Madison, Wisconsin, a city sandwiched between two giant lakes, offers endless opportunities to make for a whole day of fun outings. In fact, after visiting, you probably won’t ever want to leave. From the melt-in-your-mouth cheese curds to the colors of the arboretum to the upbeat lifestyles of the locals, Madison feels like home.
24 Things to Do in 24 Hours in Madison, Wisconsin
6 A.M. Bike Around Lake Monona
As you join Madison’s morning bikers on their ride, don’t forget to stop and take in the beautiful sights of the city. The bike bike trail loops 12 miles, but you can rest at the designated resting stops to admire the city’s views. The capitol building stands tall on the horizon behind the lake at the halfway point. Not very often do you get to cruise around and admire the glowing buildings along the water line. And if you get too warm, jump into the lake to relax for a minute before getting back on the trail. Each mile traveled will leave you feeling accomplished and ready to take on your day.
7 A.M. Get a Bagel at Gotham Bagels
Make your way to capitol square to fuel up for the day. At Gotham Bagels you will meet friendly staff and enjoy a delicious morning snack. Choose from a wide selection of bagel spreads that will leave you wanting another. Dip into the refreshing smoked salmon on the Port Washington or go classic with the flavorful Caprese bagel. “There are so many toppings and bagels it’s almost overwhelming, I had to save my order in my notes app. And the fresh juices are amazing,” UW-Madison graduate Bree Bregs said. The menu, diverse and unique, pleases even the pickiest of eaters. Build your own bagel with anything you crave. Remember that the longer the line, the better the food. Eat up.
8 A.M. Fuel Up at Fair Trade
With stuffed bellies, you will need some coffee to fuel up for the day. At Fair Trade, you can feel good about your order since it all comes from farmers with good working conditions and wages. Either in the air conditioned building or out back on the patio, sip your coffee and enjoy the art, plants and friendly faces that will surround you. “Fair Trade is one of my favorite coffee shops to frequent in the summer months as a result of the lush, lively back patio area, where I like to enjoy an iced coffee with a good book or an even better friend,” UW-Madison senior Emily Way said. Fair Trade takes regular coffee to the next level by offering many different brews, like nitro and cold brew, and fresh espresso. Not a coffee person? Don’t worry, they have fresh fruit smoothies, too. Fair Trade offers some of the most quality coffee in Madison from taste to production.
9 A.M. Grab a Snack at the Farmers Market
Surrounding the capitol building, the market offers fresh food of all kinds. “The Dane County farmers market isn’t just another place to buy fresh produce, it’s also the perfect spot to discover something new and delicious that you didn’t know you’ve been missing your whole life. From unique cheeses to uncommon fruits and vegetables, I am always amazed at all delicacies there are left to discover,” UW-Madison senior Jerrod Gotchy said. They have quality red-meats, fresh corn and strawberries, spreadable jellies and jams and some of the sweetest scones the city has to offer. Join the hungry masses and treat yourself to some of the most natural food in Madison.
10 A.M. Finish off Breakfast at Bassett Street Brunch Club
This modern brunch spot proves perfect for a delicious meal to prepare you for the rest of your busy morning. From the sweet coconut cream pie french toast to the savory Thai peanut bowl, Bassett Street lets your stomach do the talking. If you find yourself in town over any holiday, make an effort to stop in for some food. “On Valentine’s day, my boyfriend and I went there for breakfast for dinner. The restaurant was decorated in cheesy decorations, white table cloths and romantic music. It made what could’ve been an ordinary night very special,” UW-Madison junior Lexy Chatham said. Greeted by a trendy staff and walking into a welcoming feeling, this spot has a hipster feel to it. With food that tastes fresh and large helpings, make sure to ask for a to-go box.
11 A.M. Tour the Capitol Building
Let your bellies digest that food with the help of some state history. Tours run all morning at the capitol building in Madison. Nearly 300 feet into the air, the capitol building, both historic and breathtaking, stands as the tallest building in Madison. Inside you will see where our state legislators get down to business. You can explore nearly the entire building, so you might even get a chance to see one of them. Pointed out by your tour guide, you will find immaculate art pieces and sculptures in and around the capitol. In the center of the building, look up and admire the gorgeous mural that covers the dome. After your trip around the capitol you can truly appreciate the city and the history behind what makes it so great.
12 P.M. Get Colorful at the Botanical Gardens
Give your brain a break and explore the beauty of Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Take the lead and travel the paths along the garden to see gorgeous, lush plants of all kinds, like orchids and perennials. Surround yourself with the blooming butterflies and free flying birds. With every visit, the gardens offer new plants for visitors to see, changing with the seasons. “I really like the botanical gardens because it is ever changing and SO big. It’s totally worth it to go into the greenhouse, too,” Madison constituent Maddy Strasburg said. The Thai Pavilion and Garden, a gift to the University from the Thai Government, will take your breath away with the traditional Thai architecture. On top of that, a small gift shop allows visitors to take a piece of the gardens home with them. Take in all the beauty at the Botanical Gardens, you won’t want to leave.
1 P.M. Lunch at The Tipsy Cow
Make your way back to the capitol square for some delicious, Wisconsin styled food. Grab a seat on the patio, in the beer garden, or inside the building, which has stood tall for decades. “I don’t like burgers, I think they’re the most overrated food in America, however, Tipsy Cow burgers are absolutely phenomenal,” Madison native Seth Anders said. Explore the different, appetizing fry baskets, as well as some of the shareable starters like the crispy fried Zucchini chips or spicy Alligator bites. The tipsy burger most famous sandwich offered at Tipsy Cow because of its tipsy sauce, but don’t sleep on their cheese curds. Made to melt in your mouth, they also offer regular fried curds, goat curds and diablo curds. The friendly staff and scrumptious food makes eating all those calories worth it.
2 P.M. Feel Like a Kid at the Madison Children’s Museum
This museum values exploration and learning. It bursts with opportunities to play and learn through interactive exhibits like the community concourse. Here you can see art and use the water exhibits. As a part of the tour, you can solve problems and create art all while making friends. The feeling of nostalgia will bring you back to your childhood days, so don’t be afraid to act like a kid. Draw in the art studio, build in the log cabin and smell the greenery in the herb garden. Feel like a kid again at the Children’s Museum of Madison.
3 P.M. Wind Down at the UW Arboretum
The arboretum offers a great variety of habitat types to walk through. The colors will take your breath away, and the sounds of nature will make you forget about the buzz of city life. No abrupt stop and goes or traffic lights, deciding which of the 1,200 acres you want to explore will prove the hardest part of your visit. Walk through the wetlands and grasslands and admire the wildlife along the way. If exploring doesn’t suffice, sign up for a nature class and learn from the experts about the environment around you. The more you explore, the more you will appreciate the earth.
4 P.M. Jump Around at Camp Randall
Camp Randall, home of the Wisconsin Badger football team, rises over campus. Whether the football team has a game or not, the feeling of badger pride runs wild throughout the stadium. “Fans begin filing the street, filling yards and filling their bellies with booze. Last year we had a 10 foot beer bong that we were handing out to those walking by our house,” UW-Madison senior Ryan Driessen said. Fully functioning since 1917, the stadium offers history and highlights of former past superstars. Feeling the decades of history, tens of thousands of fans fill the stands and ‘jump around’ on game day—just as past generations of badgers did. Don’t forget to take a panoramic picture to capture the stadium in all its beauty.
5 P.M. Grab a Drink at State Street Brats
Make your way to the heart of State Street for a drink at State Street Brats. From the many daily specials, like spiked Whiteclaw or $10 pitchers, to the juicy hot dogs, Brats has it all. Enjoy a $3 Tallboy and start your evening off with a refreshing beer. Even better, hot dogs cost $2 from 4 to 9 p.m. in case you need another snack. Inside you will find a condiment bar where you can add just about anything to that hot dog for free. Load up on the relish, pickles, ketchup and more. Grab a seat on the patio for fresh air and the buzzing sounds of the busiest street on campus.
6 P.M. Walk State Street
You won’t ever have a dull moment on State Street. While bikers, skateboarders and rollerbladers cruise up and down the strip for exercise, street performers provide some entertainment for those walking by. So have no fear and stop and enjoy the live music. Urban Outfitters and Gap, among other retail stores, sit on State and offer just about everything to satisfy shoppers. Smaller, local stores will provide a taste of Madison culture if you want to take something home with you. Adding the perfect ending, grab your cameras because the view of the capitol building from the bottom of State will take your breath away.
7 P.M. Grab Dinner at Tutto Pasta
Nothing fills your belly like fine Italian cuisine. Tutto Pasta will leave you feeling stuffed to the brim and satisfied. They offer three different seating sections—on the patio, the main level, or upstairs—each offering a different atmosphere. “I’ve never been to Italy, but Tutto’s feels like what I would imagine would be a true Italian restaurant. It is definitely one of my favorites, and it is always a treat when I get to go there,” UW-Madison Junior Olivia Pralle said. Based on Italian tradition, they offer nearly every imaginable pasta type from tender angel hair to the curly rotini noodles. The bread may clog your arteries, but sometimes you have to run the risk for garlic bread this good. Take a trip to Italy in the heart of Madison.
8 P.M. Watch the Sunset at the Terrace
The Memorial Union Terrace may hold title for the most popular place in Madison. The cotton candy sunsets take the blame for that. Kicking back and digesting on the Terrace chairs, watch the sunset over Lake Mendota. “I will never forget my last night in Madison before moving to New York: a night at the terrace with a pitcher of Spotted Cow, a group of my best friends and a sunset that is forever etched in my memories,” UW-Madison graduate Ben Yirsa said. Golden hour makes for beautiful photo ops, so clear some space on your camera. Most nights, live bands will make you sing and dance without shame as they perform on stage. You will never forget your night at the terrace.
