Top Seven March Madness Spots to Explore

by  Maryrose Mullen | Mar 20, 2013
ohio 1
ohio 1 / Flickr/M.Hallowell

College basketball fans are in a frenzy as March Madness returns to dominate the nation’s attention until early April. Sixty-eight teams will square off in the annual tournament to determine the best of the best. While there are plenty of college campuses bustling with activities, you don’t have to be a hoops fan to enjoy the sights and sounds these college towns have to offer. With tons going on this spring, we picked seven of our favorite college campuses that offer a plethora of activities. From the quiet southern comfort of Duke, to the electric energy of the University of Miami, we've got quite a selection. Whether your bracketology involves months of meticulous stat tracking and research, or arbitrarily picking the team with the silliest mascot, we’ve scoped out some of the must-see attractions at the top schools.

1. University of Louisville

The top-seeded University of Louisville is a perennial favorite come tournament time, but the city offers plenty more to see and do besides basketball. It’s home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby, which returns on May 4. Before the race gets underway, imbibe the Derby’s signature cocktail, the mint julep, at the 10th Annual Rose Julep recipe contests. Mixologists from Louisville’s best bars and restaurants will put forth their own spin on the drink. If you’re fascinated by fantasy, take a peak at the Mythic Creatures exhibit at the Frazier History Museum (opening May 11) and discover the origins of dragons, mermaids, unicorns, and other fabled beings.

2. Duke University

Seeded sixth overall, Duke University has accumulated its fair share of haters over the years, but its home, Durham, North Carolina, has a lot to love. Explore the historic city with a variety of walking tours. Eat your fill (and burn calories) with a Durham Walking Food Tour, which samples dishes from seven downtown establishments. Wet your whistle and seek out things that go bump in the night with the Durham Pub Crawl and Haunted Adventure Tour. For a shot of culture, check out the annual Durham Art Walk and Spring Market, featuring the work from over 200 local artists.

3. Georgetown University

Seventh-seeded Georgetown is nestled within the nation’s capitol, and March Madness coincides with another famous event in D.C.: cherry blossom season. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan –  the 3,000 trees were a gift from the island nation in 1912 (March 20–April 14). Enjoy a celebration of the two cultures at the Cherry Blossom Tea and Tour at the Tudor Place Historic House and Garden. The traditional English tea ceremony comes with sandwiches, scones, Japanese blends, and a tour of the house. To get even more of a flora fix, pay a visit to the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, where thousands of waterlilies, lotuses, and hyacinths bloom along the Anacostia River.

4. University of Kansas

The Sunflower State has a storied history, in both athletics and American culture. To learn more about the former at the second-seeded university, spend a day in the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, located on the school’s campus. Jayhawks fans can view assorted conference and national championship trophies in the Hall of Champions, or stroll through the Jayhawk Walk to see a display of retired basketball jerseys. For a peek into America’s past, wander through Old West Lawrence, once a home to the city’s elite in the 19th century, or pay tribute to Lawrence’s abolitionist history at the Hobbs’s Park Memorial.

5. University of Miami

If you need an excuse to visit South Beach (doesn't everyone?), a trip to the home of fifth-seed University of Miami is a pretty good one. Though the main campus is located in nearby Coral Gables, Miami is a stone's throw away, as is a bumping nightlife scene. The Miami Dance Festival will take place at various locations throughout the city, beginning on April 5, and features performances from the area’s top dance companies and troupes. Film buffs should delight in the Women’s International Film and Arts Festival, with screenings beginning March 20. For a bit of Latin flavor, pay a visit to the Cuban Nostalgia Festival, an expo featuring Cuban culture, memorabilia, and of course food.

6. Ohio State University

The Ohio State University, in addition to being seeded eighth in this year's tournament, is based in the state’s capital, where a blossoming cultural scene is sure to hold your interests. The Columbus Symphony and BalletMet will stage  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in honor of its 100th anniversary (March 22–24). The Monterey Jazz Festival, the world’s longest continuously-running festival of its type, will blow through town on March 29, and classic rock band Fleetwood Mac will swing by for a concert on April 4.

7. LIU Brooklyn

One of the last-seeded teams in the tourney, Long Island University Brooklyn is, admittedly, a long shot to win it all. Regardless, Brooklyn is still worth the trip. If pro-ball is more your speed, check out a Brooklyn Nets game at the nearby Barclays Center – their next home game is April 4 against the Chicago Bulls. Or, if you think the Greatest Show on Earth involves less ally-oops and more acrobatics, grab a seat at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, presenting 23 shows at Barclays (March 20–April 1).

Which school are you rooting for the most?

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