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Just a short 2 1/2 hour jaunt from Chicago is Madison, WI, home to the University of Wisconsin and an endless array of cultural opportunities. Take a weekend to explore the numerous museums, shop boutiques, eat great food and fall in love with this midwestern town. Madison is sure to make a memorable girlfriend getaway.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADISON
Location, location, location. They say it’s the key for most things in life and it hold true for a visit to Madison. We stayed at the Madison Concourse Hotel in the heart of downtown and directly across the street from the capitol building. This location allowed us the opportunity to park the car and leave it. Everything we wanted to see and do while in the city was within walking distance of the hotel. Plus, as a bonus, the view from our room wasn’t one of those awful roof or parking garage views but offered us this view of the capitol. Swoon.
As if that wasn’t enough, the hotel offers Governor’s Club rooms which provide access to a private lounge (with Capitol views) and complimentary breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres and desserts, as well as top-shelf cocktails. I highly recommend splurging on a Governor’s Club room. It’s nice being able to have a leisurely breakfast before heading out for the day and, I have to say, coming back for a nightcap is the perfect way to end the day.
Hotel amenities include restaurant, bar, indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna, fitness center, underground parking ($10/night), business center, free wi-fi and printing. The employees were very personable and offered excellent customer service. We loved everything about the Madison Concouse Hotel and can’t wait to return for another stay.
WHERE TO PLAY IN MADISON
There is so much to see and do in this city. I’m only going to be able to touch on a few of my favorites, but you can find an entire list of must-see attractions here.
A tour of the capitol building should be at the top of the list. The interior of the building is absolutely amazing. The dome artwork is stunning. The building is open to the public Mon-Fri from 8a-6p and on weekends and holidays from 8a-4p. Free tours are offered daily, except on major holidays, and start at the information desk.
An abundance of museums and galleries can be found along the “museum mile” from the capitol to the UW campus. Step into the Overture Center for the Art (free) and check out the art on display on three different levels. Walk down to the Chazen Museum of Art (free) with over 20,000 works of art in the museum collection you are sure to find works of art to inspire your inner artist. If modern art is more your style be sure to visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
For fun shopping head down State Street and browse the unique stores along the way. Readers will want to visit A Room Of One’s Own, a new and used bookstore, and those looking for something to spoil themselves should go to Little Luxuries. I found a great gift for my sister-in-law at Serrv, a fair trade store. Lucky for me they also have an online store. There are also chocolate shops, gourmet food stores, museum gift shops (love!), and so much more.
If you love architecture be sure to tour the Monona Terrace Convention Center downtown, designed by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright and considered to be one of his masterpieces. Tours of the Unitarian Meeting House, design by Mr. Wright in the 1940’s, are also available.
If you have a bit of extra time take the drive out to Spring Green and visit the Taliesin house and Hillside school. Mr. Wright lived at Taliesin for many years during the height of his fame and the home is definitely one that Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados should visit.
Continuing on the architectural front add the Library Reading Room of the Wisconsin Historical Society to your list. It’s simply stunning and well worth the visit. Be sure to look up at the gorgeous ceiling while you are there.
If you are lucky enough to be in Madison on a weekend be sure to visit the farmer’s market. Vendors circle the capitol building and offer everything from fresh produce to baked goods to honey and jam and, of course, cheese. You are, after all, in the cheese capital of the Midwest.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN MADISON
There is no shortage of delectable places to eat in the downtown Madison area. The list is long and diverse with 145 restaurants listed on the Visit Madison website. If you are going to be in town a while consider picking up a Madison City Tin filled with 20 coaster gift cards. Each coaster is a $10 gift card redeemable at a Madison Originals restaurant. Well worth the investment.
Short Stack Eatery: What I love about this restaurant is that it’s open from 7a.m. on Thursday and doesn’t close until Sunday at 11p.m. That’s right it is open the entire time! This dining hot spot is a local favorite and the line tends to be long.
Brasserie V: Perfect place for an evening with friends.The menu may be French inspired but the food is locally sourced. Signature items include cheese boards (shown above), the V burger and steak frites. Brasserie V also has an extensive beer and wine menu.
Himal Chuli (Nepalese food): According to my friend Sara, who spent 3 years in Nepal, and eats here every time she is in Madison, you’ll want to order the Samosas and Rice, Dal, and Chef’s Choice Tarkari.
Meditteranean Cafe: Located on State Street the Mediterranean Cafe is great for lunch. Order at the counter and the food will be delivered to your table. The cafe is cozy with limited seating, but even during a busy Saturday we were able to be seated right away. On a personal note, unless you like incredibly sweet hot tea, skip the Algerian tea.
Yahara Bay Distillery: Not a restaurant, but you didn’t really expect to read a where to eat/drink section without reading about a distillery did you? I brought some samples of Yahara Bay Whiskey home. On Thursday nights, from 5-10pm, there are free tours and tastings at the distillery. Otherwise, tours are offered most days for $7/person.
MUST BUY MADISON SOUVINIERS
I generally don’t purchase souvenirs. I usually consider the memories and photographs my souvenirs, but lately I’ve been binging on souvenirs that are crafted/grown in the destination. Of course, being that I was in Wisconsin, I had to bring home Spotted Cow beer and cheese. We stopped at Woodman’s Grocery store to pick up beer and cheese. The store provides an overwhelming variety of both at a great price (way cheaper than the specialty stores downtown). By the way, I think this is the largest grocery store I have ever been in. Be sure to pack a cooler to take your purchases home.
MADISON TRAVEL PLANNING LINKS
disclaimer: I’d like to thank Travel Wisconsin for providing lodging during my visit to Madison.