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Party city Madison, Wisconsin is a fun place to visit, live and study

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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Wisconsin’s exciting capital city Madison is tucked between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. It rather feels like a lovely, fun student town than a cold capitol city. Find out in this article what Madison and Wisconsin are all about, including badgers, beer and cheese that is for sure!

Madison, capitol city of Wisconsin
Madison, capitol city of Wisconsin

Madison: the city of lakes

Some facts about Madison, WI:

  • Population: 255.000 people (2019)
  • State capital of: Wisconsin
  • Nickname: The City of Four Lakes
  • Famous for: Badgers, University of Wisconsin (UW), party city (Playboy)

Contrary to its bigger state brother Milwaukee, Madison is a pleasant, safe city. A great choice for students and families. Madison has a great, lively atmosphere, due to sports activities and the many students present, mostly from the University of Madison (UW).

Madison feels a bit European; cyclist paths, good public transport and bratwursts on the menu of the local sports bar. The so-called “beer brat” sausage is a local culinary thing here, obviously originally from Germany.

The original Indian inhabitants called Madison “Taychopera”, which means Four Lakes. This because Madison is surrounded by four big lakes; Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa en Lake Kegonsa. In winter they all freeze up.

I studied in Madison in 2006 and I went back to visit Madison in 2010. Honestly, I would love to revisit again in the near future. Just to soak up the atmosphere. And I would recommend you to do the same. My school was next to a 5th lake, Lake Wingra. To read more about my study period of time in Madison, please check out the article Affordable study abroad in the USA via ISEP – My Lucky #13!

Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers
Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers

Madison, a lovely place

In Madison, be sure to visit Capitol Square and the Farmer’s Market, which is the largest in the US (Wed & Sat Apr-Nov). Madison has dozens of parks, picturesque lakes and a bike-trail system that most cities can only be jealous of. The most attractive parks in Madison are: Tenney Park, Villas Park, Olin Turville Park and Warner Park, plus the lake shores. Governor’s Island is also a pretty spot.

The main attractions for travelers coming to Madison are the following:

  • Wisconsin State Capitol & Capitol Square
  • State Street & Downtown Madison
  • Wisonsin Veterans Museum
  • Olbrich Botanical Gardens
  • Memorial Union Terrace
  • Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center
  • Dane Country’s Farmer’s Market
  • Chazen Museum of Art
  • Camp Randall Stadium
  • UW Madison Arboretum
  • Wisconsin Historical Museum
  • Allen Centennial Gardens

Madison is a sporty city, the proud home of the Badgers American football team. Sports Illustrated has also named it Best Sports City once, I guess because of the sports facilities. To be honest, I did not see many over-sized people in Madison. And at school, many students had a sporty attitude. Often I actually felt overdressed, wearing jeans and a blouse or something. As most other students wore sweat pants and sports sweaters and shirts to school.

The Capitol building of Madison is only a few inches shorter than the National Capitol in Washington D.C.

Madison: best places to drink & eat

As mentioned earlier, I loved going out at for example State Street Brats – especially when they had a Drink Stock Exchange Night – and getting pizza slices at Ian’s Pizza afterwards. I enjoyed it a bit extra because back home I did not really have a student life as I was working about 20 hours a week to pay my bills. This is a video that I shot in front of Brats one evening LOL

Potbelly’s at State Street was my favorite sandwich spot. The Old Fashioned for diner – their specialty is cheese battered in beer! Their beer menu has 100+ beers, mostly locally brewed. But there are many good restaurants in Madison, see also the map below for more suggestions.

State Street Brats Madison Wisconsin
State Street Brats, the party bar in Madison

For your orientation, please find below a map of Madison, WI, USA.  

Map Madison

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

Accommodation tips Madison

If you would like to visit Madison, WI as a tourist, or for your first night after arrival as an international student, I would recommend to stay at one of these hotels in the city center:

Best Western Premier Park Hotel Madison WI USA
Best Western Premier Park Hotel (photo credits booking.com)
The Edgewater in Madison WI USA
The Edgewater hallway (photo credits booking.com)

Rental car

If you want to rent a car in Madison for day or longer trips, I would suggest to have a look at Sunny Cars. If you are 25 years or younger, you may want to contact them first for the possibilities, but otherwise you can easily book a rental car with them online. Make sure you have an international driver’s license with you, when picking up the car.

