Sometimes supposed great sports experiences don't live up to the hype. Cameron Indoor Stadium is not one of those things. Watching a Duke Basketball game in Durham, NC against anyone is a memory that you'll never forget. It'll be even better if it's an important conference game. There are many factors that make Blue Devils games the best college basketball experience in the country including the Cameron Crazies, the small capacity of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the success of the program since Coach Mike Krzyzewski took over. Tickets won’t be cheap, but you’ll realize when you leave that it was worth every penny.
When to Go
The marquee game on Duke's home schedule at Cameron Indoor Stadium is always when hated rival North Carolina comes to town. It is bar-none the toughest ticket to get all season and the crowd atmosphere is always at its highest. The game usually takes place on a Wednesday or a Saturday in either February or March, so make sure to check the schedule on when the Tar Heels come to town as it's definitely a bucket list item. There are plenty of other good conference games if you can't make it to the UNC game. The schedule of ACC home games rotates every year, so you’ll need to see when quality opponents like Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, N.C. State, Syracuse, and Virginia come to town. The only team Duke play twice every year other than Carolina is in-state rival Wake Forest.
Duke generally only plays one good non-conference game at home every other year as part of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge in early December. It's usually against a good opponent since Duke is matched up against a Big Ten team that finished in the same spot of its conference standings as the Blue Devils did in the ACC, which is historically pretty high. Otherwise, Duke plays less formidable non-conference opponents in November and December at Cameron Indoor Stadium before starting conference play in January.
Getting a Duke Basketball ticket is the toughest ticket in college basketball because of the team's historic success and small capacity of Cameron Indoor Stadium. You likely won't be able to sniff a ticket on the primary market unless you're a student waiting out in Krzyzewskiville or if your cousin is the 15th man on the team. Prices on the secondary market are absurdly high even for games against lesser opponents like Boston College or Virginia Tech. This is a situation where you're just going to have to suck up the cost unless you have connections, but it's totally worth it. You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options like StubHub. There are also ticket aggregators (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets.
Another less publicized option you have is to sign up to become an Iron Duke. It’s a booster club for the team and you can join for a minimum of $100. There’s a ticket exchange program when season ticket holders want to give up their tickets to the game. If you fill out an application there are times where you can receive tickets with your chances being much higher for lesser opponents. Finally, there’s an old-school scalpers market outside of Cameron Indoor. What you’re really hoping for, however, is a fan who has an extra ticket. Believe it or not, your odds are actually at their best when you show up in head-to-toe Duke gear. Fans with extras have been known to be very helpful in this situation because they’d love to give their extra ticket to a big Duke fan rather than a scalper if it’s a last minute thing.
Getting to Durham is pretty easy from the East and the Midwest. Raleigh-Durham International Airport is only a 20-minute drive from campus and is reachable in less than two and a half hours with flights from major cities like Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and New York. 38 domestic and international cities fly directly to Raleigh-Durham airport and you can always find connecting flights otherwise. Flights will be on the airlines that service those departing airports specifically, like Delta with Atlanta and New York and American Airlines with Chicago, Dallas, and Miami. Hipmunk (a travel aggregator) can help you find the flight for your needs since it aggregates all your options.
Raleigh is also drivable from the other major cities in the Eastern Time zone. It’s two and a half hours from Charlotte and Richmond, four hours from Charleston and Washington D.C., and five and a half hours from Atlanta. If driving doesn’t work, you can grab take the train with Amtrak offering routes from Charleston, Charlotte, Richmond, and Washington D.C. There’s also bus service with companies like Greyhound or Megabus servicing cities within driving distance.
Where to Stay
When deciding where to stay, you first need to figure out which part of town you’d prefer. Durham has hotels, most notably the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. The golf course is good, but the biggest benefit is the parking. You won’t be able to park on campus if coming from elsewhere for a game, so the Washington Duke solves those problems. (We’ll get to their pregame bar scene soon enough.) There’s also a relatively new Hilton Garden Inn close to campus that will get the job done, 21c or the Durham Hotel for boutique desires or the Marriott in downtown Durham, and numerous chain hotels right near I-85. Staying in this area will generally limit your food and nightlife experience to Durham as you likely won’t want to trek all the way to downtown Raleigh if staying here.
The second option is to stay in the more populated Raleigh. As previously mentioned, it’s 20 minutes from campus and provides much more of an urban experience than the smaller town vibe you’ll get in Durham. You can either walk or take a short taxi ride to numerous bars and restaurants. There’s a Holiday Inn, Marriott and Sheraton downtown and plenty of other options in North Hills, the fastest growing area of Raleigh. Wherever you stay, you can use Hipmunk (the travel aggregator) again to help with your hotels.
You can also look for a house or an apartment to rent and you’ll be spoiled for choice as people look to make a quick buck. You should constantly be checking websites like AirBnB, HomeAway, or VRBO to find the best deals.
