The Ultimate Travel Guide To Madison & Things To Do

The City of Madison’s claim to fame is its status as the capital of Wisconsin, with the state capitol building bearing a striking resemblance to the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC. Madison’s version sticks out among the other buildings on the city’s skyline, and it boasts a long history that’s traced back to 1917 when its construction was completed.

Speaking of history, Madison’s goes as far back as 1834, the year it was founded. Since then, it has grown up to play an important role in Wisconsin and visitors can learn about this history at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Indeed, lovers of history have plenty to see and do in Madison, from touring the museums to checking out the city’s historical buildings.

But, there’s so much more to do in this city than just taking a trip to the past. This article is an ultimate guide to Madison, with recommendations on the top things to do in the state, plus helpful information that any traveler would find handy.

What To Know When Visiting Madison

Wisconsin State Capitol
Via: Pixabay

Aerial view of the Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison.

Madison boasts four major lakes and one minor one, which make it one of the most beautiful cities in Wisconsin. Lakes Mendota and Monona sit on either side of the downtown area; Lakes

Related: 10 Instagram Worthy Places In Wisconsin

Waubesa and Kegonsa are slightly outside the city center. These two lakes are prime attractions in winter when they freeze over and become sites for skating, kite flying, and even biking. And, the city also hosts winter festivals right on these lakes!

Activities like swimming, boating, and fishing are common on the lakes when summer rolls in.

Best Time To Visit Madison, Wisconsin

Madison skyline
Via: Pixabay

Madison, Wisconsin skyline

Madison is an all-season destination, offering lots to do no matter the time of year one visits. Here’s a look at what to expect in the different seasons.

Summer (June to August)

This is the best time to visit Madison for those who prefer warm weather and outdoor activities. The temperatures during this season reach average highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

The University of Wisconsin students are also on vacation in summer, making the city less crowded. However, summer visitors are many, so hotel rates are often higher at this time.

Autumn (September to November)

Madison’s autumn weather is mild in September and October, with average highs of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). However, it starts to get chilly in November, with temperatures dropping to the mid-40s.

There’s usually more activity in Madison from September as the university students return from their summer vacation. Still, those who visit in September and October can enjoy outdoor activities thanks to the decent weather.

Related: These 10 Destinations In Wisconsin Have A Real Small-Town Vibe

Winter (December to February)

Winters are characterized by biting cold that reaches as low as below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). Visitors who can withstand the chilly weather will be treated to some fun winter activities on the frozen lakes as well as events during the festive season.

Lovers of snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, and sledding will find Madison appealing at this time.

Spring (March to May)

The chilly weather doesn’t abate until May, but temperatures rise slightly to the 40s (above 4 degrees Celsius) in March and then to the early 50s (10 degrees Celsius) in April. May is the most appealing month to visit in spring as it offers pleasant weather and fewer tourists.

Best Ways To Get Around Madison

Cars on Langdon Street, Madison
Via: Pixabay

Cars on Langdon Street, Madison.

Madison is served by the Dane County Regional Airport, which receives flights from all over the US. Visitors can then choose to rent a car at the airport from companies like Avis, Hertz, National, Alamo, or Enterprise.

There are also taxis and rideshare services that visitors can use from the airport, as well as the city’s public bus.

Below are the best and most affordable ways that tourists can get around Madison.


Madison is a bike-friendly city, with a large network of bike paths. The city has its own bike-sharing program known as Madison B-Cycle, which has about 350 bikes spread across 39 stations. However, the B-Cycle service isn’t available in winter.


Visitors can explore the city aboard Madison’s Metro Transit bus, with routes covering the entire city. Fares cost $2 per ride for adults and daily passes cost $5. There are also 10-ride cards, that cost $17.25 for adults.

Most routes are served every day, starting from around 5:30 am to 11 pm.

Madison isn’t a very big city, allowing visitors to easily explore on foot. Moreover, the streets have wide sidewalks, so walking is safe.

Where To Eat In Madison

Steak & Eggs

A photo of Steak & Eggs

Breakfast: Marigold Kitchen

This cheery restaurant is among the best-rated breakfast spots in Madison, with a lot of past customers praising Marigold Kitchen’s elaborate menu. They serve fan favorites like pancakes and French toast, as well as different egg dishes.

Those with large appetites can try out their Marigold Breakfast Burrito and vegans are also sorted with the Tofu Scramble Bowl. And, it goes without saying that diners can get their choice of coffee or tea.

  • Address: 118 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Fri: 7 am – 3 pm; Sat: 7 am – 2 pm; Sun: 8 am – 2 pm

Lunch: North and South Seafood & Smokehouse

When lunchtime hunger pangs bite, North and South is the perfect place to get a sumptuous midday treat in Madison. This restaurant’s specialty is in its name; it serves fresh seafood every day. Options like baked salmon, whitefish, and shrimp are popular.

