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Things to Do in Madison, WI

Welcome to the Madison, WI area! You'll find things to do in Madison all year round. The city has four lakes in the middle of it, which makes commuting sometimes a little tough but we all enjoy how beautiful it looks. Madison is very recreational and boasts 75 miles of bike paths where you can ride your own bike or self-rent bikes around the city.

If you're looking to take in the "must-do" places to see and things to do when visiting Madison, here's the insider's list:

1. State Capitol Building

WI Capitol Dome

Madison is the state capitol of Wisconsin and the State Capitol Building has to be at the top of your list. It's located on the highest point of the Isthmus downtown and it closely resembles the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. In fact, some movies have been shot using our capitol since it looks so similar. The building was completed in 1917 (at a cost of $7.2 billion back then) and is the 5th and current building for our state capitol. Final construction was delayed because of World War I.

On the top of the capitol dome is a statue named "Wisconsin" but it usually referred to as "Miss Forward" since the state motto is "Forward." There's even a badger (the state animal) on top of her helmet. It's made out of 23.5 caret gold-gilded bronze.

Of course, when you get inside into the center, you absolutely have to look up and see the painting on the inside of the dome:

You can take tours of the State Capitol Building daily and they even take reservations online.

2. The University of Wisconsin

Bascom Hall - UW-Madison

Photo credit: Richard Hurd / Flickr

Madison is also home to the University of Wisconsin, which has locations (13 universities across 26 campuses) all over the state. The UW was founded in 1848. The Madison campus takes up 936 acres downtown along Lake Mendota. There are 13 schools and colleges within the university with just over 45,000 students.

The research, inventions, and innovations coming out of the UW have impacted the world - from vitamins, to medicines, treatments, agriculture, and more.

Some famous UW alumni include:

  • Joan Cusack, Actress
  • Steve Levitan, Hollywood Producer
  • Steve Miller, Rock Singer
  • Boz Skaggs, Rock Singer
  • Brian Stack, Writer for Conan O'Brien and Stephen Colbert
  • Butch Vig, Producer of Nirvana and Garbage (bands)
  • Tom Wopat, Actor
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  • Ron Dayne, 1999 Heisman trophy winner
  • Suzy Favor Hamilton, track star
  • Dick Cheney, Former US Vice President

You can take tours of the UW-Madison campus or just go downtown and walk around. Don't forget to say hello to Abraham Lincoln on Bascom Hill and then go hang out at the Memorial Union Terrace.

3. Henry Vilas Zoo

Flamingo at the Henry Vilas Zoo

Yes, Madison has a free zoo - the Henry Vilas Zoo has free admission to the public and is open 365 days per year. There are animals from 5 continents including African lions, African penguins, giraffes, elephants, tigers, alligators, and more.

The zoo in Madison is great on the weekends even on weekdays to enjoy with the kids. Enjoy seeing the animals and then have a picnic in the park or by the beach. Parking isn't too difficult in either the main parking area or with on-street parking in near by neighborhoods.

4. Monona Terrace Convention Center

Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, WI

Photo credit: Richard Hurd / Flickr

Located right on the shore of Lake Monona is the Monona Terrace Convention Center which was designed by Wisconsin native and internationally-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. There are many conferences, expos, and conventions held there annually as well as private events - even weddings. The location is right in the middle of downtown Madison with a short walk to the State Capitol building.

The top of the center features and outdoor garden area with space for outdoor concerts and other events. You can observe fishermen and people taking advantage of activities in the lake as you get a great view of Madison.

5. Museums

Oh, we've got museums! Here's a sampling of the many kinds of museums in the Madison area:

6. State Street and Monroe Street

State Street and Monroe Street

Photo credit: Richard Hurd / Flickr

Yeah, these streets are a little like tourist traps but then again... not like them at all. Where else are you going to find CD stores still hanging around or vintage clothing? Get away from the big, chain stores and truly shop local when you visit State Street or Monroe Street.

State Street is a street off of the Capitol Square (where you'll find the Farmer's Market, Art Fairs, Concerts on the Square and more) with lots of shopping, bars, restaurants, and some very interesting people like street performers. If you want some food on the go, then just stop at a food cart at the bottom of State Street on your way to the Memorial Union. Don't forget the Halloween party, a car show in the spring, Maxwell Street Days, and celebrating after the Badgers win!

On Monroe Street, which runs right next to Camp Randall Stadium on the west end of the UW-Madison campus, you'll find shopping, dining, and regular events with a little different vibe than State Street. You might say it's more "chill" there.

7. Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Olbrich Gardens

Photo credit: Ron Cogswell / Flickr

On the east side of Madison, you'll find Olbrich Gardens, which is a great place for weddings, events, or just walking around on a nice day. You'll find a wide variety of events like Cocktails in the Conservatory (Bolz Conservatory), flower shows, concerts, and Blooming Butterflies (you don't want to miss that one - no way).

Around the gardens is Olbrich Park, which has a beach and lots of recreation like baseball, softball, basketball, swimming, and volleyball.

8. Visit More of Our Parks

James Madison Park

Photo credit: Richard Hurd / Flickr

Madison is very recreational and we squeeze every minute out of summer that we can. There are many parks around the city, each one with its own flavor and character. Here are a few city and county parks you might like:

9. Wisconsin Governor's Mansion

WI Governor's Mansion

Source: Wikipedia

Hey, why not stop by the Wisconsin Governor's house while he's at work? The Governor's Mansion is located on Lake Mendota and offers tours in the spring and summer months. There are self-led tours and scheduled tours available and they are free to the public.

10. Have More Fun Outdoors

There are lots of things to do outdoors in all seasons in the Madison, WI area.

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