Things to Do in Madison

Rediscover your sense of wonder in Wisconsin's vibrant capital city


It's what getaways are made for. Home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison shines as one of the Midwest's hot spots of culture and family-friendly recreation.

1. Henry Vilas Zoo

Go wild for the day and hang out with orangutans, rhinos and tigers at the free Henry Vilas Zoo, where you'll meet up with animals from five continents. Take the family for a spin on the mini electric train or ride an okapi or a seal on the Conservation Carousel. Be sure to download the zoo's mobile app for an informative self-guided tour. When it's time for a food break, watch polar bear antics from the Glacier Grille overlooking the exhibit.

2. Olbrich Gardens and Bolz Conservatory

Escape to paradise right here in Madison at Bolz Conservatory and Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The Conservatory will delight you with free-flying birds and butterflies, exquisite orchids and a cascading waterfall. Wander through Olbrich's outdoor display gardens blooming in a kaleidoscope of colorful roses, perennials and herbs. Slow down and bathe in the tropical tranquility of the Thai Pavilion and Garden with its bamboo plants and 12-foot grasses. Note that the Olbrich's facilities maintain seasonal and independent schedules.

3. Madison Children's Museum

Go where curious families go: the Madison Children's Museum. Its imaginative series of interactive exhibits are designed to encourage discovery and learning. No one is too young or too old to unleash their creativity at the art studio. The outdoor Funkyard gets kids rolling through an oversized scooter obstacle course. Wisconsin's oldest log cabin brings pioneering to life through butter-churning and log-sawing hands-on activities. Special events like SummerPalooza and PuppetFest add to the museum's good-time fun.

4. Cave of the Mounds

Enter an alien world of underground geological masterpieces at Cave of the Mounds Natural National Landmark. Located 25 miles west of Madison, you can easily squeeze this adventure into a half-day. Hour-long guided tours escort you into Earth's belly along lighted walkways through a garden of stalagmites and stalactites. At Quarry's Edge Mining Sluice, the entire family can join in on a fossil and gem dig. Cave of the Mounds tours are never rained out.

5. The House on the Rock

Count on every member of the family to be wowed by The House on the Rock's eccentric collections. This weird and wonderful complex located 45 minutes from Madison overflows with its creator's unbounded imagination. Ride with the kids on the world's oldest carousel with its hand-carved mermaids and magical creatures and wander through Asian-inspired gardens. Feast your eyes on instrument, sculpture, circus and doll collections. Then, pose for selfies with a gigantic sea creature. Arrive early in the day to have time to enjoy it all.

6. Wisconsin State Capitol

To learn about Wisconsin's rich history, culture and to enjoy beautiful art and architecture, a free tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building is your ticket. Take in the lavish array of murals, historical and allegorical sculptures, mosaics and hand-carved furniture. The awe-inspiring granite dome reaches skyward more than 200 feet creating the building's dramatic presence. Don't miss the sweeping views from the observation deck.

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