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How to Spend a Marvelous Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

What happens when you plan a trip to a city that manages to combine small western charm with the liveliness of a city? You get a fantastic weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, of course! Just check below for all my best recommendations to plan the perfect trip no matter the season.

Where to Stay for Your Weekend in Madison

It's known as one of America's more raucous college towns. However, there's more to Madison, Wisconsin than beer and cheese curds.

The Graduate

Looking to re-live your college days? Book a room at The Graduate. This super-stylish Langdon Street hotel puts you right in the center of town. Common areas are stylish and fun, as are the rooms. Hello, throw pillows that say BRAT (I’m talking about the encased meat variety) and CURDS (I’m talking about the cheese variety)! You’re walking distance from State Street, Memorial Union, campus, and more… which is fun, and likely noisy. I would venture that most adults know if this type of hotel stay is for them.

Fun weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

The Edgewater

If the thought of listening to co-ed shenanigans outside your window at 4 AM sounds less than ideal, check out the Edgewater. This iconic hotel first opened in 1948 and perches right on the edge of Lake Mendota. You’re just up the street from campus and the State Capitol, but in your own little oasis. In summer, dine waterside at the Boathouse. In the winter, they flood a skating rink, with casual food options served outdoors.

It's known as one of America's more raucous college towns. However, there's more to Madison, Wisconsin than beer and cheese curds.

Mansion Hill Inn

For something a little more romantic, stay at the Mansion Hill Inn. Originally built in 1857, this elegant 10-suite bed and breakfast was renovated by the Trek bicycle in 2008. The 9,000-square-foot German Romanesque Revival building is considered by some to be the finest of its type in the country. Rooms are cozy, and comfortable, with nary a doily or creepy doll in sight.

Ideas for Your Weekend in Madison

Spend Saturday Morning at the State Capitol

It’s hard to miss Madison’s State Capitol – at 284 feet high, it’s the tallest in town. The current iteration has been around since 1917 after a fire destroyed its predecessor in 1904. If you can look closely enough at the top of the dome, you’ll see the Wisconsin statue. Using Athena as inspiration, it’s meant to represent the state’s motto, “Forward,” and has the state animal, a badger, atop her head. 

Tours of the building itself are offered daily. However, there’s a lot more going on here than politics. Visit between April and November, you’ll find the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market. It’s one of the largest producer-only farmer’s markets in the country and makes for a lively Saturday morning!

Relax at Kosa Spa

Located in the historic Garver Feed Mill, Kosa Spa, is the perfect place to retreat for relaxation and bliss. Its founder, Shilpa Sankaran, focuses on Ayurvedic wellness offerings that work with the seasons. Whichever service you choose, you’ll start with an herbal foot bath as well as an Ayurvedic health consultation. Afterwards, you’ll have up to 30 minutes to relax in their sanctuary to unwind or you can book a steam and sauna add-on. I personally had the abhyanga which was heavenly – especially as I was visiting Madison in the winter.

For even more holistic relaxation, plan your trip to get lunch at Kosa Kitchen. It’s available at the spa, for takeout, or on Garver Patio. They combine authentic Indian recipes with Ayurvedic principles to create all sorts of healthy and delicious meals.

Tour the First Unitarian Society of Madison

The First Unitarian Society of Madison is one of Frank Lloyd Wrights’ most personal creations. Not only was he a member of the church, his parents were two of its founders. Naturally, when it came time for a new church, he returned to his home to build the new Meeting House even though he was in his eighties. Always true to his organic architectural philosophy, he was inspired by triangles when it came to designing the building. According to him, “…the triangle stands for aspiration. Here is a church where the whole edifice is in the attitude of prayer.” This fits perfectly with the Unitarians’ forward-thinking beliefs and remains one of the most innovative examples of church architecture. 

Check here for when to visit and how to book tours.

weekend in madison

Explore the Campus of University of Wisconsin-Madison

As with any university city, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a huge role in the culture of Madison. But I bet you wouldn’t guess it was one of the most archaeologically interesting campuses in the entire country! Over 12,000 years ago Native American tribes once called this land home. The UW-Madison campus has the largest grouping of Native American burial mounds in the world and specifically as effigy mounds both spread around the main campus and the Arboretum. When I visited with Aaron Bird Bear, the university’s then first director of tribal relations, we saw one shaped like a bird that was at least 1,000 – 1,500 years old.

When visiting Madison, save this map from the university to explore all the mounds around campus.

Enjoy Some Silly at the National Mustard Museum

Up for something quirky to do during your weekend in Madison? Head a bit out of town to the National Mustard Museum! Even if you’re not a mustard liver, you’re going to love this museum. It’s a passion project of Barry Levenson, who’s been growing his mustard collection since 1986, and today he’s not just the founder and curator, he’s the Chief Mustard Officer of the museum. His whole goal with his establishment is to celebrate this beloved condiment and bring just a smidge of silliness back into all his visitors’ lives.

When you visit, take time to stop into the MustardPiece Theatre where you can learn all about mustard’s reach across the world. And, of course, they wouldn’t surround you with all this mustard talk without a chance to eat. At the tasting bar, you can sample over hundreds of mustards!

things to do in wisconsin

Try Your Hand at the Most Befuddling Olympic sport

Ahhhh, curling. Of all the Olympic sports, curling always seems to be the event even the biggest couch potato thinks, “Maybe I could do this?” Well, you’ll get your chance at the Madison Curling Club. This club dates back to 1921 when it was just sheets of ice under some bleachers!

