Wisconsin Getaway: 48 Hours to Explore Madison

Escape to Madison for a getaway equally filled with nature and culture, shopping and plenty to eat. Wisconsin's capital city is ready to show you a good time!

Day 1

4 p.m. – Check in to your hotel. Staying downtown means that many of Madison’s best attractions and restaurants are just a short walk or bike ride away. The Graduate Madison boutique hotel downtown will give you the full-on Badgers experience with tons of UW-Madison memorabilia around every corner.

Other great options are The Edgewater, with gorgeous sunset views overlooking the lake, or The Concourse, just steps from State Street.

6 p.m. – For some of the best dining in the city, head to the capitol square for dinner. If you’re out on Friday, don’t miss out on a Wisconsin tradition and try a fish fry at The Old Fashioned.

For gourmet burgers and fries with a twist, try DLUX. If you’re really looking  for adventurous flavors, Coopers Tavern is a great gastropub with delicious food and an impressive range of craft beers and bourbons.

8 p.m. – The real heart of downtown Madison can be found on State Street. Lined with restaurants, charming boutiques and specialty shops, this pedestrian mall links the University of Wisconsin campus straight up to the Capitol Square. During the summer, State Street comes to life with musicians, dancers and an abundance of outdoor patio dining.

End your evening on one of State Street’s patios with an ice cream cone from the Chocolate Shoppe or try a bubble tea from Sencha Tea Bar.

Day 2

9 a.m. – A favorite among locals and visitors alike, the Dane County Farmers' Market draws a large crowd every Saturday morning from April to November. Rain or shine, the market is host to upwards of 150 vendors each week, selling favorites like squeaky cheese curds and fresh berries, along with a heavenly assortment of baked goodies for munching as you shop and stroll. (Did we mention Spicy Cheese Bread from Stella's?)

As the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States, Madison's event is not to be missed! A smaller version of the market is held Wednesday mornings on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just off the square.

Not visiting on a Saturday? The square area still has plenty of options for breakfast! Marigold Kitchen is buzzing every day of the week, serving up breakfast classics all day.

If gourmet coffee is what you’re after, stop at Colectivo and enjoy your morning caffeine fix with an amazing view of the Wisconsin State Capitol. Be sure to stop at the visitor desk in the capitol for one of the free daily tours to see this architectural gem up close from every angle. From Memorial Day until the first week in November, you can experience a 92-foot panoramic view of the city up on the Observation Deck.

11 a.m.  Madison is one of America’s most bike-friendly cities, so it comes as no surprise that it has a great bike-sharing system, Madison B-Cycle. With 40 stations, home to more than 350 bikes throughout the downtown area, Madison’s B-Cycle program has totally changed the way people move around town.

This urban bike-sharing program allows you to check out a bike and return it to the nearest bike station wherever you end up. Why not spend an afternoon cruising around on one of these Badgers-red bikes to take in the local sights? Find the Capital City State Trail downtown and ride to your next two stops: lunch and a garden tour.

Noon to 3 p.m. – The Capital City Trail goes through the Atwood neighborhood, which has a great selection of restaurants where you can catch lunch either before or after your tour of Olbrich Botanical Gardens & Bolz Conservatory.

You’ll see every color in the rainbow popping up along the path as you explore a massive 16 acres of flowers, fountains and more. The outdoor gardens are free, while the indoor conservatory has a small admission fee. Be sure to check out the gardens' top can't-miss spots!

Lunch depends on what you’re in the mood for! Try Alchemy Café for gourmet pub grub including some of the most delicious sweet potato fries you’ll ever encounter. Lao Laan Xang serves up traditional Laotian fare, whereas Monty’s Blue Plate Diner is the place for great comfort food. All three have vegan and vegetarian options, too.

Want to try more? Madison Eats offers food-themed walking tours of the Atwood neighborhood, as well as other neighborhoods throughout the city.

4 p.m. – Before dinner, walk through the exhibits at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which is often open on weekend evenings, or browse through the galleries on State Street. 

5 p.m.  The options for dinner are numerous, but we’d like to suggest a few that also offer gorgeous lake views.

One of Madison’s four famed waterways, Lake Monona, is the backdrop for classic Italian dishes in a casual atmosphere at Paisan’s. For another dazzling view of the water, head to Fresco, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s rooftop restaurant and lounge. Their modern American menu matches their modern vibe.

Going casual? The Boathouse at The Edgewater has brats and burgers along Lake Mendota. When you’re done, the Memorial Union Terrace is just a short water taxi ride away!

6:30 p.m. – Do what the locals do and head to the Memorial Union Terrace on the shore of gorgeous Lake Mendota. The terrace is known for its iconic colorful sunburst chairs, great people watching and arguably Madison’s most beautiful sunsets. Summer entertainment includes everything from free movies to open mic nights and live music. Or, if you're up for dinner and a show, book tickets to a performance at the Overture Center for the Arts this evening. 

Day 3

8 a.m. – Relax with breakfast at your hotel and head out for a stroll through the historic University of Wisconsin campus. 

10 a.m.  Madison Children’s Museum has a human-sized gerbil wheel that is popular with kids and adults alike. The wheel suspends visitors above the main lobby, where they use their physical activity to generate electrical power. You have to see it to believe it!

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has life-size displays and impressive artifacts that tell the story of Wisconsin’s role in U.S. military operations since the Civil War. The Wisconsin Historical Museum showcases the history of the many cultures that settled in Wisconsin. Browse museums' gift shops for the perfect Wisconsin souvenirs to commemorate your trip.

Noon – Try to fit in one last lunch before you head home – you’ll be glad you did! A Madison tradition, Ian’s Pizza is a favorite spot known for their wacky pie varieties ranging from Bacon Cheeseburger to Smoked Brisket and Tots to the most popular: Mac n’ Cheese pizza.

Depending on what day you’re in Madison, you can also join the locals and grab lunch from one of the nearby food carts positioned all around the square offering everything from grilled cheese to Korean bahn mi sandwiches.


Looking for more to do in the area? Check out Dane County's scenic wonders and the region's man-made wonders!

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