If you were to ask the average person to name the signature spots in Madison, you’d likely end up with a list similar to this one. These are the places where locals hang out, unwind, or get inspired…the places they make part of their weekly routine…the places they take visitors to show how awesome Madison is!
This is an obvious place to start. At the heart of the isthmus, with streets radiating and flowing around it, the Capitol is central to Madison’s identity and makes a striking landmark rising above downtown. Free tours are offered most days of the year and an upper observation deck provides dramatic panoramic views of the area.
Get ready for some begging: your kids will want to visit this place again and again! Located downtown in a LEED-gold building, there are interactive water features, elevated pods and bridges to climb and scramble and slide, an art studio, a rooftop garden with animals to pet and observe, musical instruments and pinball machines and a person-sized hamster wheel. With all the inventive artwork and displays, plus the tempting offerings from local faves Roman Candle Pizza and Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, it’s easy to make an entire day out of your visit.
Discover the stories and contributions of Wisconsin’s military veterans in this downtown museum. Free admission.
Another downtown trove of regional history, the historical museum offers rotating exhibits and daily guided tours.
Located on State Street next to the Overture Center, MMoCA features an eclectic and intriguing array of artwork, both in its permanent collection and temporary exhibits. It also holds various events throughout the year, including a summertime rooftop cinema series and an autumn art & gift sale. Make sure to leave time to wander through the stunning museum shop.
With ten resident companies and countless visiting artists, Madison’s signature theatre hosts a diverse range of programming including Broadway hits, African choirs, jazz combos, opera soloists, regional musical theatre performers, illusionists, comedians, dance troupes… There’s really no limit to the type of entertainment you can enjoy in this spectacular, glittering venue.
Based on a 1938 design by Wisconsin-based Frank Lloyd Wright, Monona Terrace was finally constructed in 1997 and has been a hub of the community ever since for everything from art exhibits to conventions to weddings. The expansive rooftop deck affords gorgeous views of Lake Monona, and during warm months you can also enjoy live music, the fountain, or a meal at the Lake Vista Café.
Perched on Lake Mendota between the Memorial Union Terrace and Red Gym, Alumni Park is culmination of a decades-long plan. Members of the public are welcome to stroll the 34,000 square feet of green space, where you’ll enjoy exhibits honoring UW alumni and espousing the Wisconsin Idea.
Next to the Capitol and the Farmer’s Market, this is probably one of the most popular destinations in Madison. Settle into one of the iconic green, yellow, or orange metal starburst chairs on the shores of Lake Mendota and enjoy a beer or some Babcock Hall ice cream while listening to some live music.
If you keep heading west from the Union Terrace along the southern rim of Lake Mendota, you’ll eventually come to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and its most famous area, known as Picnic Point. A peninsula jutting out nearly a mile into the lake, Picnic Point is laced with serene walking trails (no bikes in this part of the preserve). There’s plenty of bird- and wildlife-watching, some notable Indian mounds, and ample opportunity for (of course!) picnicking, whether you throw down a blanket on the grassy areas or reserve one of the six fire circles that are scattered along the peninsula.
It’s hard to believe that a zoo this amazing is free of charge, but it is. Situated on Lake Wingra a few blocks down from Camp Randall Stadium and Monroe Street, Vilas has a variety of animals and exhibits, a cafe, gift shop, and multi-level playground, as well as a carousel and train (each for a small fee).
Originally a training ground for Civil War soldiers, this double-decker outdoor football stadium has a capacity of 80,000 and a reputation for enthusiastic (some might say boisterous) spectating. Since 1917 it’s been home to the UW Badgers football team, and thanks to its prized location at the juncture of Regent and Monroe Streets, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to which fans can disperse after the game, whether to celebrate another victory or mourn a rare loss. But even the most disappointed fan won’t leave before Fifth Quarter: that’s when the UW marching band plays its heart out and everybody in the stadium sing, dances, and cheers along. It’s the kind of exhilarating tradition that will turn you into a regular!
Home to the UW men’s and women’s basketball teams, and the men’s hockey team, the Kohl Center celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018 and is still lauded by fans and visitors alike for its gleaming, state-of-the-art facility. If you’re not into athletics, you can enjoy many other events like concerts, political gatherings, and ice skating shows.
This venue is conveniently situated just off the Beltline (Highway 12/18/151) at John Nolen Drive and Rimrock Road, and its spacious, varied facilities make it one of the busiest spots in the area, hosting numerous indoor and outdoor concerts, large-scale agricultural exhibitions, the annual county fair, arts and craft sales, home expos, and special events like the circus, the Harlem Globetrotters, and CrossFit Games.
With its attractive grounds and multiple waterways as well as proximity to downtown and the university, Tenney Park draws a wide variety of people throughout all four seasons. You can fish, swim, paddle canoes and kayaks (available to rent if you don’t have your own), walk/run, cycle, or play numerous sports on its many courts and fields. There’s even ice skating in the winter, complete with a warming shelter and concession stand.
Madison is a picturesque and active place offering plenty to see and do. Once you venture out and become part of the city’s hum, you’ll be so glad you did!