Duke is a strange gameday experience for a few reasons. Despite being considered within the limits of Durham, North Carolina, the Duke campus itself is a separate entity from the city. This makes exploring the area a little more complicated but still fun. Duke is also a school that tends to put more effort into tailgating for basketball than for football. This means that while there is always a turnout for football, the atmosphere is notably less energetic for football than it is at other times of the year. That said the Duke community loves all their sports teams and are fun people to converse with. Duke is just a fun and relaxed campus to roam around before a game where you can watch GT beat the Blue Devils. Let’s get into it.
Travel How To: Getting from Atlanta to Durham
From Downtown Atlanta, the drive to Durham is approximately a 6 – 7 hour drive depending on which route you take. Either go up I-85 through Charlotte and then switch to I-40 once you get close, or cut across I-20 to Columbia, South Carolina and go north on I-77 to get to Charlotte. The I-20 drive has less traffic but is longer, so I recommend going up I-85, but they feel about the same at the end of the day.
Flights from Atlanta to RDU with Delta are currently running about $150 to $200. The downside is that RDU is still about 15 minutes outside of Durham and 20 minutes from Duke. For this particular trip, a car is important, so despite the extra time it takes, the drive may be a better option. There is Uber and Lyft, but you will be moving around a lot so the price of using these services may stack up over the course of the weekend.
Downtown Durham is a five-minute drive down the interstate from Duke. Parking in downtown Durham is not too difficult, but the general parking at Duke is scarce. Keep in mind, you will probably be parking just outside of campus for the game and have to walk the rest of the way. This shouldn’t be a problem for adults, but try to keep it in mind if you have children.
Places to Stay
Hotels in the area come for a range of prices generally between $100 to $150 a night. Unlike Clemson, there is availability in most of these hotels near game day (for football, can’t speak for basketball). There are a few hotels within walking distance of the university. The reviews seem to indicate that quality of hotels near the university are slightly lower than those in downtown Durham. The price for the hotels is in the same range so the decision will come down to whether you like being close to the activities in downtown Durham or closer to Duke university for the gameday experience.
The closest hotels to campus are the University Inn, the JB Duke Hotel, and the AC Hotel by Marriott. JB is more for Duke alumni (hence the name) and is the one hotel I struggled to find availability with on gameday weekend, even though they do have vacancies during the weekdays. I’m not 100% certain, but JB may not be an option for away fans (at least on gameday). AC Hotel and University Inn are closer to Duke Hospital, which means a bit of a longer walk to the actual stadium. The AC and University hotels are closer to the center of campus though, which means you will walk by the Gardens or the Chapel on your way to the stadium if you stay with them.
Downtown Durham has more options for hotels. The highest reviewed hotels that I could find were the Durham Hotel, Unscripted Durham, and 21 C Museum Hotel Durham. All 3 of these hotels are in the heart of downtown Durham where all the restaurants, shops, and museums are located (although farther from the Bull’s baseball stadium). With that in mind none of these hotels are a bad choice.
Airbnb is also an option. There are plenty of studio apartments available for rent over the weekend in that area. If your heart so desires, you can also stay in Chapel Hill as it is a short drive down the road. Since Chapel Hill is UNC’s home I’m not really touching on that today, just know that there are options in that direction. Raleigh is also about 30 to 40 minutes away, so feel free to look out there if you’d like.
Things to See: Downtown Durham
Durham has plenty of restaurants, breweries, and activities worth checking out. Keep in mind when roaming around Durham that you need to be aware of your surroundings. Similar to downtown Atlanta, downtown Durham can change atmosphere quickly depending on which block you happen to be on at the time. Again, I’ve never had a problem but maybe be careful if you decide you want to roam around downtown on your own.
Durham Bull Stadium is outside of downtown but worth checking out. The Bulls are the AAA affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays, and the stadium is also where the film “Bull Durham” was filmed. The ACC Baseball Championship used to be played here every year (before a contract dispute moved it to Charlotte). I don’t think it usually has any games in the fall but it may be worth looking into if you come back in another season.
The Durham Performance Arts Center (or DPAC to those in the know), has many plays and concerts. The weekend of the game the musical “The Band’s Visit” will be showing. Check that out if you like musicals.
There are plenty of options for food. Pizzeria Toro is a nice wood-fired pizza place. The Viceroy serves Indian food. Taberna Tapas has Spanish Tapas options. Copa is a Cuban Tapas bar. Bull City Burger and Brewery is a burger Tapas bar… no actually they just serve good burgers (got into a groove with the tapas thing). There’s also Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, The Pit BBQ, and M Koko Korean food.
For Bars check out The Roof, which as the name implies is a rooftop bar with a great view of the city. Boxcar Bar + Arcade is a bar with plenty of arcade cabinets to play while drinking. Motorco is a nice bar that occasionally puts on local bands and comedy acts. Fullsteam and Ponysaurus brewing are also popular breweries worth checking out.
Things to See: The Campus Highlights
The first thing you will notice when walking onto the Duke campus is the architecture of the buildings. The west campus buildings are all designed in the “Collegiate Gothic Style” making the campus evoke imagery of castles and churches from old England. All buildings on the west campus are built from local stone quarried from Hillsborough, NC which is better known as “Duke Stone”. The combination of the stone and the building style makes the entire campus maintain a uniform but foreign look compared to other campuses.
The building at Duke which embodies the Gothic Style the most is the one which was designed first but built last: the Chapel. The Chapel is a carryover from Duke’s Methodist history. Despite the Duke family being Methodist, the Chapel is a sanctuary open to all people regardless of their religious background. The Chapel is a beautiful piece of architecture and history which is a must see while on campus.
More Modern buildings and certain sections of campus use a Georgian style or more modern architecture techniques the farther you get from the center of campus. Part of this is because Duke is comprised of combined campuses which were brought together. Another reason is because of the limited amount of remaining duke stone available to construct buildings. The limited resources of Duke stone has led to building designs needing to become more creative in how they use the material.
Other sights on campus are the Duke Botanical Gardens. The gardens house a large variety of plants from across the world. Since you will be visiting in the fall not all of these plants will be in bloom but it is a beautiful location which is worth checking.
There is also Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is the Duke basketball stadium. The stadium is generally closed off, but there is a museum of Duke sports history on the side which is worth checking out. If you do get into the stadium, you may note how small Cameron feels compared to our own Thrillerdome. Part of what makes Cameron so intimidating is how many people the Duke fanbase can fit into such a tiny space. It’s pretty hard to get tickets to a basketball game at the stadium, so try to get a tour instead while you’re in the area.
There is so much to see and do near Duke before and after you watch the game on Saturday. The fan base for Duke is pretty relaxed compared to other large programs as well. Duke fans love welcoming other fans and finding out more about them and discussing the area (at least until the game starts… Heck, some even continue to be nice during the game). I know Duke isn’t the top of most people’s list for places to visit, but it has a lot to offer. If you get the chance definitely check it out, and if you’re already going I hope you have a good weekend up there. GO JACKETS!!!