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. Campus and Town of Chapel Hill Free Bus Route (PDF)
Event Spotlight: Carrboro Music Festival
Carrboro Music Festival, The Station
One of the first impressions I had of Carrboro was in 2005, when I made a trip down here to house hunt. In one of those wonderful accidents that can change a life, I turned a corner and walked right into the Carrboro Music Festival. Everywhere I looked there were bands, colorful crowds, beautiful music, and people who looked like the women and men I grew up with in the 70s. I was already sold on Chapel Hill, but that day in Carrboro sealed the deal.
I’m not alone, and that’s one reason the Visitors Bureau was delighted to hear that the Carrboro Music Festival will be held on Saturday, September 25 & Sunday, September 26, 2021.
“We are still firming up the venue locations,” says Jackie Helvey, longtime Carrboro promoter and Music Fest board member, “so folks will need to check the website or the app for the complete listing of venues and performance times.”
Thanks to residents and musicians, this festival has become a top draw for locals, visitors, and friends and families of the musicians.
“The biggest surprise about the Festival for me is that it has survived and thrived for the past 24 years,” Helvey says. Even during the pandemic in 2020 it went on — virtually. “I think it’s Carrboro's greatest day.”
Helvey says the original mission of the Carrboro Music Festival, first known as Fête de la Musique, was to allow musicians of all types to showcase their talent, providing a free day of music for the people in the community. “In the beginning the Festival was held on the summer solstice, which coincided with Father's Day, so it was an ideal way for families to come out and have a great day with Dad. There were only three cities in the US that were official venues for Fête de la Musique, a worldwide music festival that originated in France. Carrboro was one of the three that first year. New York and San Francisco we’re the other two.”
For many years the Carrboro Music Festival was a one-day event, but in recent years it has expanded to two. Many folks come for both days now, but traditionally Sunday is the big day, typically with over 20 stages all over town. The fact that it becomes a busy day or two for bars and restaurants is a bonus. There’s a bump in hospitality revenues, as well.
“The internet has made the processes of the Festival much easier – band submissions, programming, schedule confirmations. But people still want to get out and hear live music, which is why our in-person event is still so important.”
There’s no question, whether it’s in a stadium concert arena, an intimate bar, or someone’s living room, the transference of energy between a musician and their live audience can be magical. Numerous studies have linked music to health and happiness, to increase empathy, reduce self-doubt, and improve cognition. One study even showed how live harp music can benefit patients in the operating room during surgery.
Mike Applegate, a music fan from Charlotte, says: “Every one of us has things we’ve desperately missed during the pandemic. Very high on my list is experiencing live music. As my excitement builds to see live shows again soon, it also reinforces how much I took live music and its benefits for granted.”
Helvey expects large crowds for the September 2021 Festival.
“This year is especially important because people are itching to get out and about after being cooped up for so long. We had over 200 bands apply to play this year and we're still working on who will play, but I can guarantee there will be something for everyone.”
But it takes a lot of work to throw a free music festival, with so many venues and hundreds of musicians, so festival organizers are hopeful for lots of volunteers. To volunteer, go to http://www.carrboromusicfestival.com/322/Volunteering. It’s fun, and you get to be part of an amazing musical event.
The Carrboro Music Festival is another example, if you needed one, of how this area views culture and music: it’s not merely the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself. Without the Festival and other events like it, we’d lose what we love about the spirit and soul of this place, the magic of coming into town looking for a house and finding a home instead.
Carrboro Music Festival, Weaver Street Market
Festival goers should follow the Governor’s latest order regarding COVID-19 protocols — in case it changes a little by then.
Photo: Carrboro Music Festival
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
Regular Business Hours: Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 am - 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am - 3 pm. (As of August, 2021, the Visitors Bureau is operating on limited hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 am - 4 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
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 over 50 years of top name and upcoming bands. Carolina Brewery, the oldest brewery in the Triangle. Julian’s, established in 1942, brings Ivy League style to Chapel Hill. Open Eye Café, brings international coffees to Carrboro and the Chapel Hill Post Card mural is probably the most instagrammable spot next to UNC's iconic Old Well on campus
Whether your interests lie in historical facts and places, African-American history, or botanicals, you are sure to find a tour that ‘speaks’ to your passion. If historical facts is your thing, join the ‘Free Walking Tour of Chapel Hill’ guide that covers UNC campus and Franklin Street history. For garden lovers, the North Carolina Botanical Garden offers general private guided tours for a minimal fee. For self-guided tours, you might consider “Histories of Home: A Walk with Northside Neighbors”, Historic Hillsborough Walking Tours which include historic buildings, cemeteries & gardens, and African American history, or a historic downtown walking tour of Carrboro. (Image courtesy Free Walking Tours)
The weekends come alive in Orange County. Reserve your spot for Carolina Inn’s Fridays on the Front Porch to enjoy music, food and libations. Eat, sip, stroll, tip from East to West on Franklin Street Saturday nights with musicians set up at favorite dining and shopping spots. Sundays at Sundown features live music on the Green at Southern Village. And On the last Friday of the month, Hillsborough hosts buskers that roam Churton Street, plus still walkers, poetry readings and an artwalk. (Image courtesy Southern Village).
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 (Self-guided tours available). For a teaser, check out UNC Visitors Center 'Sense of Place' Zoom Tour. Or catch a star show at the newly renovated, 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. The most recent murals (2020) can be found in Carrboro: Elizabeth Cotten, Black Lives Matter and We are Community. 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 in Hillsborough, a tribute to Billy Strayhorn.
Did you know there are miles and miles of biking trails in Carrboro and Chapel Hill? Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill are designated Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Communities by The League of American Bicyclists and UNC is recognized nationally as Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly University.
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 the Burwell School, the Old Courthouse and the Old Town Cemetery. Learn more of Orange County's history at the Orange County Historical Museum.
When visiting a new town it’s always fun to seek out unique shops. Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro is home to more than 10 local and family owned shops ranging from beads & jewelry, boutiques and natural skin care to fine-fabrics, children’s toys and a card shop. 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.
CRAFT BEERS & CIDER TRAIL
Just within a two-mile stretch between Chapel Hill and Carrboro lie six 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, a Mukimono Belgian Wit at Craftboro Brewing Depot and end at our newest brewpub, Dingo Dog. For a slight detour north of Hillsborough, visit the tasting room at Botanist and Barrel for dry fruit wines, ciders & sours every Sunday afternoon. Be sure to check out our numerous bottle shops and taprooms too.
ART GALLERIES & MUSEUMS
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 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 Shack, BLT’s from Merritt’s, contemporary Italian faves with local ingredients at Il Palio, you’ll find a dish to your liking. Check out Eno River Farm and Maple View Farm Ice Cream Country Store to continue the flavor tour. Visit four county farmers’ markets to see where many local chefs shop. Stop by the Blue Dogwood Public Market for Persian food, BBQ and 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.