15 Things to Do in Madison, Wisconsin: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re planning a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, let us tell you, you’re in for a treat! This vibrant and beautiful city offers a variety of activities and attractions that are sure to keep you entertained. From exploring the great outdoors to immersing yourself in the local culture, there are plenty of best things to do in Madison.

Visit the Wisconsin State Capitol

The Wisconsin State Capitol is a must-visit attraction for anyone traveling to Madison. The Capitol building is located at 2 East Main Street, Madison, WI 53702, and is a stunning example of architecture and design.

The building is open to the public, and free tours are offered daily, except on the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.

Interior of the State Capitol Photo: Vincent L.

During the tour, you will learn about the history and significance of the building, as well as the state government and legislature.

You will also get to see the beautiful interior of the building, including the rotunda, the senate chamber, and the assembly chamber. The tour takes approximately 45-55 minutes, and it is recommended that you arrive early to secure your spot.

Photo: Vincent L.

If you are visiting during the warmer months, be sure to visit the observation deck on the sixth floor. From here, you can enjoy a breathtaking 365° view of downtown Madison and the surrounding lakes. The observation deck is open during the summer months, and it is a great way to see the city from a different perspective.

Groups of ten or more can make an online reservation for a tour of the State Capitol or call (608)266-0382. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Capitol, you can also visit the sixth-floor museum, which is open during the summer months.

Explore the Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Madison is home to one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the country, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. This 16-acre garden features a wide variety of stunning landscapes and Midwest-hardy plants. Here are some of the top things to do at the garden:

  • Take a stroll through the Rose Garden, which features over 1,200 roses in bloom during the summer months.
  • Visit the Herb Garden, which showcases a variety of herbs and vegetables that are grown for culinary and medicinal purposes.
  • Explore the Sunken Garden, which features a beautiful reflecting pool and a variety of annuals and perennials.
  • Check out the Bolz Conservatory, which is home to exotic plants, orchids, birds, and a waterfall. Admission is $6, but it’s free for members and on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Take a walk through the Wildflower Garden, which showcases a variety of native wildflowers and grasses.
  • Enjoy a picnic in the Meadow Garden, which features a variety of prairie grasses and wildflowers.
  • Visit the Thai Pavilion and Garden, which is the only one of its kind in the continental United States. This garden features an innovative tropical garden in the Midwest.

Maps are available at the visitor’s desk to help you navigate through the gardens, but don’t be afraid to get lost in the greenery and wander through the wildflowers and roses. The gardens are open daily and admission is free, but donations are appreciated to help support the upkeep of the gardens.

Whether you’re a nature lover or just looking for a peaceful escape from the city, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a must-visit destination in Madison.

3330 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Check out the Henry Vilas Zoo

Located in the heart of Madison, the Henry Vilas Zoo is a must-visit attraction for animal lovers of all ages. The zoo is home to over 650 animals, including tigers, lions, polar bears, and many more. Best of all, admission to the zoo is free, making it an affordable activity for families and solo travelers alike.

One of the highlights of the zoo is the Big Cat Exhibits. Visitors can observe majestic African lions and Amur tigers in habitats that mimic their natural environments.

The zoo also has a primate building, which houses a variety of primates, including orangutans, lemurs, and gibbons.

If you’re interested in learning more about the animals at the zoo, consider scheduling a behind-the-scenes tour. These tours give visitors an opportunity to see how the zookeepers care for the animals and learn more about their behavior and habitats.

In addition to the animal exhibits, the zoo also has a conservation carousel and a playground for children. The carousel features hand-carved wooden animals, and the proceeds from the ride go towards supporting the zoo’s conservation efforts. The playground has a variety of equipment for children to climb, slide, and play on.

702 S Randall Ave, Madison, WI 53715

The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center

The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is a stunning architectural masterpiece that sits on the shore of Lake Monona. This venue is not only a convention center, but it’s also a community center that offers various events and activities throughout the year. The building was designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and was completed posthumously in 1997. It is a must-visit attraction when in Madison, Wisconsin.

