Chapel Hill is most famous as the home of the University of North Carolina, the nation’s first state university. The town essentially grew up around the university and much commercial activity depends on purchases by students. A visit to Chapel Hill should include some time spent on the university campus, as well as Franklin Street, the main downtown thoroughfare. Lined with shops and other businesses, Franklin Street exudes a friendly vibrance and is a fun place to take a walk through the town center. No longer an actual pharmacy, Sutton’s Drug Store is a great spot for a hamburger or ice cream soda. Preservation Chapel Hill is an organization that runs a series of downtown walks and other events that focus on the town’s history. The university offers several guided tours.


The Old Well, at the center of the campus, is the symbol of the university and appears on its web site. It’s a pretty spot, decorated in neoclassical style and surrounded by gardens and benches. Years ago, the well served as the sole water supply for two adjacent dormitories. One of them, Old East, dates back to 1795 and is described on a plaque as  the oldest state university building in the United States. Morehead planetarium puts on daily shows; it is famed for its role in training astronauts in “celestial navigation” for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions. In front of the planetarium building is a huge sundial with numerals more than a foot tall. Ackland Art Museum has an interesting collection and seems more welcoming than most other art museums. It is part of the university and admission is always free to all.

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A couple of places away from the town center deserve mention. The North Carolina Botanical Garden, part of the university, has an intriguing display of carnivorous plants. I had seen many of them before, but several were new to me. Some of my companions stuck a finger into one of the pitcher plants, but I didn’t think it was a good idea. Southern Season is a unique food emporium that sells food and kitchen implements, offers cooking classes and features a pleasant restaurant. The scale of the place is impressive and each section is like a separate store. It’s a great place to have lunch and then check out the large variety of foods and food-related items.