10 Best Tourist Attractions & Things To Do In Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, otherwise known as the state capital of Wisconsin, is proposed to be one of the most quintessentially American cities across the country.

In addition to this, it is also home to a lively cultural scene, whereby popular events take place including huge music festivals which involve the air force’s whizzing past and a massive annual firework display.

10 Best Tourist Attractions & Things To Do In Madison, Wisconsin

Plus, the city boasts various first-rate art galleries and museums, as well as numerous attractions that both tourists and locals can enjoy alike.

During the summer, cyclists from all over the world come to enjoy the city’s extensive bike trail network. Likewise, others (locals included) enjoy sailing on lakes Waubesa, Mendota, and Monona.

Once the winter sets in, the outdoor activities take centerstage, this includes hockey, ice fishing, Nordic skiing, and skating.

One aspect that has brought the city to fame is its association with the notorious American architect, Frank Llyod Wright.

Having been born in Wisconsin, Wright aided in designing many of the most famous buildings in the area, including the headquarters for the First Unitarian Society, as well as several other private houses.

With all this in mind, we have created this detailed guide to exploring everything Wisconsin has to offer, including some of the top tourist attractions and the best things to do in the city.

Let’s get straight into it!

1. Wisconsin State Capitol

The majestic Wisconsin State Capitol Building stands just a few blocks away from Madison’s downtown lakeshore – thanks to the forward-thinking city planners, this area isn’t flooded with soaring skyscrapers.

Constructed in 1917, the building is ornamented with 284-foot high domes that are just three feet shy of the ones located at the Washington Capitol building.

The building features two large wings on both sides of the building.

Like the outside, the inside is just as impressive. Notable features include its bedecked marble work, containing murals in French, Italian, and German styles, as well as a massive skylight.

Tours of the building are widely available – undoubtedly, this is among the best things to do when you visit the area.

2. Visit State Street

This historical and popular features a host of numerous bars, shops, and restaurants, making it one of the best places to spend an afternoon chatting in cafes, shopping, or exploring the best nightlight Madison has to offer.

You can start your State Street experience at UW-Madison’s Library Mall (located near Lake Street), then make your way to the Wisconsin State Capitol building situated on the square.

The street itself is home to a wide variety of fair-trade coffee joints and foreign restaurants, which is ideal for a quick pick-me-up between shopping and walking.

Plus, there is as much fun to be had on the streets as in the shops, so don’t forget to stop and appreciate some local street musicians and performers, too.

3. Henry Vilas Zoo

Established in 1924 and belonging to the City of Madison, Henry Vilas Zoo consists of 28 acres that are loved by both tourists and locals alike.

If you’re traveling with children, then this is a stop you need to make.

Each year, the zoo attracts close to a million visitors. Plus, it is home to a variety of animals from plains, tropical, savannah, and arctic climates.

The Arctic Passage habitat provides visitors with an underwater viewing station where you can spot polar bears and seals, as well as a stream for the grizzly bears to fish.

The tropical rainforest exhibit provides a variety of rainforest plants, a free-flight aviary, and fish.

Other popular destinations to see in the zoo include the African lions, Amur tigers, red pandas, reticulated giraffes, and the alpaca.

For smaller children, there is also a children’s zoo, electric train, and carousel to enjoy, too.

If you’re looking for a quick snack, then the zoo features some unique restaurants with seating that overlooks the polar bear exhibit.

In addition to this, you can pick up a souvenir at the gift shop, as well as some snacks to get you through the day.

4. Dane County Farmers’ Market

Among locals, this farmer’s market is known as the farmer’s market. In the whole of the U.S., it is the largest producer-only market.

During the months of April and November, the market is best experienced on Capitol square.

Once the warmer months come around, you’ll want to rise with the sun and make your way to the square where you can appreciate the refreshing atmosphere the lake provides early in the day.

Here, you can smell the perfume of the flowers, while tasting some delicious home-baked pastries and freshly baked bread.

Arguably, one of the best spots to stop and try is the variety of cheese curds available to sample. Remember, when choosing your cheese, the squeaker, the better!

At the market, you’re provided with the opportunity to see how the locals live, with their fairly priced, fresh, and healthy products. Make sure to interact with some of the friendliest folks in the area, too.

5. Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Located on Madison’s spectacular waterfront, Olbrich Botanical Gardens features sixteen glorious acres of gardens – is it sure to wow your senses.

Depending on the time of the year you make the trip, there is likely to be a range of plants in bloom, varying from exotic foliage to fragrant flowers.

Established in 1952, the gardens are most notable for their wide variety of roses and glass-enclosed Bolz Conservatory.

Another place to stop on your visit is the ‘sala’, this is a stunning pavilion donated by the Thailand government – it is one of four such buildings located outside of Asia.

The whole gardens and conservatory areas are only throughout the day and free for the public.

In addition to this, you can book private, guided tours around the gardens.

Plus, there are regular exciting activities and events, including concerts, art shows, and educational shows that both children and adults can enjoy alike.

6. Memorial Union Terrace

During the summer, go down to the Memorial Union Terrace to enjoy a light lunch with family and friends just off the shore of Lake Mendota.

Located by the docks, grab a free bench and you’re sure to be serenaded by free live music and a great atmosphere.

You can even grab some of the most popular beers at the Union, including Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss or New Glarus Spotted Cow, to enjoy the sun setting over the lake.

7. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace

Any fan of Frank Lloyd Wright needs to visit the building he proposed back in 1938, although, wasn’t able to see it built – the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

Not only is this building visually stunning – being built on the waterfront – but it includes Wright’s exterior designs and his original curved glass facade after being built in 1997.

If you’re looking for somewhere to explore and spend some time, then the Monona Terrace is the perfect place to enjoy the surroundings and wind down.

Make sure to visit the rooftop terrace to enjoy some panoramic views of the downtown areas, as well as Lake Monona.

8. Camp Randall Stadium

If you’re a die-hard Badger fan then Camp Randall is one spot you need to visit on your trip. While Madison is an eclectic city on its own terms, one of its defining qualities comes in that it is a lively college town, too.

Its football team creates camaraderie and admiration that will give you all the feels of a small-town community.

9. Summer Recreation On Lakes Monona & Mendota

Both Lake Monona and Lake Mendota are two of the best lakes when it comes to summer fun in the city.

At Lake Monona, you can enjoy a leisurely paddle across the lake in a kayak with the state capitol behind you.

Plus, the large lake is perfect for swimming, fishing, windsurfing, or simply sitting down and enjoying the views.

The lake itself is surrounded by walking and paved bike rails with tons of public green space, too. This is popular for summer activities such as family picnics and frisbee action.

Another lake perfect for water recreation is Lake Mendota. With various public beaches and nearly a dozen boat ramps, it is the perfect place to spend the summer.

10. High Noon Saloon

The exposed brick exterior of the High Noon Saloon provides a rustic feel that has plenty of live music performances to get you through the night.

There is sure to be something that everyone of all music tastes will enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Traveling around America this Summer, then Madison needs to be on the top of your itinerary. As one of the quintessential American cities, there is something for everyone.

From zoos to football stadiums, hopefully, this guide has informed you about the top 10 tourist attractions in Madison, Wisconsin.

Alex Kallen
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