Explore Madison, the local heart of Wisconsin

Madison is a vibrant place that embraces local businesses and embodies state pride. Here are a few suggestions for making the most of your time in Wisconsin’s capital city.

Madison is Wisconsin's capital city. Image credit: iStock
The Wisconsin State Capital in Madison. Image credit: iStock

Madison’s large student population has contributed to the development of a rich culture that’s unlike anywhere else in the state. Madison has a strong sense of community and is an environmentally conscious population, preferring locally produced products. You don’t have to settle for chain restaurants or cafes here. Madison is the best place to experience what Wisconsin is all about.

Here are some suggestions for how to spend your time in Madison, Wisconsin.

Spend the night in a boutique hotel

Hotel Ruby Marie holds the title of the oldest hotel in Madison dating back to 1873. This is an excellent accommodation option if you’re looking to stay somewhere with a bit of local charm but all the modern conveniences. Located just across the street from Lake Monona, the hotel is conveniently located near many of the city’s top attractions and dining options.

Hotel Rubie Marie in Madison. Image credit: Maureen Cassidy photography
Hotel Rubie Marie in Madison. Image credit: Maureen Cassidy photography

The Graduate Hotel is another great option if you’re in town on business. The decor combines modern interior design with the spirit of the University of Wisconsin to create stylish rooms unlike anywhere else in the city. Equipped for business travelers, a stay here includes all the amenities you need with the added bonus of a rooftop terrace where you can host a meeting or unwind after a long day. Book their business package to get additional perks such as a wifi speed upgrade and complimentary same-day dry cleaning.

Enjoy the cafe culture

Despite being the second biggest city in the state, Madison puts a strong focus on locally-owned businesses when it comes to its cafes. Marigold Kitchen is located close to the Capitol Building and serves one of the best breakfasts in the country. From pumpkin buckwheat pancakes to duck confit hash, this cafe takes traditional brunch favorites to another level. Their food is freshly prepared using locally-sourced ingredients and bottomless coffee is an offer, something caffeine addicts will appreciate.

Mana Cafe is a cozy spot to savor a homemade pastry and admire the work of local artists that adorn the walls. Curled up next to the cafe’s soapstone fireplace is the ideal location for starting the day with a locally-roasted coffee on a brisk Wisconsin winter morning or enjoying a relaxed lunch.

Get some work done

If you’re looking for a coworking space to get some work done while you’re in Madison, check out Horizon Coworking. It has a student library vibe but is designed for working professionals. They offer a day pass so you can easily take advantage of this work environment, even just for a short amount of time. One thing that makes this place unique is that it offers a range of workspace options from a standard desk to a standing table so you can choose whatever is best for your work style.

Ground Zero Coffee is a great spot for those who prefer a cafe setting for checking emails and doing other work. This coffee shop is family-owned and roasts its own coffee weekly. Not only will you be served delicious fresh coffee when you visit, but you’ll be supporting a local business.

Try the local fare

The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company is the ideal location for sampling some of Madison’s locally brewed beer. The dinner menu includes regional comfort food favorites like beer-battered cheese curds and fish fry that will make you feel right at home in Wisconsin.

There is no better place to try Wisconsin’s signature cocktail, the old fashioned, than the Madison restaurant with the same name. The Old Fashioned Tavern and Restaurant serves some of the best Wisconsin cuisine including local favorites cheese curds and bratwurst. The rainbow trout and wood-grilled ribeye are also menu highlights. True to its namesake, this restaurant offers several variations of the cocktail, but nothing beats their classic brandy old fashioned.

Explore State Street

State Street is the beating heart of Madison so make sure to give yourself some time to wander up and down it. The wide sidewalks of this pedestrian area make it easy to window shop or dip in and out of the local shops. It is also home to some of the best cafes, restaurants, and bars in the city.

While the State Street area is a popular university drinking destination, there are plenty of places that won’t be overrun with students if you’d like to enjoy some time out in the evening. Cask & Ale has more than three hundred whiskeys to choose from and The Ivory Room Piano Bar provides exceptional entertainment with their dueling piano performance nights.

Check out Madison’s Museums

If you have the time, Madison’s Chazen Art Museum is worth a visit. Housing more than 20,000 pieces, it has become the second biggest art collection in the state. Both the permanent and rotating exhibits are incredibly diverse, featuring works of art from across the globe and dating as far back as Ancient Greece. Admission is free of charge and guests have the option of taking part in guided tours of the museum several times a week.

One of the area’s quirkier attractions is the National Mustard Museum. This unusual collection includes more than 6,000 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. The museum is just outside of the city so make sure to book a comfortable Blacklane chauffeur service in Madison for a stress-free trip to and from the museum.

Admire the city’s architecture

The inner dome of the Wisconsin State Capital building. Image credit gnagel
The inner dome of the Wisconsin State Capital building. Image credit gnagel/iStock

From Brutalist university buildings to the imposing State Capitol Building, be sure to take moment to appreciate the city’s architectural landmarks. The Wisconsin State Capitol will likely remind visitors of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Completed in 1917, the building’s impressive exterior and sheer size are sure to catch your eye. Inside you’ll find the intricately painted Capitol Rotunda dome and impressive murals in the Senate and Assembly chambers. You can take a tour of the inside of the building to fully experience its grandeur and learn about its history. After the Capitol, The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is arguably the most famous building in the city. Located on the banks of Lake Monona, it was originally designed by Wisconsin native and world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While the building wasn’t constructed until nearly forty years after his death, Wright’s exterior design was maintained.


Victoria Borisch

Victoria Borisch is originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin and loves writing about her home state. She has contributed to publications such as Fodor's, Huffington Post, Culture Trip, and Time Out.