Pregame & Postgame Fun
There aren't that many options for good pregame fun before Duke Basketball games. There's no true gathering spot where Duke fans post up before games. The Bull Durham Bar at the Washington Duke Inn (aka WaDuke) is really your only option for something walkable to campus. It's generally a gathering of somewhat older alumni and fans and is only a 10-minute walk from Cameron Indoor. People tend to end up there right after games as well. They’ve got a nice variety of beers (both local craft and national options) to go with a quality assortment of food. Dive into the Spicy Szechuan wings and Bull Durham Burger. (Every burger is always better on a brioche bun.) You can always go to classic Duke sports bars like Satisfaction Restaurant and Bar, but there really is no true gathering spot other than the Washington Duke.
Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame
Duke has built up some great basketball history in the last 35-40 years and the best place to experience that is at the Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame. It’s attached to Cameron Indoor and is open both before and after games. You can walk through to see mementos of the National Championship teams, articles from former players, and trophies from the in-season tournament the Blue Devils have won. There’s also an area where you can experience old sounds from great Cameron Indoor moments.
The small capacity of Cameron Indoor Stadium is part of what makes it so great. You witness 9,314 screaming Duke fans giving it to the other team at all times. Opposing fan bases make fun of the Cameron Crazies, the undergraduate students that occupy the side of the court on the lower level across from the team benches and scorer's table. The hard reality is that they are one of the best, if not the best, undergraduate student body fan bases in the country. They come prepared with chants specific to each opponent and they keep the energy going all game long. It's predominantly freshman and sophomores (most upperclassmen get tired of waiting for nights in a tent to get their tickets), but that means they have the energy to keep noise going for a full 40 minutes.
The food scene in Durham is burgeoning, which is a nice addition to the experience. It wouldn’t be a paragraph about food in North Carolina without a conversation about barbecue. Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue is the best-known barbecue location in the area with its hush puppies, fried chicken, and pulled pork leading the way. (Don’t be confused by the menu that has some items that make it look like a diner.) The Pit has fantastic cornbread, pulled pork, and ribs.
Those looking for pizza should hit Pizzeria Toro where they have a variety of red and white pies, but the best one is the spicy lamb meatball. The suppli (rice balls) and selection of ham serve you well too. Mateo provides the best tapas in town, so bring a crowd to get through the menu. Dos Perros is there for your Mexican food needs and Geer Street Garden takes care of your southern cravings. The Federal is one of the best sports bars in town that provide good food and quality sports bar experience. They’re good for a quick bite. If you’re in the mood for brunch, head to Monuts. Of course, they have good donuts, but you’re there for the variety of food to kill your hangover.
Raleigh has some quality food options as well. The Pit also has a Raleigh location, so you already know what to order there. Clyde Cooper’s BBQ closes at 6 p.m. so get there early for the Brunswick Stew and chopped barbecue. Close by you’ll find hot dogs chopped with chili sauce at The Roast Grill. MoJoe’s Burger Joint offers up a spicy burger with a combination of Cajun spices, pepper jack cheese, onions, and grilled jalapenos. While Sullivan Steakhouse might be a chain, it’s hard to pass up $6 bar entrees on Thursday and Saturday. Mami Nora’s gives you surprisingly good Peruvian chicken. Cap your weekend off with a quality milkshake at Cookout.
The legendary bar in Durham as it relates to Duke is Shooters II (or just Shooters for short). Its clientele varies depending on the night with graduate students packing the house on Fridays and undergrads dominating on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It's the only place to dance in the area, so it's generally very popular. Dain's Place gets positive commentary for its laid-back atmosphere. It's also your chance to meet Duke athletes as there's a great chance they show up at Shooters after a win. For a change of pace, you've got the rooftop bar at the Durham Hotel and Alley Twenty Six. It's a step up from college prices on drinks, but the cocktails are cheaper than what you'd pay in a major city. The rooftop bar at the Durham Hotel might even remind you a bit of Top of the Hill, rival University of North Carolina's rooftop bar in Chapel Hill. The brewery scene is increasing in Durham like it seems to be everywhere in America these days. Ponysaurus Brewing Co. and Fullsteam are your two best brewery options.
There are two main areas for bars in Raleigh: Glenwood Ave and Fayetteville Street. The Glenwood Ave area has long been busy for nightlife Cornerstone Tavern starts your journey at the top of the strip with a carefree and positive vibe in a bar that looks like a house. Napper Tandy’s and Hibernian Pub (recently reopened) down the street are your run-of-the-mill Irish bars. Solas sets up as more of a dance club with a roof situation that lets you enjoy the weather. Clockwork offers unique cocktails for those looking for something more sophisticated. Down on Fayetteville Street, you’ll find Zinda, one of the newer hot spots in town for dancing. (Bottle service isn’t worth it there, so don’t pay the extra money). The Raleigh Times is a local favorite, with three floors and a nice rooftop for a beautiful night. The crowd is generally older than the previously mentioned bars with the crowd in the 25-40 range. Fox Liquor Bar is the best Raleigh option for speakeasy cocktails.