Things to do in Madison WI

Madison Wisconsin Overview

Madison is Wisconsin's second largest city and features hundreds of attractions, points of interest, and things to do. For the young and the mature, families with small children, solo tourists, adventurers and the curious ... there is something for everyone to enjoy without breaking the bank. Madison is home to championship toting sports teams, a broad collective of performing and fine arts organizations, and fantastic scenery and outdoor sports activities in all seasons. 

This post is a directory to some of the places and activities that bring the people to Wisconsin's State Capital City.

If you are looking for an exhaustive listing of current events and happenings around town try the Isthmus' Daily Page


The capitol rotunda in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Tours begin on the bottom floor of the Rotunda Monday thru Saturday at: 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm, and on Sundays at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm.
LOCATION: Capitol Square
ADDRESS: 2 East Main Street Madison, WI 53703 

Built with a windfall of railroad money, The Wisconsin State Capitol is a monument to the ideals held in the most high regard by Wisconsinites of the early 20th century. By physically manifesting these ideals in a building so exquisite, our forefathers and mothers sought to perpetuate these ideas long into the future.


grizzly bears at vilas park zoo in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily 10am-4pm (Grounds open 9:30am-5pm daily)
LOCATION: Near West | Monroe St. | Campus South |
ADDRESS: 702 S Randall Ave Madison, WI 53715

Henry Vilas Zoo includes animal exhibits such as giraffe, lemur, orangutan, red panda, badger, meerkat, penguin, otter, seal, turtles, snakes, and many more. There is a jungle like indoor aviary, an expansive herpatarium, petting zoo, primate house, and rides including a train and a historic carousel housed indoors. In may of 2015 the new Arctic Passage exhibit will open which will be a thematic exploration of bears and other wildlife of arctic climates.


madison childrens museum exterior

FEE: Adults & Children: $7.95, Seniors: $6.95, Children under age 1: Free
HOURS: Day after Memorial Day to Labor Day: 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday-Sunday Labor Day to Memorial Day: 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays with the exception of the last Monday of each month
LOCATION: Capitol Square
ADDRESS:100 North Hamilton Street Madison, WI 53703

One of the most award winning 'museums' in Wisconsin. If you consider it a museum ... more like the most kick-ass indoor playground around. The 'exhibits' are so much fun I want to go play in here. And, I can ... on Adult Swim night at the Children's Museum, the kids get kicked out so that the adults can play. Otherwise, if you are looking to burn some of your kids' energy this is the perfect indoor activity. Plan for nap time after.


artifacts at the state historical museum in madison wi

FEE: $4 Suggested Donation
HOURS: Tues-Sat:9am-4pm
LOCATION: Capitol Square | State St.
ADDRESS: 30 North Carroll Street Madison, WI 53703

The Badger State; The Dairy State; The World's Toolbox; America's Breadbasket ... how did Wisconsin end up with these names? Who was Fighting Bob La Follette? Who were the first people to settle in Wisconsin? These questions and more are answered at the Wisconsin State Historical Society Museum on the Capitol Square in Madison.


civil war exhibit at the veterans museum in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Tues-Sat:9am-4:30pm
LOCATION: Capitol Square | State St.
ADDRESS: 30 West Mifflin St Madison WI

The Wisconsin Veteran's Museum was established in 1901 to display artifacts of Wisconsin's role in the Civil War. Over the years it grew and moved to its new location on the Capitol Square. The museum features two exhibit halls; one dedicated to 19th century wars and the other to 20th and 21st century conflicts, humanitarian operations, and technology.


uw geology museum

FEE: Free
LOCATION: Campus South | Camp Randall
ADDRESS: 1215 West Dayton Street Madison, WI 53715

It's a museum of natural history open to the public and curated with the public in mind. Here you can explore full dinasour skeletons, be dazzled by glittering gems and minerals, touch a meteorite, awe at intricate fossils, and marvel at one of the few martian rocks on display in the world.



