So you’re coming to Madison, Wisconsin for a Wisconsin Badgers game and you are wondering what on earth is there to do. It’s just a little ole university town in the Midwest – am I going to be bored? Not a chance. There’s plenty to do, but if you are just in for the weekend, here are a few recommendations.
Drink Locally Brewed Beer
The Great Dane Pub and Brewery has three Madison-area locations including the original right off the square on Doty and King Streets, all serving full menus. (You can drink them out at the airport too) Ale Asylum is fabulous and has lighter fare, Vintage Brewing is as well and serves great sit-down food (fresh cheese curds!). Capital Brewery next door in Middleton has a beer garden which moves indoors in winter, and they also do tours. (Or you can just stay downtown on State Street and try out all the Capital beers at Capital Tap Haus. Also great food and a Friday fish fry!)
Visit the Capitol
As lovely as DC, I’d say, and offering free Capitol tours throughout the day. It sits on a hill on an isthmus between the two big lakes in the center of Madison, so you really can’t miss it. Learn the history, stroll through the marble halls, visit the museum upstairs, and then get a great view of the city from the rooftop.
Eat Totally Wisconsin Food
The Old Fashioned. Be warned, they don’t take reservations, and even outside peak hours you never know when it might be a half hour wait. (Double that at the height of dinner!) But it is worth it. Everything on the menu screams Pure Wisconsin, from the Green Bay chili, cheese and sausage platters, and Mac ‘n’ Cheese, to the Friday Night Fish Fry, Lazy Susan trays, and deep-fried cheese curds. Plus FIFTY Wisconsin-only beers on tap! (150 or so in bottles). Plus where else would you want to order the classic Wisco cocktail (the brandy old fashioned)?
A hearty breakfast for a hearty appetite: check in at Mickie’s Dairy Bar just across the street from Camp Randall Stadium. The line will get out the door on game day. Huge scrambler platters in a classic diner with counter seats or booths, and milkshakes like no other.
Madison boasts more restaurants per capita than practically any other city in the USA!
No one does it like a Wisconsinite. And in Madison, we sorta do it without a parking lot even. Can’t lie to you – parking is trick for the game. Camp Randall stadium is right smack in the middle of residential and campus buildings. Fat chance on street parking. Parking ramps and shuttles work from State Street and downtown. Better yet, find a bar that offers a free shuttle. (The aforementioned Great Dane has ’em from Hilldale location, Dexter’s on the near east side does too and is great for game day breakfast and a Bloody Mary). All along Regent Street is a series of bars with parking lots that become beer gardens on game day. Big 10 Pub, Buckingham’s Pub, Lucky’s Bar and Grille, and Stadium Bar are just a few. State Street Brats is another classic. They serve brats. On State Street.
The University of Wisconsin Campus
From hiking out to Picnic Point along the shore of Lake Mendota. Stop in at Babcock Hall Dairy Store for ice cream produced in the Food Science Department. If you don’t want to trek so far across campus, they do serve it right inside the Memorial Union as well.
Got the Kids Along?
Hit the Henry Vilas Zoo. It’s a real zoo, not some tiny collection of local animals. Chimps, orangutan, giraffe, polar bears, penguins, lions – you get the picture. The best part? It’s free. Oh, and there’s a badger. And he don’t give a s%&t.
Also, there’s an app just for things to do with the kiddies in Madison: Madison ❤ Kids
Olbrich Botanical Gardens and its Thai Pavilion. Many Madison museums: The Wisconsin Historical Museum, the new Children’s Museum, Chazen Museum of Art (free), the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (free), the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum…
This just scratches the surface, of course. But there are a couple of more comprehensive things yours truly has put together for travelers to Madison. The first is a Madison iPhone app (soon to be available for Android users!). Here you can find all the best Madison bars and nightclubs and a great roundup of the best Madison restaurants.
The second is a traditional guidebook: Insiders’ Guide Madison
Bonus: my hiking guide for Madison. With 60 great hiking trails in and around Madison!
Where to stay?
There are plenty of options from Motel 6 to Hilton and an assortment of B&Bs and guesthouses. But on the weekends of big games, be aware that some people made their reservation before they checked out…LAST YEAR! Don’t wait until the last minute.