Madison Travel Guide

Get Your Bearings in Madison

Where to Stay

Madison offers luxury hotels, charming bed and breakfast rooms located lakeside and throughout the city and even carriage houses, depending on your accommodation preferences. Since Madison is one of only two major U.S. cities built on an isthmus, there are more than a dozen ways to stay in that area alone. Also, there are several accommodation options on or near Lake Mendota, Lake Monona and Lake Wingra. And if you want to feel like the president, book the presidential suite at the Sheraton Madison where President Obama once stayed.

Caution: Book way in advance if traveling during peak athletic events like the Triathlon.


What to Eat

Madison has a host of award-winning restaurants from The Old Fashioned which features supper club fare inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns, to those that celebrate locally grown ingredients like L'Etoile. It has waterfront restaurants, and the Dane County Farmers’ Market open on Saturdays (which heads indoors during the winter) is not to be missed if you enjoy fresh produce. 

Caution: The Dane County Farmers Market does not allow dogs on Capitol Square.
Be Sure to Sample: New Glarus beer and cow pies.


Things to See

Madison has often been described as "78 square miles surrounded by reality." Sparkling lakes and land are frozen making perfect conditions for winter sports such as skiing, sledding, skating and snowmobiling. Stroll down the section of State Street called "Museum Mile" to explore galleries, museums and boutiques. Also in the Madison area is the award-winning Madison Children's Museum, the free Henry Vilas Zoo and the historic Cave of the Mounds. Natural beauty can be found at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.

Hot Tips: Free walks take place each Sunday at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.


Places to Party

Madisonians take great pride in their food and drink, so it's no surprise that those elements are essential components to its nightlife scene. From outdoor patio seating to finding the newest pub or enjoying live entertainment, there is no shortage of things to do. The Blue Velvet Lounge attracts a young, upscale crowd which appreciates its retro styling décor and an exhaustive martini menu and creative vodka drinks. Ale Asylum is Madison’s only micro-brew pub. The Overture Center for the Arts offers a variety of performances from concerts to plays.

Hot Tips: Try a fresh kiwi martini, or the Cajun with jalapeno-infused vodka at The Blue Velvet Lounge.


Where to Shop

Downtown Madison features several boutiques on State Street and around the Capitol Square. Move on to Monroe Street for two more miles of locally-owned specialty shops including Orange Tree Imports and The Grace Chosy Gallery. If mall-shopping is more your style, East Towne Mall is near I90/94 and has four major department stores, 100 specialty shops and 15 restaurants and eateries. Hilldale Shopping Center includes shops like The North Face and Anthropologie. Johnson Creek Premium Outlets is packed with name-brand retailers offering budget-friendly clothing, accessories and home decor.

Take It or Leave It: Just outside Madison you can find the National Mustard Museum.
Best Local Souvenir: Anything Badger Paws.


Ready for Your Dream Vacation?


About Madison

By all accounts, Madison's picturesque setting is beyond enviable, nestled as the city is amid four glacier-created lakes. Even better, the downtown district claims the isthmus between Lakes Monona and Mendota, ensuring that both water and views are never too far distant. Presiding over everything is the State Capitol, an impressive domed edifice whose silhouette commands the scenic skyline. The lovely city is a far cry from the tiny settlement that existed early on, when the site of the capital was chosen by virtue of location alone. Once the Capitol was built and legislators had a place to convene, the University of Wisconsin-Madison followed in 1848, and the city began to flourish. Today, the cosmopolitan town has truly come into its own and is a center of culture, business, education, politics, and leisure. In fact, Madison has repeatedly been named one of the nation's most livable cities, thanks to the synergy created by its diverse aspects. Traditionally a bastion of liberal thinking, "Mad City" appeals to the broad-minded, especially given the strength and influence of the university. That's not to say, however, that academics rest in ivory towers. Bars, clubs, and restaurants appeal to folks of all...  Read more »