Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Madison, WI

  • Published 2022/10/10

Madison is the stunning capital city of Wisconsin and the county seat of Dane County.

This city teems with a vibrant history and culture, scenic lakes, beautiful museums, picturesque landscapes, and other notable tourist spots.

Some of its top attractions include the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Henry Vilas Zoo, and more.

With its famous attractions and fun outdoor activities, there are plenty of enjoyable things to do for locals, residents, and visitors alike.

Indulge in a water adventure, hike the trails, photograph the picturesque views, meet the animals, or have a summer picnic at the beach—there’s something for everyone in Madison.

Below are some of the best things to do in Madison, Wisconsin:

Start on a Tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol

Aerial view of Wisconsin State Capitol

Randy Kostichka /

The Wisconsin State Capitol stands firmly on an isthmus between the scenic waters of Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, nearby the downtown area.

Completed in 1917, this government building is 284.4 feet high with recognizably beautiful architecture and is one of Madison’s top attractions.

While four large wings that face the city’s four diagonal streets embellish the building, its 1915-finished dome is the centerpiece, soaring 162 feet above them.

The White Bethel Vermont granite used in constructing the entire exterior of the Capitol is the hardest and most durable stone used in constructing the Capitol building.

Interior of Wisconsin State Capitol

NaughtyNut /

On the other hand, the interior of the building’s rotunda presents exquisite features, including beautiful monuments like a replica of the Liberty Bell and Wisconsin’s State Constitution, pendentives, numerous murals, and more.

Scheduled guided tours are offered for visitors to witness the beauty of the entire Capitol building, but a group of fewer than ten people doesn’t need a reservation.

Visit the tallest building in Madison, the Wisconsin State Capitol on East Main Street, and marvel at this masterpiece!

Grand ceiling of Wisconsin State Capitol

Joe Ferrer /

View Thousands of Art Works at the Chazen Museum of Art

Exterior of Chazen Museum of Art

DavidBautista /

Nestled in the heart of the vibrant University of Wisconsin in Madison, the Chazen Museum of Art is a must-see attraction.

It opened in 1970 as the Elvehjem Art Center and was renamed the Chazen Museum of Art in 2005 to honor a lead gift toward expansion.

The museum features many art exhibits, boasting a collection of roughly 23,000 works from various genres, cultures, locations, and periods.

Visitors can see permanent exhibits, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and photography.

Interior of Chazen Museum of Art

John Benson from Madison WI, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some notable permanent collections are Baker/Pisano Collection, Simon and Rosemary Chen Family Collection, and Joseph E. Davies Collection.

The museum also hosts traveling exhibits and public programs like lectures, artist talks, family activities, and other events.

At the same time, the museum offers guided tours for group visitors.

The Chazen Museum of Art is perfect for aspiring artists and art lovers.

Exhibit in Chazen Museum of Art

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adore the Blooming Plants at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Reflection pool at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

E Fehrenbacher /

Located on Atwood Avenue, Olbrich Botanical Gardens started in 1952 with the name derived from their founder Michael Olbrich.

The gardens measure 16 acres, displaying a gorgeous landscape and a wide variety of plants.

The gardens contain several separate areas, including the Sunken Garden, Meadow Garden, Perennial Garden, and many more.

Interestingly, the Thai Pavilion was constructed in Thailand, disassembled, traveled seven weeks before arriving in Madison, and reassembled by nine Thai artisans.

Flora at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Tracy Immordino /

The Thai Government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association donated this pavilion to the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The Rose Garden features the two-story Rose Garden Tower, its focal point, which gives beautiful views of this specific garden with shrub and perennial roses combined with hardy plants.

Meanwhile, the 50-foot-tall glass pyramid called Bolz Conservatory is a tropical paradise with numerous exotic plants, glowing flowers, fragrant orchids, a rushing waterfall, and free-flying birds and butterflies.

Besides offering guided tours, Olbrich Botanical Gardens has a gift shop and hosts exciting events like art shows, concerts, learning programs, and more.

Beautiful flowers at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Eliza B /

Spend Your Water Recreation at Lake Mendota and Lake Monona

Boats at Lake Mendota

MarynaG /

When it comes to water adventure, Madison has got you covered.

Its two magnificent lakes, Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, are two of the famous lakes in Wisconsin, especially in the summer.

Under the sun, you can enjoy kayaking or boating with towering buildings as your backdrop, including the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Sunset over Lake Mendota

Matt Venker /

These lakes and several public beaches are also perfect for swimming, windsurfing, fishing, strolling, and relaxing during summer outings.