While they do, in fact, have competitive curlers who primarily train from November 1 to April 1, there are sometimes opportunities for complete beginners! If you’re visiting Madison in October or even March, you may be able to join one of their open houses. Just check this page and submit your contact information to see if there are any events that coincide with your dates.

weekend in madison

Pay a Visit to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art offers 51,500 square feet of interior space, as well as a 7,100-square-foot rooftop sculpture garden. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, and admission is always free.

Shop around Hilldale Shopping Center

There are plenty of shops along State Street, but for something less…collegiate… check out Hilldale Shopping Center. Hilldale is not a regular mall, it’s a cool, open air mall. With tons going on from cool shops to spin class and more, you’ll find plenty to do in this one area. Plus, there’s lots of great food, including local favorite brewpub the Great Dane, Muramoto sushi, and fresh, ingredient-driven dishes at Forage Kitchen.

Unwind at Memorial Union Terrace

When the weather cooperates, there’s no better place to enjoy it than the Memorial Union Terrace. Grab a seat at one of the iconic yellow, orange, or green tables, and chairs, and enjoy a pitcher (or two) of beer.

Catch a Game at Camp Randall

If you happen to be in town during a Wisconsin Badger Game Day (you’ll know it based on hotel rates alone), get thee to Camp Randall. You don’t really need a ticket to the game to feel like a part of the show. From multi-generational parties on Lathrop Street to fun, nearby bars, there’s more to game day than the game. If you don’t mind missing kick-off, you can probably score a cheap ticket from someone having too much fun to make it to the main event.

Wander the Olbrich Botanical Gardens & Bolz Conservatory

Another highlight? The Olbrich Botanical Gardens & Bolz Conservatory. Explore sprawling 16 acres of flowers, fountains, and more. The outdoor gardens are free, while the indoor conservatory has a small admission fee.

Where to Eat & Drink During Your Weekend in Madison

There's more to Madison, Wisconsin than beer and cheese curds.

Friday Fish Fry

If your weekend in Madison starts on a Friday, make sure you take advantage of the city’s Friday Fish Fries. This Wisconsin culinary tradition includes dishes like fried cod or perch, potato pancakes, coleslaw, tartar sauce, rye bread, and even some applesauce. There are so many restaurants you can choose from, including many on this list, but I particularly like The Old Fashioned or Mint Mark in the Atwood neighborhood.

There's more to Madison, Wisconsin than beer and cheese curds.

Bassett Street Brunch Club

All breakfast lovers should check out Basset Street Brunch Club. Located in downtown Madison, it offers brunch all day and is open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Enjoy particularly delectable dishes like their “a regal sirloin” or “coconut cream pie french toast.” YUM!

tornado steak house - weekend in madison

Tornado Steak House

The one type of dinner you have to try in Madison (or really anywhere in Wisconsin) is a supper club. Think of these as the working class reaction to country clubs. Join people from all sorts of backgrounds to not just enjoy a delicious meal but to hang out and meet others. I’ve personally tried Tornado Steak House, which as the name implies, is specifically famous for its steaks. However, be prepared to try other gems like relish trays, frog legs, and Wisconsin’s take on Old Fashioneds!

You absolutely should make sure you call 608-256-3570 to make a reservation no earlier than two months in advance – they don’t take them online.


Wisconsin has been cheese country ever since the first cheese factory was established here in 1841. Pop over to Fromagination to look through their specialty cheese selections as well as some fun Wisconsin-themed souvenirs. Depending on when you visit, you might also be able to join a cheese sampling or sign up for a class. They offer everything from a history class of Wisconsin cheese to creating the perfect cheese board!

Mickie’s Dairy Bar

I love a classic diner, and Mickie’s Dairy Bar seriously delivers. Open since 1946, little has changed about this place since your grandparent’s day. Think inexpensive staples, like steak and eggs, pancakes, and egg sandwiches.

And there you have it – everything you need for a marvelous weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. Be sure to watch our “Places to Love” Season 6 episode, and let me know below if you have any tips to add!

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. How on Earth did you miss Madison’s theaters? They have an amazingly talented live theater community as well as gifted musicians.
    This piece needs an update.
    (You might want to add Visual Arts, Sports, etc.)

  2. Our daughter lived in Madison for several years, and we loved visiting! Always stayed at the Ruby Marie, which is funky and affordable with a wonderful location. (There are trains running by in front of the hotel that sound their horns during the night, which is the only drawback..) Shopping on Willie St. was a favorite activity, and our absolutely favorite place for brunch, lunch and dinner was Sardine. Also notable in this foodie town- Alchemy (best stuffed grilled cheese sandwich ever!) Madison Sourdough, and Papavero.
    She moved to San Francisco 3 years ago, so now we have a another fabulous city to explore, but we miss Madison very much.

    1. There are actually five lakes in the Madison area. Mendota and Monona are the two largest and form the isthmus, but there’s also Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa.

  3. We are headed there this weekend cto celebrate our 22th anniversary 28 together. Our daughter is a freshman at UWmadison. I can’t wait. Daughter has things planned for us.

  4. I’m so glad to see MADISON featured on your Places To Love.! I’ve lived here for over 15 years, after living all over the world. Madison – and WI – are hidden hotspots. I would also add to your lists: MADISON Concourse Hotel, Camp Randall, Barriques Coffee and Wine, Monona Terrace, and all locations of the Great Dane.

  5. Excellent summary of Madison – but you forgot an important cultural center in Madison – The Overature Center…..right on State Street. From Off Broadway plays to our own Wisconsin Symphony and Ballet – Children’s Theater, Famous musical artists – innumerable events.

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