Madison, Wisconsin. It probably doesn’t top a lot of travel bucket lists, but it’s a place I’ve always had a fondness for. I visited it with my family when I was younger and lived in Wisconsin, and when my sister was on a rowing team in college we followed her to team to Madison a couple of times when she had regattas there. Madison has always lived in my mind as a vibrant city; even one I’d be willing to move to. So it was a lot of fun to return Madison with my mom last month and see it with older eyes. Was it just as vibrant as I remember it being? It sure was! Some might even call it quirky.
We arrived in late afternoon on Friday and left during the afternoon on Sunday. We technically spent two days there, but in addition to exploring Madison we were also visiting a relative, so we had a lot of downtime. I’d say we had maybe a day and a half of time to see what Madison has to offer. Keep in mind, Madison in winter is very different than Madison in summer. There’s a little more to do when the weather is nice. And trust me, I fully intend to return an take advantage of all the warm weather happenings!
Our travel started Friday night, when we went to see a light show. None of my photos actually turned out, since you drive through the course, but I have some video footage that I’m planning to share in an upcoming video (lets hope I have enough footage to make the video, now that I’m promising it!). It was a fun seasonal attraction to visit–different businesses in Madison created a light display that in some way represented their business. It was free, but donations were welcome.
We woke up on Saturday and immediately went downtown to the capitol building.
But we didn’t go in, yet. Our first stop downtown was Fromagination, a cheese shop that’s on the capitol square.
We tasted a lot of cheese and they brought out cups of apple cider to drink as we did. I’m usually not a fan of apple cider, but the cider they served was fantastic. We bought some of the cheese we tried while there. They also have other things you can buy: preserves, honey, etc. I picked up a bunch of honey that I need to start using. I’ve been so excited to try it and I still haven’t opened up any of it. 🙈 It was definitely a store worth stopping at.
We left Fromagination and went straight to the capitol building. One reason we decided to visit during December was so that we could see the state Christmas tree. It was so much fun to see the tree, walk around the capitol building, and listen to the flute choir that played in the rotunda while we were there. I wrote all about the Christmas tree in a separate post.
After we left the Christmas tree we walked up and down State Street for awhile. This would be so much fun to do when the weather’s a little warmer; it was freezing the day we walked around and it felt like it got colder as we walked! While we were on State Street we stopped at the Overture Center and saw an advertisement for Indian dancing as part of Kids in the Rotunda. We thought it would be groups of kids performing and since we were there right as it started we decided to check it out. It turns out that it was groups of kids performing… but it was also for kids and their families. 😂 We stuck around for a little while and learned a little bit about Indian dance, before we headed back out into the cold to continue to walking around.
As we walked we were greeted by Santa’s who were Ho Ho Ho’ing as they raced by. I think this was part of the second group of Santa’s that went by. Madison is a bike-friendly city, so it isn’t uncommon to see groups out on the street.
After our walk we stopped for lunch and decided to grab coffee after. I’ll talk about all of that in an upcoming post. We went back home after coffee to take a break for the afternoon. We were out for a little over half a day and we had so much fun!
We journeyed back to the square in the evening for dinner. If you want to eat dinner on the square I’d recommend heading out early to make sure you can get a table, otherwise you’ll be in for quite a wait. We were planning to go to The Old Fashioned–and I was going to get an old fashioned (😭)–but by time we got there (early!) we would have to wait for over an hour. We decided to avoid the restaurants on the square and ate closer to home instead. Still had to include these photos, though, because 1) the capitol building at night is STUNNING; 2) I love the restaurant without having eaten there based on the name alone; and 3) Look at the capitol building photobombing the restaurant in that last photo! 😂 And that was the end of our only full day in Madison.
On Sunday we decided to go see the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. My mom has always liked flowers and I’m starting to like them more and more (must be old age?), so it was a must-see stop, and also a great stop for the winter months. Since it was the holiday season, they had a special exhibit with a train.
I personally thought the train left a little to be desired, but the children who flooded the exhibit were enamored with it. And the rest of the exhibit was gorgeous!
We made our way over to the conservatory after. It’s the perfect place to be on a cold, winters day. This was my favorite part of the botanical gardens. I always love seeing the tropical plants.
Guess who took endless photos of the waterfall? 🙋🏻 I can’t help it! Water always makes me happy.
They also have free-flying birds. So much fun to see! (I used to have birds: Touckie, Talemeka, and Kiwi.)
After we left the botanical gardens, we went out to grab lunch and that’s when our whirlwind trip to Madison came to an end. So there it is: 1.5 days in Madison during winter. Apparently there’s a lot to do and Madison shines a little brighter during the warmer months. That’s a little hard to believe, but I definitely plan to take at least one trip there once the weather starts to warm up.
Have you ever been to Madison? Tell me about one of your favorite nearby places to explore.
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What a cool city. I have never been there, but I have been to Milwaukee. May have to take a trip=)
The cheese and apple cider!! <3 Sounds like the perfect first stop… it would be mine, too!
I’ve never been to Madison but it’s on my list! I loved looking at your photos (never enough waterfall images!). They are all gorgeous. The city looks gorgeous by nightfall, and I love the Ho Ho Ho’ing Santas on bikes 🙂 Adorable!
I am swooning over all those cheeses!
I’ve never been to that area of the country at all! It looks like such a nice town though. I would definitely want to try some of those cheeses! 😉
Haven’t been to Wisconsin in many years. Thinking Madison would be a great starting point to visit once again.
Oooh very cool! I certainly wouldn’t think of visiting Madison during the winter, but the botanical gardens look lovely!
It looks like you had a great time. I’ve never been to Madison, but I’d love to see the botanical gardens!
I’ve actually never been to the Midwest (unless South Dakota counts?) but I’m so curious to see other cities! The capitol building looks beautiful–reminds me of D.C., actually–and I just love that photo of the plants all over the piano 🙂
The gardens look really cool, and I would have gotten a kick out of seeing the group of biking Santas! I’ve been to Wisconsin a little bit, but not to Madison!
Great post filled with so many colorful and vivid photos. I loved the way you captured the city’s beauty.
I love visiting botanical gardens in new cities. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I also enjoy seeing cities during the holiday season because of the little touch of sparkle. I’m on a quest to eventually see every state and certainly wouldn’t mind an old-fashioned and cheese during a Wisconsin visit.
What a gorgeous & interesting looking place! And that cheese shop sounds right up my alley – definitely going to add this to my travel bucket list!
I’ve been all over the midwest, but never to Madison. I’ll have to add it to my list!
I haven’t rally left the east coat. I’m from MA, but I have been to FL (just to Disney and Daytona Beach). I would love to explore this city, it looks so nice. I’m obsessed with cheese too so that cheese shop sounded like a dream come true!
This is SUCH A GOOD TRAVEL GUIDE, C! I’ve never been, but now you have me wanting to book a flight…!
The plants! Those buildings! The architecture! I love this post so much and honestly would have never thought Wisconsin looked like this! I plan to visit this year on my year-long road trip!
Beautiful pictures! I haven’t been to Madison since I was a child, and even then it was summer. Your story makes me want to go see it now!
What a fantastic trip! I had friends who went to Madison for college. It is such a fun city, and you really captured that in your post 🙂
Stunning photos! Looks like you had a wonderful time.