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Madison Travel Guide: 11 Best Things To Do and Places To Visit When In Madison (2024)

Madison, a picture-perfect destination, is on the bucket list of every American. It is ruling as Wisconsin’s capital, America’s one of most quintessential cities and tourists’ favourite. Be it any weather or season, this city with its finest attraction settings will never send a traveller back with disappointment. During Summers, Madison open ways for outdoor enthusiasts through its lakes, hiking/ biking trails and forestlands. Whereas during winters, doors to museums, historical attractions, and the Frank Lloyd Wright wonders open up.

Along with vacationing, Madison is also a fantastic city to live in. From Universities to Corporate, Culture and Nightlife, choices are brilliant for anyone who wants to make a holiday or a life. Madison is any day more than what magazines suggest, and websites preach about. You may not find it competing with the top-rated American cities, but you will find it hard to forget as well. Wondering how?

Madison Travel Guide: 11 Best Things To Do and Places To Visit When In Madison

Focus on our list of top-rated attractions to visit and popular things to do in Madison. We bet; nothing will qualify to bore you.

1. Wisconsin State Capitol

When in Madison, there is nothing greater than the Wisconsin State Capitol. This grand masterpiece sits on the peninsula between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Capitol building is 284 feet tall and made up of 43 stone varietals imported from across the world. Along with the exterior, Capitol’s interior is equally stunning. There is handcrafted furniture, famous paintings, exquisite glass mosaics, statues, and many features adorning the views. The building, though it is a functional government space, visitors can still count it as an architectural attraction. Free tours for this iconic landmark operate daily, disclosing several popular and unknown aspects inside. Timing goes like Weekdays 8 am to 6 pm whereas Weekend 8 am to 4 pm.

2. Monona Terrace Community and Convention Centre

Frank Lloyd Wright has given so much to Madison that half of the city’s architecture today reflects his wonders. And one of the notable amongst them is the Monona Terrace, a visually stunning building on the waterfront. It is sitting on the banks of Lake Monona and is known for its splendid lakefront views, superb architectural design, stunning shops and numerous events. Public sightseeing tours of the building are operated almost daily. Visitors can either spend their time inside indulging in numerous activities. Or do the usual where anyone who visits Monono terrace takes an hour to soak into the lake and downtown view. Especially when sunsets and artificial lighting takes command, you will catch an incomparable view so close that it is difficult to believe. Also, do not miss the rooftop events, especially the moon-watching sessions.

3. Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Another attraction on Madison’s waterfront, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is indeed the most beautiful outdoor sight in the city. It is popular for its collection of roses, a glass-enclosed Bolz Conservatory and an elaborated Thai Pavilion. Multiple varieties of plants bloom here throughout the year, leaving no chances of letting the gardens stay colourless. During summers, they organize Blooming Butterflies events, something unbelievable and unforgettable. Visitors who are willing to recognize botany and get close to nature’s beauty and peace must add Olbrich to their Madison itinerary. Other notable features here include water fountains and artificial streams that add to the experience. Exploring the Olbrich Botanical Gardens is free for visitors, which again is a big hit. You can visit here from Tuesday through Sunday, Noon to Evening.

4. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Estate

Any trip to Madison is incomplete if you fail to make a day for the Taliesin Estate. It is one of the most wonderful works of famed architecture Wright consisting of multiple of his brainchild. The Estate is spread over an extensive 800 acres in Spring Green, 35 miles west of Madison. Here you can tour several buildings that Wright worked upon throughout his career, including his only restaurant architecture as well. Exploring the entire Taliesin Estate isn’t easy; thus, multiple tours operate for travellers’ ease. Choose Driftless landscape tour if you want to focus on the Landscapes, choose a Two-house tour if architecture is your interest or choose the four-hour-long estate tour for a more detailed and elaborated experience. Unlike other attractions in Madison, exploring the Taliesin Estate requires an admission fee, though every penny you pay here are worth the spend.

5. House on the Rock

If you have already tried to drive past Madison and visit Taliesin, do not miss adding House on the Rock to your list. One of its kind attractions, House on the Rocks, is crafted over an outcropping of Deer Shelter Rock by none other than Frank Llyod Wright. The highlight of this fun place includes a 218-foot-long Infinity Room. Along with that, there are multiple other rooms dedicated to several interesting themes. Also, because the entire site has more than 3,200 windows, you always have wonderful views of the valley below. Close enough, there’s also a garden worth exploring. The admission fee for the sight lists is $27 for seniors, $30 for adults and %16 for kids above 3 years.

