by Pamela Gu
Although Madison, Wisconsin might be most known for its beautiful summers, Madison’s winters are just as fun – if not more so! With all of the snow and cold weather comes tons of festive events and entertaining winter activities for the whole family. The colder months give us the perfect opportunity to enjoy Madison, WI’s most amazing indoor activities as well, so take advantage of the Wisconsin winter and check out these 10 fun things to do in Madison!
The Edgewater’s beautiful ice rink is one of the best places to go for ice skating plus a beautiful view! You can bring your own skates or rent skates from the Edgewater’s own Ice House. Although it’s a small ice rink and can get a little crowded during busier nights, it is absolutely worth the trip for the gorgeous view of the Capitol and Lake Mendota while you skate. Plus, the rink itself is surrounded by festive décor and there’s nothing quite like skating in a rink surrounded by twinkly lights to get you in the holiday spirit!
Every year, Olin Park puts on a beautiful drive-through holiday lights display that is truly magical! The lights turn on at 4:00 PM each evening through January 2nd. A company in the Madison area sponsors each display and there are always several fun Madison-themed displays as well (think Bucky and the state capitol building). This event is perfect for those freezing winter days where you want to enjoy some festive fun from the comfort of your own heated car. Admission for the lights display is free and you even get a sweet treat at the end.
A Madison Eats Food Tour is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the crisp winter air while you indulge in our delicious local food! Walking food tours take you into some of Madison’s best restaurants to sample local food and drink, while you learn the stories behind the restaurants and a bit of neighborhood history. The routes vary from 1-2 miles, with 5-6 stops per tour, so you have plenty of opportunities to warm up while you feast. Special winter events include a New Year’s Eve VIP Food Tour! Regular tours run year round.
Elver Park is known for its woodsy trails and awesome disc golf course during the summer months, but it’s even more fun in the winter! Elver’s big hill is the perfect place to sled on any of Madison’s many snowy days. It’s a pretty steep hill so this one might be a little better for the older kids, but the sheer length of the hill makes for quite an exhilarating ride, even for adults. Elver Park also offers a ton of other winter activities such as ice skating and cross-country skiing – and even hosts the Madison Winter Festival in February where you can join in on events like snow carving and ice hockey!
Need a break from the chilly outdoors? The Chazen Museum of Art is the way to go. Located on University Avenue, The Chazen is one of the best hidden gems on the UW Campus. On top of having a beautiful art collection, the museum also has a peaceful little spot overlooking University Avenue as well as a glass pedestrian walkway over East Campus Mall that offers a gorgeous photo opportunity. And the best part? The Chazen is free!
Madison’s small zoo is wonderful during the daytime, but even more exciting when covered in holiday lights! The Henry Vilas Zoo’s Zoolights event runs from 5:30-9:00 pm, Thursday-Sunday nights through the end of December. Admission is $7 per person and the zoo’s carousel also remains open throughout the event – an extra beautiful sight at night! While there aren’t quite as many animals outdoors at night, the holiday lights are tons of fun and it is the perfect opportunity to support an otherwise free zoo.
State Street, in the heart of downtown Madison, is home to some of the best shops, restaurants, and bars. Grab a coffee at one of the many cafes, enjoy the beautiful view of the Capitol building, and peruse all of the unique shops for some great holiday gifts or a treat for yourself. Once you’re done with all of your shopping, many of State Street’s restaurants offer window seating where you can hunker down, enjoy delicious food, and people watch to your heart’s content!
While the Dane County Farmers’ Market might be most famous for its outdoor on-the-square market during the summer months, the “Late Winter” farmers’ market is just as wonderful! From January through April, the farmer’s market is held on Saturdays at the Madison Senior Center and features the same quality local products as it does in the summer. One thing you won’t find at the summer market is the late winter market’s “Taste of the Market” breakfast. Each week, some of the most well-known guest chefs from around the Madison area prepare a delicious breakfast available for market go-ers to purchase.
The Madison Children’s Museum, located just off the square, is perfect for families and includes an array of exhibits designed for inspiring play and curiosity! The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. The MCM, however, is not just for kids! It also holds 6-8 “Adult Swim” events per year where the museum is open to adults only and everyone is free to play, interact with existing exhibits, and enjoy themed crafts and entertainment. Each MCM Adult Swim night is themed so pick your favorite theme and bring a friend or a date!
Last, but most certainly not least, the Capitol building’s Christmas tree is a must-see for anyone in Madison, WI over the holidays! Each year, the state Capitol building brings in a beautiful Christmas tree that stands tall in the middle of the marble rotunda. Students from around the state make the ornaments that decorate the tree and a beautiful start is suspended at the top! A downtown visit isn’t complete without a trip to the Capitol and enjoying the beauty of the Capitol and the Christmas tree is the perfect cherry on top of a winter day well spent in Madison!