Fun Things To Do in Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin

By Jeff

May 9, 2023

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Angie and I recently took a weekend trip to Madison, Wisconsin. Madison has a ton of fun things to do that are very low cost or completely free! We had a list of fun things so long we couldn’t even do all of them while we were here. We’ll have to save some for a future trip.

This post is written in the order we visited these places over the course of 2 days but the list can certainly be rearranged and you should go to the places that interest you most. If you are visiting any of these places on a holiday, be sure to visit the website or call the location to make sure it is open.

Capitol Square

The flowers, landscaping, and stairs leading up to the Capitol are gorgeous. Angie and I were here in May and the tulips are blooming. There are beautiful views of the flower gardens to see while also enjoying walking through the Dane County Farmers’ Market which is also right on the Capitol Square if you happen to be visiting the Capitol on a Saturday. We were there around 9 a.m. on this Saturday and it was already quite busy.

Dane County Farmers’ Market

While at the Capitol Square, Angie and I also perused the booths at the farmers’ market. The vendor tents are set up on the wide sidewalks surrounding the State Capitol and this farmers’ market definitely has a LOT of options even in the early May season. Of course more and more produce will start to appear for sale as we move through the summer months and into the Fall.

Just a few of the items already for sale are: Cheese, Beef, Pork, Bread, Eggs, Cut Flowers, Hanging Baskets, Kale, Pastries, Popcorn, and Cookies. Angie figured we’d better try the cookies from Yummee Treats because they had a long line to their booth.

Yummee Treats

Yummee Treats claims to have “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the State of Wisconsin”. I may have had a bit of bias going into the tasting because of the cost. We got an Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Walnut cookie and a Ooey Gooey S’mores Chocolate Chip cookie which is the chocolate chip cookie with a toasted marshmallow in the middle of the cookie and some Golden Grahams cereal pieces stuck into the marshmallow at the finish.

I have to say, these cookies surprised me. They really are very, very good. The cookies were deliciously full of chocolate chips and the centers were ooey gooey goodness just as the company describes. And they were warm and freshly baked. The price for each cookie is a bit high at $4 each but that is the price for single cookies. If you buy larger amounts, the price per cookie decreases. While I can’t say these cookies a great deal, they are very good and the quality is there.

Tulips in bloom at the Wisconsin State Capitol Square. The line for cookies at Yummee Treats at the Dane County Farmers' Market. And Jeff holding the two cookies purchased at Yummee Treats.
Tulips in bloom at the Wisconsin State Capitol Square. The line for cookies at Yummee Treats at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. And Jeff holding the two cookies purchased at Yummee Treats.

Wisconsin State Capitol

Angie and I were able to sign up for the free tour on site without a reservation, although you can make an online reservation for the free tour if you have a group of 10 or more. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and some of the things you’ll get to see are: the Governors conference room which is styled after the council chambers of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy (which Angie and I have also been to, and it is amazing); the Wisconsin State Assembly room, the Wisconsin State Senate room, and the Wisconsin State Supreme Court of Appeals room.

The building contains marble from France, Germany, and Italy and each of the four mosaics that can be best viewed from the 2nd floor of the rotunda contains around 100,000 individual pieces of glass! The tour also includes descriptions of much of the artwork in the capitol building. After the tour is completed be sure to go up the spiral staircase to go to the outside viewing area and walk the complete circle around the dome to take in all the different birds-eye views of the city.

Jeff in the Governor's Conference Room styled after the Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy. One of the four mosaics in the rotunda as seen from the Second Floor. And Angie in the First Floor Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Jeff in the Governor’s Conference Room styled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy. One of the four mosaics in the rotunda as seen from the Second Floor. And Angie in the First Floor Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol.

State Street and the UW-Madison Campus [University of Wisconsin – Madison]

After the Capitol tour, Angie and I were feeling ready to get a lunch. State Street very near the Capitol is a great place to find many food options. State Street also is the pedestrian-only road connecting between the Capitol and the UW-Madison Campus. There are plenty of restaurants on this pedestrian-only street and also lots of other unique shops to have a look at.

