24 hours in Madison

Madison is a secret well-kept. This city, with a population of approximately 250,000, is surrounded by five lakes and is said to have the highest numbers of restaurants per capita in the country. Here, the concept of farm-to-table is applied thoroughly. Consequently, farmer’s markets run all year-round and restaurants offer freshly produced local food.

Must Experience

The Capitol

If one word could define Madison it would be ‘local’. Aside from locally produced food, the city greatly supports local businesses such as boutiques, bars and coffee shops. It is also extremely bike friendly, and even has its local airport.

Activities take place all year round, regardless of the weather conditions. Dane County Farmer’s Market, the largest producer-only market in the country, is one of those activities. This market runs indoors at the Monona Terrace or the Madison Senior Center from November to April and outdoors on Capital Square the rest of the year. The market attracts families, students, but also chefs who shop for fresh goods for their restaurants.

Another all year-round attraction are the lakes. Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are the two biggest lakes surrounding the city. In the winter, the lake freezes, making it completely walkable. In the summer, you can rent a boat or a kayak or even go for a swim.

But the most popular attraction of all is the Wisconsin State Capitol. The capitol is almost 300 feet tall and was completed in 1917. The ‘golden lady’ a bronze status sculpted by Daniel Chester French in 1920, stands proudly on top of the dome. She holds a globe in her left hand while her right hand points towards Washington D.C. Inside the capitol, you will find architectural wonders. The building has four equal wings decorated with glass mosaic works. You can also go up to the observation deck for an incredible view of Madison.

When you exit the capitol, take a walk on State Street towards the University of Wisconsin campus. It offers a variety of local boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Street performers entertain the crowds on every corner. Another fun street to visit is ‘Willy’ Street. This street has a more ‘hipster’ vibe, so if you are looking for your local trendy coffee place or dive bar, Williamson Street is just for you.

Must Watch

Visit Madison on a game day. If the Badgers are playing, the entire city will be celebrating! The proud supporters of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Badgers wear red Badger gear, and the streets of Madison are filled with music, food and laughter.

Must Eat

You could spend an eternity in Madison trying out new restaurants. Not only is there an abundance of places to eat, the food is fresh, local and delicious too! These are my top 3 recommendations:

1. L’etoile. This restaurant is famous for its ‘Farm-to-Table’ concept. All ingredients are locally grown and bought at the Farmers Market right before being served. The prices are slightly expensive, but the experience makes it totally worth it. The restaurant is located on 1 S Pinckney St (make reservations!).

2. La Sardine. By far the best place for brunch. This restaurant is located on 617 Williamson Street and offers amazing brunch cocktails and house-made pastries. My recommendations: the ‘Arugula & Brie Cheese Omelet’, the ‘Sardine Burger’, the oysters and the ‘Croque Monsieur/Madame’.

3. The Old Fashioned. No one can go to Wisconsin without trying their famous deep-fried cheese curds. This restaurant not only have the best cheese curds in town, they also have one of the largest beer menus. It is located on 23 N Pinckney Street right next to the Madison Capitol and a great place to start your night.

Must drink

Madison is not only a great place for food, it is also a great place for drinks. I would highly recommend having a coffee. The city has some incredible coffee shops that are definitely worth trying. My personal favorite? Lakeside Street Coffee House.

Another must-drink location to visit is the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company and the One Barrel Brewing. The first one has four locations throughout Madison and the latter is located on 2001 Atwood Ave. Both have an extensive selection of microbrews, including seasonal releases and year-round beers.

Getting there:

Walking on the frozen lake

Plane: Madison has its own airport, the Dany County Regional Airport. Daily flights connect you to and from Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Detroit and of course, Chicago.

Car: Madison is accessible  by taking the interstate I-39, I-90 or I-94.

Bus: There are various bus services that reach Madison. The most popular are the VanGalder bus and Greyhound.

Getting around:

Bike: The city is one of the most bike-friendly in the country and small enough to where you can get anywhere by bicycle.
Car: Driving around is totally doable, but parking is scarce and expensive.
Bus: Madison has bus 44, which goes around most of the city.


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  • Bee “Bee Du Jour” Du Jour

    Sounds like a nice place to break away from life and enjoy the quaint-ness of small town America. Thanks for sharing

  • foreverroamingtheworld

    Well I have to admit, I have never heard of this city before, but this post actually makes me want to visit. Being there on game day seems like it would be a amazing experience.

    • Wallis

      Yes! It’s a great experience, I love discovering cute, unknown cities and experience the charm they offer!

  • I love a good farmers market, and really love a farm-to-table restaurant. Madison sounds like a really cool city, and one I would have never thought to visit.

    • Wallis

      I was nicely surprised too ! The food is delicious up there!

  • Miranda Knudtson

    I live in Wisconsin, just south of Milwaukee! I love reading what people say about my home state 🙂 I definitely agree, cheese curds are a MUST, along with local beer (Spotted Cow being the main local brand). & it totally gets crazy around game day.. it’s literally a SEA of red with badger fans haha.

    • Wallis

      Hahaha yes! I went once during game day and it was insane, so much fun! I love the people in Madison, everyone is always so friendly! 🙂

  • Great tips and post. I have been to Milwaukee and loved it. Madison just made the list!

    • Wallis

      I like Madison more than Milwaukee, it has a unique vibe to it, you should definitely go 🙂

  • Medha Verma Bector

    I loved reading your post but I wish there were more pictures! I would’ve loved to see what Lakes Mendota and Menona look like.

    • Wallis

      Thanks for the advice! Will definitely take more pictures when I go next time (soon!)

  • Lisa Rivera

    You look really cold in that last picture! I’ve never heard of Madison, but it sounds interesting. I like the sound of those deep-friend cheese curds. Sure it’s unhealthy but what the hell!

    • Wallis

      Hahaha I went in December, when the entire midwest US was freezing over! But it wasn’t that bad! In that picture we went walking on the frozen lake, so much fun!

  • Glen Gomez

    I love this guide, so complete and useful! It’s nice to discover places that still have their own charm and aren’t so popular

    • Wallis

      Thank you! Madison is definitely charming, and I honestly was quite surprised the first time I went, definitely wasn’t expecting this city to offer SO MUCH 🙂

  • caroekg

    I’ve heard great things about Madison! I love that it has that local vibe, sounds like my kind of city.

    • Wallis

      It definitely has a local vibe, and everyone is SUPER friendly! You’d love it!

  • Katherine Beveridge

    I love that the city is so big on farmers markets and that the restaurants also reflect this. Supporting local industry is incredibly important.

  • WayfaringBroad

    This is my alumni!!! The Great Dane is my FAVORITE!! Great brews and food! It’s the number one thing I miss from Madison. And concerts on the square in the summertime. Nothing like getting together with a group of friends picnicking on the capital lawn drinking wine and listening to an orchestra.