Not to forget that this is a smokehouse as well, with expertise in barbecue dishes like Kansas City Back Ribs and Memphis Pulled Pork, among others.

  • Address: 6604 Mineral Point Rd, Madison, WI 53705, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Thu: 11 am – 8:30 pm; Fri & Sat: 11 am – 9:30 pm; Sun: 11 am – 8 pm

Dinner & Drinks: The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned serves a variety of dishes, from Mac & Cheese to Pork Schnitzel as well as fish and chicken. However, this joint is better known for its drinks; there’s a variety of beers on tap as well as ciders and seltzers.

Of course, one must try out their take on the Old Fashioned cocktail, which inspired the tavern’s name.

  • Address: 23 N Pinckney St #1, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Thu: 11 am – 9 pm; Fri: 11 am – 10 pm; Sat: 10 am – 10 pm (closed on Sun)

Things To Do In Madison, Wisconsin

Camp Randall Stadium, Madison
Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Aerial view of Camp Randall Stadium, Madison.

Wisconsin’s capital has a lot of things to see and do throughout the year. Here’s a list of some top recommendations.

Explore the City’s Museums

Madison has a rich history and culture, and the city is known for its love for the arts. These qualities are reflected by the dozens of museums around the city, all of which are prime attractions for tourists.

Visitors can delve deeper into the artistic side of Madison at the Chazen Museum of Art or the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Those curious about the history of Wisconsin can drop by the Wisconsin Historical Museum, and those with an interest in natural history may pass by the UW-Madison Geology Museum.

Below are some of the top museums to visit in Madison;

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

  • Address: 227 State St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Hours: Thu – Sun: 12 pm – 6 pm (closed from Mon to Wed)
  • Admission: Free

Chazen Museum of Art

  • Address: 800 University Ave, Madison, WI 53706, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Fri: 10 am – 7 pm; Sat & Sun: 11 am – 5 pm
  • Admission: Free

Madison Children’s Museum

  • Address: 100 N Hamilton St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Hours: Wed & Fri – Sun: 9 am – 4 pm; Thu: 9 am – 8 pm (closed on Mon & Tue)
  • Admission: Adults & Children: $12; Seniors: $11; Children under 1: free

Wisconsin Historical Museum

  • Address: 30 N Carroll St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Hours: Wed – Fri: 11 am – 5 pm; Sat: 10 am – 5 pm (closed from Sun – Tue)
  • Admission: Adults: $5; Children (5 to 12): $3

UW–Madison Geology Museum

  • Address: 1215 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Fri: 8:30 am – 4:30 pm; Sat: 9 am – 1 pm (closed on Sun)
  • Admission: Free

Related: 10 Stunning Wisconsin State Parks Worth Traveling For

Enjoy a Stroll in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay 

Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison.

The Olbrich Botanical Gardens is found on the northern banks of Lake Monona, boasting 16 acres of real estate. This destination has 13 outdoor gardens: the Thai Pavilion & Garden is one of the most popular, with a design inspired by the Asian country.

Olbrich also has a conservatory known as the Bolz Conservatory, which is home to over 650 plants from hundreds of species.

  • Address: 3330 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704, United States
  • Hours: Outdoor Gardens: 10 am – 4 pm (Oct to Mar) & 10 am – 6 pm (Apr to Sep); Bolz Conservatory: 10 am – 4 pm (daily)
  • Admission: Outdoor Gardens: Free; Bolz Conservatory: $6 (adults); $3 (children 6 to 12 yrs); Free (children 5 and below)

Visit the Animals at Henry Vilas Zoo

Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay 

Lion at Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison.

Found within Henry Vilas Park, Henry Vilas Zoo has been in operation since the early 1900s. Today, the zoo is home to more than 600 animals, among them being some endangered species like the amur tiger, golden lion tamarin, red panda, and white-handed gibbon.

Other inmates are the African lion, the grizzly bear, and birds like the Chilean Flamingo.

This zoo allows visitors to explore for free, but donations are encouraged.

  • Address: 702 S Randall Ave, Madison, WI 53715, United States
  • Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm (daily)
  • Admission: Free

Catch a Football Match at Camp Randall Stadium

Camp Randall Stadium, Madison
Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Aerial view of Camp Randall Stadium, Madison.

Camp Randall Stadium is among the largest stadia in the world, with a whopping 80,000 seating capacity. This fact alone makes it a place worth visiting, just to check out its architecture.

Visitors are required to book stadium tours in advance.

This is the home stadium of the Wisconsin Badgers, so those who visit during football season are bound to catch a match.

