11 Things To Do in Madison, Wisconsin in the Winter
Updated: January 26, 2023
Although Madison, Wisconsin is known for its beautiful summers on the lake, Madison’s winters are just as fun! With all of the snow and cold weather comes plenty of opportunities for winter activities for the whole family. The colder months shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the city, so take advantage of the Wisconsin winter and check out these 11 fun activities to do in the wintertime (in no particular order).
1. Get on the Ice at The Edgewater
The Edgewater’s beautiful ice rink, the Ice House, is one of the best places to go ice skating. You can bring your own skates or rent skates. Although it’s a small ice rink, it is absolutely worth the trip for the gorgeous views of the Capitol and Lake Mendota. 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. It feels like Madison’s own little version of The Rink at Rockefeller Center.
The Edgewater sells tickets for an hour on the ice in order to adhere to the occupancy requirements and and follow the Public Health Madison Dane County orders. You can also rent a private fire pit to cozy up to during the colder nights.
2. Take a Stroll Down State Street
State Street is located in the heart of downtown Madison and home to some of the best shops, restaurants, and bars. Grab a coffee at one of the many local cafés before you peruse the local gift shops for some cozy winter gifts and cheesy Wisconsin goods. Once you’re done shopping, grab a bite to eat from one of State Street’s many restaurants before exploring the museums and catching a live theatre performance or comedy show.
3. Try Dining Outdoors
Yes, you can still dine outdoors in Wisconsin in the wintertime – the myth has been busted! While there aren’t many options, there are still a few unique spots in town that will make for an unforgettable dining experience. At downtown restaurant Lucille, you can reserve one of 12 gas-fired fire pits for a warm and cozy meal. Feel free to bring a blanket or you can always purchase one for $25 with 50% of the proceeds going to the Cook It Forward Campaign. You can also check out the domes at Karben 4, Zuzu Cafe or Café Hollander.
4. Learn Something New at the Madison Children’s Museum
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 offers lots of free online (MCM at Home) and in-person events and activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged children. From arts & crafts to science projects, MCM has something for everyone and the kids are sure to be entertained and engaged.
5. Explore the Exhibits at the Chazen
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. It holds the #1 largest in the Big 10 and the #2 largest in the state of Wisconsin. The museum also has a peaceful little overlook and glass pedestrian walkway over East Campus Mall, which is a perfect place for a photo. And the best part? The Chazen is free! If you’d prefer to enjoy viewing artwork from the comfort of your own home, Chazen’s gallery is also available online.
6. Get lost in nature at the UW Arboretum
If skiing or ice skating aren’t really your speed, you can still get out and enjoy the outdoors with a winter hike through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum. Allow yourself to be rejuvenated and inspired by the beauty of the natural landscape as you explore the more than 17 miles of trails. Whether you like to cross country ski, snowshoe, or take long strolls, there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking to get slightly out of town, check out Indian Lake on the Ice Age Trail.
7. Take Your Snowshoes for a Spin
There are dozens of places to snowshoe in the Madison area — including the lakes — which means there’s always a way to get outside and enjoy the winter weather.
Blue Mound State Park is an excellent spot for snowshoeing that offers groomed trails and dense forests for those who want to immerse themselves in a winter wonderland. Stop by the Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb on your way back for a beer and a larger-than-life soft pretzel.
For snowshoeing closer to Madison, the Wisconsin Union offers snowshoe rentals for student and non-students alike to be used on Lake Mendota — weather permitting. They also offer off site rentals at different rates so you can take snowshoes to Picnic Point, your local park, or anywhere else with fresh powder. Remember: only snowshoe on marked trails and areas where local wildlife and plant life won’t be disturbed.
8. Sled Down the Hills of Elver Park
Elver Park is known for its woodsy trails and disc golf course during the summer months, but in the winters, Elver’s big hill is the perfect place to sled on any of Madison’s many snowy days. This hill might be better for the older kids since it’s so steep, 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, cross-country skiing, and lights for nighttime adventures.
9. Go Skiing at University Ridge
Whether you’re new to winter sports or a total pro, this is the perfect year to be getting active outdoors. University Ridge Golf Course on the western edge of Madison has several wonderful cross country ski trails to choose from for skiers of all experience levels. Have some fun with your fitness and enjoy these trails any day of the week! You can choose whether to purchase a day pass or become a member for the season, and they also offer ski rentals if you don’t have your own equipment.
10. Go Shopping at the Late Winter Market
While the Dane County Farmers’ Market might be most famous for its outdoor on-the-square market during the summer months, they continue to offer fantastic, farm fresh produce and goods during the winter. Grab some fresh produce and treats from the Late Winter Market at Garver Feed Mill on Saturdays now through April 8, 2023 from 8:00am – 12:00pm.
11. Seek Out Cold Weather Comfort Food
We all love having a drink on a sunny patio in summer — but winter is the time for a big bowl of ramen, a heaping pile of pelmeni, or a seasonal hot beverage at your local bar.
For those looking to explore downtown, Morris Ramen on King St. is a great dinner choice in the colder months. A big bowl of ramen can be shared or greedily kept for one’s self (we don’t blame you), and paired nicely with steamed buns and craft cocktails. Morris Ramen often has special Ramen events with coursed meals that include ramen, a drink, and dessert — a perfectly unique occasion to get out and brave the cold.
Other filling restaurant ideas perfect for winter:
- Detroit-style pizza and craft cocktails at Lucille (Downtown)
- Pelmeni and craft beer at Paul’s Pelmeni (Downtown)
- A seasonal coffee + pastry at Crescendo Espresso Bar (Westside)
- A rich curry at Monsoon Siam II (Atwood)
The Cold Can’t Stop You!
There’s so much to see, do, and eat in Madison, no matter how much the snow flies and the temperature dips. At Madison Eats Food Tours, we offer food tours year-round so you can explore Madison’s diverse and distinct food culture, no matter the weather. Book a tour today!