This article was last updated in the winter of 2019. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published, though it is likely that some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations and businesses that appear in the article. As always, find the latest events and activities on our Event Calendar.
1. Ooh and Ahh at Holiday Fantasy in Lights
A beloved holiday tradition, the Electric Group has been lighting Madison’s Olin Park—and warming our hearts—for 30 years.
Each year, one lucky Balsam Fir tree grown in Wisconsin graces the Capitol rotunda, covered in an estimated 2,400 lights and 700 feet of garland.
3. Ride the Mid-Continent Railway Museum’s Santa Express
All aboard! Journey to Christmas past, Nov. 30–Dec. 1 and Dec. 7–8, on this restored train in North Freedom, WI—just an hour north of Madison. Sing carols and visit with Old St. Nick and his elves as you embark on an early 1900s adventure.
See if you can spot all 6,000 collectible Santas, and check out other seasonal decorations this December at Spring Green Wisconsin’s Ho-Ho-House on the Rock.
Fitchburg’s free, annual children’s holiday party on Dec. 8 is filled with festive treats, face painting, carriage rides and a visit with Santa.
6. Run with Santa
Run like Rudolph! Don Santa, elf or gingerbread man apparel (included in registration fee) for the Dec. 8 Run Santa Run festive 5K.
7. Jingle while you Run
Deck yourself out in jingle bells on Dec. 14 and make some noise all the way to the finish line of the Jingle Bell 5K Run/Walk.
8. Follow Olbrich’s Holiday Express
Large-scale model trains wind through a holiday scene overflowing with hundreds of poinsettias and fresh evergreens at Olbrich Botanical Gardens Dec. 7–31!
Enjoy Holiday music performances inside Cave of the Mounds at this annual, festive charity event Dec. 6–8.
Enjoy A Vintage Christmas at Wollersheim Winery, Nov. 30, and taste wines paired with festive foods and find unique gifts—plus, Christmas carolers will be on hand to set the mood.
11. Celebrate the Season with Song at A Madison Symphony Christmas
Welcome the holiday season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, the Madison Youth Choirs and esteemed opera singers Michelle Johnson and Mackenzie Whitney at A Madison Symphony Christmas, Dec.13–15.
12. See A Christmas Story - The Musical
Based on the beloved holiday film, this classic story, running Oct. 31–Dec. 22, captures holiday spirit for all ages to enjoy.
13. Watch A Christmas Carol by Children’s Theater of Madison
Step back in time to Victorian England Dec. 7–22 with one of Madison's most treasured family traditions.
14–18.Try a New Winter Sport
Nestled among the Baraboo Bluffs of south-central Wisconsin, Devil’s Head is a full-service resort that’s been named one of the Midwest’s 10 Best Ski Resorts, with 30 runs for both beginning and advanced skiers and snowboarders.
This 4,000-square-foot rink is fast becoming a Madison favorite for friends, family and the occasional marriage proposal.
Ski, snowshoe or hike throughout this nature reserve, tucked away in the heart of Madison. Winter hiking is permitted on all 20 miles of Arboretum trails.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers free fishing, Jan. 18–19. Plus, take advantage of free loaner equipment and ice fishing clinics—a great time for anglers of all ages to check out this Wisconsin tradition!
24. Party on Lake Mendota at the Frozen Assets Festival
This free weekend of family fun, Feb. 7–9, at the Edgewater, hosted by the Clean Lakes Alliance, includes ice fishing, sleigh rides, complimentary hot chocolate and more, all in support of area lakes.
This community festival, held in Madison’s Elver Park, celebrates and promotes outdoor sports, recreation, art and healthy lifestyles in the winter.
26–32. Cheer on the Badgers
U-Rah-Rah Wisconsin! Catch Badger football in action and “Jump Around” at a home game at legendary Camp Randall stadium. Visit the Kohl Center to cheer on the Badger Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Men’s Hockey and Women’s Hockey teams. And, root for Women’s Volleyball or Men’s Wrestling at the historic UW Field House.
The nation’s top amateur hockey players face off at the newly renovated Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena, complete with a 300-person beer garden and expanded seating.
34. Gaze at the Zoo Lights
Thousands of lights transform Henry Vilas Zoo into a winter wonderland, Nov. 29–Dec. 29. Enjoy festive sights and sounds as you visit your favorite creatures and discover new ones.
There are plenty of ways to splash around in the Wisconsin Dells… even during the winter! Check out waterparks, amusement rides, games and more.
Enjoy healthy, high-flying fun at Sky Zone Madison, the world's first all-walled trampoline playing court featuring freestyle bouncing, dodgeball, fitness programs and more!
From award-winning folk singers and zany jugglers, to friendly furry animals and traditional Indian dancing, the Overture Center’s popular Kids in the Rotunda series for families is sure to engage, educate and entertain your whole family.
KEVA Sports Center boasts 70,000 square feet of indoor space, including top-quality turf fields and basketball and volleyball courts. KEVA also offers Open Play time for kids—and adults!—to burn some of that pent-up stuck-indoors energy.
Fun for all ages, Ultrazone Laser Tag brings high-energy, action-packed adventure perfect for beating winter boredom.
40–43. Enjoy live music at Madison’s Hottest Venues
All four of these venues have packed winter schedules with something for every musical taste, including:
- The Majestic Theatre: The Marcus King Band, Misterwives and the third annual celebration of Tom Petty
- The Sylvee: Chase Rice, Louis the Child and Tori Kelly
- High Noon Saloon: John K Samson, Johnny Chimes and the second annual John Denver Christmas
- The Orpheum Theater: Brian Regan, A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live on Stage and Elvis Costello and the Imposters
44–46. Treat Yo’ Self!
