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.
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State Capitol and Monona Terrace
State Capitol and Monona Terrace
| Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Do

Capitol 

It's a straight shot from Monona Terrace on Lake Monona to the state Capitol. Stroll around the exterior of the domed 1917 building, and check on the availability of free guided tours that highlight the interior's architecture, history and art.

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

Find produce, flowers, cheeses, breads and meats at the nation's largest producer-only market. (Vendors grow, cure and harvest everything they sell.) Held Saturdays at Capitol Square; a smaller market is held Wednesdays in the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Henry Vilas Zoo

More than 650 animals live at the free community-supported zoo just north of Lake Wingra. Vilas Park, surrounding the zoo, features playgrounds, a beach and a lagoon.

lake at Madison Wisconsin
Lake Monona
| Credit: Focal Flame Photography

Lake Monona 

Madison Eats Food Tours

Bring your appetite and book a tasting tour of downtown Madison or "brews and chews" in Atwood. Private tours available as well.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
| Credit: David Nevala

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art 

The airy building near the Capitol houses more than 5,500 pieces of modern and 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

Rooftop gardens overlook Lake Monona and downtown Madison. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center opened in 1997 after 60 years of controversy. Public tours available Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m.

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.

Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
| Credit: Ginger Crichton

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 $6 to enter the conservatory.

State Street 

This downtown area bustles with shops, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs. 

Tenney Park

Picnic with a view of Lake Mendota or spend the afternoon fishing or relaxing on the beach at Madison's first city park, dating back more than a century. In winter, ice-skate on the lagoon. 

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

The 35-acre Longenecker Horticultural Gardens display more than 2,500 types of plants, including a large lilac collection, while two other gardens feature native plants and viburnums. Throughout the 1,260-acre arboretum, more than 17 miles of trails wind through restored prairie, woodlands, wetlands and other habitats. 

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.

Eat and Drink

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 Dumpling's Dowry

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

Glass Nickel 

While you're noshing on the Glass Nickel's 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. Multiple locations.

Graze restaurant Madison
Graze
| Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Graze

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

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). Patrons gobble up its top-selling mac 'n' cheese pizza. 

L'Etoile 

Fine dining about as fine as it gets. A dinner for two might include braised ham hocks, whole milk ricotta spaetzle, fresh-baked pretzels and apple strudel.

Marigold Kitchen

Under new ownership in 2021, the Capitol Square area breakfast and lunch spot serves creatively prepared breakfast burritos, house-made soups, and hearty salads such as the Roasted Beet, Warm Goat Cheese and Grapefruit with champagne vinaigrette.

Merchant 

Pair a Ploughman's Board of local cheese and charcuterie with an expertly crafted seasonal cocktail at this gastropub.

Monty's Blue Plate Diner

An updated diner serves breakfast all day and vegetarian options that go way beyond a tofu burger.

Nook

This tiny special-occasion restaurant seats just 12 and offers a tasting menu of 10 to 14 courses, with optional wine pairings. Expect inventive dishes from the chef owners. 

Quivey's Grove 

Housed in structures from the mid-1800s, these dinine areas on the city's outskirts are an elegant celebration of Wisconsin.

RED

The glam sushi restaurant serves seasonal craft cocktails along with favorites like the Mermaid Roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, pickled jalapeño, mango.).

Short Stack Eatery 

Exquisite blueberry pancakes and a Bloody Mary full of fresh veggies are just two reasons to visit the all-day-breakfast restaurant.

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.

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.

Weary Traveler Freehouse 

Bob's Bad Breath Burger (made with garlic, onions and cream cheese) is wickedly tasty. Wash it down with a Wisconsin beer at the Weary Traveler.

Working Draft Beer Company

The brewery specializes in IPAs and lagers with flavors like Peachin' to the Choir.

Stay

Downtown Madison Wisconsin
Credit: Courtesy of AC Hotel Downtown Madison

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 Premier Park Hotel

Perks at this convenient downtown hotel include sizeable, clean rooms and an indoor pool.

The Edgewater Hotel Madison, Wisconsin
Credit: Courtesy of The Edgewater

The Edgewater 

The hotel pier gives easy access to Lake Mendota. An on-site spa within the 202-room building ups the lake-luxe ante.

Graduate Madison

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

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. ihg.com

Hyatt Place Madison/Downtown 

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

The Speckled Hen Inn 

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

For more information visitmadison.com