One of the best things to do when visiting Monona Terrace is to take a leisurely stroll around the building. The terrace offers breathtaking views of Lake Monona and downtown Madison, making it a perfect spot for taking photos or just relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

There are several walking paths around the Monona Terrace, which are perfect for a morning or evening walk. The paths are well-maintained, and there are benches where visitors can sit and enjoy the view.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Monona Terrace, you can take a guided tour of the building. The tour will give you an in-depth look at the architecture and history of the building. The tour lasts about an hour and is available for a small fee.

Overall, a visit to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is one of the best things to do in Madison. Whether you’re interested in architecture, history, or just want to take a stroll around the lake, this attraction is sure to impress.

1 John Nolen Dr, Madison, WI 53703

Visit the Chazen Museum of Art

If you’re looking for a cultural experience in Madison, the Chazen Museum of Art is a must-visit destination. Located in the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus, the Chazen Museum is home to one of the largest collections of art in Wisconsin, with over 23,000 objects in its permanent collection.

Inside the Chazen Museum of Art Photo: Paul L.

The museum features a diverse range of artwork from around the world, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints. Visitors can explore exhibits from ancient times to contemporary art, with highlights such as the Asian art collection and the American decorative arts collection.

Admission to the Chazen Museum of Art is free for everyone, and the museum is open daily to the public. In addition to the exhibits, the museum also hosts a variety of events and programs throughout the year, such as lectures, tours, and workshops.

Before or after exploring the museum, visitors can stop by the Chazen Café, located just inside the entrance. The café offers a variety of coffee, tea, and snacks, as well as a selection of sandwiches and salads.

Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply looking for a unique experience in Madison, the Chazen Museum of Art is definitely worth a visit.

800 University Ave, Madison, WI 53706, (608) 263-2246

Experience the Dane County Farmers’ Market

One of the most popular attractions in Madison is the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Saturdays on the Capitol Square. This outdoor market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country, meaning that all of the vendors grow or produce what they sell.

A vendor sells pumpkins, eggs, and vegetables at Dane County Farmers Market
A vendor sells pumpkins, eggs, and vegetables Photo: Daniela B.

With over 160 vendors, you can find everything from fresh produce and flowers to baked goods and artisanal cheeses.

Wandering through the market is an experience in itself, with live music and the bustling energy of the crowd. You can also find a variety of food vendors selling breakfast and lunch items, as well as coffee and other beverages. It’s the perfect place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy the sights and sounds of Madison.

One tip for visiting the market is to arrive early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning. Another option is to visit the Wednesday market, which is smaller but still offers a great selection of local goods.

While at the market, be sure to chat with the vendors and learn more about their products and farming practices. You’ll find that many of them are passionate about sustainable agriculture and supporting the local community.

The Dane County Farmers’ Market is a must-visit attraction in Madison. It’s one of the best things to do in Madison, and a great way to experience the local culture and support small businesses while enjoying delicious food and beautiful surroundings.

3241 Garver Green, Madison, WI 53704 (608) 455-1999

Catch a Show at the Overture Center for the Arts

If you’re looking for a top-class arts show, then head right to Overture Center for the Arts. This stunning architectural landmark is located in the heart of Madison’s thriving cultural arts district. The venue stages hundreds of performances, exhibitions, and community events in its high-tech multi-purpose performance hall, proscenium theater, and other spaces throughout the building.

The Overture Center for the Arts is home to ten resident organizations, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, and Kanopy Dance Company. With a diverse range of performances, from Broadway shows to classical music concerts, there’s something for everyone at the Overture Center for the Arts.


In addition to hosting performances, the Overture Center for the Arts also offers educational and community programming. Visitors can take part in workshops, classes, and lectures to learn more about the arts and culture in Madison.

Be sure to check out the Overture Center for the Arts website for a full calendar of events and to purchase tickets for upcoming shows. Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor to Madison, catching a show at the Overture Center for the Arts is an experience you won’t want to miss.

