COLUMBIA, S.C. — You got your Duke blue packed, your team spirit ready to go, now it’s time to hit it to Columbia for a road trip!

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WFMY News 2 has got you covered with everything you need to know about getting to see your team in action to other one tank trip destinations and good eats.

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No. 1 Duke takes on the winner of the No. 16 NCC/N. Dak. St. game. Watch the game right here on WFMY News 2 at 7:00 p.m. (if you’re not taking the trip to Columbia!).

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Duke will take on the winner at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.

Even if you can’t go to the game but want to go to support your team, there are plenty of free things to do in Columbia, South Carolina.


Thursday, doors open for open practice at 10 a.m. at the Colonial Life Arena. Each of the eight teams scheduled to play here in Columbia have a practice slot time so you can go out to watch them practice for FREE. Practice slots range from 11 a.m. to 6:20 p.m. Some of the more popular team practices ones, you may want to show up early to: Virginia practice: 1:15-1:55, Duke practice: 3:25-4:05. Full schedule.

RELATED: Time for Madness | When and Where to Watch Duke, UNC and Other NCAA Tournament Games

Jarrett Dowling with Experience Columbia shared, "This is the perfect chance for anyone who wants to Zion, but can’t necessarily pay the money to get tickets for the whole weekend."

Right next door to the Arena, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center will be hosting the Fan Fest Experience that is absolutely free and open to the public Thursday as well.

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They'll even be live streaming both the games going on in Columbia as well as all of the other ones in the tournament. There will be a bunch of food and beverage vendors as well as a beer garden with beer and wine tastings. Pawley's front porch will also have their food truck out for a quick burger on your way to the games. 


There are lots of options when it comes to parking but if you want FREE -- there are three locations in Columbia.

Keep reading below for what you can and can't take into the arena, event schedule, FanFest information and LOTS more!


Two of those parking locations are near Williams Brice Stadium. One being at Gamecock Park and the other in the grass lot right across the street from the State Fairgrounds. The other is at 405 Gervais Street in the grass lot in front of the South Carolina State Museum.

You may be thinking; how will I get to the arena if I parked over two miles away?


There will be shuttles provided between the lots and the basketball court.

According to Experience Columbia, SC, the shuttles will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on March 21, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. March 22, and two hours before the first game begins and two hours after the final game ends on March 24.


Some of you may want to park right by Colonial Life Arena, and the best way to do that may be with parking garages.  

For those of you wanting to go to open practice on Thursday, you can get free parking right by the arena. The only garage where you can park for free that day will be at the Park Street Garage right across the street from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

At the Lincoln and Park Street garages, you will be charged $30 for event parking on Friday and Sunday. All the other garages will have the normal rates they typically do. Click here for more info.


Some of you may want to try your hand on parking on the street. The one thing we can tell you is Green Street between Lincoln and Gadsden will be closed. Also, Lincoln Street will be closed between College and Greene Street. These two streets are right in front of Colonial Life Arena.


If you're not going to take the game-day shuttle or drive to the games, here are some ways you can get to the arena without getting in your car.  

Blue Bike SC's bike share program will give you the chance to ride over to the arena on a bike. Bike stations are available on Main Street and on Lincoln Street. The first 20 riders who use the promo code "MarchMadness" get a free 45 minute experience on the bikes. To rent the bikes, visit and click the register button to make an account. Once that is done, download the Blue Bike SC app on your phone and then it will be $2 per ride.   

Uber, Lyft and taxis will also be available and will drop fans off at Barefoot Campus Outfitters on Lincoln Street and 800 Park Street in Columbia.   

For fans wanting to take the Soda Cap Connector over to the arena, stations are available throughout the city, including one in the Vista and one by the State House. Fans are advised to take Route 1 on the Soda Cap Connector

The Soda Cap Connector buses stop at drop-off locations every 30 minutes. Bus times for March 21st - March 24th are below: 

  • March 21st: 9 a.m. - 11 p.m.
  • March 22nd: 9 a.m. - 1 a.m.
  • March 24th: Two hours before the first game begins through two hours after the final game ends.  

The COMET is also providing fans with rides to the game and to hotels in the city. If you ride the COMET, your Uber and Lyft rides can be discounted up to $5. A code will be provided to riders once they board a COMET or Soda Cap Connector bus. The COMET is also giving riders a chance to rent Blue Bikes for free. 


