Experience college in a brand-new way by rediscovering these North Carolina campuses that extend invites to all. Admire the dedication to education, commitment to beauty and enthusiasm for fun as you take a trip full of nostalgia.
Colleges you'll find in this article:
Davidson College | Duke University | Elon University | North Carolina A&T
NC Central University | NC State University | Shaw University | UNC Chapel Hill
UNC Charlotte | UNC Greensboro | Wake Forest University | Winston-Salem State University
1 Davidson College
1 Davidson CollegeDavidsonSee on map
This small liberal arts school’s buildings are woven throughout town, offering numerous opportunities for inspiration. As a National Arboretum, the setting is perfect for paths that showcase more than 3,000 trees and shrubs. Along with Mother Nature’s works of art, sculptures by artists Magdalena Abakanowicz, Auguste Rodin and Yinka Shonibare are also admired all across campus. Three galleries with a full schedule of exhibitions can be found at the Visual Arts Center. Just up the road is The Farm at Davidson, which grows produce for the college’s dining services. To caffeinate like you're preparing for an all-nighter, swing by the original Summit Coffee on Main Street; the co-owners are Davidson alumni.
2 Duke University
2 Duke UniversityDurhamSee on map
Any visitor to Durham can find inspiration in the unique activities found on Duke’s campus. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year thanks to 55 acres of Italian-style terrace gardens, a rose garden and a koi pond topped with water lilies. For a one-of-a-kind stop, book a tour at the Duke Lemur Center, a world leader in the study, care and protection of the endangered mammals. And for sports lovers, the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Duke University Golf Club is recognized as one of the Southeast's best, while the Duke Basketball Museum brings the storied program to life on a daily basis.
3 Elon University
3 Elon UniversityElonSee on map
A designated botanical garden, Elon’s 656-acre campus is a nature lover’s haven. Follow the campus tree map to find 125 trees along a 1.25-mile walk through campus, visit the community garden and schedule a tour of the school’s 15-acre solar farm, part of the Environmental Center at Loy Farm. Then head downtown to The Oak House for a beverage and a bite and check out some local shops, or grab a pastry to go and picnic at the nearby Beth Schmidt Park, which has beautiful walking trails, a playground and garden. Treat yourself to a cup or cone at Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream before calling it a day. Staying the night? The Inn at Elon is the choice: All profits from the inn are dedicated to funding student scholarships.
4 North Carolina A&T
4 North Carolina A&TGreensboroSee on map
NC A&T is the nation’s largest HBCU. The university played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement when four students led a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960, and the location now operates as the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. After the museum tour, head to the Dudley Building on campus to see the A&T Four Monument, which honors the freshmen who led the sit-in. Visit in fall and catch a football game to see the famous Blue and Gold Marching Machine, whose high-energy performances have been getting fans on their feet for years.
5 North Carolina Central University
5 North Carolina Central UniversityDurhamSee on map
The NCCU campus is included in the National Register of Historic Places for good reason – it’s been a key piece of Durham history for more than 100 years. As you walk among the historic buildings throughout campus, be sure to check out a newer addition, the Centennial Chapel and Garden, built in 2010 to celebrate the university’s centennial. It’s a great place to pull out picnic supplies from Durham Co-op Market before heading out to explore more of downtown. Start with West Parrish Street, often referred to as Black Wall Street because of its key role as a hub for Black-owned businesses and economic growth in the early 1900s. Then visit the Museum of Durham History or any of the History Groves – groupings of native trees planted to honor individuals and families who shaped the community. Speaking of community, the ties are strong at the Hayti Heritage Center, which hosts community events, programs and festivals.
6 North Carolina State University
6 North Carolina State UniversityRaleighSee on map
NC State is the ideal mix of city and rural life. On the Centennial Campus, Lake Raleigh Woods is designated a “hallowed place,” meaning its past helps forge the future of research and education. The 96-acre forest welcomes researchers as well as bird-watchers and those looking for a peaceful stroll. Down the road from main campus is the JC Raulston Arboretum and butterfly garden, where the collection of plants has attracted about 60 species of butterflies and moths over the years. If you’re looking for a place to reunite with old friends from school, the Lonnie Poole Golf Course – the only collegiate course in the world designed by Arnold Palmer – is the perfect spot.
