Chapel Hill & Orange County, North Carolina
So that’s why you’ll find that this page is dedicated to the many things to do in Chapel Hill, but also its surroundings.
Before it was Orange County, the land that makes it up today belonged to Johnston, Bladen, and Granville counties. And before that, it was inhabited by Eno, Occaneechi, and Haw, among other Native American groups. In 1752, the county formed and got its name from William V of Orange.
Hillsborough (then-Childsburgh), was incorporated and has remained the Orange County seat ever since. Among many historically significant events here, Hillsborough played a major role in the War of the Regulation from 1764-71. In fact, six Regulators were hanged at Hillsborough after the Battle of Alamance in 1771.
The North Carolina state legislature and British General Cornwallis used Hillsborough as a base during parts of the Revolutionary War. When visiting, you’ll notice quite a few historical markers scattered around town. Most of them commemorate Hillsborough’s importance before and during the Revolution.
Chapel Hill NC
After the war, the new state of North Carolina put into place a plan based on its constitution to provide affordable schools and universities. In 1789, the University of North Carolina was chartered and the town of Chapel Hill was founded to service the new university.
The school began holding classes in 1795 and is the oldest public institution to hold classes and graduate students. Thanks to an inseparable relationship with UNC and the university’s rise to prominence, the town has grown and remains an influential city in the now-Research Triangle region and North Carolina as a whole.
In comparison to Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, Carrboro is a much newer town. Its settling in 1882 largely came out of a state law that prevented railroad lines from being laid less than one mile near UNC. Writers of the law felt that the edict would “guard against possible damage to student morals and habits of study.”
Originally known as West End, the town’s growth increased after the Alberta Cotton Mill was built. Julian Shakespeare Carr, a man with a troubling legacy, bought the mill. However, upon incorporation in 1911, the town would go through one more name change (Venable) before eventually settling on Carrboro in 1913.
Carrboro’s fortunes ebbed and flowed with the mill. It eventually moved away from textile industry dependence altogether in the 1960s. Thankfully, the town’s proximity to UNC at Chapel Hill has helped, offering Carrboro residents abundant employment opportunities.
Things to Do in Chapel Hill and Orange County
Chapel Hill is one of our favorite North Carolina cities and we absolutely think you should consider some time here and around its surroundings in Orange County.
Start in Chapel Hill with a stroll through the campus of UNC or walks on Franklin Street. The town is home to awesome and eclectic food and drinks scenes. Many local businesses cater to students but also recognize the faculty and families who live here need something to do, too. Anyone can enjoy a fun weekend in Chapel Hill, whether you’re here for business or pleasure.
As we’ve mentioned, Carrboro is close by and is literally attached at the hip to Chapel Hill. There’s a much more laid back vibe here, though plenty to do, including a weekly farmer’s market, delicious restaurant scene, and the local business-heavy Carr Mill Mall, to name a few things.
You can enjoy Hillsborough by starting on Churton Street and grabbing a bite or visiting one of the locally owned businesses in town. Outdoor fun also awaits nearby, whether you’re looking to explore the Riverwalk, Ayr Mount, or the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail.
We included two out of three of those in our guide to hikes near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Can you guess which two?
Surrounding Cities & Towns Near Chapel Hill NC
Elsewhere in Orange County, you’ll find some familiar names that you might not have known shared the space with Chapel Hill and friends.
Unincorporated Orange County Communities: Drive around Orange County and you’ll stumble upon multiple unincorporated communities and townships. Efland, Bingham, and Little River are a few of them.
Durham: Surprisingly, not all of Durham resides in Durham County. Bull City even spills over into Wake County to play with Raleigh. Those two cities and Chapel Hill are commonly referred to in unison, thanks to proximity and historic cooperation. The most recent is their part of Research Triangle Park’s three best-known suppliers of employees. If you’re seeking a nice place to stay in the area, check out these cool Durham Airbnbs.
Mebane: Most of Mebane sits in Alamance County but parts also reside in Orange. It’s in a weird spot, sitting between the Piedmont Triad (largely associated with Greensboro and Winston-Salem) and the Research Triangle. It’s a nice small town to visit and lives up to its motto of “Positively Charming.”
Searching for Something Specific?
We look forward to sharing more fun things to do in Chapel Hill and its Orange County surroundings as we continue exploring the city. If you’re searching for something specific, please reach out because we’re always excited to help!
You can also visit our Facebook Group and ask a question there. Either way, we’ll be happy to help your search.