Personally, when it concerns renting a car, I would recommend Sunny Cars, an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. I am a big fan and use them all the time! In most countries the 2nd driver, free cancellation up to 4 hours in advance and all-risk insurance are standard included. Ideal, I use them all the time!

Skyscanner is a good tool to check and to compare flight possibilities and prices.

By car it’s easy to visit cities near Madison, such as Chicago and Milwaukee! In Milwaukee we visited the impressive Black Holocaust Museum and the Milwaukee Brewers for instance. And Chicago is a super impressive huge city that we visited twice. Easter was lovely, winter extremely cold.

Downtown Chicago
Downtown Chicago
Milwaukee Brewers baseball game
Milwaukee Brewers baseball game

Not so familiar with Wisconsin, the state that Madison is the capital of? Read on!

Wisconsin: cheese and beer

Wisconsin is located at the west side of Lake Michigan, part of the Great Lakes area in the northwest of the United States of America. Madison is located about 3.5 hours by car (150 miles) northwest of Chicago, IL.

Some facts about Wisconsin:

  • Population: 5.8 million (2019)
  • Big cities: Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay
  • Capital city: Madison (255.000 people)
  • Famous for: cheese, cows, beer

Both Miller Beer and Harley-Davidson have their headquarters in Wisconsin. Some of the most famous sports teams are in Milwaukee, the city of the Milwaukee Brewers (baseball), and Green Bay, home of the Green Bay Packers (American football).

The nick names of Wisconsin are The Badger State and America’s Dairy Land

Bucky Badger cheese in Madison supermarket
Wisconsin is famous for cheese – Bucky Badger Cheese

Brief history of Wisconsin

Native American tribes The Chippewa, Menominee, Oneida, Potawatomi and Ho Chunk ruled over the land that we now know as Wisconsin. Until Frenchman Jean Marquette landed near Green Bay in 1634, opening a trading post 14 years alter. The miners who were coming into the state for work in the 1820s were nicknamed the ‘badgers’.

Statehood was granted to Wisconsin on May 29, 1848. After the Civil War (1861-1865), European immigrants came in, mainly from Germany and Scandinavia. This also influenced the state, which became known for beer, cheese, butter, paper and leadership in social progressive reforming. Wisconsin was the first US state where gay rights were legalized.

Wisconsin nowadays

Cities like Madison have a good public transport system. Politically, Wisconsin is one of the mainly democratic states. Over the last couple of years this seems to change though, starting to lean more towards the right wing. During the 2020 elections, the Democrats celebrated a narrow victory over the Republicans. Wisconsin is one of those states that does not have the death penalty.

Vast farmland, lakes, woods…. Wisconsin has a lot of nature to offer with gorgeous hiking trails, such as the Ice Age Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail and Geneva Lake Shore Path. Some of Wisconsin’s main attractions include:

  • Wisconsin Dells (nature and theme parks)
  • Mirror Lake State Park
  • Apostle Islands
  • Lake Michigan and Lake Superior
  • Door Country
  • Land O’ Lakes
  • Copper Falls State Park
  • Devil’s Lake State Park
  • Oshkosh Airshow & EAA AirVenture Museum
  • Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Wisconsin weather

Wisconsin, isn’t it like super cold up there? is hat many people ask when mentioning that I studied in Madison, Wisconsin. Sure, winters are cold in Wisconsin. Like you need thermal underwear and cannot stand too long outside otherwise you’ll freeze. Despite the piles of snow I still cycled my way from State Street back to campus after partying during the weekends.

Basically what locals say: Wisconsin has two seasons, winter and summer. There is not much in between. I really liked it.

Wisconsin Dells USA
Wisconsin Dells (photo credits Dave Hoefler)

Have you ever been to Madison and/or Wisconsin? Or have any additional recommendations for this area? Please feel free to leave a comment below this article. Wish you a great time!

Check out other articles about the USA in the USA Blog Archives.

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Last Updated on 01/24/2022 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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