Moreover, along the lakes, there are walking trails where you can take a hike and enjoy the atmosphere.

There are much more fun things to do at Lake Mendota and Lake Monona for memorable recreational activities during your summer vacation!

Kayaking on Lake Mendota

Suzanne Tucker /

Sharpen Your Golfing Skills at Yahara Hills Golf Course

Golfing is one of the famous pastimes in Madison.

If you want to play it, head to Yahara Hills Golf Course on Highway 12 and 18 East.

Built in 1967 and opened in 1968, this golf course is the city’s largest facility.

It offers two 18-hole courses that challenge the players, and its course is scattered over 400 acres of scenic rolling hills.

The course also contains a practice area with a 40,000-square-foot putting green and ample driving range so you can do warm-ups.

Its courses have large bunkered greens, appropriately placed hazards, and charming water features that add a relaxing and enjoyable feeling while playing.

Yahara Hills Golf Course has hosted several national and state tournaments.

Be Amazed by Artists’ Masterpieces at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Exterior of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Matt Venker /

The three-story Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is a glass museum that houses exhibited, collected, and preserved modern and contemporary art.

It’s situated on State Street in a new facility connected to Overture Center for the Arts, designed by world-famous architect Cesar Pelli.

It features 51,500 square feet of exhibition space and a 7,100-square-foot Rooftop Sculpture Garden.

The collection includes roughly 6,000 objects, composed of the nation’s one of finest collections of Chicago Imagism, essential holdings in Mexican Modernist prints, artists based in Wisconsin, and more.

Interior of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Nagel Photography /

Some of the works featured in the museum are Serenade, Mountain Sites, and Carousel.

Aside from its galleries, it has a lecture hall, a new media gallery, and a modern study center for drawings, prints, and photographs.

The museum’s Rooftop Cinema is perfect for an evening out with your date or family while watching award-winning films worldwide under the stars.

There are various events for all ages, too.

Be Wonderstruck by Half a Million Artifacts at the Wisconsin Historical Museum

Building sign of Wisconsin Historical Museum

EQRoy /

The Wisconsin Historical Museum is a must-visit attraction on North Caroll Street.

If you’re a history buff or want to know Wisconsin’s historical heritage and general American history, you shouldn’t skip this museum.

Housed in the museum are permanent and temporary exhibits featuring immense collections of more than 110,000 historical items and roughly 500,000 archaeological artifacts that document the state from prehistoric times to the present.

Exterior of Wisconsin Historical Museum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll learn many things through its exhibits, including the “First Settlers,” “Native Nations and Tribes,” and “Frontier Wisconsin.”

You can also purchase from the selection of gifts for sale in its shop.

Like the other museums, the Wisconsin Historical Museum has group and guided tours, field trips, and learning programs for visitors.

Interior of Wisconsin Historical Museum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet Incredible Animals at Henry Vilas Zoo

Playground at Henry Vilas Zoo

Jay Yuan /

Henry Vilas Zoo is the perfect place for you if you want to experience a fun-filled animal adventure with your family, especially the kids.

Located on South Randall Avenue, the zoo houses more than 650 animals from around the globe, featuring more than 115 species, 20 of which are endangered and vulnerable.

The Tropical Rainforest Aviary exhibit includes capybaras and blue-crowned motmots, while the Arctic Passage exhibit features grizzly and polar bears.

On the other hand, the Discovery Center and Herpetarium exhibit includes an American alligator and Gila monster, while the Primate House exhibit has the ring-tailed lemur and Bornean orangutan.

Macaw at Henry Vilas Zoo

Jon Puhalla /

Other animals from other exhibits you’ll meet are aardvarks, African lions, Amur tigers, and many more.

From amphibians and birds to mammals and reptiles, you’ll see them at Henry Vilas Zoo.

Besides animal encounters, the zoo offers everyone various learning programs about animals, nature, conservation, games, and activities.

If you feel hungry or looking to browse for some gifts, the zoo has a restaurant and a gift shop.

A bear at Henry Vilas Zoo

Reel Wave Media /

Take a Stroll and Explore the Geological Past at the University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum and Geology Museum

Aerial view of the University of Wisconsin in Madison Arboretum

TI /

The University of Wisconsin in Madison Arboretum features the oldest and various collections of restored ecological communities.

Aside from prairies, wetlands, savannas, and forests, the Arboretum houses diverse grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, and a world-renowned lilac collection.

You can also walk or stroll the more than 17 miles of trails, giving you a view of the beautiful scenery.

Aside from exploring the Arboretum, you can also take part in educational tours, activities, summer camps, and more with your group or family.

