Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
The city of Madison is unique to Wisconsin because of its artsy vibe, progressive attitude, awesome culinary scene, and close proximity to Chicago. Madison is also the state capital and home to some really fun festivals throughout the year. Whether you’re looking to get active in the outdoors, watch an arts performance, or indulge in some local beer and cheese, this Midwestern destination offers a little something for everyone. Here are the top things to do when you take a trip here!
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Whether you have any interest in local government or not, it’s relaxing and beautiful to take a walk around Capitol Square in Madison. The capitol building dates back to 1917 and has an impressive dome and other architectural features that you can see if you take a guided tour. Highlights include glass mosaics, hand-carved furniture, and allegorical paintings. You can reserve your free tour online in advance of your trip, as they are offered daily throughout the year except for major holidays. Tours last about 50 minutes and are offered between 9:00am and 4:00pm. Aside from the tours, other events that take place here are the Dane County Farmers’ Market, music concerts, art fairs, and the Taste of Madison culinary event.
Aside from being the capital of Wisconsin, Madison is also known for its excellent craft beer scene. There are around a dozen breweries in this area to choose from, including Vintage Brewing, Funk Factory, Ale Asylum, One Barrel Brewing, and Karben4 Brewing. Many local breweries offer tours and tastings so you can discover new styles of beer and ways of making craft brew specialties. Another great place to stop by in town is HopCat Madison, which is a large craft beer bar where you can taste brews from many different local establishments.
You don’t have to be a college student to enjoy the views and people-watching opportunities at Memorial Union Terrace in Madison. This is a wonderful place to sit on the colorful and iconic chairs and enjoy a warm, sunny day in the city. There are lots of events scheduled here, including musical concerts, outdoor movies, and art classes. It’s also fun to look out across the lake to see the sailboats, enjoy good beer and ice cream, and just kick back and relax. The live music in the summertime at the Memorial Union Terrace really can’t be beat.
State Street is a hub of activity and things to do in Downtown Madison with lots of cafes, restaurants, and bars to pop into. You can easily walk along this street between the capitol building and Lake Street to take it all in during the day or at night. Top things to do near State Street and Downtown Madison are visiting the Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Overture Center for the Arts, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, and the Wisconsin Science Museum. When the sun goes down, make sure to check out the Comedy Club on State for a few laughs, the Ivory Room Piano Bar for live music, or the Wisconsin Brewing Tap Haus for a wide variety of beer.
In addition to great beer, Madison also has an exciting food scene. One of the best ways to experience it is to take a tour with Madison Eats, an organization that offers food tours throughout the city. Popular tours that have become favorites of visitors include the Food Cart Friday Tour, Atwood Brew & Chew, Willy Street Global Eats, and the Downtown Taste of Wisconsin Lunch Tour.
Football is a big deal in Wisconsin, so plan to catch a game if you visit Madison in the fall. The Badgers play football at Camp Randall Stadium, which was built back in 1917. You can also watch music concerts and other events here besides football throughout the year. The stadium staff offers tours to get a behind-the-scenes look at the rooms and field as well. Tours must have at least 10 participants, be scheduled at least two weeks in advance, and be planned between April and October.
The city of Madison really embraces its art, and you can see an excellent collection at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Here you’ll find works from the 20th and 21st centuries, including major exhibitions and a sculpture garden with rotating exhibits. The museum is open from noon to 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 8pm on Fridays, 10am to 8pm on Saturdays, and noon to 5pm on Sundays. There is no admission fee for the exhibitions or also for most museum programs.
If you enjoy beautiful plants and are looking for a peaceful way to spend an afternoon out in Madison, then definitely plan to stop at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. There are 16 acres of gardens here that are both indoors and outdoors. Highlights here include the Thai pavilion and garden, the rose garden, herb garden, and sunken garden. It’s also fun to walk through the Bolz Conservatory with its flying birds and butterflies in an indoor, tropical setting.
Farmers markets are popular in big cities and small towns all over the U.S., but the best one to visit in Madison is the Dane County’s Farmers’ Market. This market was first established in 1972 and is held on Saturday mornings between April and November. It’s also the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the country. Feel free to stop by and browse between 6:15am and 1:45pm when you’re visiting Capitol Square in Madison during the spring, summer, and fall. If you’ve planned your trip to Madison for the winter, you can still experience this farmers’ market by heading over to the Madison Senior Center on Mifflin Street between January and April. There’s also a smaller market on Wednesdays between April and November and a holiday market in November and December to shop for local holiday food.