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On the Hill: Why You Should Go To Chapel Hill, N.C.

(Image Courtesy of This mural is painted by Scott Nurkin in 2013)

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, holds a special place in my heart. Its colonial architecture, kind people, and great food make it the pinnacle of the American college town. Yet, there is more to this town than the iconic University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I had the chance to speak with Laurie Paolicelli, Executive Director at Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, to learn more about why you should visit The Southern Part of Heaven.

(Image by Shutterstock)

1. Why should someone visit Chapel Hill?

Most visitors tell us that they love North Carolina, college towns, gentle climate and a place with great “loafability.” They are not looking for Disney or Vegas, rather they want someplace that’s warm, green, funky and has good restaurants. Visitors usually have some connection to Chapel Hill whether it’s a family member, kid, relative in the Triangle or connection to the University. There’s a very high return visit rate so clearly they like what they find here.

(Image courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Multimedia Library. Image depicts, " Graduating senior Reana Johnson and her family poses for a portrait taken via the Zoom video conferencing application and made into a Polaroid on May 1, 2020. Quote from Johnson: "(I'll miss) doing life with best friends, from rushing to Franklin Street during the national championship to supporting each other at performances. Love you, Bethann, Debra and Keondra!" (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill))

2. How has Chapel Hill adapted in the face of COVID-19?

Chapel Hill has been shuttered. It took a big hit because of the University’s closure and limited service, and lack of GAA events. Business travel has suffered the most because there’s no need to make appointments at the University now so most of our mid week business travel market disappeared. Weddings, reunions and family gatherings cancelled. Leisure visitors were reduced from an 80% demand for hotels in February 2020 to 25% today. We’ve lost $120 million from tourism related revenues, have had mass lay-offs in service and hospitality and about 35 restaurants closed for good.

(Image courtesy of Wix)

3. What are the top sites anyone should see in Chapel Hill?

Downtown Franklin Street and its murals and art; and UNC Campus, Carolina Basketball Museum, NC Botanical Garden Planetarium, Ackland, Memorial Hall, Playmakers, Cat’s Cradle, local restaurants, Weaver Street lawn and small coffee joints in Carrboro, Maple View Ice Creamery, downtown Hillsborough, walking trails, Kenan and Smith Center, Southern Village on the lawn (especially when symphony plays), local musicians outdoors and at look pubs, Fridays on the Front Porch at Carolina Inn.

(Image taken by my brother. Image depicts my mom, dog and me walking around Chapel Hill. Photo was taken in front of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. We had so much fun walking around the town that day)

4. How has Chapel Hill tourism shifted its efforts during the pandemic?

We’ve shifted our focus to a drive market in NC, VA and SC as well as a focus on locals. We’ve focused on restaurants take out, walking trails, green space. We’ve advertised patio dining, the widened streets downtown.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

5. What is the future of tourism in the Chapel Hill?

We predict it will be back even stronger due to love of Chapel Hill, pent up demand and a rise in calls for future bookings, a rise in undergraduate applications as well as an increase in rebooking weddings, GAA homecoming and related events and sports travel. From high school and club sports to college sports, there’s a real desire to get back near campus, dine out at the restaurants, see friends and family and enjoy the balmy nights and year round gentle climate. North Carolina overall is seeing pent up demand. People want to be in the southern states and near great food, farm fresh options, culture, visual beauty and access to the beach and mountains. Chapel Hill provides all that.

(Image Courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Multimedia Library.Image decipts The Old Well. Located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill))

Thank you, Laurie, for teaching me more about my new home. To anyone looking to visit, please feel free to reach out! I would love to give you some recommendations!


Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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