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The capital city of Wisconsin is both exciting and picturesque at the same time, making Madison, Wisconsin a great place to live and visit. If you are looking for something fun to do in the Mad City, this list of 50 things will surely give you some ideas!
This city is unique in the sense that it is built around 2 lakes, nearly cutting it in half with a thin isthmus to keep them attached until the city grew around the lakes. Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are the two main lakes that make up Madison, with our Capital building smack in the middle.
50 Fun Things to Do in Madison Wisconsin
In no particular order – here are our suggestions for you:
The Wisconsin State Capitol Building: The Capitol Building is an architectural marvel and open to the public. Free tours can teach you about the building and how it is emblematic of Wisconsin. It is actually the third capital building Wisconsin has had and was designed by architect George B. Post & Sons from New York. Go to the very center of the rotunda and look up – it’s breathtaking.
Dane County Farmers Market: There’s is a great farmer’s market on Saturdays from April until November right on the capitol square with fresh produce, food stands, live music, and more so much more! It is the place to be and be seen. Make sure you try the fresh cheese curds that Wisconsin is known for!
State Street: Starting at the capitol square is the legendary State Street. It is almost a straight shot to the University of Wisconsin campus and where you’ll find many shops, restaurants, and bars to enjoy. This awesome street features more than 20 restaurants on its mile-long stretch between Capitol Square and East Johnson Street. It includes ethnic fare, pub grub, and even locally made ice cream!
University Campus: Even if you aren’t one of the 60,000 students it gets each year, there are tons of activities, lectures, and even museums on campus to see!
The Wisconsin Historical Museum: At the very end of State Street, you will see the State Street entrance to the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This museum has many exhibitions – both temporary and permanent.
Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center: Madison is home to eight buildings designed by influential Wisconsin-born modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright, more than any other city outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. This is our crowning gem – where you can see the latest expos, attend a wedding, or even take in some yoga. Concerts on the Rooftop is one of the most popular events and will be back in 2022. (Darn Covid!) Yes, we love our live music here!
Concerts on the Square: 6 Wednesday night a summer you can spread your picnic blanket out on the capitol grounds and listen to a live performance of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Oh yeah, it’s FREE too!
Visit the Union Terrace: One of the best ways to relax on a summer afternoon is to head to the Union Terrace for a simple lunch and enjoy a spectacular view of Lake Mendota. The terrace is located on the lake’s shoreline, just east of the Memorial Union building and live music will be coming back soon!
MMOCA: The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is an independent, non-profit art museum located in downtown Madison. It showcases, collects, and preserves modern and contemporary art.
The Madison Public Library System: with 9 locations these multi-media centers offer free public access to computers, books, and other materials. But that is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many fantastic FREE programs for everyone from diapers to well, diapers.
The Madison Children’s Museum: with more than 200 hands-on exhibits that are designed for children aged infant through 12 years old, the museum is a great place for kids of all ages to explore!
Looking for a great park? With over 6,000 acres of land dedicated to the 270 city of Madison parks, you can’t go wrong with a location for your picnic.
Visit the Henry Vilas Zoo: one of the only FREE Zoos in America, it is worth a visit. Make sure you have the cash to get tokens for the vintage carousel or the train ride!
Olbrich Botanical Gardens: With more than 12,000 square feet of outdoor gardens and a huge indoor display area with tropical plants, Olbrich is an amazing place to spend the day! Make sure you check out the Thai Pavillion!
Hop on a Bike: Take advantage of Madison’s bike trails! There are many different types of biking paths in town – some lead right into downtown while others go by lakes or through parks.
Allen Centennial Gardens: if gardens are your thing, you need to see this gem located on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus! These public gardens are for study and research. They teach how to identify plants, understand ecology, and do site management in horticulture.
The Essen Haus: Get your German on with some great food, polka music, and enjoy “a Boot” with your friends!
National Mustard Museum: OK, this is technically Middleton, but it is the only mustard museum in America, it is worth a visit to see how people have been using this yellow sauce for centuries. It has a gift shop too!
Babcock Hall Ice Cream: Most know Babcock Hall for its ice cream, but the plant also produces award-winning cheeses and bottles locally produced milk. This is a casual dairy shop run by the UW-Madison Agriculture Department.
Wisconsin Veterans Museum: This museum is dedicated to our nation’s service personnel past and present, with exhibits that cover every decade of American military history.
Lake Mendota Boat Tour: A boat tour around Lake Mendota gives visitors an opportunity to see some of Madison’s most scenic views. If you are on a Betty Lou cruise, you are probably eating something super yummy!
University Library: This library has more than three miles worth of books, videos, magazines, and journals that are available to be checked out by students or anyone else with access to it. University Library also has an impressive collection of historical texts including one million volumes dating back to before 1801 – this includes everything from first editions signed by their author-to-be to some rare map collections too!
The Overture Center: this is one of the best performance venues in Madison and right on State Street! It’s known by any local parent for its Kids in the Rotunda series.
