One of my favorite towns in North Carolina is Hillsborough, which is only a short drive outside of the Triangle with a whole lot to offer! There are great local shops to browse and support, delicious restaurants, history to experience, and outdoor trails. Here is a round up of what to do and where to stay in Hillsborough, NC!
Hillsborough is so dang cute, y’all. Its historic downtown is fun for brunching, strolling the side streets, and browsing the stores. There is great access to walkways over the Eno River. After spending time downtown, head to Ayr Mount to explore the grounds and sit a spell on the property.
Hillsborough Travel Guide: What to Do and Where to Stay
Hillsborough Travel Guide: Things to Do
Browse the Shops in Historic Downtown
One of my favorite ways to explore a town is to check out their shops and the ones of downtown Hillsborough reflect the charm of the town perfectly! Carlisle & Linny Vintage Jewelry has the best vintage costume jewelry and 108 Churton boasts a great selection of home decor and clothing. A stop at Purple Crow Books is also a must! This bookstore specializes in local authors and offers signed copies of their works.
Enjoy the Arts & Culture
Hillsborough is quite the haven for artists, featuring several art galleries. For 2021, they’ve started the Last Friday Art Walk, which highlights local businesses. While there are limited capacities allowed in the venues, it is a great way to explore various types of artwork including fine art, folk art, and contemporary art. The Colonial Inn also has local artists work featured throughout their property.
There are also venues that feature live music, shows, and open mic nights, such as Hot Tin Roof, Volume Records & Beer, Yonder Southern Cocktails, and the Nash Street Tavern.
Learn More about the Area through the Historic Sites
The town was founded in 1754 and they have done a fantastic job of maintaining elements of the original architecture throughout the town. Since my first few visits to town, there is now a mural to Billy Strayhorn, who was one of the most influential American jazz musicians. Strayhorn was a member of Duke Ellington’s band. His connection to Hillsborough was through his grandparents and his grandmother’s garden was one of his inspirations in his music.
The Burwell School Historic Site preserves and interprets the history of 19th century Hillsborough, including Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly, who was enslaved on the property. She later bought her freedom and was a dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln.
Other notable sites include the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, Margaret Lane Cemetery, Occaneechi Village Replica Site, Orange County Historical Museum, and Ayr Mount. As these sites continue their work of interpreting and preserving history, I look forward to learning more about the people who made those properties possible.
Explore the Outdoors
Hillsborough is located right along the Eno River and is close to Occoneechee Mountain State Park. While there are lots of hiking, biking, and walking areas, the Riverwalk features about two miles of waterfront trails. You may also want to consider hiking Occoneechee Mountain, which is about 5 minutes outside of downtown. The Poet’s Walk is another great place to experience the Eno River.
If you are interested in picking your own flowers or your own strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries, check out the Eno River Farm.
Hillsborough Travel Guide: Where to Eat
Antonia’s is an authentic Italian restaurant and uses locally sourced ingredients. I have heard nothing but great things about this restaurant and I am especially smitten with the fact that it has daily specials that are actually updated on their website and social media channels.
This local hangout serves amazing coffee drinks, teas, and baked goods. I highly recommend the lavender honey latte!
Chef Aaron Vandemark has been getting nods from the James Beard Foundation for years and the menu is just as lovely as the decor. It’s another restaurant that uses sourced ingredients and has a menu that changes daily. I’d really love to try the grilled dogfish since it is served with fried oysters if I went and that was on the menu. This restaurant is my favorite kind, where I would ask the server what their favorite item is on the menu that day and go from there. Note: They are planning on reopening in May 2021. Be sure to check their website for updates.
Radius has a gorgeous patio, a great wine list, plus fresh, handmade pizzas, salads, paninis, and pasta dishes. Many of the ingredients are sourced within a 250 mile radius of Hillsborough. Bonus points for the fact that one of the owners is an ECU alumni, too! It’s definitely a favorite spot for us in town.
The tavern located in The Colonial Inn is a gorgeous, quaint spot with an excellent selection of drinks and small plates. It’s beautifully restored and a cozy, inviting spot. The kitchen offers daily specials and their pimento cheese comes highly recommended!
The Colonial Inn also serves Sunday brunch, which was a longstanding tradition at the Colonial Inn. You’ll need to make reservations in advance and I’ve heard the fried chicken is a must.
The Wooden Nickel has been the neighborhood pub of Hillsborough since 2003, featuring some of the best wings and loaded cheese tots! The menu changes frequently and the pub has the finest craft and draft beer selection available. There is also a great outdoor seated area perfect for people watching.
Hillsborough Travel Guide: Where to Stay
The Colonial Inn was such a great location in downtown historic Hillsborough. It is within walking distance of the best restaurants and shops in downtown. This recently renovated gem in Hillsborough opened its doors in November 2020. It’s a perfect mix of original pieces and modern touches.
There is a great attention to detail with the staff at the Inn. Prior to checking in, we received communication from the hotel to see what our preferred room temperature is so it would be set at that, plus our mattress preference, and if we wanted extra pillows and blankets. It was quite lovely to have that level of attention even before arriving. Enjoy breakfast service where premium coffee, homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee cake are available in the commons area.
Photos by Glory Roze Photography
This post was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated and recirculated for 2021.
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