If you're looking for a hotel in Columbia this weekend in time for March Madness, you better book quickly. You might be better off booking a hotel outside of Columbia or looking to rent a place from vacation rentals Airbnb, VRBO, HometoGo etc.


Downtown Columbia hotels are at 99 percent capacity, with other Midlands regions filling up right behind them, according to Experience Columbia SC.

“Right now, it's looking really strong for Columbia's hotel properties to do very well this weekend all across the board, all across the community,” said Kelly Barbrey with Experience Columbia.

Check It Out: Hotel Look Up in Columbia 

Barbrey said if you want to book one downtown start searching.

“Downtown Columbia is pretty much sold out, if people are really interested in being close to the Colonial Life Arena in downtown Columbia, there is a chance they could pick up a cancellation or two here or there if they want to be really diligent and continue to check back and see if certain properties have availability,” she said on Monday.

The Lexington, Harbison, and Garner's Ferry areas of Columbia are also seeing 90 percent capacity, according to Experience Columbia SC.

The group says Northeast Columbia is now fans’ best chance at finding hotel rooms for the tournament weekend.

Hotel Trundle is a locally owned boutique hotel on Taylor Street, which is approaching its one-year anniversary.

Munse said 41 rooms are full on Friday night.


Let's face it, by this point you're hungry! There are plenty of good eats in Columbia. We talked to some insiders who suggested a few good restaurant stops including the Motor Supply Co. and Cola's. The Motor Supply Co. has also been named in Southern Living as one of the, 5 Best Restaurants in the South. Both restaurants are in the area in 'The Vista' which is not too far away from the arena. 

Check out lots more restaurants in and around the arena in Columbia. 


Here are a couple of fun things to do: 

Riverfront Park:

If you want to take a break from the hoops happening downtown, head on over and enjoy spring fever at Columbia's Riverfront Park on the historic Columbia Canal.

With entrances off of Huger and Laurel street, guests can enjoy themselves in winding water ways and miles of trail at the park, which is open from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. each day.

"It’s a good place to relax. A lot of people are just taking it easy enjoying our chairs and hammocks,: says John McKenzie, lead ranger at the Riverwalk. "There’s a great trail that takes you along the Columbia Canal and the Broad River, and also there’s plenty of wildlife to observe, too."

South Carolina State Museum:

Another must-see spot here in Columbia is the South Carolina State Museum, located right around the corner from Colonial Life Arena. 

Here, guests can step back into history or learn fun facts about their favorite superheroes. Founded in 1988, the State Museum is the primary storyteller of the history of South Carolina. The museum’s collection contains four floors, a digital dome planetarium and more than 70,000 artifacts as it takes you back in time. A new, interactive exhibition called Hall of Heroes invites you to discover your own superpowers while exploring the history and science behind America’s superhero obsession. 

"This traveling exhibit is one of our largest exhibits and probably one of our more interactive exhibits," says Jared Glover, public relations manager at the museum. "You walk in and you see what it takes to be a superhero and how they got started and how heroes have transitioned from the days of Dick Tracy on radio to television and comics."

EdVenture Children’s Museum:

Just right across the parking lot is EdVenture Children’s Museum, where families can experience the joy of learning at the 92,000 square foot interactive, hands-on experience, complete with story time and over 300 exhibits for kids 12 and under.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden:

A trip to Columbia is never complete without visiting the Riverbank Zoo and Garden. It’s a nationally acclaimed park that’s been open for nearly 45 years, and has delighted hundreds of thousands of guest. 

With over 200 animals representing 350 species from around the world, Riverbanks Zoo is one of the most visited zoos in the southeastern region.

From special animal activities to tons of themes, the whole park and its furry friends are also getting in on the basketball action. If you’re going to a game, all you have to do is stop by and show your tickets to get a discount.

Congaree National Park:

Just 20 minutes away from the zoo sits Congaree National Park, where waters from the Congaree and Wateree rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Lake Murray:

Lake Murray is a massive body of water covering 650 miles. At its widest point, it’s 41 miles long and 14 miles wide. With boating and fishing galore, it’s a perfect place to enjoy fun in the sun.

