The Top 25 Free Things To Do In Madison, Wisconsin

The Top 25 Free Things To Do In Madison, Wisconsin

Everyone knows that Madison, Wisconsin is a fun place to live, visit, and explore, but every once in a while it's nice to have a reminder of all of the wonderful free things to do in the city. We've put together a list of the Top 25 Free Things To Do in Madison year round for people of all ages. Whether you live here, or are just visiting, enjoy!

25) Take a walk, run, or bike ride on the Lakeshore Path

Lakeshore Path

Walk, bike, skip, jump, or jog down one of Madison's most popular trials. The Lakeshore Path wraps around the entire Lakeshore Nature Preserve on the coast of Lake Mendota. A preferred path for students, the path connects Memorial Union to the Lakeshore dorms and continues to Picnic Point and beyond. If you're lucky, you may even see the UW-Madison Marching Band practicing on your way down the trail.

24) Watch a sunrise or sunset, or just enjoy the view from the Memorial Union Terrace

Lake Mendota sunset

We could try to describe the feeling of watching a sunrise or sunset from the docks of Memorial Union, but we wouldn't do it justice. You just have to be there and experience it yourself.

23) Meditate in the Allen Centennial Garden

Centenial Gardens_007

If you're looking for a peaceful place to mediate, or just wanting to enjoy an incredible selection of diverse plants, the Allen Centennial Garden is right for you. Sometimes during the summer months there is even free live music at the garden. Education, beauty, community, art, and nature all in one!

22) Take a class, learn to play chess, or attend any of the ongoing events at one of the Madison Public Libraries

Battle Ready

There is so much more to the Madison Public Libraries than just books (they do have those too of course). Click the link below to check out the incredible variety of events and activities going on every day at the public libraries in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. Learn to play chess, take a film class, learn a new craft, take your kids to story time, read to a dog, play games, and so much more!

21) Try to see as many official Madison Landmarks as you can in an hour

Lincoln, UW-Madison

Sure there are a lot of well known landmarks in Madison, but there are probably even more than you think! Try to visit as many of the landmarks listed in the link below in a set amount of time. Ready, set, go!

20) Visit a dog park (make sure to bring a tennis ball or two)

Dog Park-6

Does it get any better than cute furry dogs frolicking around having fun chasing after one another, catching Frisbees, tennis balls, and just loving life? We didn't think so. Squirrel!

19) Do some research at one of over 40 University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

A pleasant place to read

Take a day and do some research, some reading, studying, or just relax at one of the over 40 University of Wisconsin-Madison libraries that are free and open to the public. With so many libraries, you're sure to find an environment that fits your mood. Aren't libraries awesome? On Wisconsin!

18) Visit the Monona Terrace

Monona Terrace

Many people may think the Monona Terrace is only for conventions and business meetings. Although, it is a great place for those things, it offers so much more to the community. With tours, cafés, a rooftop garden, an Otis Redding memorial, a Madison Hall of Fame Room, and a variety of changing exhibits, the Monona Terrace is a great spot for free entertainment and culture.

17) Explore the Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Thai pavilion, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison

There are over 16 acres of outdoor gardens at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens located on the Capitol City Bike trail about three miles from downtown Madison. Featuring stunning landscapes and Midwest-hardy plants, this is a go to activity for all ages. The outdoor gardens are free and open daily.

16) Tour or visit the Wisconsin State Capitol


Reserve a tour at one of the most historic Capitol buildings in the nation or explore the Madison Capitol yourself. It is open to the public and filled with beautiful architecture, painting, furniture and over 100 years of Wisconsin history.

15) Play sports!


Shoot some hoops, play tennis, go ice skating, play volleyball, toss a Frisbee or football, play soccer, run around in circles, or [insert your sport here]. Get up, get active, and enjoy the numerous sports fields and facilities in the Madison area.

14) Embrace your inner child and play at one of Madison’s 175 playgrounds


The City of Madison has the most playgrounds per resident of any city in the nation! So embrace your inner child and check out some of the awesome playgrounds Madison has to offer.

13) Volunteer at one of the many awesome Madison non-profit organizations

USS Makin Island and 11th MEU Crew Members volunteer at soup kitchen in Singapore

There are many wonderful non-profit and community run organizations in Madison and often times they need volunteers to help sustain their efforts. Some frequent volunteer opportunities include helping run events at the Monona Terrace, helping Wisconsin Public Radio or Television, serving food at local soup kitchens, keeping the parks clean and more. You can click either of the links below to search for volunteer opportunities currently available in the Madison area.

12) Enjoy the beautiful Tenney Park

a perfect circle

Tenney Park is perfect for families and filled with things to do. You can rent a canoe or kayak, ice skate in the winter, soak up some rays on the beach, grill out, go fishing, or enjoy a sunrise or sunset over Lake Mendota.

