It's difficult to know where to begin in this sophisticated university-anchored city. A visit might mean shopping a massive farmers market, dining on energetic State Street, paddling peaceful Lake Mendota, strolling through the botanical garden or sampling ice cream in the student union.
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 20,000 pieces of modern art; some are part of the roofstop sculpture garden.
Just down State Street, guided tours of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building highlight the public art (mosaics, stained glass and murals) in the Supreme courtroom, the governor's conference room and the Senate Chamber.
The Old Fashioned serves creamy mac and cheese made with cheddar aged seven years; pair it with one of the 50-plus brews on tap.
Badgers games draw crowds to State Street and the many sports bars there. (There's plenty of shopping and dining, too).
Explore 16 acres of outdoor gardens (including the Thai pavilion) for free at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, while there, pay $2 to enter the orchid-filled Bolz Conservatory.
History lessons come with dinner at Quivey’s Grove: Dishes are named after prominent figures from Wisconsin’s past, and the menu reads like a book.
Turn in at sophisticated boutique HotelRed. Ultrachic decor in comfortable guest rooms encourage relaxation (from $159).
See Lake Monona from aboard a Betty Lou motor yacht during a leisurely Champagne brunch cruise or from land by biking a 13-mile trail that passes Lakes Monona and Mendota.
Fountain Prairie Farm dry-aged Highland ground beef fills the V burger at Brasserie V, a casual European-style restaurant focusing on rustic French food and Belgian beers.
Chazen Museum of Art keeps some 20,000 pieces in its collection. Or if you're traveling with kids, the Madison Children’s Museum lends itself to nonstop learning and playing; day camps and workshops are available.
The bold, seasonally inspired menu at Graze includes sustainable, fresh fish and chili-braised mussels in a wine broth.
More information: Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 373-6376; visitmadison.com
By the Numbers
280 vendors sign up each year to participate in the Dane County Farmers Market, the country’s largest producer-only market. Sellers produce or process everything for sale, including bison meat, fried cheese, ciders and flowers. (608) 455-1999; dcfm.org
National Mustard Museum You don’t have to be a mustard-lover (though it certainly helps) to appreciate the quirky yet classy homage to ketchup’s counterpart. Located 7 miles west of Madison in Middleton, the museum features a variety of mustards on The Great Wall of Mustard, antique mustard pots, a few simple displays and a video explaining the condiment’s history. In the gift shop, purchase a T-shirt that reads “Friends don’t let friends eat k-----p!” (608) 831-2222; mustardmuseum.com
Add a Day
Frank Lloyd Wright's estate Taliesin overlooks the Wisconsin River in Spring Green, 38 miles west of Madison. Visitors get an education on this ingenious yet controversial architect famous for developing the Prairie style. Tours showcase Wright's use of glass, stone and wood and chronicle the development of the Taliesin Fellowship to train architecture apprentices. taliesinpreservation.org