Scenic view of the University of Wisconsin in Madison Arboretum

Yinan Chen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin in Madison Geology Museum highlights the geological history of Wisconsin through exhibits.

Here, you’ll learn about the formation of rocks, minerals, and fossils.

Besides learning, you’ll be amazed by seeing the fluorescent minerals, meteorites, dinosaur and glowing-rock exhibits, and more.

You can find the Arboretum on Seminole Highway and the Geology Museum on West Dayton Street.

See War Artifacts at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Exterior of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has been a Smithsonian Affiliate since 2013.

It prides its award-winning exhibits and programs.

When you’re in Madison, drop by this museum to glimpse Wisconsin veterans’ honorable role and story in the nation’s military history and present.

Interior of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some traveling exhibits include “Fur, Feathers and Fidelity: Military Mascots,” “Working Warriors: Military Life Beyond Combat,” and “Wisconsin Remembers: A Face for Every Name.”

There’s a museum store if you want to buy some items from apparel to headwear.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is located t along West Mifflin Street.

Exhibit in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Join the Fun during Beer and Cheese Fest

Beer and Cheese Fest is a vibrant event at Alliant Energy Center in the city of Madison.

This event has been around for more than 10 years and happens annually in January to celebrate Wisconsin’s heritage.

Aside from meeting and mingling with brewers and cheesemakers, you’ll enjoy tasting beer and cheese samplings.

During the Best of Fest, fest attendees can vote on which beer and cheese are the best.

This event features entertainment, too, like music.

Only those 21 years and above can attend Beer and Cheese Fest.

Bring Your Kids to Madison Children’s Museum

Exterior of Madison Children’s Museum

EQRoy /

Madison Children’s Museum is a museum perfect for your kids.

They will enjoy seeing the wide selection of exhibits, from arts and sciences to history and culture.

Some of the exhibits are “Coops to Cathedrals,” “Stair Trek: Zip, Zap, Zoom,” “Art Studio,” and “Rooftop Ramble.”

Madison Children’s Museum also has events like story times, music, and other special events.

Children will love learning, exploring, letting their creativity out, participating in several activities, and meeting new friends.

This museum is located on North Hamilton Street near the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Tour Camp Randall Stadium

Entrance to Camp Randall Stadium

Ken Wolter /

Tucked in the University of Wisconsin campus on Monroe Street, Camp Randall Stadium opened in 1917.

Historically, the area was initially used for training Wisconsin troops during the Civil War.

It gets its name from Alexander W. Randall, Wisconsin’s first wartime governor.

This historic stadium is home to the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

The field of Camp Randall Stadium

Klanker /

It’s one of the nation’s oldest and largest school-owned stadiums, currently catering to a seating capacity of more than 80,000.

Aside from the university football games, Camp Randall Stadium also hosts different events throughout the year.

These events include music concerts, Green Bay Packer exhibition games, Drum Corps International, and more.

Aerial view of Camp Randall Stadium

Lectrician2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bring Your Date at Overture Center for the Arts

Inner dome of Overture Center for the Arts

Nagel Photography /

Overture Center for the Arts is a famous performing arts center and art gallery.

It lies on State Street in the downtown area.

It comprises different venues, including Playhouse, Capitol Theater, and Overture Hall, the cultural center’s biggest theater.

Here, you can enjoy a range of fantastic performances and shows around the year.

Apart from those, there is also a free behind-the-scenes tour that you’ll enjoy.

From Broadway to dance, there’s always something fun to watch at Overture Center for the Arts.

Buy Affordable Local Products during the Dane County Farmers Market

Daytime view of Dane County Farmers Market

MarynaG /

The Dane County Farmers Market is held on Saturday mornings from April until November at Capitol Square and on Wednesday mornings on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The late winter market happens at Garver Feed Mill every Saturday between January to April.

It’s the country’s largest producer-only farmers’ market.

People shopping at Dane County Farmers Market

JR Frando /

You can purchase what you need here at low prices, from agriculture-related producer-only products to arts and crafts.

The Dane County Farmers Market festivity is even livelier, with street musicians playing across the four streets around Capitol Square.

Join the fun with delicious food, meet hundreds of friendly vendors, and see the vibrant community in Madison!

Fresh produce at Dane County Farmers Market

Pulchra.Imago /

Final Thoughts

Madison is a beautiful city with colorful history, culture, and quality of life.

You’ll enjoy doing amazing things, from visiting fascinating museums and appreciating history to meeting adorable animals and getting into water adventures.

So, plan your trip today and enjoy the best things to do in Madison, Wisconsin!

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