Things to Do on a Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

Referred to as the Seattle of the Midwest, Madison, Wisconsin has more than football to offer the unassuming visitor. A handful of lakes, beautiful countryside, and a plethora of good eats are just a few of its charms. Not to mention great beer and friendly people to boot. Should you find yourself staying a weekend in Madison, Wisconsin during the summer months, make sure that you take part in at least one of the many activities available to both locals and visiting tourists alike. Here are some weekend things to do in Madison, Wisconsin.

Things to Do in Madison on a Weekend: Babcock Scoop at Memorial Union
Babcock Scoop at Memorial Union

Things to Do in Madison on a Weekend

Watch the Sunset at Memorial Union Terrace

Chill out with your friends and family at Memorial Union Terrace located on the edge of Lake Mendota. The terrace is the heart and soul of the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus where students have been coming together for decades to listen to music, watch movies at twilight, or just have a chat and share a bite with friends. There’s a stall that sells quick bites like burgers, hotdogs, and popcorn. They also sell several draft beers including a couple of local ones to those over 21 years of age. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure you get a scoop of ice cream from the Babcock Hall Dairy Store trolley where all proceeds benefit the dairy program at the university.

Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Garden
Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Garden

Roam Around the Olbrich Botanical Gardens

With over 16 acres of curated gardens, there’s plenty to admire at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Visitors who come here can learn about the different types of plant and flower species as well as a number of sustainability methods used for gardening. Check out the Rose Garden, which radiates sweet scents when in full bloom, or the Herb Garden where you can get ideas on what to plant in your own backyard. What makes the Olbrich Botanical Gardens a must in this list of things to do in Madison on a weekend is the stunning Thai Pavilion, presented to the Thai Chapter at the University of Wisconsin by the Thai government. The authentic pavilion was transported from Thailand and reassembled in Madison by Thai artists. It’s the only one like it in the continental United States.

Things to Do in Madison on a Weekend: Sailboats at Lake Mendota
Sailboats at Lake Mendota

Water-Related Activities by the Lakes

The four lakes: Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Wingra are part of the daily lives of Madisionians. They also present visitors with a number of things to do in Madison on a weekend. Boating, kayaking, or stand up paddleboard are a just a few to start you off. Brittingham Boats in Lake Monona has canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. They also have fishing boats available. For those looking to bring a large group together, Wingra Boats on Lake Wingra offer pontoon boat rentals.

Capitol View from Monona Terrace
Capitol View from Monona Terrace

Monona Terrace

Frank Lloyd Wright left an indelible imprint in Madison and one of his masterpieces is the imposing Monona Terrace right on the banks of Lake Monona. Primarily used as a convention center, the terrace also holds a number of free events and low cost art related programs such as painting and dancing for kids and adults. This attraction is a must visit whether it’s day or night. In addition to the fluid architecture, Monona Terrace also has great views of Lake Monona and the Capitol building.

Hot and Spicy Cheese Bread
Hot and Spicy Cheese Bread

Saturday Farmer’s Market

One of the biggest and oldest fresh farmer’s market occurs in Madison, every Saturday in the Capitol Square. Ask every local and he/she will tell you that the Dane County Farmer’s Market should be on top of the list of things to do in Madison on a weekend, particularly if the weather is dry. Dozens of local farmers put up a stand and sell their fresh fruits and produce while local bakeries and butchers join in to sell sweet and savory items. Make sure to stop by Stella’s Bakery and get yourself a roll of hot and spicy cheese bread.

Fish Fry at Old Fashioned
Fish Fry at Old Fashioned

Friday Fish Fry at Old Fashioned

Friday fish fry has been a long-standing Wisconsin tradition and rightfully belongs in this list of things to do on a weekend in Madison. Every restaurant in the city does it but if you want the best fish at a traditional setting, there’s nothing like an order of white perch, lightly battered and then fried with thinly cut fries from the Old Fashioned. Located right near the Capitol Building, it beckons the classic style of beloved supper clubs and taverns. Come early or be prepared to wait.

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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  1. Best Cheap Eats in Madison, Wisconsin | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] I’ve had the opportunity to explore the culinary delights of Madison, the capital of the state of Wisconsin, during my short stint in the city. Madison is a college town, with the University of Wisconsin – Madison students making up a large chunk of the city’s population. And just as you’d expect in a city with tons of students, there’ll also be a number of great budget places to eat. Should you find yourself visiting the university and staying in Madison, seek out at least one of these eateries that many (including myself) agree are the best cheap eats in Madison, Wisconsin. […]


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