Wisconsin State Capitol

Know Before You Go

What should I pack? How can I get there? How old do I need to be to order a glass of wine? What kind of currency is used--and where are the ATMs? It's always best to prepare for your trip in advance, so you can make the most of every moment of your stay once you arrive. This handy quick-reference page places essential information at your fingertips. Still have questions? Just ask us!



As the capital of the State of Wisconsin, Madison has made its mark on the map in a number of ways. Our estimated population in 2013 was 243,344 (more than 500,000 people live in the Greater Madison area) and we are located 79 miles west of Milwaukee, 136 miles southwest of Green Bay and 147 miles northwest of Chicago.

Geographically speaking, Madison is one of only 2 U.S. cities built on an isthmus. Nestled between lakes Monona and Mendota, Madison is renowned for its beautiful four-season scenery and wealth of options for outdoor recreation, from biking and hiking to playing in and on the lakes. In total, Madison has five area lakes, more than 260 parks and more than 120 miles of shared-use trails and paths.

Madison is in the Central Time Zone.


We're thrilled to provide transportation tips that will help you get here--and get around once you arrive. In addition to conventional modes of transportation, it may interest you to know that getting around town by bike is part of our city's culture. No matter which Madison mode of travel you choose, use these maps to help you navigate everything from State Street to where to eat:

Downtown Map View Online or Print (PDF)

Central and Greater Madison Accommodations Maps 

Central and Greater Madison Restaurant Maps


In Madison, we love our four seasons of fun. But planning ahead for weather is key, from an event planning (and wardrobe planning!) perspective. 
See below for a few fun facts about our temps and the type of weather you can expect during your time in town:

  • Madison has a hot, humid continental climate with hot summers and no dry season
  • January is the coolest month; July is the warmest month
  • January is the driest month; June is the wettest month
  • The area within 25 miles of our destination is covered by grasslands (49%), croplands (45%), and lakes and rivers (3%).
  • Madison is a home base for many types of businesses, from state government to college campuses, corporate headquarters to startups, and many types of "day jobs" in-between. So Madison's dress code is equally eclectic by design. Downtown tends to be trendy and evening wear may be dressier in some places. Bottom line: we are a walkable city so comfort is key.



While Wisconsinites may be best known as "cheeseheads" nationwide, there are a few "like a local" experiences you may want to learn about before your next visit:

  • What you may call a "water fountain" is often called a "bubbler" in our area.
  • If you go to the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Capitol Square, it is customary to walk counter-clockwise around the square. It is frowned upon to go against the grain.
  • Game day colors are red and white (UW Badgers), green and gold (Green Bay Packers) or blue and white (Brewers), and we're fiercely loyal to our teams.
  • UW-Madison students and residents not only know what a "Sconnie" is--they buy logo attire at The University Book Store to prove it.
  • You can get cheese curds at many local restaurants, but locals know they're fresh if they're "squeaky."
  • Cheese curds are quickly followed by fish fry as a dining staple. In Madison, it's a Friday night tradition.
  • Everyone knows what to do when "Jump Around" comes on. Even if you're not from around here. And even if you're not actually at a Badger football game.


There is no shortage of ideas for free-time fun in our destination--at any time of year! Our online itineraries detail many of Madison's favorite places to play. Or, link to any of the themed itineraries below and include them in newsletters, welcome packets and more.



For all life-threatening medical, fire and police emergencies, call 911.

For non-emergency calls, dial the following numbers:

City of Madison: 608.261.9694 (police); 608.266.4420 (fire)
Dane County: 608.261.9692 (sheriff's office); 608.266.4420



It is illegal in Wisconsin for anyone under 21 years old to consume alcohol in any quantity. To purchase alcohol in a bar, restaurant or store, you must be able to produce photographic identification that proves your age. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is a serious offense in Wisconsin. The state prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver that has a .08 percent or above blood alcohol (BAC) concentration.

In Wisconsin, the driver and all passengers must wear their seatbelts at all times when traveling in a car. Any child too small to be protected by a seatbelt must be secured in a child safety seat.

Wisconsin law prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, theaters, auditoriums, museums and most other public buildings.

Keep your eyes on the road, as Wisconsin has a texting ban for all drivers. We also recommend that you play it safe and use a hands-free controller if you must use a phone while on the road.

For additional information on state-by-state legislation (such as concealed carry) contact the Wisconsin Department of Justice.



Bank-card, bank-cash and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are located throughout the city. Members of participating banking networks and credit card companies can obtain U.S. currency by using an ATM card or credit card and a Personal Identification Number (PIN). If you need to exchange foreign currency, contact Travelex Currency Services at 1 S Pinckney Street in Madison, 608.259.8462.