9 P.M. Cool Down With Some Memorial Union Ice Cream
Pop inside memorial union for some Babcock Ice Cream. Babcock Hall Dairy has supplied Madison natives and visitors with the freshest of ice cream since 1951, which explains the legacy behind their service. Mix and match flavors for the ultimate creation. The pomegranate greek frozen yogurt and the New York cherry give you a chance to explore the flavors of the world. The friendly staff wants to make your ice cream the exact way you want it. Once you have your treat, get back outside to reclaim a seat on the terrace and endulge.
10 P.M. Start Your Night Out at Mondays
The perfect place to start your night, Mondays offers some of the strongest drinks in Madison. Pace yourself, the drinks contain almost too much alcohol. “I once asked for a double vodka soda at Mondays and they told me they don’t do that because every drink they make is already stronger than a double,” UW-Madison Junior Molli McNulty said. Even better, the drinks sometimes cost as little as $2. After a little liquid courage, dance the night away with your friends and enjoy the good mix of music, which tends to vary depending on the crowd. Certain nights will attract country music fans and other nights rap and R&B fans. It doesn’t matter what day of the week, Mondays will serve you the best drinks in Madison every night.
11 P.M. On to The Double U
Hit up the upstairs patio at The UU for some good music and even better vibes. Grab a drink, hop in line for the patio and wait it out. “The Double U patio is a staple of Madison in the summer. The atmosphere can make you feel nostalgic before the moment has even passed. There’s something about being able to see the night sky above you and feeling the breeze from the lake that makes you want to stay until [the] bar closes,” UW-Madison senior Siena Jaskolka said. Don’t worry, if standing and drinking doesn’t work for you, they have plenty of booths to sit in, too. Download touch tunes and pay to hear your favorite songs on the jukebox. Drinking and dancing with friends and family feels better to your favorite song.
12 A.M. El Grito Taqueria
This food truck will blow your mind. You can try these rich tortilla-based creations on State Street. Featuring finger–licking tacos from different regions of Mexico, El Grito Taqueria’s menu often changes, so follow them on their social media for menu updates. The menu has something for everyone: vegetarian, gluten free, you name it. Among the most popular of tacos, the tangy Brisket with Peanut and sweet Hoisin Pork with Cauliflower makes for great flavor pairings. Make your way to this taco joint on wheels for any of your late night-cravings.
1 A.M. Kollege Klub
The KK stands for tradition. Tradition in operating as one of the oldest bars in Madison. Dating back to as early as 1953, the Kollege Klub stood tall and welcomed Madison residents and visitors for drinks. Even today, the legacy lives on and students continue to frequent the bar. Grab a historic drink when you stop on by and relish in the fact that decades of badgers have had the same exact one, like the Pink Drink or the Big Red. If the pictures you take don’t suffice, choose from a selection of Kollege Klub merch, such as t-shirts and onesies, to take home with you. Become a part of the legacy and stop by The KK.
2 A.M. Get Frisky at Whiskey’s
Grab a water on your way in because tonight will get wild—literally. All thanks to the bar’s infamous mechanical bull. It may make you look like a fool, but getting thrown off the bull onto the blown-up bull ring feels liberating and will give your friends a great laugh.Who doesn’t want to drunkenly ride a mechanical bull at 2 a.m.? With the combined dynamic of live bands and energetic DJs, those drink specials will complete your nightlife experience. The dance floor spans across the whole bar, making it a great place to drop it low. Time to let the good times and whiskey flow.
3 A.M. Drop it down at Sotto
You haven’t seen dancing until going to Sotto at 3 a.m. “Sotto is always my favorite place to end the night. If nothing else works out for you, Sotto always brings good music and good vibes. The only downside is that I always leave exhausted from dancing my little heart out,” UW-Madison senior Tyler Steffensen said. This underground bar will rock your world. With each step downstairs, the bass grows louder. You can feel the whole building shake at max capacity. With flashing lights, strong drinks, bumping music and good company, what more could you ask for?
4 A.M. Late Night Snack at Short Stack
Satisfy any of your early morning cravings at Short Stack Eatery. Breakfast all day? Big yes. How it works: walk in, grab a menu, give the cashier your order, find a table and wait for those fluffy pancakes or greasy bacon. You have to treat yourself after a night of binge drinking. This breakfast joint runs 24 hours a day and 4 a.m. arrivers bring some of the liveliest energy. Take in the art inside the restaurant. The walls, packed with historic news clippings and pictures, will leave you absolutely mesmerized. Having late night cravings? Short Stack has got you.
5 A.M. Return to Lake Monona and Watch the Sunrise
From one end of the isthmus to the other, Madison offers it all. End your busy day right where you started and take in the rising, pink sun over Lake Monona. As the giant, glowing sphere emerges on the horizon, take the time to sit back and reflect. You have had quite the day. If you can find the energy, walk the path to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Built by Frank Lloyd Wright, take in the spectacular architecture of the building. While the sun rises over the lake, grab your loved ones and take a photo to remember the day you had.