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March Madness in Columbia, SC: everything you need to know

For four days, the city of Columbia becomes one of the hosts of March Madness.

Columbia, SC - Columbia might seem like the capital of college basketball for the next several days, as the city hosts the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament for the first time in nearly 50 years.

First and Second Round games will be held Friday and Sunday at the Colonial Life Arena off Lincoln Street in Columbia.  And the city got a good draw from the committee that select which teams go where: not one, but two Number 1 seeds are coming to the tournament (Duke and Virginia). No other host city got that many. 

RELATED: TV gametimes, networks for the March Madness basketball games

RELATED: 'Ask Me' volunteers to guide visitors through Columbia during March Madness

But it's not just the games themselves. There's going to be a large fan fest for everyone (oh, yeah, it's free) and plenty of food and drinks for people to sample. 

So here is our handy little guide to help you navigate the next few days in Columbia as the city hosts March Madness. 


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—North Dakota State
  • 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 North Dakota State (Watch on CBS/WLTX) 
  • Session 2 Game 4—30 minutes after Game 3: #8 VCU vs #9 UCF (Watch on CBS/WLTX) 

Saturday 3/23

No games

Sunday 3/24

Games & matchups will be announced at the completion of Friday's games.

Full TV Schedule for all March Madness games

In addtion to the games in Columbia, WLTX will also be showing the Wofford game Thursday night that's being held down in Jacksonville, FL. 

You can find all of that information in the link below: 

Full schedule: TV gametimes, networks for the March Madness basketball games


There will be three satellite park and ride centers set up where people can go, and then take the shuttle to the Colonial Life Arena, which is where the games will be played on March 22 and March 24.

Gamecock Park: 76 National Guard Road (near Gamecock football stadium)

Kline Lot: 405 Gervais Street (at the corner of Huger and Gervais Streets)

Across from State Fairgrounds: 1308 Rosewood Drive (shuttle from Gamecock Park will pick you up at Andrews Road, across from the State Fairgrounds’ Gate 6)

Or, catch a gameday shuttle outside of downtown area hotels to get closer to the arena. Peek at the map below for more detailed shuttle stops.

Shuttle Times: 

March 21: 9 AM - 11 PM

March 22: 9 AM - 1 AM

March 24: Two hours before the first game begins - Two hours after the final game ends

Parking Downtown

Plenty of parking garages are available in our downtown districts or download the Passport Parking app to pay easily when sliding into a metered spot along one of our bustling streets. With walkable entertainment districts, we recommend parking for the day and enjoying Columbia’s usually sunny weather as you walk from spot to spot.

Check out garages near you on this map, or head to this link for in-depth descriptions of each garage location.

Innovista Parking offers convenient, hassle-free pre-pay event parking at 821 Park Street. You can efficiently claim your spot ahead of time for an easy-in, easy-out experience during the tournament events. Reserve your spot today here

Blue Bike SC

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 bluebikesc.com 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.  

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RELATED: Ways to get to the 'madness' at Colonial Life Arena

Uber, Lyft, taxis

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. 

Soda Cap Connector 

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. 


  • 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

For much more on Fan Fest, go here: What you need to know for Columbia's basketball FanFest


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're from out of town, are new to town, or just not sure what to do if you've got a friend coming in, here are a few suggestions.

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.