entrance to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison WI

FEE: Free
HOURS: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 9am-5pm; Thursday 9am-9pm, Saturday & Sunday: 11am-5pm
ADDRESS: 750 University AvenueMadison, WI 53706

From ancient to contemporary - this museum packs in major works from across the full range of human cultural history. Chazen's spectacular collection is tastefully presented in a new and spacious three floor building at the heart of the UW. As a teaching and art history museum it features a large variety of artworks and design objects.

overture center mmoca

FEE: Free
HOURS: Tuesday-Thursday: 12pm-5pm; Friday: 12pm-8pm; Saturday: 10am-8pm; Sunday: 12pm-5pm
LOCATION: Downtown, State St.
ADDRESS: 227 State Street Madison, WI 53703

Three exhibit halls dedicated to rotating exhibits of modern and contemporary artworks. There's also a rooftop sculpture garden with views of State Street and the Capitol.


madison mallards game

A Madison Summer tradition, this Northwoods minor league baseball team has brought home many league champions and been able to draw boisterous crowds out to the North side. There are always activities paired with the games such as fireworks. Get tickets to the Duck Blind where food and drinks are complimentary. Overall, a Mallards game delivers a much more informal and relaxed experience than major league ball ... and for a family friendly price.


Mad City Ski Team

madison ski team

Madison's ten time national champs, the Mad-City Ski Team dazzles audiences with coordinated formations, flips, and stunts. They stage free shows on Sunday nights at Law Park on Lake Monona.


things to do in Madison Capitols Hockey

Madison's newest team, The Madison Capitols have brought fist pumping action back to the Coliseum (Alliant Energy Center).  This USHL team had its beginning in 1984. But, the team was dissolved for a couple decades. They're back and ready to compete.


mad rollin dolls

A force to be reckoned with, the Mad Rollin' Dolls are not only winners, their bouts are pure entertainment for the whole family. Roller Derby has embraced the weird and the wacky, so be prepared for many fans to be seen in full costume and for the interesting names and alter-egos the skaters have taken on. Bring your own lawn chair and sit rink side to catch all of the action up close.


UW badger basketball

Badger Basketball is now considered one of the elite teams in Division 1 hoops. You can expect to catch them as annual contenders for the national title in the March Madness NCAA playoffs. In 2015 they cinched the Big Ten Championship and ran as far as the National Championship Game. So long as Bo Ryan is Head Coach, the badgers will surely be competing in the March Madness tournament.  Home game tix are hard to come by, so count yourself lucky if a friend invites you to a game.


uw badger football

Named the best college football town in America, everyone in Madison is hyper aware of game day. Perennial contenders for the Big Ten Championship, the Badgers define the hard hitting running game. You can catch them on major national broadcasts, but nothing is like being there. The fan experience at Camp Randall cannot be beat. Jump Around and the 5th Quarter keep the fans on their feet through the whole game and beyond.


uw badger hockey

Few other hockey teams across the nation can routinely fill a stadium the size of the Kohl Center; the Badgers do it every game. Between the Men's and Women's teams, they own ten national championships.


UW NCAA Volleyball

UW Madison Volleyball game at the field house

The University of Wisconsin is host to yet another elite NCAA team. In 2014, Badger Volleyball won their fifth Big Ten championship in program history. They routinely sweep the Big Ten in individual awards. Nationally, they rank among the top tier teams.



boats at dock at wingra lake rentals in madison wi

HOURS: 8:30am-8pm in the summer
LOCATION: Near West Side
ADDRESS: 824 Knickerbocker Street, Madison, WI 53711

Rent stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, row boats, and paddle boats on Lake Wingra.

the capital city bike trail

The Capital City State Trail is a 17 mile safe and easy bicycle trail paved with asphalt. It begins on Madison's East Side and follows alongside a rail corridor to the center of the city. From there it follows along the shoreline of Lake Monona, and passes through Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace. It crosses under the Beltline and enters the Nine Springs E-Way Corridor - a series of nature preserves and park lands. This beautiful and serene part of the trail meanders across rolling hills through forest and prairie in Fitchburg.

