This university-anchored city gets an extra dose of sophistication from its role as state capital. Lakes and a famous market encourage outdoor fun. Check out our picks for what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Madison.

By The editors of
Updated May 24, 2020

Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, events, restaurants and lodgings.


Madison Eats Food Tours Bring your appetite and book a tasting tour of downtown Madison, global eats on Willy Street, or “brews and chews” in Atwood.

Capitol It’s a straight shot from Monona Terrace on Lake Monona to the state Capitol. Free guided tours highlight architecture, history and art.

State Capitol and Monona Terrace
Monona Terrace and State Capitol

Chazen Museum of Art Galleries display a diverse collection, including African, Asian and 21st-century international works, at this museum on the University of Wisconsin campus.

Dane County Farmers Market At the nation’s largest producer-only market, 150-plus vendors sell produce, flowers, cheeses, breads and meats around Capitol Square on Saturdays, April through November.

Henry Vilas Zoo More than 650 animals live at the free community-supported zoo just north of Lake Wingra.

Lake Monona See it from a Betty Lou motor yacht during a champagne brunch cruise or from a winding lakeside bike trail.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art The airy building near the Capitol houses more than 5,500 pieces of modern and contemporary art.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Madison Trust for Historic Preservation Tours of areas such as Mansion Hill West focus on the city’s history and architecture.

Memorial Union Terrace Students and visitors love hanging out on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. Grab a snack from one of the terrace’s dining spots or maybe catch a free concert.

Monona Terrace Tours and an exhibit address the controversy around the building of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center on Lake Monona.

Monroe Street Indie shops and restaurants line a 1½-mile stretch west of downtown.

National Mustard Museum Exhibits and video make a quirky yet classy homage to ketchup’s counterpart at the free museum, 6 miles west of Madison in Middleton.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens The 16 acres encompass a rose garden, sunken garden, and Thai pavilion and garden. It’s free to stroll the grounds and just $2 to enter the conservatory.

State Street This area bustles with more than 370 shops, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum These 1,200 acres feature prairie, savannah, marsh and deciduous forest, plus 20-plus miles of trails.

Wisconsin Historical Museum Stand in a replica 1,000-year-old home, walk into a lead mine or climb in a tractor cab as you explore exhibits on state history.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum Exhibits tug on emotions while telling stories of combat and life back home through letters, poetry, photographs and artifacts.


Babcock Hall Dairy Store The public face of the UW's food sciences program, this parlor sells campus-made ice cream.

Brasserie V The European-style restaurant focuses on rustic French food and Belgian beers.

Dotty's Dumpling's Dowry Dotty’s claim to be the world hamburger headquarters gets lots of support from the chargrilled, out-of-this-world burgers.

Dotty's Dumpling Dowry
Dotty's Dumpling's Dowry

Estrellón Enjoy a leisurely parade of tapas from James Beard Award-winning chef Tory Miller. Then cap the evening with a Basque cake that seems to change flavors and textures with every bite.

Glass Nickel While you're noshing on the best-selling Fetalicious pizza, with its tender mushrooms, fresh spinach, tomatoes and crumbled feta, sip a hearty Scottish ale or peppery Cabernet and enjoy the restaurant's Bohemian-chic decor.

Graze Taste the region’s food bounty in seasonal dishes, such as gyro lamb sausage with summer squash and grilled flatbread.


Harvest The menu follows the seasons at this upscale favorite. Check the website for themed monthly Sunday dinners.

Heritage Tavern Pork stars here (the chef breeds his own heritage hogs), right down to the vintage boar-theme dinnerware. But there’s plenty for seafood-lovers and for vegetarians too.

Ian's Pizza This eatery on State Street cemented its reputation selling pizza by the slice (and opened satellite shops in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood and in Milwaukee). Patrons gobble up its top-selling mac 'n' cheese pizza.

L'Etoile Fine dining about as fine as it gets. Try the Chef’s Tasting Experience, a “culinary odyssey” with optional wine pairings.

Marigold Kitchen The Capitol Square area breakfast and lunch spot dishes platters of brioche French toast and blueberry pancakes with orange almond butter.

Merchant Like its cocktails crafted by bartenders, Merchant mixes the best of food and fun: It’s a combination restaurant, bar, grocer and nightclub.

Mickey's Tavern Follow locals to this slightly worn gem. In a 1902 flatiron building, Mickey's features a retro bar, living room-style dining areas and a spacious patio. Mickey's Tavern Facebook page

Monty's Blue Plate Diner An updated diner serves breakfast all day and vegetarian options that go way beyond a tofu burger.

Quivey's Grove Housed in structures from the mid-1800s, this restaurant on the city's outskirts is an elegant celebration of Wisconsin.

RED The glam sushi restaurant serves seasonal craft cocktails along with favorites like the riceless Lollipop Roll (tuna, salmon, cucumber and asparagus).

Short Stack Eatery Exquisite blueberry pancakes and a Bloody Mary full of fresh veggies are just two reasons to visit. Plus, it’s open overnight on Saturdays.

Sunroom Cafe The brunch has a range of omelets and scramblers, plus whole wheat pancakes to keep Madison's granola reputation intact.

Tornado Steakhouse Wood-paneled walls, cozy booths and white linen tablecloths will take you straight back to the Mad Men era at this classic Wisconsin supper club.

Taiwan Little Eats Taiwanese street food comes to State Street with sweet potato fries dusted in plum powder and popcorn chicken over rice. Wash it down with an iced matcha or a cup of taro milk tea.

Weary Traveler Freehouse Bob's Bad Breath Burger (made with garlic, onions and cream cheese) is wickedly tasty.

Working Draft Beer Company The brewery specializes in IPAs and lagers with flavors like Peachin’ to the Choir. Communal seating and board games encourage lingering with friends.


AC Hotel Madison Downtown A central location and sleek design attract guests to the 165-room lodging. Floor-to-ceiling windows at Eno Vino Wine Bar and Bistro on the 10th floor afford panoramic city views.

Best Western Inn on the Park Capitol Square Perks at this convenient downtown hotel include sizeable, clean rooms and free parking.

The Edgewater The hotel pier gives easy access to Lake Mendota (and the occasional pop-up pier party). Five dining options within the 202-room building up the lake-luxe ante.

The Edgewater Hotel. Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo courtesy of The Edgewater

Graduate Madison Canoes hanging from the lobby ceiling and cheery plaid furniture reflect the Wisconsin-influenced decor. Try fried cheese curds at the rooftop restaurant, Camp Trippalindee.

HotelRED Comfort and chic blend in the 48 guest rooms at a boutique hotel across the street from the Wisconsin Badgers' Camp Randall Stadium.

Hotel Indigo Madison Downtown A 1915 brick building—once the site of a paint company—is now home to a boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. Colorful murals on each floor pay homage to the building’s paint history.

Hyatt Place Madison/Downtown Between lakes Mendota and Monona, this hotel puts much of Madison in walking distance.

Mansion Hill Inn In the Mansion Hill district near downtown, the German Romanesque Revival building’s 10 rooms feature plush linens. Some rooms have marble fireplaces.

The Speckled Hen Inn Relax in one of five guest rooms at this modern home on a bucolic 20-acre property.

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