State Capitol

If there’s a building in Wisconsin that reflects our proud past and bright future, it’s the Wisconsin State Capitol building, situated in the heart of Madison. With a picture-worthy granite dome, the Capitol building’s architecture is an attraction itself.

That and so much more makes this one of the must-see attractions in Wisconsin for you and your family.

A Little Bit of Capitol History

The Wisconsin Capitol building you see today is over 100 years old, completed in 1917 for a total of $7.2 million. 

The Capitol in Madison is not the original building. The first was a building in Belmont, temporarily used as the Capitol in 1836 when Wisconsin was only a U.S. territory. In 1837, lawmakers chose Madison as the future site of the Capitol before Wisconsin was even a state. During its construction, which began that year, lawmakers handled their affairs out of Burlington, Iowa. 

The first state Capitol in Madison was completed sometime after 1848, the year Wisconsin officially became a state. When it was no longer large enough to handle growing state affairs, a new building was built and completed in 1869, but a fire in 1904 destroyed much of the building.

The third Capitol building — the one you see today — took 11 years to complete, partly due to finances, and opened in 1917. Over the years, the building has undergone restorations.  

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Eye-Catching Architecture

The State Capitol is an architectural wonder. 

Though at first you may think the building is made of marble, it’s actually granite. And its impressive dome is only slightly smaller in size than the Washington, D.C., Capitol. 

Floating above the dome is the female bronze statue named “Wisconsin.” She stands at 15-feet, 5-inches tall, weighing more than three tons. She holds a globe with an eagle perched on it and has one arm pointing ahead, symbolizing the state motto: Forward. On top of her helmet is the state animal, the badger.

The exterior of the building is a stunning example of neoclassical and Beaux-Arts French architecture, reflecting the skill and detail that went into the building more than a century ago. Inside, marble columns, mosaics and art dress the interior, where the state government is run.  

Tour the Capitol & Other Activities

Spend the day or the afternoon at the Capitol, which has something for everyone in your family. 

Explore the building on your own or with a guide. Visit the state website for up-to-date information on tours and more. During your visit, check out the panoramic downtown views on the observation deck open seasonally. And since the Capitol is on an isthmus — a slender stretch of land linking to another between two bodies of water — you’ll also enjoy views of both Mendota and Monona lakes. 

Before you leave, stop by the museum and check out a replica of the Liberty Bell on display in the rotunda.  

Outside on the Capitol Square, considered the building’s front lawn, there is always something going on from farmers markets to concerts.

However you explore this must-see attraction, family fun is a day-long event here.

Farmers' Markets

Outdoor farmers markets offer fresh produce from early spring to late fall, and you can find fresh foods at indoor markets throughout winter.

Biking

Biking is more than an outdoor recreational activity here in Wisconsin. It's how we connect with the world around us and each other.