Your best introduction to the university is a free 1-hour campus tour that leaves from the Morehead Planetarium (the west entrance) on East Franklin Street. For details, contact the UNC Visitors Center located within the Morehead Planetarium (tel. 919/962-1630). Hours are 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
With the tour or on your own, look for the Old Well, once the only source of drinking water for Chapel Hill. It stands in the center of the campus on Cameron Avenue, in a small, templelike enclosure with a dome supported by classic columns. Just east of it is Old East, begun in 1793 and the country's oldest state-university building. Across the way stands the "newcomer," Old West, built in 1824. South Main Building was begun nearby in 1798 and wasn't finished until 1814; in the interim, students lived inside the empty shell in rude huts. At the Coker Arboretum, at Cameron Avenue and Raleigh Street, 5 acres are planted with a wide variety of plants. As you walk around the campus, you'll hear popular tunes coming from the 167-foot Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower, an Italian Renaissance-style campanile.
Morehead Planetarium, on East Franklin Street (tel. 919/549-6863; www.moreheadplanetarium.org), was the first planetarium owned by a university, and it was once used as a NASA training center. The star of the permanent scientific exhibits here is a large orrery, showing the simultaneous action of planets revolving around the sun, moons revolving around planets, and planets rotating on their axes. There's also a stargazing theater with a 68-foot dome. Admission to the planetarium is free; admission to the show is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors, students, and children. Hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm (plus Fri-Sat 6:30-9pm and Sun 1-5pm).
UNC has one of the largest athletic programs in the South. The Tarheels field 26 varsity teams and maintain a 24-hour Carolina hot line number, providing recorded information about all upcoming sporting events on campus. Information is also available from the Smith Center Ticket Office (tel. 800/722-4335 or 919/962-2296; Mon-Fri 8am-5pm). Carolina basketball is followed passionately all over the state ("If God's not a Tarheel, why did he make the sky Carolina blue?"). Former coach and local icon Dean Smith is practically revered on campus; the Smith Center, named in his honor, is referred to as the Dean Dome. Carolina has a long history of recruiting top players; its famous alums include Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
Off campus, one of the most appealing botanical gardens in the Southeast comprises nearly 600 acres of mostly donated land and a vast array of plants that are divided into at least six distinctive categories and habitats. Accessible via laboriously laid-out paths and walking trails, the North Carolina Botanical Garden ★★, Totten Center (tel. 919/962-0522; www.ncbg.unc.edu), includes about 2,500 of the 4,700 plant species that are known to be native or naturalized in North and South Carolina, as well as herbs and horticultural plants from around the world. Thanks partly to its supervision by UNC, there's no charge for admission or for maps of the garden's walking trails. Allow at least 45 minutes for the simplest overview of this amazingly complex compound of gardens and natural habitats. It's open Monday to Friday year-round 8am to 5pm; Saturday hours are 9am to 6pm; Sunday hours are 1 to 6pm.
Growing Your Own Endangered Plants
The North Carolina Botanical Garden (tel. 919/962-0522; www.ncbg.unc.edu), which is maintained by the Horticultural Department of the University of North Carolina, is described above. But what many visitors don't realize is that the staff that maintains the gardens also devotes enormous time and effort to its "conservation through propagation program," wherein rare (and sometimes imperiled) Carolina plants are propagated through seeds and cuttings, and then sold at rock-bottom prices to visitors in the hopes that they'll cultivate them in their own private gardens. Unusual and often rare plants, most of them thriving and healthy, are sold on the "honor system," whereby cash is to be deposited into a waterproof box near the display tables without supervision from sales staff. Credit cards (MasterCard and Visa) are accepted for larger purchases as well, and a staff member or volunteer is usually on hand to explain the origin of the plants and their preferred growing conditions. Potted plants, depending on their rarity and how hard they were to propagate, cost from $3.50 to $15 each and tend to include species that are more rare and unusual than what you'd find, say, in a Home Depot garden center. If you love plants and want a living souvenir of your visit to North Carolina, a selection of plants culled from these gardens would be a brilliant idea. The center is open year-round Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 6pm, and Sunday 1 to 6pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.