things to do in Madison Outdoor rentals

Rent canoes and kayaks at Memorial Union

ADDRESS: 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI 53706

pontoon porch in madison wi

Rent this floating party porch for a company or group event. Up to 30 passengers are taken on a two or three hour tour of Lake Monona. Amenities include a gas grill, sheltered screen porch, bar and buffet area, casual seating, laid back atmosphere.

LOCATION: Downtown

betty lou cruises

Scenic boat cruises of Lake Monona and Lake Mendota

LOCATION: Westport
ADDRESS: 5339 Lighthouse Bay Dr, Madison, WI 53704

things to do in Madison Vitense golfland

On the beltline on Madison's West Side, Vitense is Madison's mini-golf course featuring outdoors and indoors mini-golf.

ADDRESS: 1440 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711


foot paths at olbrich gardens in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: April - September: 8am-8pm; October 9am - 6pm November - March 9am - 4pm
LOCATION: East | Atwood
ADDRESS: 330 Atwood AveMadison, WI 53704

The botanical gardens in Madison Wisconsin is tucked into a corner of Olbrich Park, a lakefront park at the mouth of Starweather Creek. Small cities like Madison are not usually home to outstanding botanical gardens, but Olbrich, small in acreage, has received outsized praise and international awards. It was also included among the top ten most inspirational gardens of North America


flower garden at centenial gardens in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Mon-Sun - Dawn to Dusk
LOCATION: UW Campus | Lakeshore 
ADDRESS:  620 Babcock Dr, Madison, WI 53706 

These gardens are set on the grounds of a Gothic Victorian style residence, the former residence of the dean of the School of Agriculture School. It now serves as the architectural anchor for the gardens. The gardens themselves present meandering pathways through formal gardens - including a French garden, rose garden, iris garden, Czech crevice garden, and many more.


flowers at boltz conservatory in madison wi

FEE: $2
HOURS: Monday - Saturday: 10am-4pm; Sunday: 10am-5pm
ADDRESS: 3300 Atwood Avenue Madison WI

Winter is bleak - even at Olbrich Gardens. Fortunately, no matter what the season, Olbrich offers a special indoor garden for the display of tropical plants and flowers. The Bolz Conservatory offers a chance to escape whatever oppressive weather WI can serve up. For two dollars you can walk past waterfalls and beneath a canopy of palms while listen to chirp of free roaming exotic birds.



walking trail at the uw arboretum in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily Dawn to Dusk
LOCATION: Near West Side
ADDRESS: 1207 Seminole Hwy, Madison, WI 53711

A massive green oasis that makes up Madison's near West side, the Arboretum is 1200 acres of forested land and 20 miles of hiking trails surrounding Lake Wingra.

sunset at cherokee marsh in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily Dawn to Dusk
LOCATION: North Side
ADDRESS: 6098 North Sherman Avenue, Madison, WI 53704

Cherokee Marsh is a large land preserve on the far North side of Madison. It offers dozens of miles of hiking trails and paddling opportunities. The land preserve covers mostly wetlands, but also includes forested hills and restored prairies.


students at picnic point in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily Dawn to Dusk
ADDRESS: 2002 University Bay Drive, Madison, WI 53726

With company such as the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Canyon, Picnic Point in Madison was picked as one of the top ten best places in the world to kiss by the San Francisco Examiner. It is a destination for the romantic, for runners, hikers, and bikers, and for students just out to have a campfire by the lake. You could even bring a picnic.

things to do in aldo leopold center
FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily Dawn to Dusk
ADDRESS: 330 Femrite Dr, Monona, WI 53716

In Monona on Madison's Southeast side, Aldo Leopold Nature Center provides several acres of outdoor classroom land and a well equipped nature center with exhibits geared towards younger audiences.