7 Shaw University
7 Shaw UniversityRaleighSee on map
The first HBCU in the South and among the oldest in the nation, Shaw sits in the heart of the historic district downtown – and its ties to history remain strong, from the stunning memorial garden on campus to its multiple historic landmark buildings. Head to Estey Hall – built in 1874, it’s the oldest surviving Shaw building and the first structure built for the higher education of African American women. Because of Shaw’s central location, walk or drive from campus to many nearby favorites. Refuel Southern-style at Big Ed’s and then keep the fun going – kids of all ages love Pullen Park's amusement rides, paddle boats and swimming. Families can enjoy awesome time indoors at the nearby Marbles Kids Museum or NC Museum of Natural Sciences. If your kids are of the four-legged variety, Dorothea Dix Park has an area just for dogs (and plenty of open-air activities for humans too).
8 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
8 University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill See on map
Visit the country’s first public university for a few firsts of your own. For basketball fans, Carolina Basketball Museum is a must, where names like Dean Smith and Michael Jordan might ring a bell. The Ackland Art Museum hosts a permanent collection of more than 19,000 works of art, while the Morehead Planetarium offers shows like “Carolina Skies,” a live star show that takes you on a journey through the nighttime sky. Most alumni will tell you a stroll along Franklin Street is a necessary intro to Chapel Hill life. For lunch, few things are better than a hot dog and old-fashioned soda at the legendary Sutton’s Drug Store. It’s been feeding hungry Tar Heels since 1923.
9 University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9 University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotte See on map
Just 15 minutes northeast of Uptown, UNC Charlotte boasts a 1,000-acre campus that’s still close to Charlotte’s vibrant NoDa, Plaza Midwood and South End neighborhoods. Start your visit with a walk through the botanical gardens, home to three different gardens with 16 collections. Over in the art department, check out three exhibition spaces in the Rowe Arts Building, which displays the work of students, faculty and visiting artists. For a good meal, students rave about Passage to India.
10 University of North Carolina at Greensboro
10 University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroSee on map
A stroll through this campus brings tons of visual intrigue, with architectural diversity, historic buildings and storied landmarks – like the 9-foot bronze statue of Minerva by artist James Barnhill, and The Rawk, a boulder painted and repainted with well wishes and announcements nearly every day. Speaking of art, make sure you head to Weatherspoon Art Museum in the heart of campus. Admission is free to its six galleries and sculpture courtyard, and coffee and baked goods are offered most weekdays. Find more inspiration at any of Greensboro’s outdoor oases, from the 17-acre Greensboro Arboretum to Gateway Gardens, a whimsical entryway to the city integrating elements of history, movement and play.
11 Wake Forest University
11 Wake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemSee on map
Recreate carefree college days at Davis Field by swinging under the towering trees or taking time for a picnic. For a learning opportunity, visit the only museum in North Carolina dedicated to the study of global cultures at the Museum of Anthropology. Catch up on a little botany 101 at the 134-acre Reynolda Gardens with beautiful woodlands, wetlands and a greenhouse. Don’t miss out on getting a unique souvenir at the Reynolda Village shops right next door. For your finale, enjoy a pitcher of beer at Shorty’s.
12 Winston-Salem State University
12 Winston-Salem State UniversityWinston-SalemSee on map
Wander through campus and admire public art sculptures, as well as massive murals by artist and North Carolina native John Biggers in the C.G. O’Kelly Library. The Diggs Gallery also operates as a cultural center with exhibitions and programs focused on African American and regional art (recognized by The Smithsonian as one of the nation’s best). If you’re looking for action: Every Saturday in spring and summer, Bowman Gray Stadium fills up the stands for short-track racing at NASCAR’S longest running weekly track. The whole family will love seeing multiple races at “The Madhouse.”