Picture this. You're walking around the Capitol Square in downtown Madison in sight of the beautiful Wisconsin State Capitol building. The smells of sizzling jerk chicken, freshly-popped popcorn, savory arepas and warm donuts fill the air while the sounds of the band playing at the nearby stage linger in the atmosphere. The just-perfectly-warm September sun is high in the sky and the buzz of excitement is hitting at just the right moment. 

That's the feeling of being at Taste of Madison, the largest food and music festival in Madison and the official end-cap to summer. Hosted every year on Labor Day weekend, Taste of Madison is a two-day celebration of some of the best flavors in the capital city and the perfect event to center your weekend getaway around.

What is Taste of Madison?

In short, Taste of Madison is a free food and music festival with more than 80 food vendors and multiple stages for live music with proceeds going to local charities. But it's so much more than that. 

The food festival is a chance to try foods from dozens of local restaurants, food trucks and caterers, many of which are BIPOC and/or women-owned. Each food station offers a small menu with portions that cost no more than $6 each. Small entrees, snacks, desserts and beverages are all available.

For entertainment, multiple stages are set up on side streets along the Capitol Square with at least one stage dedicated to country music and another stage dedicated to rock music. The concerts are totally free to enjoy, even if you don't get food (but we highly recommend you do). Past performers include Yung Gravy, Daughtry, Jimmie Allen, Brothers Osborne, Theory of a Deadman, Big Sean and more.

This big event makes an even bigger impact on the community each year. Madison Festivals, the organization that runs Taste of Madison, has donated more than $2 million to community nonprofits since its inception.

How do I choose what to eat?

With more than 80 vendors onsite, deciding what to eat can be an overwhelming decision. But as Taste pros, we've learned some tips and tricks over the years to help you maximize your eating experience.

1. Divide and conquer

When it comes to Taste of Madison, sharing is caring. Grab your (hungry) family and friends to get as many different foods as possible and split them up to get a little taste of everything. Once you've found your favorites, make sure to go back for more.

2. Try something new

Taste of Madison features a wide range of cuisine with vendors serving up new takes on classics and flavors from around the world. With smaller portion sizes (and smaller prices) it's the perfect opportunity to jump outside your culinary comfort zone.

3. Keep your eye on the prize

A great place to start is with some of the festival's award-winning dishes. Every year before Taste of Madison, a group of dozens of community members gather to get an early taste of what's to come at the fest and vote on their favorites across multiple categories. The winners get bragging rights during the event.

4. Stay another day

Don't feel pressured to eat everything at once. Taste of Madison lasts two full days and since admission is free, it's easy to spend two days at Taste and get more opportunities to try everything on your wish list.

Where Should I Stay?

The long Labor Day weekend paired with the biggest food fest in the city calls for a weekend getaway, and we know just the places to stay.

Downtown hotels will give you easy, walkable access to the fest and many of the best things to do, eat and see while you're in Madison. The Park Hotel is the only hotel on the Capitol Square and lets you walk right out the front doors and onto the festival street.

Other walkable downtown lodging:

What else should I do while I'm in town?

Visiting Madison during Taste weekend is a gateway into Madison's incredible culinary scene known for its fresh, local ingredients prepared by beloved and award-winning chefs

One of the must-dos when visiting Madison for Taste weekend is stopping by the Dane County Farmers' Market hosted on the Capitol Square the Saturday morning before Taste kicks off. The Dane County Farmers' Market is the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country and is the core of Madison's robust food system. Shop for fresh produce, meat, baked goods, snacks and other artisanal items to take home with you or enjoy while you're here.

Another way to try several of Madison's best restaurants at once is by going on a Madison Eats Food Tour. Tours are offered based on types of foods and experiences and will guide you on an exploration of some of Madison's best neighborhoods and hidden gems.

The Babcock Dairy Observation Deck Tour offers a glimpse behind the scenes into the making of one of Madison's favorite treats, Babcock's locally-made ice cream, at the location of some of the greatest agriculture innovations in history.

Create your own Madison culinary getaway by trying out some of the city's best restaurants including locations featuring outdoor dining, a new twist on supper clubs and fabulous brunches.

More things to do during Taste of Madison weekend: