The quintessential college town, Madison, Wisconsin does double duty as the home of the University of Wisconsin's main campus and the state’s pretty capital city. Madison crackles with the energy of students on a knowledge quest, politicians wrangling in Capitol Square and cyclists soaking up the scenery along the city’s five glassy lakes. Join locals on the UW Memorial Terrace for sweeping views of Lake Mendota, see a spirited college football game or stroll the city’s flowering parks and gardens; you’ll understand why many call Madison the “Greenest City in America.”
Reasons to Visit Madison
Four Seasons of Sports: Collegiate sports operate at a consistently high level at UW-Madison. The Wisconsin Badgers are reliable powerhouses in both football (played at Camp Randall Stadium) and basketball (played at the Kohl Center). In the summer, check out Madison’s collegiate minor-league team, the Madison Mallards.
Capital Attractions: With its 200-foot granite dome and an observation deck, Wisconsin’s landmark State Capitol is the centerpiece of the downtown Capital Square. While there, you'll find other top attractions like the Wisconsin Historical Museum and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, which pays homage to local citizens who fought in the country’s wars. Kids in tow? Capitol Square is also home to the Madison Children’s Museum, a fun house of interactive activities.
Cutting-Edge Dining & Market-Fresh Foods: With small farms, vineyards and dairies dotting the surrounding region, Madison offered farm-to-table dining before it was cool. The city also hosts the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country: the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Capitol Square. Stop by for fresh produce, Wisconsin cheeses, baked goods and more every Saturday from early morning to midafternoon.
Campus Perks: Close proximity to the UW campus is a boon for locals and visitors alike, providing access to a range of cultural offerings and on-campus museums, gardens and sports events. Head out from your Madison hotel and see works by masters such as Rodin and Gainsborough at the Chazen Museum of Art. Then, amble through the Allen Centennial Gardens or hike along the nature trails in the UW-Madison Arboretum, an outdoor “lab” of diverse natural habitats.
Green Spaces, Biking Trails & Lake Recreation: Madison’s leafy charm is on display in places like the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, home to a tropical conservatory and a rose garden. The area has some 200 miles of bike paths, many around lakes and through parkland. Get out on the lakes with a fishing charter, a pontoon boat, a paddleboard or a canoe. In the winter, ice fishing is popular when Mendota and Monona lakes freeze over.
Off the Beaten Path
Industrial salvage becomes steampunk art in Dr. Evermor’s Art Park. Built in the 1980s by “Dr. Evermor” (the fictional Victorian-era persona assumed by self-taught artist Tom Every), the scrap-metal sculptures range from human-size bugs to the giant Forevertron, a massive piece of sci-fi whimsy. The park is in the Wisconsin Dells, about 27 miles from Madison.
When to Visit Madison
Madison has a typical northern Midwest climate, with long, cold winters that can bring up to 40 inches of snow annually. Book a stay at a Madison Country Inns & Suites hotel during the picturesque snowy season to enjoy the ski trails and ice skating at Elver Park. Fall and spring tend to be on the cool side, while summer’s warm days and pleasant evenings are ideal for exploring the city’s parks and gardens.
Madison Travel Tip
This is Frank Lloyd Wright country (he was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin), and one of his finest accomplishments is located 37 miles west of Madison. Taliesin, Wright’s home from 1911 to 1959, exemplifies the architect’s Prairie School design ethos. Take a tour of the estate and Wright’s studio from May through October.