The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

5 free things to see and do in Madison, from campus to Capitol, biking to browsing

  • Print

MADISON, Wis. - Nestled on an isthmus that's home to both buttoned-up politicians in the state capitol and more liberal-leaning college students just a short walk away, Madison lives up to its endearing unofficial motto as "77 square miles surrounded by reality."

Madisonians proudly ride their bikes all year, no matter how cold or icy it is, boast of shopping at natural foods co-ops, cheer for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, liberally consume Wisconsin-made cheese and beer, and every now and then rise up in protest. Here are five ways to experience Madison as a visitor, all of them free.


The state capitol, the highest point of Madison's modest skyline at just over 284 feet, marks both the geographic and cultural centre of the city. The University of Wisconsin campus, home to about 41,000 students, is less than a mile's walk to the west. Boating-friendly Lake Mendota lies to the north, with Lake Monona to the south. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Monona Terrace convention centre rests on the shores of that lake, where Otis Redding died in a plane crash in 1967. There's a tough-to-find memorial plaque there that only the most dedicated music fans seek out. Back under the dome, visitors can appreciate the architectural wonder of the building constructed with 43 varieties of stone from around the world, hand-carved furniture and glass mosaics. You can even sit at state lawmakers' desks, when they're not in session, or watch them debate from public galleries when they are.


Just outside the doors of the Capitol, wrapping all the way around the Capitol square, the Dane County Farmers Market boasts about 160 vendors selling cheese, meat, cheese, bread, cheese, fruits and vegetables, cheese, and, well, cheese. But you don't need to spend anything to enjoy the market, which runs from April into November. There are plenty of samples to be had. But just make sure you don't stick out — the crowd moves in a very orderly counter-clockwise fashion, not unlike a herd of dairy cows.


The bike- and pedestrian-only thoroughfare (mind the buses and delivery trucks, though) runs about three-quarters of a mile from the Capitol to the UW campus. In many ways it's the true heart of Madison, the place where politicians and buttoned-up state government types mingle with the more free-spirited undergrads, along with the general population drawn to its mixture of bars, restaurants, boutiques, head shops, clothing stores and more. It's people-watching at its finest.


At the campus end of State Street, along the shores of Lake Mendota, lies one of Madison's most popular destinations — the Memorial Union Terrace. Just think of it as Madison's back porch. Here visitors can rest on one of the sunburst-colored metal chairs and stare out onto the lake to watch sailboats float by, or perhaps catch the rowing team practicing. Come on the right night — which is just about every night — and there will be a band playing for free. It takes some money, but beer and ice cream are also for sale. But like any good college student, if you hook up with the right group of friends, those treats can be had for free as well.


Taking in all Madison has to offer doesn't have to be done by foot only. Regularly named as one of the nation's best cities for biking, Madison has about 50 miles of bike paths and more than 110 miles of bike lanes. They run through the downtown campus and Capitol districts, into the nearby urban neighbourhoods out into suburbia. You can bike to the all-natural food co-ops (there's more than one), the free children's zoo, or even a favourite brew pub or craft beer bar (there are several). Madisonians bike to work, bike to play and even bike to train for events like the annual Ironman competition where participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and then, just for kicks, run 26.2 miles. Participating in Ironman isn't free, but watching from the sidelines is.

5 free ____

Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Bombers look to snap two game slide vs. Montreal

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Deer in Canola field near Elma, Manitoba. 060706.
  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060710 The full moon rises above the prairie south of Winnipeg Monday evening.

View More Gallery Photos


Did you suffer any damages from Thursday's storm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google