Madison is a great place to visit and enjoy a week or weekend, I hope you'll decide to stick around for a bit and enjoy the many things Madison has to offer! We've provided short lists of our recommendations in the tabs below. Of course, if you have any questions or want specific recommendations, use that 'Contact Us' tab on the left and let us know!
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There are really no "bad" parts of Madison, any hotel you find will be perfectly fine I'm sure. The main considerations are mainly location and convenience. Places that are close to the Capitol and State street are probably the best in terms of location, but are also pricier. Cheaper alternatives can be found on the East side of Madison more toward the airport. The reception is located more on the west-central part of Madison, which could also be a factor in your decision. Below, we listed an few good options that span the reasonable price range.
$140/night Best Western Plus InnTowner (probably closest to reception)
$150/night: Best Western Inn On the Park
$70/night: Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel Madison
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There's lots to do in Madison while you're here. Both inside and out, there's great places to explore and hang out anywhere you go. Below, we listed some of the best places to check out in the Madison area.
Capitol and State Street:
-Wisconsin Capitol building: A true focal point of the town, the towering dome is visible from almost anywhere in the city.
-State Street itself: We highly recommend taking a stroll down State Street. It's the center of downtown Madison, connecting Capitol square to the UW campus, a no-cars street lined with great shops, restaurants, bars, and attractions.
-Monona Terrace: Just south of Capitol Square, the Monona terrace offers a nice place to relax and enjoy the view of Lake Monona.
-Memorial Union: The classic union is a fantastic lakefront building with a outdoor section (the Terrace) that is a unanimous favorite for grabbing a beer and some Babcock Ice Cream and enjoying Lake Mendota.
-Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery (WID): A neat and modern building that houses mostly biomedical and bioscience laboratories. A great place to witness UW's boundless wealth and dedication to science.
-Union South: The modern complement to Memorial Union is situated directly across the street from the WID. Stop by and grab some Babcock Ice Cream or visit the "Sett" which is a large indoor campus bar (FYI, a "sett" is a badger den, clever right?).
-There are parks literally everywhere in Madison, the City of Madison Parks Site has great information about any park you could want.
-Olbrich Gardens: It's where the wedding is, so you'll get to see it anyway if you come to the ceremony. I'd encourage you to walk around, it really is quite nice.
-Hiestand Park: A little further to the East side, this park has a nice 18-hole disc-golf course.
-Tenney Park: A small but nice and convenient lakefront park on the upper East side.
-UW-Arboretum: A huge chunk of preserved land in the near-west south part of Madison. They have great hiking trails and a nice mix of forest and prarie.
-Olin Park: A great park on the shores of Lake Monona a bit South of the Capitol square.
-Picnic Point: A short <1mi hike takes you out to a peninsula in Lake Mendota that offers great views of donwntown Madison and the campus area. Also very nearby where Emily works.
-Warner Park: A little farther away, on the north-east side of Mendota, this is a large park with some nice trails and nice waterfront.
-Chazen Museum of Art: A newly renovated art museum for all types of art afficionados.
-Madison Museum of Contemporary Art: Conveniently located right on State Street, very nice museum of modern art.
-Wisconsin Historical Museum: While you're in Wisconsin, you can learn all about it at the Historical Museum.
-Ale Asylum: We haven't done this tour yet (we want to), but we've heard it's good!
-Capital Brewery: The original Madison beer, Capital brews are a favorite around here. If you don't make it to the brewery out in Middleton, definitely check out Capital TapHaus on State Street for dinner!
-New Glarus: Probably the most popular local beer in Madison, New Glarus is on tap at nearly every bar in town. They recently moved to a new and larger brewery in New Glarus, WI. It's a short trek out there, and well worth the drive.
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Madison has a wealth of options when it comes to eating out. Below, we've focused mostly on resaurants that are downtown near the State Street and Capitol area. However, anywhere you go on the East and West side there are mamny more options. Just ask us if you want any more recommendations. Also, you may notice that most of the restaurants in Madison are also bars, trust me, bars here have great beer and great food.
-Great Dane: This is a classic Madison restaurant/bar/brewery. The food is good, and they brew their own beer, truly iconic Madison. They have a giant downtown location on Capital Square and a Hilldale location on the west side.
-Old Fashioned: One of the most popular restaurants on Capital Square, the Old Fashioned has great food and tons of great beer on tap. The only word of caution is that there tends to be along wait during prime dinner hours.
-Capital Tap Haus: The official restaurant/bar of Capital Brewery located near the Capital on State Street. Fantastic food, and a full selection of Capital beers.
-Cooper's Tavern: A cozy restaurant/bar located right on Capital Square. High quality food and a massive selection of beers on tap.
-Alchemy: This is one of our favorite places in the whole city, and (fun-fact) is where we ate immediately after I proposed and she said yes! They have great burgers, steaks, sweet potato fries, and probably the best BBQ pork sandwich I've had. They're located a little more east, near Olbrich Gardens.
-Brasserie V: While technically a Belgian restaurant, their menu includes familiar items like burgers and sandwiches and a solid beer menu. A good place to eat if you're in the Monroe St area.
-Monty's Blue Plate Diner: A classic 50's style diner with great American comfort food and excellent milkshakes. Located a little more toward the east side near Olbrich Gardens.
-Porta Bella: A high-quality Italian restaurant with indoor and nice outdoor seating. Located just off State Street near campus.
-Flat Top Grill: A unique and fun create-your-own-stir-fry place with tons of options and great food. Located in Hilldale, on the west side.
-Casa De Lara: A typical mexican restaurant conveniently located on State Street.
-Buraka: A tasty East African and Ethopian restaurant right on State Street.
-Sushi Box: A surprisingly good Japanese restaurant conveniently located near the InnTower Best Western.
-I should point out that many of the best bars are restaurants too, all of the places (except Monty's) in the American Food section are also great bars.
-Genna's: A nice cozy corner bar located just off Capital Square. A favorite for the more nerdy science types in Madison.
-The Library Bar: A great little bar popular amongst graduate students located right by the WID and Union South.
-Big 10: A great restaurant and sports bar located near Camp Randall Stadium.
-UW Unions: Memorial Union (lakefront terrace) and Union South were mentioned in the attractions sections, but they are both have great bars too. I'd especially recommend the Terrace at Memorial Union located on campus on the shore of Lake Mendota.
-Essen Haus: A large German bar complete with Das Boots and plenty of beer. Located a few blocks east of the Capitol.
Madison is a fairly accessable town, and is easy to get around in most cases. Emily and I usually bike when we can, but for visitors, this is typically impractical. The bus system is very good in Madison, and easy to use. Without a pass, it's $2 per ride per person, which includes transfers if necessary. For routes and stop information, visit the Madison Metro website.
If a car is a better option for you, most hotels will offer free garage parking, or check here for public parking lots near downtown. Of course, street parking is available if you can find it. As for rental cars, I recommend using a aggregator such as Hotwire.com to find deals.