TOP FIVE THINGS TO DO IN MADISON FOR UNDER $5
You deserve to splurge a little when you are on a vacation, but sometimes it is fun to find a great deal and save money once you’ve reached your final destination! While it’s easy to admit that there is always something to do in downtown Madison, some of my favorite activities have to be the free ones in and around town …
#5 – Dane County Farmers’ Market (Capitol Square) – 0.1 mi
Every Saturday, from mid-April through mid-November, our 0.6 mile Capitol Square is bustling with one of the best Farmers’ Markets in the state. If you are looking for some delicious, Wisconsin-made bakery or produce, this is definitely where you want to be between 6:15 a.m.-1:45 p.m. (I recommend going before 8:30 a.m. to avoid crowds!)
- There is NO ADMISSION required to access the Square on Saturday mornings, but any goodies you find will need to be purchased along the way.
- Grab a Colectivo Coffee from The Post before you head out, it will keep you warm and energized during your walk.
#4 – Wisconsin State Capitol Tours (Wisconsin State Capitol) – 500 ft
What’s that impressive, white dome teasing you from outside your guest room window? Our state capitol building can be quite illusive to our out-of-town guests, but don’t fret! There are FREE tours offered, daily, year round (except holidays) that can get you up to speed.
- It’s summer! Which means that the Capitol’s sixth floor museum and observation deck are now open. The outdoor observation deck has the best view of our city, so bring your camera. But keep in mind that the final ascent does include a narrow stairwell -- It’s the only way up and down.
- In addition, the museum (located at the entrance to that final stairwell) includes a glass-covered overlook, giving guests a breathtaking look down in to the main rotunda!
#3 – Olbrich Botanical Gardens (3330 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704) – 3.5 mi
Madison residents are quite thankful for this inviting park and flower garden along the shores of Lake Monona. It provides a beautiful and tranquil escape from the busy downtown atmosphere.
- Admission to the Outdoor Gardens (open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. in the summer) is FREE, but donations are always accepted. Admission to the Bolz Conservatory, Olbrich’s indoor Tropical Garden, is $2 for anyone over the age of 5 – Except on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until noon when it is also FREE!
- If you’re lucky enough to visit between July 20th and August 13th, I recommend spending a few extra dollars to experience Olbrich’s Blooming Butterflies exhibit. There are additional activities and collections throughout the Bolz Conservatory.
#2 – Memorial Union Terrace (800 Langdon St., Madison, WI 53706) – 1 mi walk/1.5 mi drive
On the opposite end of State St. from the Park Hotel, you will find the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s iconic Memorial Union, a gathering ground for students, community members, and guests alike! It’s a great place to grab a beverage, sit under the sun, and people watch.
- If you are not already a Union Member, you must register for a guest pass before you visit (either stop by one of the dining or retail locations at the Union, or click HERE). You can request up to three guest passes per year – They are FREE and perfect for those who visit infrequently.
- It takes approximately 20 minutes to walk the 1 mile between the Park Hotel and Memorial Union, if you travel down State St.
- Inside the Memorial Union, Der Rathskeller (and its counterpart, Der Stiftskeller) are a favorite among locals, offering a wide arrange of food and beverage. I highly recommend the Deep Fried Cheese Curds, Barvarian Hot Pretzel (with beer cheese dip and Dusseldorf mustard!), and an ice cold Leinenkugels’ on tap. It’ll cost you more than $5, but your stomach will thank you.
#1 - Henry Vilas Zoo (702 South Randall Avenue Madison, WI 53715) – 2 mi
One of the greatest secrets of our city is the fully accredited, admission-FREE Henry Vilas Zoo. Open every day (except some holidays) from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. the zoo will keep you and your travel party entertained for hours. The zoo focuses on education and conservation, inspiring its guests to do what they can to conserve natural habitats for future generations.
- If you arrive early, start your journey around the grounds by walking east towards the Penguins and Aviary. Most guests gravitate towards the Primates and Lions first thing in the morning, so it can be quite crowded.
- The zoo’s main parking lot tends to fill up quickly! There is additional parking (and an alternative zoo entrance) in the rear of the zoo, along Vilas Park Dr., and an additional lot at the corner of S Orchard St. and Vilas Park Dr.