8 Must-Visit Attractions in Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin state capitol from Monona Terrace
Wisconsin state capitol from Monona Terrace | © Rob Marquardt / Flickr
Photo of Victoria Borisch
Freelance Writer20 May 2018

While visitors to the state might be drawn to bigger Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s capital should not be overlooked. Whether visiting during the sunny days of summer or frigid winter, Madison has more than enough exciting attractions to keep you entertained. From must-see museums to some of the best natural areas around, Madison has something for everyone.

Wisconsin State Capitol

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Inside the Wisconsin State Capitol Building | © Barry Dale Gilfry/flickr
Inside the Wisconsin State Capitol Building | Inside the Wisconsin State Capitol Building

In the heart of Madison lies the Wisconsin State Capitol building. As the symbol of the city, visitors are sure to pass this impressive structure multiple times during their stay in Madison. Those who are curious about what’s on the inside or want to get a deeper peek into Wisconsin’s state government should consider taking a tour. There’s no reservation necessary if you come with a group of fewer than 10 people.

Chazen Museum of Art

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Chazen Museum of Art | © John Benson/flickr
Chazen Museum of Art | Chazen Museum of Art

Art lovers can’t miss the Chazen Museum of Art on a trip to Madison. Located on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus, the museum houses the second-largest art collection in the state. Indeed, it is so expansive that it seems to cover a bit of everything from paintings and sculptures to photography and decorative arts.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden
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The Bolz Conservatory | © Ron Cogswell/flickr
The Bolz Conservatory | The Bolz Conservatory

Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens are truly something to behold. The complex features 16 acres worth of outdoor gardens to explore. While strolling through, visitors will be treated to spectacular landscapes and plants that thrive in the Midwest. Additionally, the Bolz Conservatory is an indoor area where you can take in the beauty of blooming flowers, exotic plants, and free-flying birds.

Henry Vilas Zoo

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Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison | © okandasan/flickr
Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison | Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison

Those who want to get up close and personal with animals from all over the world can do so for free in Madison at the Henry Vilas Zoo. As one of the few admission-free, community-supported zoos in the country, it ensures that everyone has access to the wonders of the animal kingdom. From big cats to native Wisconsin animals, the zoo is an accredited family-friendly attraction that has been bringing the Madison area closer to wildlife for over 100 years.

Madison Children’s Museum

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Madison Children's Museum | © Richie Diesterheft/flickr
Madison Children's Museum | Madison Children's Museum

For kids and the young at heart, there is perhaps nowhere better to spend an afternoon in the city than at the Madison Children’s Museum. It contains fun, interactive exhibits about art, science, culture, health, history, and much more, to help children learn through creative playing. The museum offers a wide range of events, including some specifically tailored for adults who want to get in touch with their inner child.

University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum

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University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum | © Richard Hurd/flickr
University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum | University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum covers an expansive 1,260 acres not far from the university’s campus. The Arboretum helps preserve plant species native to southern Wisconsin in its prairies, savannas, deciduous forests, conifer forests, wetlands, and gardens. With more than 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) of hiking trails and three miles (4.8 kilometers) of bike paths, this is a perfect spot if you are looking for a bit of fresh air. It’s also an ideal place for those who want to explore the great outdoors in winter as there are 10 miles (16 kilometers) of cross-country skiing and snowshoe routes that run through the Arboretum.

State Street

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State Street in Madison | © Richard Hurd/flickr
State Street in Madison | State Street in Madison

A trip to Madison would be incomplete without a visit to State Street. Lined with some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, cafés, and eclectic shops, it’s not difficult to spend an entire afternoon strolling down the extra-wide sidewalks. This pedestrian zone oozes small-town charm despite being located in the middle of one of the biggest cities in Wisconsin.

Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center

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Monona Terrace | Courtesy of Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
Monona Terrace | © Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
Located on the shores of Madison’s Lake Monona, just two blocks from the Capitol building, the Monona Terrace is a community and convention center originally designed by world-famous architect and Wisconsin native, Frank Lloyd Wright. Though construction didn’t take place until 60 years later, it is still considered to be a must-visit for architecture enthusiasts. Visitors have the opportunity to take a tour of the building, visit the gift shop, and take in the beautiful views from the rooftop terrace.

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