The Ultimate Guide to NC College Towns: What to Eat, Where to Stay, and What To Do

NC has some of the best college towns in the nation, including Winston-Salem, home to decorated schools like Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University. (Image via Visit Winston-Salem)

By Vanessa Infanzon

July 19, 2023

Whether you’re visiting for a campus tour, family weekend, orientation or move-in day, you’ll need our ultimate guide to North Carolina college towns.

In a month, thousands of first-year college students will be dropped off at a residence hall in a North Carolina city. Weeks later, junior and senior high school students will spend weekends touring campuses – determining which ones are a good fit for earning a degree.

Related: Here Are the Student Employee IDs You Can Use to Vote Now in NC

Most students and families won’t be familiar with the new surroundings, local history and the area accommodations and restaurants – all important for a good college experience and a visit from friends and family.

We’ve pulled together our ultimate guide to five North Carolina college towns in the state to help families navigate visits to local colleges and universities.

Asheville

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Schools

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Mars Hill University, Montreat College, South College – Asheville, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Warren Wilson College, Western Carolina University

Traditions

New students at UNC Asheville attend a ceremony marking the start of the academic year. As students head to the ceremony, they pat the statue of Rocky, the UNC Asheville mascot, for good luck and a successful academic career.

Stay

The Restoration is a new boutique hotel featuring local art in the lobby. Pets are welcome and part of the fee is donated to the Humane Society. The property includes a brewery, coffee shop, farm-to-table restaurant and a rooftop bar.

Eat

Neng Jr’s

Neng Jr.’s, an intimate 17-seat Filipinx restaurant, provides a unique dining experience under the direction of Chef Silver Iocovozzi. Reservations are encouraged but walk-ins are welcome.

Play

Western NC Nature Center is a 42-acre habitat for 60 species such as black bears, river otters, red and gray foxes, raptors, reptiles and red wolves. Spend about 90 minutes touring the center on paved pathways, accessible to mobility devices.

Chapel Hill

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School

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Traditions

On the first day of classes, students line up along Cameron Avenue to sip from the Old Well. According to legend, students who drink from the well, get a 4.0 that semester.

Stay

The Carolina Inn, a Hyatt property on the UNC campus, has 185 rooms. The boutique hotel hosts Fridays on the Front Porch with food trucks and live music, April through October.

Eat

Owned by a UNC law graduate, Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, is built on the site of Top of the Hill Exxon gas station. UNC football and men’s basketball radio shows may be seen live from this brewpub.

Play

Morehead Planetarium & Science Center on Franklin Street provides a diversion from college life. Planetarium shows, interactive exhibits and programs such as yoga under the stars and skywatching.

Durham

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Schools

Duke University, Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University

Traditions

At Duke University, Cameron Crazies compete for seats before basketball games by sleeping in tents outside Cameron Indoor Stadium for weeks. The area is called Krzyzewskiville, a.k.a K-ville, named for long-time Duke men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

North Carolina Central University has one of the best Homecoming weeks around with students and alumni. Homecoming events are Oct. 29 through Nov. 4 this year. Class reunions, a picnic, a concert, a parade, a tailgate and a Homecoming football game are part of the festivities.

Stay
21C Museum Hotel Durham offers free docent-led tours on Wednesdays through its art exhibits. The 15-story building was designed by the same architect who worked on the Empire State Building in New York City.

Eat
Please the entire family at the Durham Food Hall – bagels, oysters, pastries, pizza, sandwiches and more in a downtown space with seating inside and outside.

Play
Take a self-guided walking tour around downtown Durham: Stop for a selfie in front of “Major,” the bronze bull statue in CCB Plaza, and visit Durham Craft Market on Saturdays between April and Thanksgiving.

Raleigh

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Schools

Campbell Law School, Meredith College, North Carolina State University, Saint Augustine’s University, Shaw University, Wake Tech Community College, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, William Peace University

Traditions

Packapalooza at NCSU is an all-day family-friendly block party and street festival on Aug. 26, with more than 300 vendors and 40 sponsoring organizations.

Stay

The Longleaf Hotel, a renovated 1960s motor lodge in downtown Raleigh, features a lounge and outdoor patio with a retro vibe. The menu includes cheese balls and deviled eggs from (ish) Deli and blueberry muffins and coffee-cake for breakfast from Union Special.

Eat

Reserve a table at Poole’s Diner, owned by Ashley Christensen, NCSU alum and James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef in 2019, for a special occasion.

Play

Explore North Carolina Museum of Art and the 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park for free.

 

Winston-Salem

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Schools

Carolina University, Forsyth TechSalem College, UNC School of the Arts, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University

Traditions

Salem College, the oldest women’s college in America, coordinates the annual Fall Fest. Students compete against other classes in a spirited competition.

Since 1966, UNC School of the Arts dance and design students have been producing and performing “The Nutcracker” each December. More than 15,000 people attend the performances.

Hundreds of Wake Forest University students participate in Hit the Bricks, an all-day, relay-style race around Wake’s iconic Hearn Plaza (The Quad) to raise money for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.

Winston-Salem State University’s marching band, nicknamed the “Red Sea of Sound,” pumps up the crowd before football and basketball games with its traditional anthem, “Get Up.”

Stay

Hotel Indigo opened four years ago in the 1928 Pepper Building. Sir Winston Restaurant and Wine Loft offers breakfast, lunch and dinner inside the hotel’s lobby.

Play

Bring the family to ROAR, a four-story, 42,000-square-foot dining, entertainment and event space. Choose from Fords Food Hall, boutique bowling, sports simulators, indoor miniature golf and the rooftop bar for drinks and views of the skyline.

Eat

Grab a sandwich at Theodore’s Bar & Market in Reynolda Village and then treat yourself to freshly made donuts at Dough-Joe’s, both owned by a husband and wife team and Wake Forest alumni.

Disclaimer: We know this isn’t an exhaustive list of college towns in North Carolina.

Author

  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

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