Madison, the state capital of Wisconsin, is said to be one of the most quintessentially American cities and home to a vibrant cultural scene. From superb events such as the wonderful Rhythm and Booms, a huge firework and music festival that includes fly-pasts by air force jets, to its first-rate museums and art galleries, Madison offers a diversity of attractions for tourists. In the summer months, the city’s extensive bike trail network is busy with cyclists, while others prefer sailing on lakes Mendota, Monona, and Waubesa. Come winter, it’s all about skating, hockey, Nordic skiing, and ice fishing. One of the city’s major claims to fame is its long association with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Born in Wisconsin, Wright designed many of Madison’s most notable buildings, including the headquarters of the First Unitarian Society and several private houses. Discover the best things to do in and around the city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Madison.
Pendarvis State Historic Site
The Pendarvis Historic Site consists of buildings from the mid 19th century that have been restored to their original state. In the 1830s and 1840s, settlers from other parts of the US and Europe flooded into Wisconsin, lured by the prospect of plentiful lead in shallow diggings throughout the region. As the easy lead became scarce and greater skills were needed to work the earth, immigrants from Cornwall, England filled the need. These miners and their families left their mark on southwest Wisconsin, especially in Pendarvis, where you can see their stone cottages, learn about their lives, and come to understand how their legacy has been preserved. Excellent guided tours with costumed staff are available.
Blue Mounds State Park
The Blue Mounds, the highest hills in Southern Wisconsin, are in Blue Mounds State Park and are popular for hikers, mountain bikers, and campers. An informative Nature Center provides insights into the flora, fauna, and geology of the area. Also worth visiting is the Cave of the Mounds with its large caverns, stalactites, and stalagmites. Above ground, the property features pleasant walking trails through fields and woods. Afterward, visit the town of Blue Mounds itself, home to Little Norway, a recreation of a household and church from the early 19th century.
Allen Centennial Gardens
The Allen Centennial Gardens are the living classroom for the University of Wisconsin-Madison horticulture program and are designed to educate visitors of all ages. Highlights include the Sustainability Garden, where you can learn about sustainable practices; an Edible Garden; and several themed decorative gardens, including the English Cottage, Italian, French, and Japanese. There is also a pond garden, a rock garden, and several more. At the center of the gardens stands the Dean’s Residence, a Gothic Victorian house, which was home to the university’s first four deans. Today, it is uninhabited and preserved as a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places. The gardens are open year-round from dawn to dusk, and there is no admission charge.
The Madison Children’s Museum
The Madison Children’s Museum contains a fun selection of exhibits and activities for kids up to ten years old. The museum hosts a wide variety of year-long changing exhibits with educational themes, like the interactive “Coops to Cathedrals” area where kids can explore the creative process of Frank Lloyd Wright and learn by experimenting with their own creations. The museum’s permanent exhibit, Rooftop Ramble, is akin to a farm perched high above the city. The area includes a pond, greenhouse, chicken coop, and even a roost for homing pigeons. Kids can get amazing views of the city from the Crow’s Nest, and there are daily drop-in activities and programs in the Clubhouse.
Wisconsin Veterans Museum
The award-winning Wisconsin Veterans Museum showcases the history of the many citizens who participated in military struggles from the Civil War to the Gulf War. Displays include a great deal of military paraphernalia, much of it set up in fascinating and informative dioramas. A number of vintage vehicles and warplanes are also on-site, including the famous Sopwith Camel and the mighty P-51 Mustang. The museum also operates a research center where items related to the various conflicts can be accessed.
University of Wisconsin
The 150-year-old University of Wisconsin in Madison covers more than 1,260 acres and is well worth exploring. Highlights include the Arboretum, home to the oldest and most varied collection of restored ecological communities in the world, including tallgrass prairies, savannas, several forest types, and wetlands. It also houses many flowering trees, shrubs, and a world-famous lilac collection, and has an excellent Visitor Center with plenty of useful information on the property. Also on campus is Madison’s Geology Museum with its informative displays on how rocks, minerals, and fossils are formed.
Henry Vilas Zoo
Opened in 1924 and owned by the City of Madison, the 28-acre Henry Vilas Zoo is a favorite with locals and visitors alike, and one of the best things to do in Madison if you are traveling with kids. It attractions close to a million visitors each year. The zoo is home to a wide variety of animals from tropical, arctic, savannah, plains, and other habitats. The tropical rainforest exhibit includes a combination of fish, rainforest plants, and a free-flight aviary where visitors are surrounded by birds. Always enjoy your journey in Madison with allegiant airlines online booking and grab the best deals. The newest exhibit, Arctic Passage, features an underwater viewing area for its harbor seals and polar bears, as well as a stream where the grizzly bears fish. Other popular residents include Amur tigers, African lions, reticulated giraffes, red pandas, and alpaca. For younger visitors, there is a children’s zoo with animals, a carousel, and an electric train.