Wisconsin's capital is an intellectual center, a thriving foodie destination, and simply an appealing, relaxed, and enjoyable place to spend some time.
Madison has become on of the finest gastronomic destinations in the lower 48, offering great farmers markets, microbreweries like Karben4, and superb restaurants like Harvest or L'Etoile.
Madison is squeezed in between two beautiful lakes, where you can rent kayaks or canoes, take control of a sailing boat, or fish for northern pike or walleye until the sun sets.
Madison isn't short on museums and galleries either. Standouts include the Chazen Museum of Art, with its Dutch Masters, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Wisconsin has a fascinating history, and you can find out all about it by taking tours of the elegant State Capitol building, with its iconic domed roof.
Madison hosts an endless parade of festivals, from the culinary delights of Taste of Madison to the WI Film Festival and the Atwood Music Festival.
Wisconsin's third State Capitol building is almost certainly its most beautiful. Located on the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona, the Capitol was opened in 1917 and still reigns supreme as the city's tallest building. Inside, politics buffs will find a treasure trove of sights and stories. See the bust of Progressive hero Robert M. LaFollette, a series of stunning mosaic murals by Kenyon Cox and the breathtaking ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, and get to the heart of the state's political action.
One of the world's most famous works of private architecture, Taliesin was designed by American icon Frank Lloyd Wright as his home, studio, and school for aspiring followers. Set in an 800 acre estate, the modernist house still feels groundbreaking and fresh. But the estate as a whole repays exploration, with other Wright-designed masterpieces like the Midway Barn, the Drafting Studio and the Hillside Theater. Start at the Visitor Center and explore, or join fascinating tours that tell you all you need to know about the great man's powerful legacy.
Stepping from world-class architecture to dazzling contemporary art is easy in Madison. The Madison Museum on State Street (MMoCA for short) is a Downtown marvel, housing a 5,000 strong permanent collection featuring stellar works by American masters like Philip Guston, Joan Brown, and Ed Paschke. But the temporary exhibitions are the star, with cutting edge multimedia installations from today's hottest artists. Attend regular talks on the collection, make a date to catch a movie at the Rooftop Cinema, and round off your visit by dining at Fresco, the gallery's gourmet restaurant.
Stretching along the waterfront of Lake Monona, this row of buildings is one of Frank Lloyd Wright's finest creations. A stone's throw away from the State Capitol, this Art Deco complex wasn't actually built during Wright's lifetime. Instead, it was resurrected by a far-sighted mayor, opening first in 1997. Now, it's one of the most striking conference centers in the world - and much more than a business venue. It hosts markets, events like Ironman Wisconsin and has a fantastic rooftop cafe. If you can get out on the water, it's best seen from the lake, where you get a great sense of Wright's vision.
Located on the northern shores of Lake Monona (and offering fine views of Downtown Madison), the Olbrich Botanical Gardens are a gorgeous place to spend time. You'll discover 16 acres of colorful Midwest flowers, as well as exotic collections in the Thai Pavilion, heady aromas in the Rose Garden, and tropical delights in the Bolz Conservatory. If you have the chance, try to schedule a visit during the summer concert series, when the Great Lawn becomes a magical music venue.
Summer is the best time to visit Madison. It's festival season, the lakes are at their most inviting, and the town just feels laid-back and ready to welcome visitors.
Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) has connections to plenty of US cities. From there you can take Bus 20 into town for $2. Taxis will cost around $30.
Amtrak's Empire Builder service stops at Columbus, just a few miles north of Madison.
If you are coming from Chicago or Milwaukee, take I-90 to Madison. Those driving from the east or west can take I-80, then change in Chicago.
Bus services into Madison are provided by Greyhound, Megabus, Badger Bus, Van Galder, and Lamers.
Madison has some stunning lakefront accommodation options, and highlights include the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace Hotel and the Madison Concourse Hotel.
Capitol - Madison's downtown center, Capitol is the place to go for historical attractions and museums like the Chazen or the Madison Children's Museum and also hosts the city's huge farmers market.
Greenbush - southwest of the city center, Greenbush hosts the Henry Vilas Zoo and is also a great place to rent boats for activities on Lake Monona.
Dudgeon-Monroe - one of the safest, most affluent parts of town, Dudgeon-Monroe is home to some of Madison's finest restaurants, including Pizza Brutta and Brasserie V.
Madison's bus network covers the whole city pretty well, and with single tickets costing $2, it's a cheap way to get around.
When you take taxis in Madison, expect to pay a meter drop of $4, followed by around $3 per mile.
Local car rental outlets include Enterprise and Budget, and rates can be as low as $10 per day.
Madison has a few excellent family malls, including Hilldale and East Towne Mall, and you'll find plenty of independent stores around Capitol Square.
Supermarkets include Festival Foods and Trader Joe's, and you can expect to spend around $1.60 on 12 eggs, so it's a cheap place to shop.
There are numerous elite restaurants in town, but highlights include the Old Fashioned, a down-to-earth tavern and restaurant; L'Etoile, a gourmet modern American eatery; and Harvest Restaurant, which specializes in using Wisconsin's fresh produce. Meals prices vary, but a good meal will cost around $25 per head.