(608) 258-4141

Explore the Lakeshore Nature Preserve

Madison is home to the beautiful Lakeshore Nature Preserve, a 300-acre natural area situated on the south shore of Lake Mendota on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. It represents about one-third of the total acreage of the main UW-Madison campus and includes 4.3 miles of Lake Mendota shoreline.

There are plenty of activities to enjoy at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take a hike: The Preserve has over 12 miles of trails to explore, including the popular Picnic Point trail which offers stunning views of Lake Mendota.
  • Go birdwatching: The Preserve is home to over 250 species of birds, making it a great spot for birdwatching enthusiasts.
  • Enjoy water activities: Visitors can swim, canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard in Lake Mendota.
  • Hit the slopes: During the winter months, visitors can ski or snowshoe through the Preserve’s evergreens and thickets.
  • Learn about nature: The Preserve offers educational programs and events throughout the year, including guided hikes and workshops.

Don’t forget to bring your camera! The Lakeshore Nature Preserve is a beautiful spot for nature photography, with plenty of opportunities to capture stunning landscapes and wildlife.

Whether you’re a nature lover or just looking for a peaceful escape from city life, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve is definitely worth a visit during your trip to Madison.

Visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Wisconsin, then you definitely don’t want to miss the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This museum is located right in the heart of Madison and offers visitors a chance to explore the state’s past through a variety of exhibits and displays.

Exhibit at Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, Wisconsin
Photo: Ron D.

Overall, the Wisconsin Historical Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to learn more about the rich history of this great state.

Take a Bike Ride on the Capital City State Trail

Madison is known as the bike capital of the Midwest, and the Capital City State Trail is a must-visit for biking enthusiasts. This trail is a 17-mile paved path that runs through the heart of Madison, connecting the city’s beautiful parks, lakes, and neighborhoods.

The trail is perfect for all levels of bikers, from beginners to experienced riders. You can rent a bike from one of the many bike rental shops located throughout the city, or bring your own bike and start your ride from one of the many trailheads.

Along the way, you’ll pass through some of Madison’s most scenic areas, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the beautiful Wingra Creek, and the stunning Lake Monona. You’ll also have the opportunity to stop at some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Henry Vilas Zoo and Vilas Park Beach.

If you’re looking for a longer ride, you can continue on the trail to the nearby communities of Fitchburg and Middleton. The trail is well-maintained and easy to navigate, with plenty of signage to help you stay on track.

Keep in mind that a state trail pass is required for all people age 16 or older biking or in-line skating on the Capital City Trail in the Lewis Nine Springs E-way from Nob Hill Road to Fish Hatchery Road. You can purchase a pass online or at one of the many trailheads.

So, if you’re looking for a fun and scenic way to explore Madison, grab your bike and hit the Capital City State Trail. You won’t be disappointed!

Shop and Dine on State Street

State Street is a vibrant pedestrian and transit mall located in the heart of downtown Madison. With over 300 retail, restaurant, and entertainment establishments, it’s the perfect place to shop and dine. Most businesses on State Street are locally owned, giving visitors a unique shopping and dining experience.

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or a leisurely dinner, State Street has something for everyone. With over 100 restaurants, cafes, and bars, you’ll never run out of options. Try out some of the local favorites like Ian’s Pizza on State or the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company.

After you’ve had your fill, explore the unique shops and boutiques lining the street. From clothing stores to bookshops to gift shops, you’ll find everything you need and more. Don’t forget to stop by the Madison Children’s Museum for a fun and educational experience for the whole family.

If you’re looking for a more formal shopping experience, check out the Hilldale Shopping Center or the East Towne Mall. Both offer a wide variety of stores and restaurants, perfect for a day of shopping and dining.

Explore the Madison Children’s Museum

If you’re looking for a fun and educational activity for the whole family in Madison, Wisconsin, the Madison Children’s Museum is a must-visit destination. Bursting with chances to play and learn, the museum offers a wide range of hands-on exhibits and activities that are sure to entertain children and adults alike.

Located in downtown Madison, the Madison Children’s Museum is an award-winning destination for fun family activities and hands-on learning. The museum features three floors of interactive exhibits, including a rooftop garden, a pretend city called Possible-opolis, and a variety of art and science exhibits.