Enjoy a spa day complete with manicures, massages and mud baths at our area’s premiere spas—The Edgewater Spa in downtown Madison, Indulge Spa on Madison’s east side and Sundara Inn & Spa in the Wisconsin Dells.
47–48. Have a Laugh
Monkey Business Institute performs on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at The Glass Nickel on Atwood Avenue. Catch The All Ages Show with the family, or schedule a date night and enjoy The Grown-Up Show or an Improv Lab. Atlas Improv Company on East Washington delivers laughs twice a night on Fridays and Saturdays. Want to get the weekend started early? Catch a Thursday evening show.
49–56. Learn at Local Museums
Whether you’re interested in Wisconsin history, hands-on science or mustard memorabilia, the Madison area has a museum for you!
- Discovery Building’s Town Center: Explore science and technology
- Wisconsin Historical Museum: Connect with Wisconsin’s past
- Madison Children’s Museum: Learn while you play
- Mid-Continental Railway Museum: Experience turn-of-the-century trains
- Wisconsin Veterans Museum: Hear the stories of Wisconsin's military veterans
- National Mustard Museum: Behold more than 6,000 mustards and visit the Tasting Bar
- Chazen Museum of Art: Explore the second largest art collection in Wisconsin
- Norwegian Heritage Center: Discover the Norwegian immigration story
- Madison Museum of Contemporary Art: Admire modern and contemporary art
It’s a strike! Enjoy Bowl-A-Vard Lanes’ 40 state-of-the-art lanes, or play pool, darts or shuffleboard before grabbing a bite.
Can you solve the puzzle and beat the clock? Challenge yourself and your friends with an immersive escape room adventure at Escape This!
59. Catch a Movie
From action-packed blockbusters to awards-season favorites, grab some popcorn and settle in at one of Marcus Cinema’s two locations: Point Cinema on Madison’s west side and Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie.
What better time than winter to learn a new skill or indulge your creative side? Wheelhouse Studios at the Memorial Union offers classes in ceramics, dance, cooking, music and much, much more.
Drop by Revel to enjoy a Craft Bar and sample the menu of fun and easy DIY projects—from wall art to jewelry—or grab a group of friends for one of their signature studio events.
Taste, explore and learn about one of the happiest cities in America in Madison-only experiences ranging from a bitters bootcamp to painting the Wisconsin Union's iconic Terrace Chair at sunset. Don’t just sightsee, fully immerse yourself in hands-on adventures, and a culture that can only be found in Madison.
Relax and rejuvenate at one of Madison’s charming Bed and Breakfasts!
- The Livingston Inn: 160-year-old historic home in downtown Madison
- The Buckingham Inn: Classically restored 1911 residence near the UW-Madison campus
- The Speckled Hen Inn Bed & Breakfast: Country estate on the north side of Madison
- Lake Ripley Lodge: Historic lakeside inn in Cambridge, WI
- Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn: Victorian inn located on 120 acres in Belleville, WI
- Sunniva Inn: Beautifully restored 1903 Victorian Four Square in Mount Horeb
Named as one of the best travel deals from around the globe by The Washington Post, Hotel Week provides $75, $100 and $125 room rates at some of Madison's best hotels Feb. 7–17. Book your room today.
Don’t let Wisconsin winters disrupt your golf game. Vitense Golfland offers a super-heated tee area so you can swing until spring. Or, try a round of indoor miniature golf!
Bowl, shoot pool, play games or scale the climbing wall at The Sett, the center of recreation at Union South, AKA a “living room” for students and community members.
More than 135 exhibitors will fill Monona Terrace, Nov. 9–10, for Winter Art Fair Off the Square— the companion show to Madison’s summertime Art Fair on the Square.
68. Shop for homemade holiday goodies
With more than 60 vendors to choose from, the Saturday Holiday Dane County Farmers’ Market at the Monona Terrace (Nov. 23–Dec. 21) is a one-stop-shop for all your holiday food needs. And in the new year, stop by the Late Winter Market at Garver Feed Mill, Jan. 4–April 4.
Holiday shop in style with dozens of vendors selling fine arts and crafts, handmade gifts and gourmet treats at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Art & Gift Fair, Nov. 16–17.
The day after Black Friday, support area entrepreneurs and shop local on Small Business Saturday!
71. Discover Gifts with a Story
Peruse socially responsible and fashionable gifts at the 23rd Annual Fair Trade Holiday Festival at the Monona Terrace, Dec. 7.
72–75. Get your holiday shopping done in one spot
Madison-area malls are the perfect one-stop shops for all your holiday needs!
76–78. Stock up on cheese & sausage
Experience Madison's renowned local food scene on a Madison Eats Food Tour while exploring charming and vibrant neighborhoods, including Willy Street, Downtown and Atwood.
Take a Capitol City Food Tour and dive into the history, architecture and delicious food that the city has to offer!
81. Fill Up on Beer and Cheese
Meet and mingle with brewers and cheesemakers from around the state (and beyond) and sample hundreds of delicious creations at Isthmus' Beer & Cheese Fest, Jan. 18.
Cozy up to a circular indoor fireplace and enjoy fresh seafood, chicken, pasta and steak served in a rustic, casual Key West setting.
This hyper-local Wisconsin farm-to-table restaurant features good eats, local beer and spirits.
Tucked in the vineyards of Cambridge, WI just outside of Madison, the Dancing Goat combines the Art and Science of Distillation from past experience with modern technology.
Experience the best of traditional Swiss and American cuisine in a comfortable setting in New Glarus, WI. Swing by New Glarus Brewing Company afterwards for a world-class, handcrafted beer and tour!