Henry Vilas Zoo
© Henry Vilas Zoo

FREE THINGS TO DO

It’s easy to find free things to do in Greater Madison! Our area is graced with five sparkling lakes and stunning landscapes that lend themselves to endless hours of outdoor fun. Plus, playing home to the state capitol and UW-Madison campus creates amazing amenities that you can take advantage of any day of the week. Scroll to see an array of ways you can spend little—while seeing a lot—in our city.

 

FRESH-AIR FUN, FOR FREE

Olbrich Botanical GardensFree admission every day (except holidays)
Stroll through 16 acres of breathtaking outdoor display gardens featuring the ornate Thai Pavilion—the only one in North America and only one in four pavilions located outside Thailand.

Bolz ConservatoryFree admission on Wednesday and Saturday mornings
Step inside Olbrich Gardens indoor garden space, a glass pyramid that reaches to 50 feet tall and is filled with exotic plants, bright flowers, a rushing waterfall and free-flying birds.

University of Wisconsin-Madison ArboretumFree exploration year-round
Explore the Arboretum's 1,200 acres on your own or schedule a private guided tour. The Arboretum features gardens, ecological communities including woodlands, savannas, prairies, and wetlands, and 20 miles of trails designated for hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing.

Biking and HikingFree exploration year-round
In total, there are more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails in the Madison area. Discover the best trails for your type of fun, from hiking to mountain biking, in the city or around surrounding towns.

LakesFree exploration year-round
When you visit Madison, you're almost always a stone's throw away from the nearest lake. There are five in the vicinity and more than 15,000 acres of water available for your adventures!

Monona TerraceFree rooftop concerts for six weeks each summer
Enjoy a free evening of dancing and great music with friends! Concerts on the Rooftop features spectacular local bands accompanied by the best views in the city!

 

COMPLIMENTARY CAPITOL & CAMPUS HIGHLIGHTS

Wisconsin State Capitol--Free tours offered daily; 6th Floor Observation Deck open in summer
Wisconsin’s stunning state capitol building is the only one in the country with a granite dome and is designated a National Historic Landmark. This building is home to the State Legislature, Supreme Court and Office of the Governor, and features ornate mosaics, marble and more.

Governor's MansionFree tours offered April through August and during the holiday season
This mansion was built in the Classical Revival style on more than four acres along Lake Mendota. It has 16,000 square feet of living space, including 34 rooms, 13 bathrooms, and seven bedrooms and fireplaces.

Dane County Farmers' MarketFree to the general public
The Dane County Farmers' Market is held every Saturday morning around the Capitol Square from April through November. It is the largest producer-only farmers' market in the U.S. and provides a chance to chat with more than 300 vendors who offer produce, flowers, cheeses, meats and more.

Concerts on the SquareFree to the general public, Wednesday night series
Pack a picnic, place your blanket on the Capitol lawn and get set to enjoy six consecutive concerts with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Each season features guest artists and guaranteed good time.

Memorial Union TerraceFree admission year-round
Situated on the shores of Lake Mendota on the UW-Madison campus, this is one of Madison’s most popular locations to listen to music and enjoy watching the boats go by. The Terrace is currently undergoing renovations and will re-open in Summer 2016.

UW-Madison Geology MuseumFree admission
Browse the rocks and minerals exhibit, which features meteorites and a fluorescent display, or check out the dinosaur and fossil exhibits. Explore self-guided or via tours and storytelling times.

Chazen Museum of ArtFree admission
The Chazen Museum of Art is associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and houses touring and permanent collections from ancient times to the present day. Docent-led tours are available.
 

 

NO ADMISSION MUSEUMS
 

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA)Free admission and educational programs
This modern and contemporary art museum was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli and provides learning opportunities for audiences of all ages, including exhibit openings, film screenings and special events.


Wisconsin Historical MuseumFree admission; donations encouraged
This museum is full of information about the state's rich history: its heritage, cultures and shared experiences. Learn more about the Native Americans that inhabited Wisconsin 1,000 years ago, to modern-day residents that call Madison home.

Wisconsin Veterans MuseumFree admission
The Veterans Museum highlights important events in Wisconsin military history, from the Civil War to the present. Includes amazing artifacts exhibitions and a functional submarine periscope. 
 

National Mustard MuseumFree admission
Located in nearby Middleton, this museum has the world’s largest collection of mustards, with more than 5,000 jars, bottles and tubes from all 50 states and more than 60 countries!

 

FREE FUN FOR FAMILIES
 

Henry Vilas ZooFree admission, 365 days each year
As one of the nation's only admission-free zoos, the Henry Vilas Zoo is home to more than 800 animals. The new Artic Passage exhibit opened in May and features seals, polar bears and grizzly bears. The zoo's carousel and train are also popular with kids of all ages. 
 

Madison Public LibraryFree admission; library card and internet access card (also free) needed for checkout and computer use
The library's new downtown location is directly across from Overture Center for the Arts, and is much more than a library! Kids will love the unique reading nooks and The Bubbler, an artist's studio that will allow your child's imagination to grow.
 

Kids in the RotundaFree shows every Saturday, October through April
Almost every Saturday during the school year, Overture Center for the Arts offers free programs and performances designed for children and families. These arts activities feature a diverse lineup of local and regional musicians, storytellers, jugglers, theater troupes, magicians and dancers. 
 

DreamBankFree admission and free registration for events
Presented by American Family Insurance (a Madison-based company), the DreamBank on the Capitol Square offers a variety of interactive tools, activities and weekly events that help you discover your goals and inspire your children.