Is Chapel Hill Safe? Crime Rates & Safety Report

Updated On September 8, 2023
Chapel Hill, United States
Safety Index:
81
* Based on Research & Crime Data

Chapel Hill is a captivating destination that seamlessly blends history, culture, and Southern charm in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Founded in 1793 around the prestigious University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this town carries a rich historical legacy.

The “Research Triangle” in North Carolina is called so because it’s formed by three cities – Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill – each with a major research university, creating a triangle of research and innovation.

While UNC is the oldest public university in the country, it’s more than just an academic hub; it’s a place where academic excellence coexists with artistic inspiration.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stands as a testament to intellectual vitality, surrounded by picturesque landscapes and a vibrant arts scene.

This is more than a college town, however.

Chapel Hill exudes charm and sophistication, from its robust performance art scene to the rich restaurant options.

It also sits 30 miles east of Durham, offering a more relaxed atmosphere from the big city and natural wonders, like Jordan Lake, close by.

It’s also home to the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

As part of Orange County, Chapel Hill is paired with Hillsborough and Carrboro as a tourist destination, creating yet another triangle of adventure.

Whether you’re here to visit the campus, watch a basketball game, or just enjoy the Southern vibes, Chapel Hill offers something for everyone.

Warnings & Dangers in Chapel Hill

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: LOW

There's a low risk in Chapel Hill, but I ask that you read all the way through, as there has been an increase in violent crime that could change that rating at some point if not brought under control.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

Chapel Hill Transit has many bus routes throughout town and connects with other bus systems in the Triangle region. Taxis and rideshares are easy to find but plan for high demand on game days. Rental cars are available in town and at your airport of choice. All options are low-risk.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW

With just three purses snatching in the past five years, that's a low risk. I also checked with UNC police, and there has been just one pickpocket there in five years.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM

This city can get a little bit of everything, from severe thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes to remnants of hurricanes that move onshore to snow in the winter. Even though an average of eight inches of snow isn't a lot, it can still cause major issues on the roads. Treat it with a medium risk and stay on top of the forecast.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

The risk is low, with a robbery rate that is half the national average. Only a small percentage of those are muggings.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

This is a low risk, but the recent on-campus shooting is a reminder that domestic terrorism and gun violence can happen in any city without warning. Always report anything suspicious you see to the police.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: LOW

I saw a few run-of-the-mill scams, like someone posing as an officer and demanding money via text or phone call. You might also get panhandled downtown, as that's where a lot of homeless people hang out. The risk is low, but keep your guard up.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW

I've read in several social forums that women don't always feel safe walking around downtown at night. I'll explain that in a little bit, but you should use caution here after dark and don't walk around alone at night, even if it's just a few blocks.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations, giving this a low risk. The community is even engaged in testing the water quality of local streams to keep up the standards.

Safest Places to Visit in Chapel Hill

The city of Chapel Hill’s website has a section for “Things to Do,” but the official tourism website is called Visit Chapel Hill.

You can download the visitor’s guide for free without having to give personal information, which is always a plus.

The website also has a list of suggested itineraries for those with different interests, like night owls, adventurers, history buffs, and foodies.

Begin your journey in Chapel Hill by exploring the historic campus of the University of North Carolina.

Admire the stately architecture, stroll through picturesque gardens, and don’t forget to visit the iconic Old Well, a cherished symbol of the university and a North Carolina icon.

Legend has it that a sip from the spring will bring you good luck.

For art enthusiasts, the Ackland Art Museum is a must-visit.

Located right on the UNC campus, it houses a remarkable collection that spans centuries and cultures.

Visit the website for Chapel Hill Arts to get a walking map of the murals around town.

You can also schedule a walking tour of the campus and town.

Nature lovers will find solace at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

This serene oasis features a diverse range of native plants, scenic trails, and educational exhibits.

It’s a perfect place to connect with the region’s natural beauty.

You can also visit the Coker Arboretum, located on the UNC campus.

This botanical garden features a diverse collection of plants, serene walking paths, and shaded benches—a perfect spot for relaxation.

Take a stroll along historic Franklin Street, Chapel Hill’s main thoroughfare.

Lined with charming boutiques, bookstores, cafes, and restaurants, it’s a great place to shop, dine, and soak up the town’s vibrant atmosphere.

Ideally, visit here in the daytime.

TRAVEL TIP:

Carolina Coffee Shop is the oldest restaurant in North Carolina.

Basketball fans shouldn’t miss the Carolina Basketball Museum.

Located adjacent to the Dean E. Smith Center, it celebrates the rich history of UNC basketball and its legendary players.

Places to Avoid in Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is facing a growing problem in its downtown area on Franklin Street.

While it’s not really a place you can avoid if you want to get the true experience of the town, there are issues with homeless people, indecency, and uncomfortable situations.

The challenges have been so intense that hundreds of complaints came in from the community, prompting the city leaders to issue a statement about what’s being done.

You can read the full news release on the city’s website, but this is the advice the police chief gives to anyone visiting.

“If you feel unsafe downtown or anywhere in our community or see someone who needs help, do not hesitate to call 911 so we may respond and assess the most appropriate course of action.”

With some recent rise in violent crime, it’s smart to avoid any neighborhood where you don’t have a reason to be.

Crime maps show some pockets on the northwest and south sides of town, but there isn’t a place too dangerous to be here.

It’s just smart to stick to main roads and security-covered attractions.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Chapel Hill

  1. Chapel Hill has its own police department. You can find them on Facebook @ChapelHillPD. The phone number is (919)968-2760. You can also email policeinfo@townofchapelhill.org if you have specific questions.
  2. For UNC police, follow @UNCPolice on Facebook. The phone number is (919)962-3951. You can also download the Carolina Ready Safety App to get access to safety alerts and important weather information.
  3. For city and regional alerts, sign up for OC Alerts. That’s for Orange County, but make sure you find the North Carolina location. Florida and California both have counties of the same name. You’ll sign up through the Everbridge website.
  4. Chapel Hill has a website called “Park on the Hill” that provides everything you need to know about parking lots and street parking. You can also download the app with the same name.
  5. When you’re walking around, use extra caution in pedestrian crosswalks. Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean a car is going to stop. Always make sure you have eye contact with a driver and wave as you walk by. Don’t try to cross a street outside a crosswalk, either.
  6. You might notice some drivers going fast on residential streets. I’m looking at several traffic patrols where drivers got tickets for going 2–3 times the speed limit! Stick with the posted speed limit signs and keep in the right lane if drivers are going fast around you.
  7. For any license, like hunting, fishing, or boating, you’ll need to use the Go Outdoors North Carolina website. Some licenses will require a certain amount of training, while others are just a matter of giving your personal information and paying the fee. For a fishing license here, you’ll want inland waters and not coastal waters.
  8. Parts of Chapel Hill are prone to flooding after a heavy rain event. Never drive through flooded roads. The mantra “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” is due to this ongoing problem of people driving right into dark, fast-moving flooded roads.
  9. Check the Chapel Hill Transit website before you visit. As of late 2023, the system is getting community input to make the routes safer and more efficient. That could mean schedule changes or route adaptions.
  10. The Chapel Hill city website has a great “Services” tool that will allow you to select what services you are looking for and provide an easy link. For example, I wanted to see how walkable the city is, and I was given a downloadable downtown walking map.

So... How Safe Is Chapel Hill Really?

Chapel Hill is a safe town, and that includes the campus.

Violent crime rates in Chapel Hill are 60% lower than the state and national average.

In 2021, the campus averaged just one violent crime a month–that’s on a campus of 30,000 students.

Keep your cars locked and valuables inside because 43% of all thefts are related to car break-ins or car accessory thefts.

Given that it’s a safe town in the South, that’s likely due to people leaving car doors unlocked.

On campus, bicycle thefts have a higher theft rate than car break-ins, but both make up almost 40% of all on-campus thefts.

All that said, there was a surge in gun crime in 2022 and 2023.

While official numbers aren’t provided by the police department, we do know that 2022 had more gun-related deaths than 2018 through 2020.

It’s important to note that when I say “surge” in Chapel Hill, that means six gun crimes.

In some dangerous communities, that number would be hundreds.

Then, in late 2023, a professor was gunned down by a graduate student on campus, leading to a call for gun control from students.

A good lesson from this is to know that even a statistically “safe” town can have surges in crime.

Personal safety standards, situational awareness, and common sense will go a long way.

Crime rates can also change suddenly, as we see here in Chapel Hill.

When visiting a new town, it’s always a great idea to contact the police and talk to a public information officer about safe vs. not-so-safe places.

Even neighborhoods safe today can get into a rut of crime by the time you visit.

How Does Chapel Hill Compare?

CitySafety Index
Chapel Hill81
St. Louis58
Los Angeles56
Oakland57
New Orleans57
Baltimore56
Boston67
Sofia (Bulgaria)73
Siem Reap (Cambodia)63
Phnom Penh (Cambodia)61
Niagara Falls (Canada)87
Calgary (Canada)82
Buenos Aires (Argentina)60

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

A visa will be required for students, but that's not the same thing as a tourist visa. You can find the right one for you on the U.S. State Department website. You'll also need a passport.

Currency

Currency

Only the U.S. Dollar is accepted here and throughout the state. You can use ATMs to get currency, but it will likely come with a hefty fee. Use your home bank to get the lowest fees.

Weather

Weather

Chapel Hill gets typical four seasons, so plan according to the forecast. Summers will be humid, and you'll need bug spray and sunscreen. Winters aren't too bad, but bring layers to adapt.

Airports

Airports

Chapel Hill is about 30 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. That's the largest and closest option.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is recommended to cover your flight against delays or cancelations, emergencies, or other issues. If you don't have health coverage in the U.S., get a supplemental travel health policy.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Chapel Hill Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 4° C
Feb 6° C
Mar 10° C
Apr 15° C
May 20° C
Jun 24° C
Jul 26° C
Aug 25° C
Sep 22° C
Oct 15° C
Nov 10° C
Dec 7° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
101216222630323128221712
Low
°C
-2-1381317201915831
High
°F
505461727986908882726354
Low
°F
283037465563686659463734

North Carolina - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Apex84
Asheville57
Boone82
Cary83
Chapel Hill81
Charlotte56
Cornelius75
Corolla81
Davidson82
Duck79
Durham84
Elizabeth City79
Gastonia61
Goldsboro46
Greensboro77
Hatteras82
Hickory68
High Point62
Hope Mills53
Kannapolis82
Kill Devil Hills77
Kitty Hawk79
Manteo75
Mooresville77
Morehead City78
New Bern77
Raleigh74
Rocky Mount52
Rodanthe85
Statesville78
Wilmington84
Winston-Salem47

Where to Next?

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