The Washburn Observatory: University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Astronomical Observatory is a great place to spend an evening. The UW-Madison Astronomy Department offers free public observing at Washburn Observatory on the first and third Wednesday of each month, and every Wednesday, June through August, weather permitting. The Open House sessions are hosted by UW astronomy graduate students. The public viewing sessions are informal, so there is no lecture or tour…check to see if they are open to the public again, post-COVID
Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion: The place of residence for our current governor, it is also open to public tours!
East Washington Avenue: What was an industrial complex series is now going through gentrification. It is exciting to see the new restaurants and clubs popping up.
Lake Wingra: The smallest of Madison’s 5 lakes, it is super close to the zoo and a great way to make a day out of hanging in that area. If you are curious, the 2 I don’t talk about are Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa.
Mickie’s Dairy Bar: A total Madison institution, this 1950s style diner is located right by Camp Randall. If you are there for breakfast, get “the Scrambler”.
Catch a show at The Barrymore Theater: If you are looking for live theater then head here! It has been called “the hottest ticket in town” with world-renowned actors performing there regularly.
Picnic Point: Picnic Point is a mecca for nature lovers, hikers, and bicyclists because it offers such an amazing view of nature – make sure you explore the trail to see the fall colors!
Vitense Mini Golf: This is one of the coolest places to hang out in Madison, Wisconsin! With a 1950s style layout, vibrant and elaborate holes, and vintage golfing equipment, it’s an experience all its own.
Camp Randall Stadium: If you want to catch a Badger football game or even see Willie Nelson in concert – Camp Randall Stadium is the place.
Aldo Leopold Nature Center: This is a great place for all ages and skill levels to explore nature. It has over 21 acres of land that include trails, gardens, prairies, wetlands, and more.
Alliant Energy Center: This is where you will find the Dane County Fair every July – from funnel cakes to the 4-H loaded baked potato, it is a carnival of sights, smells, and experiences.
UW Geology Museum: This museum has a lot of great features, including rocks and minerals from all over the world. It also includes exhibits on dinosaurs as well as fossils.
Dane County Regional Airport: I know most people don’t think of it as a touristy thing to seek out, but they have a Short Story Dispenser, therapy dogs, and even the “Flight of Lights” drive-through display. Try to hit it an evening that the locals welcome home the Badger Honor Flight – and bring Kleenex!
Check out the public art: we found a great list here: Madison Public Art.
Try craft beer: Madison is also one of the best craft beer cities and has over 50 breweries in a 40-mile radius. The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company is one of our favorites – if you want to see what all the fuss about craft beer in Wisconsin is about this place has been around since 1994 and they brew on-site so it will be fresh as can be.
Go Ice Skating at the Edgewater: known as “The Ice Rink” you get to skate with a fantastic view of the frozen lake.
Alder Planetarium: This is one of nine planetariums in Wisconsin and it’s a great way to explore space. You can even see live shows that are hosted by astronomers!
Ian’s Pizza: Known for their pizza almost as well as their political voice, you need to try their Mac ‘n Cheese Pie.
The UW Arboretum: this 35-acre area is the premier collection of trees, shrubs, and vines in Wisconsin and includes 6,000 specimens suitable for Madison’s climate. More than 2,500 kinds of plants, including more than 100 species of Wisconsin’s native woody plants, are displayed. If you can get here around Mother’s Day you will fall in love with the dozens of different kinds of blooming lilacs!
Chazen Museum of Art: This one is associated with the University and where you can see ancient art and exhibits on up.
Try a supper club: totally a Wisconsin thing, you will enjoy a leisurely multi-course meal, preferably with a relish tray and Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet. Madison has 5 to hit: The Old Fashioned · Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club · Smoky’s Club · The Tornado Room · Toby’s Supper Club. Don’t confuse this with a steak house – there IS a difference!
UW Physics Museum: this gem on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus focuses on hands-on exhibits and public outreach. It is great fun to take the kids to!
Glenway Golf Course: This 9-hole course is one of the most scenic in the country with a beautifully manicured and lush setting.
Atwood Avenue: this eclectic community has one-of-a-kind restaurants, shops, and thrifting!
Forest Hill Cemetary: Trust me, this is cool! Since the cemetery was created at the time of the Civil War, one of the most interesting areas for visitors is the two military burial plots for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Many Confederate soldiers were held prisoner at the nearby Camp Randall. One hundred forty of them died and were buried at Forest Hill. In a nearby plot, 240 Union veterans were buried. Forest Hill Cemetery is one of the first U.S. National Cemeteries in Wisconsin.
The Elvis Fight Location: in 1977, The King stopped his car to get out and break up a fight – where 2 young guys were beating up a 3rd. There is a plaque and everything!
Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry: want the best burger in town? This is the place. Get the assorted appetizer basket to start off with and ask for the English Garlic Sauce to dip it all in. You can thank me later.
Madison is a city with many lakes and scenic views, so you should always carry your camera! Your Instagram will thank you later for the great posts from this fantastic Midwest destination’s beautiful landscape. Make sure you use #DestinationMadison when you do!