Why Locals Love Madison (And You Will Too)

Creative capital flourishes in Wisconsin’s capital city

This friendly city gets its nickname, Madtown, from its residents’ interests in the fun-loving and unconventional.



Average is about the worst thing you could call Madison, Wisconsin. We stay modest and friendly while challenging ourselves to do the extraordinary. Here, it’s not unusual for a cab driver to have a Ph.D. because the job market is competitive and he’d rather stay put than move for academic work. It’s also not unusual for us to root for forward-thinking entrepreneurs and artistic endeavors—but we’re also sports fans (go Badgers!). Urban beehives (Mad Urban Bees), aerial dancers (Cycropia) and kombucha tea makers (NessAlla Kombucha) have their fans here, too.

The city’s nickname, Madtown, refers to our free-spirited interest in the unorthodox. It doesn’t mean we’re angry, though Madisonians have a fondness for political correctness and peaceful protests. The weekday Solidarity Singalong at the Wisconsin State Capitol is one of our favorite rituals; the noontime chorus of protest songs began in 2011. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously—the plastic pink flamingo is the official city bird.

Once the star of a great prank, the pink plastic flamingo is now the official city bird of Madison, Wisconsin.

Ring around the square

Much of what to do in Madison happens around Capitol Square. The area is the city’s heart, and it’s a magnet for crowds. Watch us walk counterclockwise, in sync with vehicular traffic, to keep things orderly during Madison’s biggest events. That’s one of our quirks: No law or signage tells anyone to do this.

When we’re not holding art and food festivals on the Square, we cover the State Capitol’s lawn with blankets for the outdoor chamber orchestra concerts on summer weeknights. A sure sign of spring is April’s Crazylegs Classic, when 20,000 runners and walkers race around Capital Square on their way to Camp Randall Stadium.

You’ll find at least one farmers market every day of the week during the growing season. Most notable, though, is the Dane County Farmers Market, held Saturdays from mid-April to mid-November. No producer-operated market in the U.S. is larger; there are approximately 150 vendors on the Square, and everything you buy is raised, grown or made locally. In the winter, chefs take turns cooking breakfast for the indoor Saturday market crowd. Farmers are VIPs here.

All in good taste

We also know how to play with our food. We come up with fun acronyms—there’s the REAP (Research, Education, Action and Policy) Food Group and CHEW (Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin), for example. We say we have the most restaurants per capita in the U.S., and it sure feels that way, though we admit that the claim’s hard to confirm.

James Beard Award-winning chef Tory Miller operates four restaurants in Madison. He helped establish the airport’s gastropub, too, and is among the dozen local chefs who visit Madison’s public schools to introduce kids to gardening, healthy eating and how to make cooking fun.

Free fun for all

Besides good taste and enthusiasm, we are blessed with affordability in Madison. That includes plenty of free activities. The Henry Vilas Zoo, next to Lake Wingra, is one of the last zoos to be both accredited and admission-free. Visitors can see a polar bear, a giraffe, lemurs, red pandas and an aardvark.

Another local favorite is the William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens atop Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. They overlook scenic Lake Monona and display art from May to October. That’s good, but it’s even better when a free yoga class or live band is also on the books—which happens pretty often.

There’s no better place to linger on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison than Memorial Union Terrace, considered the campus living room. You can often find free live music here—grab a spot that lets you take in a view of the gorgeous sunset over Lake Mendota.

One of the town’s top places to watch a sunset is Memorial Union Terrace on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It’s little wonder that Madison is racking up numerous national accolades; U.S. News & World Report included the city in its 2016 list of the 30 most fun places to live in the U.S. We’ve been mentioned so many times, really, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. We’re not bragging—we’re just proud to call Madison home.

Written by Mary Bergin

Ready to see the city's local scene? Find hotels in Madison and check out our Wisconsin travel guide.



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