What to do in Madison, WI

Activities, attractions and tours
Madison showing street scenes

Madison Attractions

Named for former United States President James Madison and pronounced the state capital in 1837, Madison is Wisconsin's civic heart and soul surrounded by acre upon acre of glittering lakes. University of Wisconsin-Madison students savor waterfront views while walking to class and the city’s trademark is "Lake, City, Lake." Whether it's the sublime natural scenery or the tens of thousands of undergraduates who descend on the college town each fall, Madison has long been celebrated as a friendly and progressive city. That’s not all—from world-class museums to endless outdoor adventures Madison offers a warm welcome to every type of traveler.

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What to do in Madison

Free Things to Do in Madison

Leave your wallet in the hotel. It's easy to occupy yourself in Madison without spending a penny.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art - Take the entire family and set out on an interesting adventure through history with each other.

Vilas Park - Make this your first port of call if you're looking for fun during your break.

Madison Area Technical College Downtown Campus - Architecture enthusiast or not, you'll be awed by this landmark's modernistic design.

Governor's Mansion - Swing by this historic site and learn a thing or two about the area's cultural heritage.

Capitol Square - Mingle with some local residents and seek out the true character and vibrancy of this place.

Lake Mendota - Sit for a while close to the water to relax and restore your energy.

Madison Public Library - Widely recognized among local residents, this site is worth checking out.

First Unitarian Society Meeting House - Connect with your spiritual side or simply soak up the tranquil ambiance at this sacred site.

Allen Centennial Gardens - No matter if you know your apple trees from azaleas, you're sure to find beauty in this stunning display.

Areas & Neighborhoods in Madison

A 20-minute trip from Dane County Regional Airport, Madison occupies the isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota as well as the surrounding metropolitan region. A flurry of activity occurs around the Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Downtown Madison

Farm-to-table affairs and late-night comedy clubs sprout up beside governmental buildings in downtown Madison—the city's oldest and most politically progressive district. At night, the Wisconsin State Capitol region comes alive with art lovers who flock to venues like the Majestic Theatre and The Frequency.

State Street

Linking the city’s business district with University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, State Street is Madison’s pedestrian enclave. Landmarks like the Overture Center for the Arts and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are flanked by retail chains, making this one-stop-shopping for travelers and college students alike.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus

A trip to Madison isn't complete without a stroll through the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Popular routes include a trek to the Observatory Drive Scenic Overlook or a walk along the Howard Termin Lakeshore Path for front-row seats to the water sports taking shape on University Bay.

Things to See in Madison

The Wisconsin Badgers—the university’s winning football team—call to mind the state's prospecting past, when lead miners were forced to "live like badgers," burrowing into hillsides to keep warm. Whether you want to take in a Badgers game or catch a live concert at one of the city's historic theaters, there are a plethora of things to see in Madison. The Majestic Theatre books indie acts like the Avett Brothers and Big Thief, while the Barrymore features a blend of music and comedy, showcasing side-splitting headliners like Tig Notaro and Stephanie Miller. If you're visiting in autumn, consider purchasing tickets to a Badgers game at Camp Randall Stadium—just make sure to plan in advance as home games frequently sell out.

Sightseeing in Madison

From perusing the largest producer-only farmers' market in the United States to wandering through the cool halls of acclaimed museums, Madison beckons with a bevy of things to do. Art aficionados might elect to launch their journey at the Chazen Museum of Art which houses a permanent collection covering diverse historical periods and cultures. Madison is also home to several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, and the Lamp House. Strike out on a tour to these venues. Or, venture to the Wisconsin Historical Museum, where countless artifacts from Wisconsin State history are proudly displayed. On the other side of the capitol, the Dane County Farmers Market unfurls on Wednesdays and Saturdays, providing the region with vegetables, flowers, meats, and cheese. Traveling with kids? Let them stretch their legs on a romp through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, pausing to soak up the sights at the Henry Vilas Zoo on the north end of Lake Wingra.

Things to Do in Madison with Kids

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids in and near Madison. Keep the crew entertained with our family friendly experiences.


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Frequently asked questions

What should I not miss in Madison?
If you’re eager to explore the best of this destination, find time for these attractions in your itinerary:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Camp Randall Stadium
  • Olbrich Botanical Gardens
  • Henry Vilas Zoo

Are there cheap things to do in Madison?
What can you do in Madison for free?
You’ll barely have time to fetch your wallet out of your bag with so many incredible free things to do:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Olbrich Botanical Gardens
  • Henry Vilas Zoo
  • Chazen Museum of Art

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