  • Address: 1440 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711, United States

Have Fun on the Lakes

Madison is home to Lakes Monona, Mendota, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegnosa. Visitors who visit in the warmer months can take a cruise on the lakes or rent a boat and paddle themselves.

These lakes also have an abundance of fish species, making them popular among fishing enthusiasts. Visitors can also simply spend time at the beaches, like Bernie’s Beach, Esther Beach, Olin Beach, or Tenner Beach.

Those who visit in winter will get a chance to go ice skating on the frozen lakes.

Related: 10 Wisconsin State Parks For The Nature Lovers

Explore the University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum

This is a vast 1200-acre park with about 17 miles of trails that take visitors to different parts of the arboretum. Visitors are taken through landscapes like prairies, woodlands, wetlands, and savannas, all meant for education and recreation. There are also 3 gardens with a diverse display of plants that are native to southern Wisconsin.

  • Address: 1207 Seminole Highway Madison, WI 53711-3726
  • Hours: Arboretum: 4 am – 10 pm (daily); Visitor Center: Mon – Fri: 9:30 am – 4 pm; Sat & Sun: 12:30 pm – 4 pm
  • Admission: Free

Where To Stay In Madison: Neighborhoods and Accommodation

A section of Madison, Wisconsin
Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay

A section of Madison, Wisconsin.


This neighborhood is found right next to Lake Mendota, along U.S. Highway 151. Staying here places visitors close to Tenney Park, and just 2 miles from Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The Madison Children’s Museum and Wisconsin State Capitol are also a short walk from Tenney-Lapham.

Where to Stay

AC Hotel by Marriott Madison Downtown

  • Address: One North Webster Street, Madison, WI 53703
  • Amenities: Fitness center, elevator, bar/lounge, business center, laundry facilities
  • Rates: From $350

Home in Madison

  • Address: Madison, WI 53703
  • Amenities: Beach access, hot tub, in-unit washer/dryer, 400 Mbps internet
  • Rates: From $1152

Related: The Ultimate Retreat: 10 Most Romantic Getaways In Wisconsin

Shorewood Hills

Shorewood Hills is located on the southern side of Lake Mendota, close to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This neighborhood is found about 4 miles from UW-Madison Arboretum and 3 miles from Henry Vilas Zoo.

Where to Stay

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Madison

  • Address: 4601 Frey Street, Madison, WI 53705
  • Amenities: Indoor pool, bar, fitness center, business center, meeting facilities
  • Rates: From $270

Best Western PLUS InnTowner Madison

  • Address: 2424 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53726-3811
  • Amenities: Bike rental, cooking classes, business center, ski storage, laundry facilities, fitness center, hot tub, indoor pool
  • Rates: From $140

Dudgeon Monroe

Dudgeon-Monroe is home to UW-Madison Arboretum as well as Henry Vilas Zoo. Golfers would love staying here, as it’s a short walk to The Glen Golf Park. It’s also close to the Odana Hills Golf Course, which is just 2 miles south of the neighborhood.

Where to Stay

Super 8 by Wyndham Madison South

  • Address: 1602 West Beltline Highway, Madison, WI 53713-2330
  • Amenities: Vending machines, hot tub, indoor pool, laundry facilities, fitness center, free parking
  • Rates: From $96

House on Water: near UW, Downtown & Alliant Center

  • Address: Madison, WI 53705
  • Amenities: 3 bedrooms, full kitchen, bicycles, Pack n Play, weighted blankets
  • Rates: From $617

Spending The Perfect Day In Madison

Buildings and lake in Madison, Wisconsin
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Buildings and lake in Madison, Wisconsin.

Start the perfect day in Madison with a hearty breakfast at a local restaurant like Marigold Kitchen. This is followed by a visit to UW-Madison Arboretum for a morning walk on the trails. Afterward, check out the animals at Henry Vilas Zoo then have a picnic lunch at Vilas Park next to the lake.

In the afternoon, take the kids to Madison Children’s Museum to learn about history from the interactive exhibits. Or, those without kids can visit the Geology Museum. After the tour, stroll to the Wisconsin State Capitol to check out the iconic building before enjoying a relaxing evening at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

End the day with a sunset dinner cruise on Lake Mendota before winding down with some drinks at a local bar. Then, extend the trip and explore more of the amazing things to see in Wisconsin!


Q: What is Madison in known for?

Madison is known for being the capital of Wisconsin, with the iconic State Capitol Building resembling the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC. Madison is also known for the five lakes found within the city: Lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa.

Q: Is Madison a walkable city?

Madison is a fairly walkable city as it has wide sidewalks on most streets in the downtown area. In fact, this city has an average walk score of 50 with the downtown area being the most walkable part of the city,

Q: Does Madison have public transportation?

Yes, Madison has a public transportation system known as Metro Transit, which operates every day on most routes.