Chazen Museum of Art

Exhibit worth seeing: EXHIBITION Premonitions: New Works by Monty Little Apr 17–Jul 9, 2023. Free Admission.

I learned that Monty Little is from Tuba City, Arizona and Angie and I were very close to Tuba City on our visit to Sedona, Arizona. Because of this connection, I already felt like it was a small nudge from the universe telling me to go to see Monty’s art. I can tell you that for me, Monty’s art definitely brought out feelings of sadness, unfairness, made me feel uncomfortable, and made me ever more aware of the unjust situations that Native Americans lived through in the past and the effect this has had on Native Americans living today. And I think it was so important that I saw Monty’s exhibit.

I would definitely recommend getting to Chazen Museum of Art while Monty’s works are there until July 9, 2023. Again, as a caution, this can be emotional but Monty’s works definitely shine the spotlight on problems with the way the United States was built.

The museum’s permanent collection includes many, many rooms of paintings, sculptures, blown glass, and artifacts. We easily spent close to 3 hours here to see the majority of the museum.

Jeff standing on the yellow clear floor catwalk at Chazen Museum of Art. The entrance to Monty Little's Exhibit: Premonitions. And a view of the glass wall at Chazen Museum of Art as seen from the 2nd Floor.
Jeff standing on the yellow clear floor catwalk at Chazen Museum of Art. The entrance to Monty Little’s Exhibit: Premonitions. And a view of the glass wall at Chazen Museum of Art as seen from the 2nd Floor.

Henry Vilas Zoo

Angie and I spent a couple hours here near the end of the day. It’s definitely a great zoo considering that it has free admission! The highlights for me were seeing the rhinoceros, bright pink flamingos, and the gibbons which sounded like there were about 15 of them and when we got to where we could see them we found two were making all that noise! They are quite loud.

Pink flamingos at Henry Vilas Zoo. Entrance Gate. And a rhinoceros at Henry Vilas Zoo.
Pink flamingos at Henry Vilas Zoo. Entrance Gate. And a rhinoceros at Henry Vilas Zoo.

Mickie’s Dairy Bar Restaurant

Angie and I met a friend at Mickie’s on Sunday morning around 9:15am and we were lucky enough to find a seat without a wait. Mickie’s can get very busy with a line down the block to the corner waiting to eat. And honestly, having gotten to try it, I would be willing to wait a while to eat at Mickie’s. This restaurant is very near to the famous Camp Randall Stadium where the University of Wisconsin Badgers Football Team plays. The stadium seats 80,321 spectators according to Google so it makes sense that this restaurant can get VERY busy before a game.

Angie got very fluffy and hearty chocolate chip pancakes for $9. And I tried the BLT sandwich on the recommendation of a friend for $6. All of it was very good. I am thankful I kept my order a bit light because after 20 minutes of eating her pancakes, Angie’s plate seriously still looked like she’d just gotten it from the kitchen. These are dinner-plate-sized pancakes and had plenty of chocolate chips.

I also kept seeing a particular plate show up quite a few times in the order pick up window and I was very curious what it was. It looked like enough food for 2 people minimum, the food heaped about 4 to 5 inches above the plate which always alerts my eye for value. I also started to notice several of the servers wearing T-shirts with “Scrambler Finisher” printed on the back. Hmmmmm……

Upon further research at the Mickie’s website I have found that a Scrambler is the following: Layer of yanks, three eggs (scrambled unless specified otherwise), one meat or two veggies, cheese (cheddar by default), gravy (on to, side, or none), and toast.

Yanks are fried potatoes. And the Scrambler goes for $12. And now I also know why so many people were carrying out a to-go box from this place to take the remainder of their meal home to enjoy a 2nd time. I’m going to try the Scrambler next time I go to Mickie’s.

