Madison may be the capital of Wisconsin, but it is a seriously underrated travel destination. The fact that it tends to slide under the radar compared to many other large cities adds to its appeal.
If you are planning a visit to Madison, Wisconsin, here are several things to do that you should be sure not to miss during your stay. Many of these tourist attractions have free admission, making them accessible to any and all who may find themselves in the city with time to spare.
Here’s 23+ things to do in Madison WI that you’re going to love.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN MADISON
- Best for Foodies: On the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, The Edgewater has a spa and wellness center along with three on-site restaurants. The Statehouse offers creative twists on the classics, The SLicehouse offers 10 inch pizzas, salads, pastas and some sweet treats too, and The Boathouse offers lakeside dining seasonally.
- Best on Capitol Square. The Madison Concourse Hotel is right near this beautiful Madison square, minutes from the capitol tour. A variety of shopping and dining options are available 2 minutes from the property on State Street.
- Best Budget Option. Home2 Suites By Hilton Madison Central Alliant Energy Center 3 star accommodations on a budget. 3.6 miles from University of Wisconsin – Madison and 2.7 miles from Wisconsin State Capitol Building.
- Best for Families. TownePlace Suites by Marriott Madison West, Middleton A bit farther out at 7 miles from Capitol Square, but the suite options are great for families. The pool and complimentary breakfast don’t hurt.
The park surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building is a bustling spot throughout the year. Whether you grab lunch and enjoy a picnic on the grass, listen to live music, visit an art fair or food festival held annually, you are likely to be surrounded by others enjoying this beautiful space.
The Capitol Square is also home to the Dane County Farmers Market. The market is open on Saturdays from mid-April through early November, and is a great opportunity to enjoy the local bounty straight from the sources throughout the area.
In addition, you’ll find several great museums here. The free Wisconsin Veterans Museum is a must-visit with great interactive exhibits that will give you insight into history. The Wisconsin Historical Museum is currently being re-imagined, and a new building will be built on its old site in Capitol Square. Construction is expected to begin in 2024.
WISCONSIN STATE CAPITOL
Completed more than 100 years ago, the Wisconsin State Capitol building is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Free tours are offered to visitors most days, which is one of the best ways to truly experience the grandeur of this building.
OLBRICH BOTANICAL GARDENS
Located in a park on the shores of Lake Monona, Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Bolz Conservatory is open everyday and is free to visit. Located on 16 acres of land, there are several garden spaces for visitors to enjoy, including a rose garden, herb garden, wildflower garden, rock garden, and more.
The Bolz Conservatory is a glass building filled with tropical plants that are able to bloom year-round. Take a step into paradise and find a waterfall and hundreds of plants native to tropical climates.
With an average temperature in the low 40s in Wisconsin throughout the year, Olbrich Botanical Gardens and specifically the Bolz Conservatory, are a great escape to enjoy some natural beauty and warmth on a cold day.
HENRY VILAS ZOO
At more than 100 years old, the Henry Vilas Zoo is home to more than 650 animals and is free to visit! During the summer season, you’ll also find a carousel, zoo train, and concessions.
Visitors can witness the antics of animals like penguins, lions, tigers, orangutans, polar bears, and more up close and personal.
Located within Vilas Park alongside Lake Wingra, the surrounding area includes playgrounds and other space for fresh air and movement.
MEMORIAL UNION TERRACE
The pride of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus, the historic Memorial Union Terrace is a great spot to take in the waterside views of Lake Mendota. Open seasonally as the weather allows, this spot has been a favorite for nearly 100 years.
Recent expansions within the last 10 years allowed for more room to spread out and additional amenities. During the summer season, the terrace lights up with events and festivals, making it a great summer destination for visitors to enjoy.
MADISON MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Another attraction with free admission, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has a variety of art galleries for visitors to enjoy.
With a permanent collection of thousands of pieces and rotating exhibitions that travel through for limited stays, there is always something new to see.
CHAZEN MUSEUM OF ART
The Chazen Museum of Art is located on the campus of University of Wisconsin-Madison, and originally opened more than 50 years ago in 1970.
Home to the second largest art collection in the state of Wisconsin, this museum is home to two buildings spanning more than 176,000 square feet, and includes more than 23,000 pieces of art.
ALLEN CENTENNIAL GARDEN
Allen Centennial Garden is a public garden and outdoor classroom that is open from dawn to dusk everyday on the campus of the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus.
This garden is planted with a variety of plants that bloom across the seasons, making it a beautiful space for all to enjoy throughout the year.
