The best things about Chapel Hill, the best town in the Triangle, are the things steeped in its 260-year history, but there is so much else that makes it unique. Its 50 percent student population, for example. Its main street, named after a U.S. founding father, who had nothing to do with the town. The curious mix of commercialization and small-town charm.
And then there are the sports, the bars and the tailgating spots—the reason, presumably, why the kids call it "Chapel Thrill."
While honorable mentions go to Best Outdoor Theater, Best Bell Tower and Best Basketball Museum, these are what's best of the best about Chapel Hill.
Gimghoul Castle: Best Castle
Built in 1924, the Hippol (or Gimghoul) Castle, epitomizes all that is elite about Chapel Hill, a town whose blue-collar workers cannot afford to live in it. Located on the eastern part of UNC's campus, the English Norman-style castle serves as headquarters for the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society open to select male students of the University of North Carolina. Little is known about the Order, including why it exists, but the legends of Gimghoul Castle are fascinating.
It's said that a young knave by the name of Peter Dromgoole was killed by a rival for the affections of a Chapel Hill woman named Miss Fanny. In one version of the tale, Dromgoole dies in a duel, striking his head on a rock at the site of the castle that to this day is stained with his blood. In another version, Fanny shows up mid-duel, and Dromgoole, having suffered a blow with the rock as weapon, dies in her arms.
Silent Sam: Best Throwback to the Old South
The statue of a Confederate soldier overlooking Franklin Street was built in 1913, as a memorial to UNC students and alumni who fought and died in the Civil War. (Chapel Hill had the most Civil War casualties of any village in the South.)Today, Silent Sam stands as a reminder to an ugly legacy of white supremacy. Students and activists have petitioned UNC to take down the statue, to move it somewhere less visible or to add a plaque commemorating the victims of slavery.
Chapel Hill is lauded for its diversity and inclusive spirit, but the occasional expression of a desire to keep out the riff-raff still surfaces in expected and unexpected places, including UNC's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.
Coker Arboretum: Best Botanical Garden
Sure, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens are beautiful. But like all things Chapel Hill vs. Durham, Coker arboretum, part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, is superior. The arboretum is famous for its 583 plant species and abundance of East Asian trees and shrubs, planted by founding botanist Dr. William Chambers Coker who began cultivating the arboretum in 1903. The arboretum is also said to be haunted by the spirit of Suellen Evans, a 21-year-old student who was stabbed to death in the arboretum in the summer of 1965. Suellen was killed during the day while walking back to her dorm; her murder remains unsolved.
Morehead Planetarium: Best Planetarium
The first planetarium built in the South and only the sixth in the country, Morehead Planetarium is the best place to nerd out in the Triangle. Neil Armstrong trained there in the '60s, as did other astronauts through 1975. When there's a space event, like 2012's transit of Venus, you have to beat the crowds to the observatory on top of the Morehead building. Otherwise, there's the always-popular star projector and generally amazing exhibits.