Things to Do in Madison


Welcome to Madison

State Street in Summer-Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison

Situated on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison is a charming and picturesque city with lots to offer - five lakes, 200 parks, miles of bicycle and foot paths, one of the loveliest university campuses in the country, great dining and entertainment, and a stimulating cultural and recreational environment. Here are a few highlights.

State Street links the University of Wisconsin campus with the Capitol Square. A walk up State Street offers a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, coffeehouses, and shops.  The Cesar Pelli designed Overture Center for the Arts, located on the 200-block of State Street, was a $205,000,000 gift to the city from Madison businessman Jerry Frautschi. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the Overture Center for the Arts. The Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, and the Madison Children’s Museum are all located on the corner where State Street meets the Capitol Square.

The fabulous Saturday Morning  Dane County Farmers’ Market is held May through October, around the Capitol Square.  Hours are 6:00 am - 2:00 pm. The considerably smaller Wednesday Farmers’ Market is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, located on the southeast side of the Capitol (in front of the Monona Terrace), and is open Wednesdays from 8:30 am-2:00 pm, May through October.

Rent a bicycle and explore the city neighborhoods, or one of Madison's many scenic bike paths. Madison B-Cycle is an urban bike sharing program with over 35 active stations throughout the Madison area.  If you are interested in renting a B-Cycle, visit their website for station locations and information. For additional information about cycling in Madison visit: Bicycling in Madison or, head over to Machinery Row Bicycles, just one short block east of Monona Terrace along the Lakeshore Path (access lake path from level 1 of Monona Terrace).

Take a guided tour of historic Madison.  Popular stops include the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Cesar Pelli-designed Overture Center for the Performing Arts, Frank Lloyd Wright's First Unitarian Society, the University of Wisconsin's extraordinary lakeside campus, and Mansion Hill.  Customize your tour by choosing to walk or ride.  Group and private tours available.

Tours of the Wisconsin State Capitol are free and open to the public. Tours start at the information desk and are offered hourly, except at noon, Monday - Friday: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm, Saturdays 9:00 am - 3:00 pm, and Sundays at 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm.

The University of Wisconsin is one of the finest universities in the United States and one of the largest with over 40,000 students. Here are a few ideas for exploring campus and the lakeshore.  For many more ideas, please visit the Visitor & Information Programs page.

  • Take a walk, bicycle ride, or run along the shore of Lake Mendota on the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path.  You can access the path at the Memorial Union on Langdon Street and continue west for 1.5 miles where you will reach the entrance to Picnic Point.  Picnic Point is a peninsula and nature preserve for foot traffic only.  You can walk or run out to the end of the point (.75 miles) for great views of Madison and campus.  If you are interested in more information on the University of Wisconsin Lakeshore Nature Preserve, please visit their website.

  • The Memorial Union at the corner of Park and Langdon Streets is a legendary campus hangout.  The Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota offers lovely views, beautiful sunsets, and great people watching.  The Union Terrace is a great place to enjoy a cold local beer or The University of Wisconsin’s famous Babcock Dairy Ice Cream. You can rent a canoe at the Memorial Union Hoofer's Boathouse, located on the lakeshore just west of the Union Terrace.

  • Walk up Bascom Hill (at the foot of State Street/Library Mall), and when you reach the top continue to the right along Observatory Drive through the center of campus.  Continue up the next rise to Observatory Hill, and enjoy the view.  Continue on west along Observatory Drive down the hill to the Allen Centennial Gardens (corner of Observatory and Babcock). Created on the 2.5-acre site of a historic Victorian home that once served as a residence for university deans, the 22 magnificent gardens represent gardening styles from around the world.  For a change of scenery on your way back to State Street/Library mall/Memorial Union area, head north when you leave the Allen Gardens toward the Porter Boathouse (home of the UW Crew).  Just behind the boathouse, you can pick up the Lakeshore Path (head to the right – east) back to the Memorial Union.  This walk is 1.3 miles round trip.  The Lakeshore Path is flat, the rest of the walk is quite hilly.  The Lakeshore Path is not well lit, so use caution after dark. 

  • Take a free bus ride through campus (approximately 30 minutes). Bus Route 80 stops on the Park Street side of the Memorial Union every 10 minutes.

A few activities of special interest to children…

The Henry Vilas Zoo is free and open daily from 10:00 am. – 4:00 pm. 

For additional information, please call (608) 266-4733 or visit their website. 


The Geology Museum, located on the University of Wisconsin campus, offers self-guided and guided tours.  The museum is open M-F  8:30 am– 4:30 pm, and Saturday’s from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm.  For more information, call (608) 262-2399 or visit the museum website.

The Madison Children’s Museum is located at the top of State Street and is open Monday-Friday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm, Saturday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, and  Sunday noon - 5:00 pm.  Admission is $5 per person for adults and kids.  Admission is free the first Sunday of every month.  For more information, call (608) 256-6445 or visit the museum website.

If you have questions regarding specific intererests while you are visiting Madison feel free to contact:

Deb Curry at or (608) 890-1309.