Top Things to Do in Madison, Wisconsin

This university-anchored city gets an extra dose of sophistication from its role as state capital. Lakes and a famous market encourage outdoor fun. Check out our picks for what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Madison.

State Capitol and Monona Terrace
Monona Terrace and State Capitol . Photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux



It's a straight shot from Monona Terrace on Lake Monona to the state Capitol. Stroll around the exterior of the domed 1917 building, and check on the availability of free guided tours that highlight the interior's architecture, history and art.

Chazen Museum of Art

Galleries display a diverse collection, including African, Asian and 21st-century international works, at this free museum on the University of Wisconsin campus.

Dane County Farmers Market

Find produce, flowers, cheeses, breads and meats at the nation's largest producer-only market. (Vendors grow, cure and harvest everything they sell.) Held Saturdays at Capitol Square; a smaller market is held Wednesdays in the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Henry Vilas Zoo

More than 650 animals live at the free community-supported zoo just north of Lake Wingra. Vilas Park, surrounding the zoo, features playgrounds, a beach and a lagoon.

lake at Madison Wisconsin
Lake Monona. Focal Flame Photography

Lake Monona

See it from a Betty Lou motor yacht cruise, a kayak or a winding lakeside bike trail.

Madison Eats Food Tours

Bring your appetite and book a tasting tour of downtown Madison or "brews and chews" in Atwood. Private tours available as well.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. David Nevala

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

The airy building near the Capitol houses more than 5,500 pieces of modern and contemporary art—and admission is free.

Madison Trust for Historic Preservation Tours

Walking tours of areas such as Mansion Hill West focus on the city's history and architecture.

Memorial Union Terrace

Students and visitors love hanging out on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. Grab a snack from one of the terrace's dining spots or maybe catch a free concert.

Monona Terrace

Rooftop gardens overlook Lake Monona and downtown Madison. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention center opened in 1997 after 60 years of controversy. Public tours available Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m.

Monroe Street

Indie shops and restaurants line a 1½-mile stretch west of downtown.

National Mustard Museum

Exhibits and video make a quirky yet classy homage to ketchup's counterpart at the free museum, 6 miles west of Madison in Middleton.

Madison Wisconsin
Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Courtesy of Focal Flame Photography/Destination Madison

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The 16 acres encompass a rose garden, sunken garden, and Thai pavilion and garden. It's free to stroll the grounds and $6 to enter the conservatory.

State Street

This downtown area bustles with shops, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs.

Tenney Park

Picnic with a view of Lake Mendota or spend the afternoon fishing or relaxing on the beach at Madison's first city park, dating back more than a century. In winter, ice-skate on the lagoon.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

The 35-acre Longenecker Horticultural Gardens display more than 2,500 types of plants, including a large lilac collection, while two other gardens feature native plants and viburnums. Throughout the 1,260-acre arboretum, more than 17 miles of trails wind through restored prairie, woodlands, wetlands and other habitats.

Wisconsin Historical Museum

Exhibits currently closed for expansion and renovation. The museum hopes to double its exhibition space and become a state-of-the-art facility in a project slated to start in 2024 and take about two years to complete. As of summer 2023, exhibit spaces are closed although the retail space remains open.

Graze restaurant Madison
Graze. Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Eat and Drink

Babcock Hall Dairy Store

The public face of the UW's food sciences program, this parlor sells campus-made ice cream.

Dotty Dumpling's Dowry

Dotty's claim to be the world hamburger headquarters gets lots of support from the chargrilled, out-of-this-world burgers.

Glass Nickel

While you're noshing on the Glass Nickel's best-selling Fetalicious pizza, with its tender mushrooms, fresh spinach, tomatoes and crumbled feta, sip a hearty Scottish ale or peppery Cabernet and enjoy the restaurant's Bohemian-chic decor. Multiple locations.


Taste the region's food bounty in seasonal dishes, such as gyro lamb sausage with summer squash and grilled flatbread.

The Harvey House
Nick Gerard

The Harvey House

Behind a historic train depot, The Harvey House is elegant with a chaser of supper club charm. Try dishes like Superior Whitefish with Pumpernickel, Savoy Cabbage and Horseradish Sabayon.

Heritage Tavern

Pork stars here (the chef breeds his own heritage hogs), right down to the vintage boar-theme dinnerware. But there's plenty for seafood-lovers and for vegetarians too.

Ian's Pizza

This eatery on State Street cemented its reputation selling pizza by the slice (and opened satellite shops). Patrons gobble up its top-selling mac 'n' cheese pizza.


Fine dining about as fine as it gets. A dinner for two might include braised ham hocks, whole milk ricotta spaetzle, fresh-baked pretzels and apple strudel.

Marigold Kitchen

The Capitol Square area breakfast and lunch spot serves creatively prepared breakfast burritos, house-made soups, and hearty salads such as the Roasted Beet, Warm Goat Cheese and Grapefruit with champagne vinaigrette.


Pair a Ploughman's Board of local cheese and charcuterie with an expertly crafted seasonal cocktail at this gastropub.

Monty's Blue Plate Diner

An updated diner serves breakfast all day and vegetarian options that go way beyond a tofu burger.


This tiny special-occasion restaurant seats just 12 and offers a tasting menu of 10 to 14 courses, with optional wine pairings. Expect inventive dishes from the chef owners.

Quivey's Grove

Housed in structures from the mid-1800s, these dinine areas on the city's outskirts are an elegant celebration of Wisconsin.


The glam sushi restaurant serves seasonal craft cocktails along with favorites like the Mermaid Roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, pickled jalapeño, mango.).

Short Stack Eatery

Exquisite blueberry pancakes and a Bloody Mary full of fresh veggies are just two reasons to visit the all-day-breakfast restaurant.

Tornado Steakhouse

Wood-paneled walls, cozy booths and white linen tablecloths will take you straight back to the Mad Men era at this classic Wisconsin supper club.

Weary Traveler Freehouse

Bob's Bad Breath Burger (made with garlic, onions and cream cheese) is wickedly tasty. Wash it down with a Wisconsin beer at the Weary Traveler.

Working Draft Beer Company

The brewery specializes in IPAs and lagers with flavors like Peachin' to the Choir.

Downtown Madison Wisconsin
Courtesy of AC Hotel Downtown Madison


AC Hotel Madison Downtown

A central location and sleek design attract guests to the 165-room lodging. Floor-to-ceiling windows at Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro on the 10th floor afford panoramic city views.

Best Western Premier Park Hotel

Perks at this convenient downtown hotel include sizeable, clean rooms and an indoor pool.

The Edgewater Hotel Madison, Wisconsin
Courtesy of The Edgewater

The Edgewater

The hotel pier gives easy access to Lake Mendota. An on-site spa within the 202-room building ups the lake-luxe ante.

Graduate Madison

Canoes hanging from the lobby ceiling and cheery plaid furniture reflect the Wisconsin-influenced decor at Graduate Madison. Try fried cheese curds at the rooftop restaurant, Camp Trippalindee.

Hotel Indigo Madison Downtown

A 1915 brick building—once the site of a paint company—is now home to a boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. Colorful murals on each floor pay homage to the building's paint history.

Hyatt Place Madison/Downtown

Between lakes Mendota and Monona, this hotel puts much of Madison in walking distance.

The Speckled Hen Inn

Relax in one of five guest rooms at this modern home on a bucolic 20-acre property.

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