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Things to Do

Escape to Madison this summer and experience life on our five lakes, discover our nationally recognized food culture, and listen to local music live almost every night of the week!


Life on the Lake
Summer in Madison brings fresh air and sparkling water. The area's five lakes cover more than 15,000 acres, and scenic downtown is surrounded by lakes Mendota and Monona. Our numerous launch sites provide easy access, with several places to rent boats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.


In addition to boating, there are numerous beaches dotting the shoreline, including Vilas Beach, which is located on Lake Wingra just steps away from the admission-free Henry Vilas Zoo. Now is the time to see the new Artic Passage exhibit, a brand-new habitat for zoo's seals, grizzly and polar bears. Madison also has 6,000 acres of parkland and 260 parks around the city ready to be explored.


Blaze a Trail
Madison's biking and hiking trail system covers more than 200 miles and our city was recently named one of the best cycling towns by USA Today. Rent a bike from B-cycle, an urban bike-sharing program that makes it quick, easy and convenient to get around Madison on two wheels. Machinery Row Bicycles and Budget Bicycle Center are also great places to rent a bike or pick up a lock or helmet.

For strolling and nature trails, take a guided tour at Olbrich Botanical Gardens or listen to one of their concerts in the garden. Olbrich is also home to the magnificent Blooming Butterflies display in the tropical Bolz Conservatory. Outdoor exploration also abounds at the UW-Madison Arboretum, where you'll find 1,260 acres of woodlands, prairies, wetlands and gardens within the city.


Summertime Staples
Madison is known for spectacular summertime traditions worth revisiting every year. Start your trip at the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Capitol Square, where locals go on Saturday mornings. As the nation's largest producers-only market, you'll have the opportunity to talk to the sellers who love to share the stories behind their food. 


Concerts on the Square is another summertime staple in Madison. Pack a picnic and pick a spot on the Capitol Square lawn for music from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. For more a more contemporary sound, head to Monona Terrace for Concerts on the Rooftop. Grab a bite to eat at the Lake Vista Café, with sprawling views of Lake Mendota. There are also many other outdoor concerts and festivals in the area; check out our events calendar for the latest.


A new outdoor venue sure to become a favorite is the plaza at The Edgewater hotel, which will play host to live music this summer. The hotel also has a new, public pier in front of The Boathouse restaurant, and a new water taxi starting in July, ideal for visits to nearby Memorial Union Terrace. With its brightly colored chairs, local brews and a picturesque view of Lake Mendota, the Terrace is the place to grab a brat or slice of pizza and relax to music five nights a week!


Unique Options
When in Madison, why not make your way up north to Noah's Ark Waterpark, America's largest waterpark! Enjoy more than 80 activities including 49 waterslides, two wavepools, two endless rivers and mini-golf. Vitense Golfland also has mini-golf, as well as batting cages, an indoor arcade, climbing wall and golf range. 

For a true adventure, take a turn soaring above Madison with Biplane Rides of America! Three unique ride options are available, including a local sight-seeing tour and a Wisconsin River tour. Or, buy a $100 hamburger from Wisconsin Aviation, which comes not only with French fries, but also a scenic airplane ride over Madison!


For traditional family fun, take them out to the ball game! The Madison Mallards are a collegiate baseball team and a quintessential summer experience (complete with peanuts and plenty of family activities integrated into the games!). American Players Theater is another popular outdoor experience. This classical theater is just outside of Madison in nearby Spring Green.


Summer Itineraries
Our itineraries take the worry out of planning your next vacation to Madison! Read our summer-inspired ideas to guide your planning: