There are lots of exciting things to do in Madison, WI! Not only is Madison Wisconsin’s state capital, but it’s also known for its many beautiful sights and historical landmarks. Located in the bottom center of the state between two large lakes, it’s the perfect weekend getaway for Wisconsin residents and those traveling out of state. So, what exciting adventures await in Madison, WI?
#1 – Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol building is hard to miss. It’s a massive structure standing in between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It stands over 200 feet tall and has some of the state’s most beautiful architecture. This amazing structure is made of 43 types of stone from around the world, glass mosaics, and hand-carved furniture. Plus, you can see statues of the state animal, the badger, above doorways and fossils among the flooring inside. The building is open to the public, so you are free to walk around certain areas inside and outside to admire its beauty. Tours are often offered as well, allowing you to learn some history and get a glimpse of the non-accessible areas.
#2 – Olbrich Botanical Gardens
The Olbrich Botanical Gardens are one of the best things to do in Madison WI, especially when the weather is nice. These lakefront gardens were established in 1952, and have remained a popular attraction ever since. There are 16 acres of outdoor displays, along with an indoor tropical conservatory that’s made of a tall glass pyramid. Inside the conservatory, there are orchids, birds, butterflies, and even a flowing waterfall. The outdoor space has many special gardens and areas including a Herb Garden, Thai Pavilion, Sunken Garden, and Perennial Garden. If you have a love for peaceful nature walks, you could even spend all day at this relaxing location.
#3 – Chazen Museum of Art
Every good city also has exciting art to look at. And the Chazen Museum of Art doesn’t disappoint. It’s home to over 20,000 pieces from all years, genres, and cultures. Its permanent exhibits include almost any kind of art, including paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, and decorative art. It’s also home to many traveling exhibits, which are mentioned on the museum’s website. While many families find joy in exploring the museum on their own, there are plenty of interactive events to participate in. There are often guided tours, classes, and artist talks available for guests.
#4 – Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
If you can’t get enough art in one trip, then you can also check out the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. It has over 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, along with a sculpture garden on the roof. The sculpture garden often rotates its pieces, which are accompanied by a beautiful garden. Unlike the Chazen Museum of Art, this attraction focuses on modern art, specifically from the 20th and 21st century. You’ll find lots of recognizable work, especially pieces by Frida Kahlo, John Steuart Curry, and Diego Rivera. The museum has three floors to explore, and the front is even shaped like a ship with glass walls on every level.
#5 – Wisconsin Historical Museum
Perhaps art isn’t your thing. Luckily, there are other museums to visit too. The Wisconsin Historical Museum is the perfect place to visit if you want to learn a little more about the Badger State. This museum will inform you of all the background and culture of Madison. Some of these exhibits are your typical learning experiences while others are a bit quirky, such as an exhibit about the invention of malted milk. This museum is located within walking distance of the Wisconsin State Capitol building, so it can be a great place to stop before exploring that significant structure.
#6 – Monona Terrace
The Monona Terrace has one of the best views of Lake Monona. It was built in 1997, thanks to the architectural vision of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s notable for its curved glass facade, but the best part is the beautiful terrace on top. The terrace is large enough to give you views of both the city and the lake. It’s a perfect place to relax and take stunning photos. Inside, the structure is mostly used for conventions and other large events, such as the Dane County Farmer’s Market in the winter. Tours of the structure are often available as well. Also, if looking out at the lake isn’t enough for you, you can also spend the day on the lake, whether it’s boating, fishing, or other water events.
#7 – Henry Vilas Zoo
Animal lovers can rejoice because the Henry Vilas Zoo is one of the best things to do in Madison WI. It first opened in 1924, and it covers 28 acres. It’s a free zoo with no admission or parking fees. It has a wide variety of animals, including those in tropical, arctic, savannah, and plains habitats. It’s an excellent zoo for all ages because in addition to the many fascinating animals, it also has kid-friendly events. Kids can enjoy classes, a carousel, a train, and a children’s zoo area. With close to a million visitors annually, this zoo is always a great addition to vacation plans.
#8 – Camp Randall Stadium
Luckily, sports fans can also have their fun in Madison. Camp Randall Stadium is home to the University of Wisconsin’s football team, the Wisconsin Badgers. It was built back in 1917, and it is currently one of the nation’s largest school-owned sports stadiums. It can seat over 80,000 fans. Not only can you catch a college football game, but this stadium also hosts other major events, such as concerts and Green Bay Packer games. It also has plenty of areas for students to enjoy, including lounges and offices. Plenty of tours are available for days when no events are going on.
#9 – State Street
You can’t visit Madison without at least walking around State Street once. This busy street leads up to the Capitol building for the perfect photo opportunity. It also has lots of shops, bars, galleries, and restaurants on it, along with some live music. It’s also an ideal place for people to celebrate Halloween, as you will see many people in costumes looking for candy on that holiday. In between your other attractions, consider walking around State Street if the weather is nice because it has a lot to offer.
#10 – Madison Children’s Museum
This is another one of the best things to do in Madison WI for children. If it’s too cold outside to check out the free zoo, the Madison Children’s Museum is another place that kids love to stop. It has exhibits that cater to all kids, from toddlers to pre-teens. Unlike your typical museum, this children’s museum is packed with interactive exhibits, colorful displays, and unique walkways to keep kids engaged. Kids can learn about biology, history, and physics all while still having fun. It even has a permanent farm exhibit on the roof, with a greenhouse, pond, and chicken coop. There are also classes and programs that children can attend while you go enjoy other parts of the city.
#11 – University of Wisconsin Arboretum and Geology Museum
The University of Wisconsin-Madison already has a beautiful campus, but as it turns out, it has other incredible attractions to offer too. The college is over 150 years old and covers 1,260 acres, so it’s certainly worth exploring. The university’s arboretum and botanical research center is home to many flowers, trees, and shrubs. It offers free walks, tours, and activities to get the public more interested in nature. The university also has its own geology museum, which has a wide variety of fossils, minerals, and stones from around the world. Like the arboretum, the geology museum also has tours and classes to add to the experience.
#12 – Wisconsin Veterans Museum
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is another attraction located within walking distance of the State Capitol and the Wisconsin Historical Museum. So, if you’re looking for educational things to do in Madison WI, you might want to hit all three attractions. This museum has award-winning exhibits about artifacts from wars and the people who fought in the wars. It covers history from the Civil War up until the Gulf War. It even has some interactive exhibits, including military vehicles and war planes. It’s definitely worth a visit if you want to learn more about our brave veterans.
#13 – Memorial Union Terrace
The Memorial Union Terrace is another attraction found on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus. It’s the ideal place for hanging out and relaxing after a long day. It sits right along the water, with dining and cute tables to sit at. It’s often reserved for students, but it’s easy to obtain a guest pass if needed. It also has many public events hosted there, including frequent live music. At night, the terrace is beautifully lit up, making concert events and night outs feel even more magical.
No matter your interests or age, there is lots to do in Wisconsin’s capital. It has some of the most beautiful sights and lots of fascinating history. It’s certainly a more peaceful vacation spot, but it won’t disappoint. If you’re visiting Wisconsin or are a Wisconsin resident, be sure to explore Madison when you get the chance.