picnic area at hoyt park in madison wi

FEE: Free
HOURS: Daily Dawn to Dusk
ADDRESS: 3900-3902 Regent St, Madison, WI 53705

Hoyt Park is a community park in Madison Wisconsin. The property was a former quarry for sandstone and dolomite. The sandstone was used for constructing many historic buildings in Madison, and the dolomite was crushed and and used for paving streets. This historic park is home to Madison's first scenic pleasure drive: Owen Parkway. The parkway wids its way to an overlook known as Sunset Point.



The Madison Symphony Orchestra is Madison's powerhouse performing arts institution. They are residents at Overture Center for the Performing Arts and perform at the enormous 3000 seat Overture Hall. Overture Hall features and impressive pipe organ, which MSO makes great use of. They also team up with chorale groups and bring in guest performers.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra is an  orchestra dedicated to connecting its audiences to the power of music.The WCO performs approximately 25 concerts per year, including the intensely popular summertime Concerts on the Square. They are also residents at Overture Center, usually performing in the restored historic Capitol Theater.

Madison Opera

Madison Opera stages exquisite regional performances of operas as a resident of Overture Center.

Originally founded in 1981 as The Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, the organization’s primary purpose was the production The Nutcracker, an annual community event. In 1999, the organization changed its name to Madison Ballet and embarked on an ambitious plan to become a professional performing arts organization, offering quality arts experiences for youth throughout South Central Wisconsin.

Founded in 1965, CTM is a Madison institution, providing exceptional theatre productions for family audiences. By casting adult and child actors in professionally produced plays, they have occupied a unique niche, for decades, as Madison's premier theater for all ages. The Overture Center, and its predecessor the Madison Civic Center, has been its home for over 30 years. CTM performs primarily in the intimate 350-seat Playhouse.

No longer located on Broom Street, the new Williamson Street location is a black box styled studio theatre often setup in the round. Broom Street produces edgy original dramatic and musical performances.

Mercury Players Theatre stages originally written dramatic works at The Bartell Theatre.

The Bartell Theatre

This historic theatre located off the Capitol Square includes an auditorium and black box studio theater. The Bartell hosts dramatic companies Mercury Players and Strollers Theatre.

World class music and dramatic students stage dozens of performances each semester. You can also catch guest performances at Humanities and the Wisconsin Union Theatre.

World class music and dramatic students stage dozens of performances each semester. You can catch dramatic performances at the Hemsley Theatre on campus.

UW drama has been at the forefront of lighting and scenic design and has been the launching pad for many professional theatre technicians and actors.

Their Season includes productions in the Fall and Spring semesters.

Kanopy is a modern dance troupe and resident at Overture Center. You'll catch them at Promenade Hall.

Forward theatre is the primary dramatic resident at Overture Center.They perform in Overture's intimate playhouse - a courtyard theater style that brings actor and audience into one participatory space.


state street in madison wi

Madison's and Wisconsin's main street. The connection between the State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin make this street is team with life at all hours. An eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and world famous taverns line a pedestrian mall.

LOCATION: Downtown
ADDRESS: State Street

Williamson Street (better known as Willy Street) is a shopping district on Madison's near East side and features eclectic shops and eateries.

LOCATION: Near East Side
ADDRESS: Williamson Street

Monroe Street Madison

The near West side's major commercial and shopping street. Tons of great shops, restaurants, and a small town main street feel. Monroe Street used to be the main stage coach route from Madison to Monroe. You can find the origninal stage coach station at the south end of Monroe St. You will also find Edgewood College and the UW Arboretum on this street.

