into Carrboro to the neighborhood brewery, Vecino Brewing Co. Try a funky free-spirited brew at Steel String and end at our newest brewpub, Craftboro Brewing Depot. For a slight detour north of Hillsborough, visit the tasting room at Botanist and Barrel for dry fruit wines, ciders & sours every Thursday – Sunday afternoons. Be sure to check out our numerous bottle shops and taprooms too.
For an eclectic experience, the permanent collection of the Ackland Art Museum consists of more than 18,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works of paper as well as significant collections of European masterworks. For modern and contemporary fine art galleries, check out Bakova Gallery and the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts in downtown Hillsborough. You’ll not find better artisanship than at FRANK in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Crafts Gallery and Womancraft Gifts in Carrboro, and Hillsborough Arts Council Gallery in Hillsborough.
|Local Food Scene|
Hailed as "America's Foodiest Small Town" by Bon Appetit magazine, Chapel Hill is a hot spot for local farm to table cuisine. From all-natural beef burgers at Al’s Burger Shak, BLT’s from Merritt’s, Shrimp and Grits at Crook’s, fried chicken at Lula’s, contemporary Italian faves with local ingredients at Il Palio, you’ll find a dish to your liking. Check out Fushion Fish, Acme, Pizzeria Mercato, and Hillsborough BBQ to continue the flavor tour. Visit four county farmer’s markets to see where many local chefs shop. Stop by the Blue Dogwood Public Market from Persian food, to vegan favorites under one roof. Don’t forget the Honeysuckle Tea House for locally grown specialty tea drinks in an open-air environment.
With our average winter climate in the 50’s and summer in the 90’s, we can enjoy the outdoors most all year round. Here are some of our favorite spots. Located on the University of North Carolina campus, the Coker Arboretum is 5 acres of flowering trees and shrubs, grassy areas and benches to relax. Just off campus is the North Carolina Botanical Garden, 1100 acres of garden and conservation areas plus a nearby trail system. Hillsborough has RiverWalk that edges the Eno River and is part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail. Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill have an extensive park system, trails and greenways for walking and biking.
In Orange County, History is Everywhere
The past, as William Faulkner wrote about another Southern place, “is never dead. It's not even past.”
In fact, in Orange County, it’s all around us. In this very modern place, history is still everywhere. Nearly 50 county sites are on the National Register of Historic Places, from downtown historic districts and classic farmhouses to stately colonial residences and re-imagined industrial plants.
Some of the history is renowned — like Old East residence hall on the University of North Carolina campus, the first public university building in the nation, dating from 1793. While the residence hall looks welcoming, Gimghoul Castle appears forbidding. Off a gravel path at the end of the road in the Gimghoul Historic District, the stone castle’s tower and ramparts make it look like we’re in medieval England.