Angie has already been eating these pancakes for 20 minutes. On the sidewalk in front of Mickie's Dairy Bar Restaurant. And the menu on the back wall at Mickie's.
Angie has already been eating these pancakes for 20 minutes. On the sidewalk in front of Mickie’s Dairy Bar Restaurant. And the menu on the back wall at Mickie’s.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum

Angie and I were lucky enough to be here in May when all the cherry blossoms are blooming. This is definitely a great time to visit the UW Madison Arboretum and you can also catch the end of the Magnolia trees blooming. This property spans 1260 acres and has multiple gardens.

We spent time only viewing the 30 plus blossoming cherry trees and full-bloom magnolia trees this time and still spent 1 ½ hours completely enjoying this area. We arrived about 11am on Sunday and it was very busy here and difficult to find a parking spot. We spent about an hour in this section of the Arboretum. We will definitely go back to see more of the grounds on a separate visit.

Pink cherry tree blossoms at the UW Madison Arboretum. Angie and Jeff with cream colored cherry trees in the background. And a cherry tree close to peak bloom.
Pink cherry tree blossoms at the UW Madison Arboretum. Angie and Jeff with cream colored cherry trees in the background. And a cherry tree close to peak bloom.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens & Bolz Conservatory

Angie and I visited the Bolz Conservatory for $6 dollars each [$12 total] for both of us to go into the conservatory. The conservatory has many tropical plants, more than 650 different varieties according to the Olbrich website, and a wall of orchids to look at. The glass pyramid rises to 50 feet in the center and there is a very neat orange blown glass sculpture that hangs from the peak.

There are small birds and mourning doves that fly throughout the space and quail that walk or run along the edges of the walkways so be on the lookout to see the many birds here. There is also a koi pond and waterfall spilling into the pond, and a stream that flows out of the pond.

We took our time and saw everything here in about 45 minutes. I think it might be a bit high priced for the time spent. Angie felt it was worth it. Donations are gladly accepted here so we feel good supporting this anyway. There are free days/times listed on the website so check that out before you visit to see if it works with your schedule.

Purple orchids on the wall of orchids at Bolz Conservatory. Glass sculpture hanging from the peak of the glass pyramid greenhouse. And orange flowers at Bolz Conservatory.
Purple orchids on the wall of orchids at Bolz Conservatory. Glass sculpture hanging from the peak of the glass pyramid greenhouse. And orange flowers at Bolz Conservatory.

After seeing the Bolz Conservatory we also walked the outdoor gardens. Since it’s May, daffodils and tulips were blooming. Magnolia trees were also just finishing their blooms in this garden with a carpet of petals under the trees. The walkways here are beautiful, built from paver bricks with interesting patterns.

The main path away from the Bolz Conservatory leads to a circular courtyard area with more paver brick paths extending from the courtyard so there is more than one way to walk through the outdoor gardens. We happened upon a 2nd circular courtyard area where again more paths lead away from the area so there will be many ways to see this place and find new ways to do it each time.

A bee box at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Daffodils in full bloom. And one of the circular paver brick courtyards at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
A bee box at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Daffodils in full bloom. And one of the circular paver brick courtyards at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

There are bee boxes throughout the garden built in a style we’ve not seen before so that was very cool to see. We also enjoyed time on a bridge over the canal here and watched some stand up paddle boarders start their journey and a kayaker coming into the canal.

There is also an Asian style structure here with reflecting ponds surrounding it that give some great views. We spent a couple hours at the outdoor gardens and could have stayed even longer.

Reflecting pool at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Olbrich Bridge. A kayaker and a cyclist both enjoying Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
Reflecting pool at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Olbrich Bridge. A kayaker and a cyclist both enjoying Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Destination Madison has so many great things to do that cost very little or no money to have a LOT of fun. I hope you have as much fun visiting this city and creating your own Madison Moments as we did.