6. Henry Vilas Zoo

Spread over 28 acres, the Henry Vilas Zoo is popular amongst both residents and tourists. It is home to over 250 different species and 650 animals, some of which are natives while others belong to a different part of the world. It is also one of the ten Zoos in America that offers free admission to visitors regardless of how extensive they are. When inside, expect to see a range of animals from mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and other possibilities. Some of the highlights here include Amur tigers, African lions, Red Pandas, Reticulated Giraffes and more. For kids, they have a small petting zoo, an eclectic train ride and a carousel. Kids can also join programs to learn about the conservation of both plants and animals playfully. To end your trip, visit the snack area, a gift shop or the unique restaurant that overlooks the beautiful Polar Bear enclosure.

7. Pendarvis State Historic Site

If you are a history buff and happen to spend some time in Madison, consider visiting the Pendarvis State Historic Site. The area contains buildings from the mid of 1800s when U.S. and European natives flooded Wisconsin and became settlers. The buildings from inside are filled with artefacts and possessions brought down from the time. Cornish immigrants built almost all the structures you see and are each of them are preserved wonderfully even today. Touring the site is another level of fun, considering the guide is quite knowledgeable and makes the experience more fun than expected. There’s also an old pub on the property; it though doesn’t serve drinks today but has that authentic England pub feel. For anyone keen on history and wants to spend a day out of the city, this is indeed a wonderful place.

8. Soak into the tranquillity and serenity of Tenney Park

Tenney is 37 acres of lakeside park in Madison known for its impressive views and friendly atmosphere. It features a lake, a boat launch, a playground, sports courts/ fields, hiking trails, picnic areas, restrooms and more. During summers, one can enjoy kayaking, boating and other water sports. Whereas during winters, snow adds up for rollerblading, snowshoeing and ice skating. It is also a fun place to swim, fish or have total beachside fun. Tenney Park is so extensive that you would barely feel populated with people around regardless of the crowd. Sunset is one of the greatest affairs here when you can see the sun settling into the lake with geese floating around. Through trees, there’s a lovely hidden view of the Capitol as well. The best part is entering and spending time here is absolutely free of cost.

9. When in Madison, Visit the local Farmer’s Market

The Farmer’s Market at Dodge Field between Greenwood and Central Avenue is a fun place to visit in Madison. It runs seasonally from May through November between 1 pm to 6 pm every Sunday. The best part is, Madison’s Farmer Market is the biggest of its kind in the entire United States. Here you can buy all homegrown and organic produce from fruits to vegetables and flowers. The choices are so many that you may have difficulty choosing one from them.

Along with that, they also have Wisconsin’s popular, Cheese and Beef Jerky. There won’t be such a great find at a low price anywhere else in America for any cheese lover. Because the market gets too crowded, get there early, or it might get difficult for you to move even one leg. Different and upgraded from the other, you can call it a Fancy farmer’s market.

10. Get awestruck at the University of Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin isn’t just an educational hub, but there’s so much more to it. Regardless you are a tourist, a student or a resident of Madison; this is one of those must-visit places in the city. Here’s a list of things you can do at the University of Wisconsin apart from being a student:

  • Watch a game at the Camp Randall Stadium.
  • Explore the beauty, serenity and ecology inside the Madison Arboretum.
  • Visit museums including the Geology Museum, Chazen Museum of Art, Museum of Natural history, and L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum.
  • Spend an afternoon enjoying views from Memorial Union Terrace.
  • Visit the Lathrop Hall
  • Or eat at several cafes’, food joints and eateries inside the University. As an observer, you can also attend multiple annual events going around the campus throughout the year.

11. Let loose your evening at the State Street

State Street is the local Madison Street that goes from the Capitol Building all the way towards the campus of the University of Wisconsin. And between the gap, the street houses everything from corporate buildings to boutiques, bars, art galleries, shops, restaurants and nightlife spots. Even though it is just a mile, this busy avenue has hundreds of places where you can buy fun in the name of clothes, accessories or lip-smacking food. Or, if you want to go the easy way, street performers are working their best to create a lively ambience which is free to watch and enjoy. State Street is fun to visit during the evening and night hours. Or during festivities including Halloween and Christmas, fun here goes a notch higher.

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