LOCATION: Near West Side
ADDRESS: Monroe Street

children at overture center for the arts in madison wi

Overture is an architectural landmark in Madison near the top of State Street. It hosts five performance venues. Overture Hall is the grand auditorium where touring Broadway style musicals are hosted as well as the home of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The Capitol Theatre hosts the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison Opera, and many plays. The Playhouse hosts the Madison Children's Theater, Forward Theater Company, and other more intimate theatre events. Promenade Hall hosts Kanopy Dance Company, Li Chao Ping Dance, and the Madison Ballet.

LOCATION: Downtown / State Street
ADDRESS: 201 State St, Madison, WI 53703

Union Theatre

This historic theatre hosts many music, speaking, and dramatic events staged by University of Wisconsin  departments and also touring groups. This newly renovated theater center features an auditorium and a playhouse. You'll find parking across the street beneath Helen C White Library.

LOCATION: Central Campus
ADDRESS: 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI 53706

Wisconsin (Memorial) Union

Memorial Union Terrace

Memorial Union isn't just for students - It's Wisconsin's Union. The outdoor terrace on Lake Mendota is a favorite summer hang out with food and live music. Indoors there are innumerable events and activities taking place on any given day.

LOCATION: Central Campus
ADDRESS: 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI 53706

union south at uw campus

The recently reconstructed Union South offers an indoor food court, activities and events space, study space, and a mix of cool lounge spaces.

Activities include bowling, a climbing wall, and a movie theater. You don't need to be a student to enjoy an afternoon or evening at Union South.

LOCATION: South Campus
ADDRESS: 299 N. Randall Avenue Madison WI

camp randall stadium

Once a civil war prison camp, Camp Randall is now one of the most recognizable stadiums in NCAA football. It can hold more than 80k and sells out for every Badger home game. You can also catch major music performances here as well as the International Drum and Bugle Corps finals.

LOCATION: South Campus
ADDRESS: 1440 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711

Kohl center

UW Madison's palace for indoor spectator sports and large scale concerts. The Kohl Center is the home of Men's and Women's  Badger Basketball, Men's and Women's Badger Hockey. 

LOCATION: South Campus
ADDRESS: 601 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53703

Bascom Hill

bascom hall on bascom hill in madison wi

Bascom Hill is the University of Wisconsin's front yard, the symbolic core of the campus. Bascom Mall is it's official name; it was designed in 1851. North, South, and Main (Bascom) Halls were the original three buildings on campus.  In 1909 the Lincoln Terrace and Lincoln statue were placed. Old Abe keeps watch over the campus, State Street, and the State Capitol.

Ritually ranked the best lawn in America, It's probably the best place to kick back with a book in town.

ADDRESS: 519 N. Park Street Madison WI


UW Madison Carillon

the uw carillon in madison wi

A most unusual musical instrument stands proud on Bascom Hill overlooking Lake Mendota in Madison. A Carillon, or Glockenspiel, is a percussion instrument composed of bells mounted in a bell tower that is played with a keyboard where each key or hammer is rigged to a single bell. There are only three carillon towers in Wisconsin. You can hear the Carillon being played at various times throughout the day and week. But, on Sunday afternoons at 3pm you can also climb the tower stairs to observe the Carilloner, and even go into the bell tower.

ADDRESS: 1111 Observatory Drive, Madison WI 53706


washburn observatory

Built in 1881, the Washburn Observatory was a major research facility at the University or Wisconsin for its first decades. It is still used today for undergraduate astronomy classes. It is open to the public on occasion for public stargazing.

ADDRESS: 1401 Observatory Drive, Madison WI 53706

Monona Terrace in Madison WI

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed convention center downtown. Open to the public for tours and events daily. Walk in and experience fantastic views of Lake Monona, or chill out on the rooftop terrace.

LOCATION: Downtown
ADDRESS: 1 John Nolen Dr, Madison, WI 53703

aliant energy center

Formerly known as the Madison Expo Center and Coliseum, The Alliant Energy Center hosts large expositions and sporting events on Madison's South side.