From experiencing wildlife to enjoying the lake, there’s a lot of things to see and do in our area, and WLTX hopes you enjoy everything that 'Soda City' has to offer.

Have questions? Visit Experience Columbia for answers to all your questions and more. 


Guests will be able to carry the following style and size bag, package or container into the venue:

  • Clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags that do not exceed 12”x6”x12” – A logo no larger than 4.5”x3.4” can be displayed on one side of a permissible clear bag.
  • One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziplock or similar.
  • Small clutch bags no larger than 4.5”x6.5” – approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap.
  • Medically necessary items after proper inspection.

Prohibited items include, but are not limited to:

  • Bottles, cans, beverage containers or coolers (except for guests with medical and/or dietary needs); containers of any kind
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Food or beverage items other than those dispensed by the approved concessionaire
  • Video recorders on game days
  • Still cameras with lenses longer than 4 inches on game days
  • Large bags, backpacks or large purses
  • Weapons of any kind; mace/pepper spray; fireworks/explosives
  • Missile-like objects
  • Laser lights, strobe lights, and laser pointers
  • Irritants such as artificial noisemakers
  • Objects that obstruct the view of other guests; flags and flag poles, unauthorized banners, posters, props, pom poms, etc.
  • Promotional items with commercial slogans or identification
  • Aerosol and spray cans
  • Umbrellas
  • Animals (except services animals)
  • Inflatables (beach balls, etc.)
  • Strollers
  • Illegal drugs
  • Personal seatbacks with armrests
  • Unauthorized masks of any kind
  • Drones
  • No signs, flags, or banners of any size may be affixed to the facility
  • Other items that in judgement of arena management pose a safety hazard or diminish the enjoyment of an event by other patrons
  • Purses larger than a clutch bag (4.5” x 6.5”), briefcases, backpacks, and cinch bags of any kind, fanny packs, luggage of any kind, computer bags/cases, camera bags/cases, binocular bags/cases, or any bag larger than the permissible size (12”x6”x12”) or that does not appropriate clear bag standards

*Non-commercial signs, flags or banners that in the opinion of the NCAA, reflect good sportsmanship, can be held by one individual and do not block the view of other ticket patrons are permitted.

Note that items may be added to the list based upon a heightened safety and security threat level or at the discretion of competition venue management.


If you see something, say something. Report arena issues, unruly behavior or requests for help by texting: "USC" [space] issue and location to 69050. Assistance is available one hour before tipoff through one-half hour after the final game in Sessions II and III. (Standard SMS rates apply.)


Thursday 3/21

Open Practice Times

  • 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM—Oklahoma
  • 11:45 AM – 12:25 PM—Gardener Webb
  • 12:30 PM – 1:10 PM—Ole Miss
  • 1:15 PM – 1:55 PM—Virginia
  • 3:25 PM – 4:05 PM—Duke
  • 4:10 PM – 4:50 PM—VCU
  • 4:55 PM – 5:35 PM—NCCU/NDSU
  • 5:40 PM – 6:20 PM—UCF

Friday 3/22

Game Times

  • Session 1 Game 1—12:40 PM: #8 Ole Miss vs #9 Oklahoma
  • Session 1 Game 2—30 minutes after Game 1: #1 Virginia vs #16 Gardener Webb
  • Session 2 Game 3—7:10 PM: #1 Duke vs #16 NC Central/North Dakota State
  • Session 2 Game 4—30 minutes after Game 3: #8 VCU vs #9 UCF


Fan Fest fun includes:

  • Streaming of tournament games on jumbo LED wall to be sure you don’t miss out on any action!
  • Live performances and giveaways featured on a 30x25 basketball court! Come shoot for a chance to win prizes! Stop by Friday evening for a live performance by Columbia-local, Prettier Than Matt
  • Kid Zone featuring a bouncy house, basketball-themed games, face painting and a balloon artist
  • Escapology Escape Room
  • Biergarten featuring craft beers and yard games (beer, wine or spirit tasting daily at 12, 2 and 4PM - ages 21 and up!)
  • Magic Mirror Photo Booth --take home a free image to remember your time at Fan Fest!
  • Body Marbling to sport your team colors! Head over to the Colonial Life Arena in style!

Fan Fest Times

Thursday: 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Friday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Find out more: NCAA Tournament in Columbia, SC