There’s so much to love about Madison in the fall—including watching the city come alive as UW-Madison students return to campus. If your own student has been too busy to follow up on your not-so-subtle “call me” hints and texts, fall also brings a don’t-miss tradition that will help you experience life through their lens: UW Family Weekend—a time to roll out the red carpet for three days of family-friendly festivities and behind-the-scenes activities. 

If you haven’t been before, you’ll quickly see how having a campus connected to Madison’s downtown means there’s even more to explore! Whether you’re looking for a few fall things to do during your down time or considering extending your stay by a couple of days, our “know before you go” guide will help you make the most of your visit. 

Book your stay right away. 

Historic or hip? Boutique-y or luxury? Whatever vibe drives your decision about where to stay, Madison offers an array of accommodations that help inject personality into your itinerary. Graduate Madison is a top parent pick due to its UW-Madison themed décor, rooftop restaurant, pet-friendly policies and proximity to campus (just a one-block walk!). 

Parent Pro Tip: Book early because rooms for this popular parent weekend go fast! To make it easy, UW-Madison and Destination Madison offer an official room block with more than 20 hotels to choose from.

Choose a few Madison must-do’s. 

In 15 minutes, you and your student can stroll from campus to Capitol via State Street. In one dinner, you can try a fish fry, cheese curds, an old fashioned and other uniquely Madison culinary experiences. If you’re an early riser, you’ll be rewarded with the best of the bounty at the largest Saturday Farmers’ Market in the country. For just $5 you can tour the Monona Terrace, designed by Madison native and architectural pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Parent Pro Tip: Madison is one of only two cities on an isthmus, meaning our downtown is surrounded by two sparkling lakes—both of which are walkable from campus. Our lake views are your #1 must-do! 

See Madison by Bike. 

It’s not just for students who need to get from class to class fast—biking is a way of life in Madison. We’re 1 of only 5 Platinum-Level Bike-Friendly communities in the U.S. and have 200+ miles of picturesque paths to prove it. Our all-electric bike-share program, Madison BCycle, makes it easy for visitors to try our trails and experience more of Madison. 

Parent Pro Tip: Lakeshore Path is close to campus and connects the Memorial Union Terrace to Picnic Point via a wooded path that winds along the shores of Lake Mendota. It’s one of four rides featured in our free Madison by Bike pass. 

Do your restaurant research. 

Despite our agricultural roots and number of James Beard Awards honors, first-time visitors are always amazed by the caliber of our culinary scene. We favor locally owned and locally grown. The amount of global fare rivals what you’ll find in big cities everywhere. So it’s no surprise our restaurants are always busy! 

Parent Pro Tip: Make reservations in advance whenever possible. Don’t: Eat at a restaurant you can find anywhere or have tried before. Do: Your research—our Iconic Eats series will show you more! 

Plan your next trip. 

Madison is one of the best cities in the country for college sports spectating, so plan now to return for the festivities! From jumping around while cheering on the Badger football team at Camp Randall Stadium to experiencing the electric environment at the Kohl Center for women’s volleyball, joining your student at a UW sporting event is always a win. 

Parent Pro Tip: Learn more about the traditions, cheers, chants and more for each sport by reading our Madison Gameday Guide