LOCATION: South Side
ADDRESS: Alliant Energy Center, 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, Madison, WI 53713 

decorated tree on the tree walk in madison wi

Summon your inner tree hugger; this walking tour covers the trees of the University of Wisconsin Campus. These trees were planted a long time ago, and now they are fully mature. Many of them are Wisconsin State Champion Trees, a title bestowed on the largest representative of its species.


forest hill cemetery

The walking tour of Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery is not a spooky or morbidly curious attraction. The self guided tour is a biographical journey exploring the founding of a city, a state, and a nation. Along the way you will learn about the construction of the capitol dome, discoveries of bacterium, famous battles for freedom in the Civil War, the establishment of a parks system, the honoring of spirit animals, and much more.



Once upon a time, there was a small bar on Wilson Street called O'Cayz Corral. I'm old enough to have been there. Small though it was, it hosted a few famous acts such as Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Living Colour ... and like a thousand more. But, sadly, O'Cayz burned down. For a few years there was a drought in the local music scene. Then the old Buy-Sell shop on East Washington was renovated into three bars including the High Noon Saloon. High Noon is an intimate live music venue - a rock box for touring acts. It's the finest venue Madison has at this date.

LOCATION: Downtown | East Washington
ADDRESS: 701 E Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53703

the barrymore theater in madison wi

Once a movie house featuring porno flicks, The Barrymore has been revived and along with it the Atwood neighborhood. This live music venue features touring and local music acts, and the occasional play or spoken word.

ADDRESS: 2090 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

moon taxi plays on stage at the majestic theater in madison

This former vaudeville and movie house has been renovated into a dance club and music venue. They feature national and local music acts.

LOCATION: Downtown
ADDRESS: 115 King St, Madison, WI 53703

orpheum marquee madison wi state street

The Orpheum is a recognizable landmark on upper State Street. It has had many lives such as a vaudeville theater, a movie house, a music venue, a movie house again, and now as a comedy club. You'll find national and international comedy acts at The Orpheum - along with music acts as well.

LOCATION: Downtown / State Street
ADDRESS: 216 State St, Madison, WI 53703

the sett at union south in madison wi

The Sett is Madison's newest music venue. It is located in the reconstructed Union South. It's a rock box and features local and regional music acts most weekends.

LOCATION: South Campus
ADDRESS: 1308 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53715

The central gathering place in Memorial Union is Der Rathskeller. Occasionally Rathskeller will host live music or dramatic events. If you are lucky enough to catch a show here you are indeed lucky - this is one of the best places to get up close and personal with a band.

LOCATION: Central Campus
ADDRESS: 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI 53706

The Terrace is an outdoor gathering place on Lake Mendota that features terraced seating and a small stage. You can catch free live shows every Friday evening in summer and the Madison Jazz festival as well. Good luck finding a table though - this is one of Madison's most popular hang outs.

LOCATION: Central Campus
ADDRESS: 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI 53706

comedy club on state

Wait for it ... it's a comedy club on State Street. Featuring national and local talent.

LOCATION: Downtown | State Street
ADDRESS: 202 State St, Madison, WI 53703

Originally opened as a downtown/East side LGBT bar, Plan B has become the most popular dancing spot in Madison.

LOCATION: East Side | Willy Street
ADDRESS: 924 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

Club 5 is a welcoming LGBT bar on the Southwest side by the beltline. This spacious venue features live mixed dance tracks and is a popular place for people of all ages and walks of life to let loose. They have an expansive outdoor patio and occasionally feature DJ's outside.
LOCATION: West Side | Beltline
ADDRESS: 5 Applegate Ct, Madison, WI 53713

Segrado is an EDM nightclub downtown. It features national and international EDM acts.

LOCATION: Campus | State Street | University Ave
ADDRESS: 624 University Ave, Madison, WI 53715

Inferno (CLOSED)

This gritty nightclub on the North side is now closed.

LOCATION: North Side
ADDRESSLakewood Plaza Shopping Center, 1718 Commercial Avenue, Madison, WI 53704

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