Top Attractions for First-Time Visitors

With so many things to do in Madison, narrowing down the attractions can be tricky. Here are some of our favorites to get your trip started on the right foot:

University of Wisconsin Campus

You can’t come to Madison without exploring the beautiful UW campus. Schedule a guided tour or just stroll through the 936 acres of picturesque grounds. Snap photos at iconic Bascom Hall, grab ice cream at the Babcock Dairy Store, or catch a show at the historic Union Theater. Even if you’re not a prospective student, touring campus is a quintessential Madison experience.

State Capitol Building

One of the most eye-catching buildings downtown is the magnificent Wisconsin State Capitol. This impressive structure is the 2nd tallest capitol dome in the U.S. Free tours run daily, guiding you through the building’s history, ornate architecture, and significant collection of artwork. After your tour, unwind in Capitol Square Park with its whimsical “Wisconsin icons” sculpture collection.

Henry Vilas Zoo

Home to over 600 animals, the Henry Vilas Zoo makes for a delightful afternoon with the family. See everything from tigers and polar bears to komodo dragons and monkeys in this free zoo. Interactive exhibits like the giraffe feeding platform and camel rides add hands-on fun. The zoo also hosts engaging events like Yoga with the Big Cats and Zoo in Lights.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

When you need an escape into natural beauty, Olbrich Botanical Gardens has 16 acres of picturesque indoor gardens and outdoor trails to explore. The tropical Bolz Conservatory transports you from Madison winters to a rainforest paradise. Outside, stroll through specialty gardens or by Lake Monona. In warmer months, concerts, art fairs, and blooming flowers add to the allure.

Monona Terrace

Frank Lloyd Wright fans will appreciate his final work, Monona Terrace, which hosts events overlooking Lake Monona. Take a guided tour to learn about the structure’s unique sail-like design. Monona Terrace also has a gift shop, cafe, art displays and rooftop gardens open to the public most days. Check the calendar for free outdoor concerts or yoga on the rooftop in summer.

Chazen Museum of Art

With free admission and one of the Midwest’s largest art exhibitions, the Chazen Museum is a must-visit. View pieces from ancient Pacific Islanders to Andy Warhol, all while enjoying the glassy museum architecture. Guided tours, music performances and family programs run regularly. After getting your art fix, relax at the museum’s cafe.

Madison’s Bars and Brewpubs

Madison knows how to craft good beer. Sample regional brews at dozens of brewpubs like Karben4, Ale Asylum, and One Barrel Brewing or tour giant New Glarus Brewing just outside town. When night falls, hit up bars on Williamson (“Willy”) Street, State Street or Capitol Square for a lively local scene. Notables like Genna’s Cocktail Lounge or Great Dane Pub should top your list for classic Madison nightlife.

State Street

Madison’s State Street is a vibrant pedestrian mall lined with restaurants, shops, and some of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Don’t miss snapping a photo in front of the State Capitol building, browsing the farmer’s market, or watching street performers like musicians and mimes. State Street offers a lively taste of Madison culture.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

Spanning 1,200 acres, the stunning University of Wisconsin Arboretum offers miles of scenic walking trails that showcase Wisconsin’s diverse ecosystems. Highlights include native tallgrass prairies, restored wetlands, and historic remnants like early 20th century planting experiments. It’s a nature lover’s paradise right in the heart of Madison.

Memorial Union Terrace

Memorial Union Terrace, affectionately known as “the Terrace,” is a beloved university landmark overlooking scenic Lake Mendota. The lively outdoor space has stunning lake views, concerts, locally-sourced food carts, and the iconic Terrace chairs. It’s the perfect place for an afternoon picnic or evening sunset.

Madison Children’s Museum

With three floors of interactive exhibits focused on science, culture and the arts, the Madison Children’s Museum keeps little ones engaged for hours. Kids can explore everything from bubbles and light to a minnow pond and model airplane. Toddler-friendly spots cater to even the youngest museum-goers.

Canoe or Kayak Madison’s Lakes

Paddling is one of the best ways to take in Madison’s impressive lakes. Rent canoes, kayaks or stand up paddleboards and get out on lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra and Waubesa. Pedal and Paddle along the Yahara River is a popular starting point close to downtown.

How to Get Around Madison

Madison covers about 80 square miles, so having reliable transportation is key to maximizing your time. Here are the most convenient ways to get around town:

Public Transportation

Madison Metro Transit offers a network of convenient bus routes to help you easily navigate popular attractions without a car. Several routes connect downtown to East Towne Mall, Middleton, Verona and other suburbs. The free Downtown to Campus 80 route is also handy for getting between downtown and the university.

Taxis and Rideshares

If buses don’t fit your schedule, traditional taxi companies like Badger Cab and Union Cab offer 24/7 on-demand rides in the Madison area. Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft also provide point-to-point transportation around the city and to Dane County Regional Airport.

Charter Buses

For group travel or private events, charter buses take transportation up a notch in comfort and convenience. Madison Party Bus Company offers charter bus rentals for any size group, whether you need a bus for a brewery tour or to shuttle wedding guests between venues. Our fleet of luxury buses, vans and limos features amenities like leather seats, TVs, WiFi and more. One quick call provides easy group transportation for any Madison excursion.

Ready to Get Started?

We hope this introductory guide gets you excited about planning your Madison getaway! With so many things to experience – from quintessential college town vibes to an exploding foodie scene – Madison offers something for every visitor. Reach out to Madison Party Bus Company at 608-669-9100 to arrange smooth transportation for your group’s Madison adventures. We can’t wait to welcome you!