Known as the City of Lakes, Madison, Wisconsin, melds its college-town charm with a storied, rich history. While local brewpubs and eclectic dining draw crowds, visitors have a wealth of history, culture and outdoor attractions at their fingertips.
Wisconsin’s capital city is hard to miss. Its mammoth capitol building makes a commanding presence in Capitol Square, towering 200 feet tall and complete with a granite dome roof. Built in Roman-Renaissance style (between 1906 and 1917), the building is more than its exterior, and with tours running daily it’s easy to catch a glimpse inside this renowned structure.
Inside, visitors can discover murals by artist Hugo Ballin in the Italian-inspired governor’s conference room. One mural captures the final moment of the brief Winnebago War in 1827; another portrays French explorer Jean Nicolet discovering the land. The marbled State Supreme Court room is a must-see for architecture and history buffs.
From April through November, more than 160 vendors arrive for the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which flanks the capitol building’s exterior walls. Travelers and local mingle there, picking up fresh cantaloupe, pumpkins, zinnias and daisies. Extending from Capitol Square, State Street is a retail playground of 200-plus eclectic stores and eateries, from Little Luxuries gift shop to high-energy State Street Brats.
The peculiar location of Capitol Square in downtown Madison makes it a one-of-a-kind sight in a one-of-a-kind city. Capitol Square sits on an isthmus between Lakes Monona and Mendota, both frequented by locals and travelers who take to the lakes to canoe, scuba dive and fish. Nearby Lake Wingra is a popular spot for bird watching, swimming, kayaking and sailboat racing.
Several Madison attractions dot the land along Lake Monona. The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center overlooks the lake, and it is where visitors can tour the center, enjoy lakeside biking and walking trails, and catch concerts, educational events, and health fairs held here. Atop Monona Terrace, the William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden—complete with café—affords breathtaking views of Lake Monona and the state capitol building. Also near Lake Monona guests find Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Olbrich Park, with 67 acres for boating, fishing, and swimming during warmer months.
Tourists tend to flock to Lake Mendota, and for good reason. The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus lies near the lake. Madison attractions abound here, including dinosaur exhibits at the Geology Museum, Italian Renaissance paintings at the Chazen Museum of Art, kids’ science workshops at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and nature tours in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. Basketball, hockey, and football games at UW-Madison’s Kohl Center and Camp Randall Stadium welcome Badger fans and spectators.
Madison’s 46-acre Lake Wingra and Vilas Park Beach invite visitors to stroll shaded trails. Nearby, visitors find the Henry Vilas Zoo’s Tropical Rainforest Aviary, complete with a petting zoo. Open daily, this Madison favorite hosts special events each Earth Day and Halloween