Exploring the University of North Carolina

As one of the oldest public universities in the country, the University of North Carolina (“UNC”) in Chapel Hill has a rich history, resulting in many time-honored and beloved traditions and landmarks. There is plenty to explore at UNC’s campus — here is a list of the must sees and dos during your visit.

Must see: The Bell Tower

Completed in 1931 and standing at 172 feet tall, the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower is one of UNC’s most well known and most visible landmarks. Each May, graduating seniors line up to climb to the top of the bell tower and sign their names. The tower also lights up in Carolina Blue after every UNC football win. Listen closely if you hear the bells ringing because you just might recognize the song — “Hark the Sound” and “Here Comes Carolina” are played frequently.

Must see: Old Well

The Old Well is a classic symbol of UNC. The current design was completed in 1897, although it has been a central point on campus since the university opened. Rumor has it that drinking out of the Old Well on the first day of class guarantees straight As for that semester, and hundreds of students line up along Cameron Avenue to take part in this tradition.

Must do: Carolina Athletics

No matter what season it is when you visit UNC, there will be a number of athletic games, meets, or matches occurring. Carolina has an incredible athletics program with countless national championship titles. Watch a volleyball game in Carmichael Arena in the fall, catch a swim meet at Koury Natatorium in January, or enjoy some sun at a soccer game at Dorrance Field in March. The contagious spirit and cheers of the students can turn any spectator into a fan for the day whether they normally root for the Heels or not. Ticket information can be found here.

Must do: Dean Dome

This one deserves its own section! The Dean E. Smith Center, lovingly known as the Dean Dome, is home to the Carolina men’s basketball team, which boasts 7 national championships, 18 ACC tournament titles, and 32 ACC regular season titles. Attending games in the Dean Dome, watching Roy Williams coach, and cheering on the Heels is a quintessential part of the Carolina experience. In the fourth-largest college basketball arena in the nation, the atmosphere is electric, and you’ll cheer on the team with over 21,000 other Tar Heel fans.

To learn more about the history of the Carolina Basketball program, check out the Carolina Basketball Museum, which features artifacts, videos, photos, and interactive presentations.

Must see: Wilson Library and Polk Place

Head to Polk Place, otherwise known as the quad, to take in the full beauty of Louis Round Wilson Library — named for the university’s first librarian — while surrounded by students studying and hanging out. The library was completed in 1929 and now houses several special collections, including the Rare Book Collection and the North Carolina Collection. It is open to the public, but be sure to review the policies and hours beforehand if you’d like to view the collections.

Must do: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

Opened in 1949, the Morehead Planetarium is one of the oldest and largest in the US. They hold a variety planetarium shows using their GSK fulldome theater, and they have amazing exhibits, which can be viewed here. Additionally, they host other programs, such as skywatching and yoga under the stars. Fun fact: the US astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions trained at the planetarium.

Must see: Coker Arboretum

A great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of campus for a bit is Coker Arboretum. Established in 1903 by UNC’s first Professor of Botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker, the arboretum is five acres of trees, wildflowers, and beautiful walking paths. Stroll through the Arboretum or even stop for a picnic on a nice day!

Must see: The Pit

The Pit is the sunken courtyard surrounded by Lenoir Dining Hall, the Student Stores, the Student Union, and the Undergraduate Library. It is a popular gathering place at the heart of campus where many students spend time between classes. If you walk by during a class change, you are bound to see hundreds of students walking to class, performances and speeches, and people promoting their campus organizations, or “pit-sitting.”

Must do: Ackland Art Museum

The Ackland Art Museum was founded in 1958 through the bequest of William Hayes Ackland who is actually buried in the museum. The permanent collection includes more than 19,000 works of art, such as Asian art, European masterworks, 20th century and contemporary art, and North Carolina pottery. Additionally, the museum shows around 10-12 changing exhibitions each year, which can be seen here. Admission is free.

By Anabel Mast

Anabel will be a 2021 graduate of the University of North Carolina.