Children can stretch their bodies and minds, solve problems, create art, make friends, and, most of all, have fun while learning. The museum also offers a variety of programs and events throughout the year, including summer camps, family workshops, and special exhibits.

Some of the highlights of the Madison Children’s Museum include:

  • The Rooftop Ramble, a unique outdoor play space with a treehouse, log cabin, and giant slide
  • The Possible-opolis exhibit, where children can pretend to be chefs, farmers, firefighters, and more in a miniature city
  • The Art Studio, where children can create their own masterpieces using a variety of materials and techniques
  • The Wildernest exhibit, where children can explore the natural world and learn about animals and habitats

Whether you’re a local or a visitor to Madison, the Madison Children’s Museum is a great place to spend a day with your family. With so much to see and do, you’re sure to leave with new knowledge and memories that will last a lifetime.

Tour the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, and it has a beautiful campus that is worth exploring. Whether you are a prospective student or just a visitor, taking a tour of the campus is a must-do activity in Madison.

The campus is home to many historic buildings and landmarks, including Bascom Hall, Memorial Union, and Camp Randall Stadium. The best way to see the campus is to take a guided tour, which is offered by the university’s Visitors Center. The tour lasts about an hour and a half and covers the highlights of the campus, including the aforementioned landmarks, as well as the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

If you prefer to explore the campus on your own, you can pick up a self-guided tour map at the Visitors Center. This map will guide you through the campus and provide information about the buildings and landmarks you will see along the way. You can also download the UW-Madison app, which includes a self-guided tour feature.

During your tour, be sure to check out the Memorial Union Terrace, which is located on the shore of Lake Mendota. The Terrace is a popular gathering spot for students and visitors alike, and it offers beautiful views of the lake and the campus. You can grab a bite to eat or a drink at one of the Terrace’s many restaurants and bars, or just relax and enjoy the scenery.

Touring the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is a great way to get a sense of the university’s history and culture, as well as the beauty of Madison itself. Whether you take a guided tour or explore on your own, be sure to take your time and soak it all in.

So Many Things to do in Madison, WI!

Madison, Wisconsin is a city with a lot to offer. From the stunning Olbrich Botanical Gardens to the historic Wisconsin State Capitol, there are plenty of attractions to keep visitors busy. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply a chance to relax and unwind, Madison has something for everyone.

One of the highlights of any trip to Madison is the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which offers an incredible selection of fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and other locally made products. For those who love the outdoors, a bike ride around Lake Monona is a great way to take in the city’s natural beauty. And for those who want to soak up the college vibe, a visit to the Memorial Union Terrace is a must.

Madison is also a great destination for families, with plenty of kid-friendly activities like the Henry Vilas Zoo and the Madison Children’s Museum. And with a thriving food and drink scene, there are plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine and craft beer.

Overall, Madison is a city that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits. Whether you’re here for a weekend getaway or a longer stay, there are plenty of things to do and see. So why not start planning your trip today?


What foods are popular in Madison, Wisconsin?

Madison, Wisconsin is known for its cheese curds, which are bite-sized pieces of cheese that are battered and fried. They are often served as a snack or appetizer at bars and restaurants in the area. Another popular food in Madison is the bratwurst, which is a type of sausage that is often grilled and served on a bun with toppings like sauerkraut and mustard. Additionally, Madison is home to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which is one of the largest outdoor farmers’ markets in the country and offers a wide variety of fresh produce, baked goods, and other locally-made foods.

Is Madison a walkable city?

Yes, Madison is a very walkable city. The downtown area is particularly pedestrian-friendly, with many shops, restaurants, and attractions within easy walking distance of each other. In addition to walking, Madison also has an extensive network of bike paths and bike lanes, making it easy to get around by bicycle as well. The city also has a public transit system, including buses and a light rail line, for those who prefer to use public transportation. Overall, Madison is a very accessible city that is easy to navigate on foot, by bike, or by public transit.

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