WISCONSIN SCIENCE MUSEUM
The Wisconsin Science Museum seeks to connect visitors with scientific research happening in the area, with a focus on moving forward into the future.
Visitors are able to get their hands dirty and actually experience science, with a goal of inviting everyone to learn.
STATE STREET & DOWNTOWN MADISON
Downtown Madison is nestled between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, on a scenic isthmus. State Street is a pride and joy of Madison, designed for pedestrians and bicyclists to take priority, and is anchored by the Wisconsin State Capitol building and University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus.
State Street is home to dozens of shops, restaurants, and more. Downtown Madison is a vibrant, bustling part of the city enjoyed freely by visitors and residents alike.
TRY THE CHEESE
You would be remiss to visit Wisconsin without enjoying more than your fair share of cheese. Don’t miss The Old Fashioned, whose beer battered cheese curds have been voted the best in the entire state of Wisconsin.
Before heading home, stock up on gifts (for others, or for yourself…no one has to know) at Fromagination on the Capitol Square. Known as the “capital of cheese,” this store is a cheese lover’s paradise.
Grab a sandwich, salad, or mac and cheese (of course) for lunch and check out the variety of fresh cheeses, gift sets, and more.
MONTY’S BLUE PLATE DINER
If you’re looking for a perfect breakfast spot — even if it’s not breakfast time — then Monty’s Blue Plate Diner is the place to be. This awesome spot serves breakfast all day, every day, along with sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads, meals your mama used to make, and vegetarian and vegan options.
This fun restaurant has been retro-fitted into an old gas station, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back into a (modern) 1950s diner atmosphere.
This is one place you don’t want to miss!
CAMP RANDALL STADIUM
Camp Randall Stadium, located on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, is most fun to visit when it’s full of rowdy Badgers fans cheering their favorite football team to victory.
Built more than 100 years ago in 1917, this stadium has been making history for decades and has room for more than 80,000 fans to take in a game at once.
Get inspired by the same land that Frank Lloyd Wright himself found inspiration from with a visit to Taliesin Estate: Wright’s home, studio, and school. Designated as a National Historic Landmark and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these 800 acres of land should not be missed.
Guided tours are available for a variety of lengths and interest levels. Explore the entire estate, stay outside on just the land, explore Wright’s stunning, large home, or hit the highlights around the estate.
Located along the banks of the Wisconsin River near Spring Green, just under an hour outside of Madison, it is worth the trip to experience this estate.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S MONONA TERRACE
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace is a stunning convention center that’s design came from the mind of Frank Lloyd Wright, and was finally brought to life for the city of Madison to enjoy decades later.
Located on the shore of Lake Monona, the lake views are unbeatable. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the rooftop gardens, catching a glimpse of those on the water enjoying cruises.
If you find yourself in Madison for business and are looking for a memorable place to host an event, rentals are available for rooms of varying sizes. Make an impression on your attendees by hosting your event at a truly unforgettable venue.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: ARBORETUM AND GEOLOGY MUSEUM
The University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum borders Lake Wingra and includes a variety of natural areas, trails, and gardens. A leader in ecological restoration studies and practices, the arboretum’s 1200+ acres welcome visitors to learn more about how to build a positive relationship with the land.
UW-Madison’s Geology Museum provides visitors with the opportunity to learn more about rocks, minerals, fossils, and more. Located on campus, this museum contains roughly 120,000 specimens and an active fossil preparation lab visitors are invited to peek in on.
NATURE PRESERVE AND PICNIC POINT
This nearly one mile long peninsula stretching along the shore of Lake Mendota is known as Picnic Point, a key feature of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Lakeshore Nature Preserve. This nature preserve is popular with residents, students, and visitors looking for some peace and quiet without having to leave the city.
Take a hint from the name and pack a picnic for a lovely afternoon or evening in nature. Known as a great place for long, romantic strolls, this is a great place to spend some time with a special loved one.
PHEASANT BRANCH CONSERVATORY
The Pheasant Branch Conservatory is located outside of Madison, but does reward those willing to trek outside the city with stunning views of the downtown skyline and Lake Mendota. The land here is diverse, ranging from oak savanna to wetland prairies.
Pheasant Branch Conservatory is a favorite spot for a summer hike or bike ride, as there is plenty of shade to keep you cool on a hot day. Pheasant Branch Creek cuts through the land and provides water to Lake Mendota.
NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM
Condiment lovers: this spot is for you! The National Mustard Museum is a free museum in downtown Middleton, WI that’s home to the world’s largest collection of mustards and related memorabilia. This museum is all about fun, and the goal is for all visitors to have a good time.
The tasting bar allows you to sample and savor hundreds of different mustard varieties before picking your favorite to purchase and take home. With more different types of mustard for sale than any other one place on earth, you are practically guaranteed to find something you enjoy.
Regardless of your current mustard affection levels, a trip to this quirky, infamous museum is a must-do experience in the Madison area that you will not forget any time soon.
ALDO LEOPOLD NATURE CENTER
With a firm belief that nature is for everyone, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center exists to foster land stewardship both now and for generations to come. By literally getting your hands dirty, visitors are invited to interact with the land in a way that focuses on a sustainable future.
Visitors are also welcome to enjoy the trails, indoor educational Nature Nooks, and find solace in the various ecosystems found on the land. The free hiking trails are available daily, from dawn until dusk.
BIKE THE LAKE LOOP
Bicyclists – whether serious or hobby – will not want to miss a ride around the beloved Lake Monona Bike Loop. With 13 paved miles to explore, the Loop takes riders past a variety of scenic spots and Madison attractions.
Visitors can rent a bike along the Loop, with the option to even rent an electric bike if 13 miles sounds like a lot. Be aware that many runners use the Loop as well, so keep an eye out for those on foot as well.
TAKE A DAY TRIP
GOVERNOR DODGE STATE PARK
Located just under an hour outside of Madison, Governor Dodge State Park is a gorgeous park that’s one of the largest in Wisconsin. Located in the Driftless Area, hikers, canoers, hunters, fishers, campers, and bikers all sing the praises of this park.
Explore more than 5,000 acres of unique scenery to clear your head before going back into the city.
DAY TRIP TO CAVE OF THE MOUNDS
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Madison (or 30 minutes’ drive – your choice), Cave of the Mounds is a breathtaking limestone cave. Visitors descend more than 40 feet underground before taking a guided self-paced tour through the cave (walking a distance of approximately 1100 feet), taking your time to explore and learn on the way through.
Above ground, there is an entire park to explore with trails, gardens, and woodlands. This is a great way to warm up after your tour – the cave stays a cool 50 degrees.
DEVIL’S LAKE STATE PARK
An hour northwest from Madison, this state park is a Wisconsin favorite. Whether you get out on the water for a day of fun, or stick to the trails or boulders (the park boasts some of the best rock climbing in the Midwest), you are sure to enjoy your day trip to Devil’s Lake State Park.
It is important to know you won’t be the only one enjoying the park: it is extremely popular and is likely to be quite busy during peak seasons. Plan ahead, or visit slightly off peak to enjoy the park more peacefully.
MADISON WI FAQ
What food is famous in Madison, WI?
Cheese-based foods are the most famous foods in Madison, WI. The Old Fashioned in Downtown Madison was voted as having Wisconsin’s Best Cheese Curds.
How should I spend a weekend in Madison, Wisconsin?
There are so many great ways to spend a weekend in Madison. Have a picnic at Capitol Square, visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, grab breakfast at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, bike the Lake Loop, eat your way through the Dane County Farmer’s Market, kayak Lake Monona, and try the cheese curds at The Old Fashioned.
What is the famous street in Madison?
State Street is one of the most popular streets in Madison, Wisconsin. State Street connects the popular Capitol Square with the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO WISCONSIN
- YOUR WISCONSIN VACATION
- DOOR COUNTY: 16 Amazing Things To Do In Door County, Wisconsin
- GREEN BAY: 16 Not-So-Cheesy Things To Do In Green Bay, WI
- LAKE GENEVA: 18 Amazing Things To Do In Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
- WISCONSIN DELLS: 32 Phenomenal Things To Do In Wisconsin Dells
WHERE TO STAY IN MADISON, WI
We make no guarantees of any price listed on our site. We are not responsible for content on external web sites linked from ours, including linked resources, an external blog post, any partner site, hotel property sites, or affiliate sites. We only write about places we love in an attempt to help you in your adventures, but we can’t guarantee you will love them, too.
Posts may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. Several of our trips are also compensated by the respective tourism boards for the city or state we are visiting. This never impacts how we share the destination with you – opinions are always our own and we pride ourselves on that. We do not sell links or accept unsolicited guest posts under any circumstances. Don’t even ask.
United States Copyright, 365 Atlanta Family, LLC