11) Have a picnic, bonfire, or just relax at Picnic Point

Picnic Point

Picnic Point is a great destination. Located just west of State Street, Picnic Point is located off of the Lakeshore Path trail. The views from the point are incredible and it feels like an escape from the city all together. You can have a bonfire at one of the designated fire circles, go for a swim, or just relax and enjoy nature and the stunning views of Lake Mendota.

10) Take a stroll down state street hop on a free bus to explore

A spring day on State Street, Madison, WI, April 2013

State street is the perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the people and local shops of Madison. Feel free to venture out further and enjoy the lakes surrounding the Capitol area. You can also hop on a free bus numbered 80-84 to further explore the downtown and campus areas.

9) Observe the wildlife at Cherokee Marsh

View along the boardwalk, Cherokee Marsh

Cherokee Marsh is the largest wetland in Dane County, Wisconsin (at over 2,000 acres). It's a great place to observe wildlife (especially for the birding folks out there)  and experience a natural wetland/marsh in it's purest form.

8) Hang out at one of the Madison Public Libraries

Madison Public Library

If you're in the mood to do some reading, writing, research, collaborate, or all of the above, any of the Madison Public Libraries are the perfect atmosphere for you.

7) Listen to some free live local music

Jazz at Five festival

One of the foundations of Madison from the beginning has been its vibrant music scene, filled with talented musicians playing all different genres of music. We challenge you to find a day or night where you can't go see some free music around town. There are also numerous free music festivals and concert series throughout the year. One of our favorites is the free Ishtmus Jazz Festival.

6) Take a hike at one of the many hiking areas in Madison

Hoyt Park 004

Madison has some of the most gorgeous parks and hiking trails in the state of Wisconsin. Strap on those hiking boots, grab a friend and explore the beauty of nature. You can find a complete list of Madison hiking destinations using the link below. If you're feeling adventurous and want to explore some spots just outside of Madison, check out Blue Mound State Park (Blue Mounds, WI), Governor Doge State Park (Dogeville, WI), New Glarus Woods State Park (New Glarus, WI), and the well known Devil’s Lake State Park (Baraboo, Wisconsin).

5) Walk up and down Bascom Hill, repeat until you get tired. Take a photo with Lincoln.

Bascom Hill

Did you know that you burn about one Cheeto worth of calories walking up the iconic Bascom Hill? This is one of the main focal points of the UW-Madison campus and for good reason. As you walk up and down Bascom Hill, take in the beauty and reflect on all of the incredible people who have walked in the same place before you. If you get tired of walking, toss a Frisbee around or take a nap in the sun or the shade. Make sure you get a picture with Abe at the top of the hill before you leave.

4) Visit one of the many free museums in Madison and learn something new


Madison is home to some of the finest museums in the nation (not to mention that many of them are free!). Don't believe us? Check them out yourself:

Bubbler Gallery at the Central Library - Whether offering the basics of animation, screen printing, music, clothing design, dance, or painting (to name a few), the Bubbler’s hands-on pop-up workshops introduces participants to a variety of local experts who share their talents and physical resources.

Chazen Museum of Art - The Chazen is home to the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin: more than 20,000 works include paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts.

L.R. Ingersol Physics Museum - The L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum was conceived by Professor Snow and Professor Ingersoll in 1917 and was fully established in 1918 when the construction of Sterling Hall was competed. Which made the physics museum one of the first such museums in this country.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is an independent organization that exhibits, collects, and preserves modern and contemporary art to provide transformative experiences that educate, reflect, and inspire us as individuals and a community.

State Historical Museum - The Wisconsin Historical Museum is a museum located on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin. The museum, which features information about the history of Wisconsin, is operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. (Source: Wikipedia)

UW Geology Museum - The UW–Madison Geology Museum is a geology and paleontology museum housed in Weeks Hall, in the southwest part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. The museum's main undertakings are exhibits, outreach to the public, and research. (Source: Wikipedia)

Wisconsin Veterans Museum - The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate, acknowledge, and affirm the role of Wisconsin citizens in American military history, past and present.

3) Visit the Arboretum

Stone bridge into UW-Madison Arboretum 09-21-2012 347

The UW-Madison Arboretum is a can't miss destination of Madison. "The Arboretum features distinct ecological communities, horticultural collections, effigy mounds, more than 20 miles of trails, and a Visitor Center. It is a place of active learning, reflection, creativity, land care, research, and recreation—where human, animal, and plant communities coexist." A perfect place for people of all ages to explore, reflect, and observe some one of the finest nature in the state.

2) Visit the Henry Vilas Zoo

Polar Bear

Open year round, the Henry Vilas Zoo is a staple in the Madison community. Featuring animals from all over the world, the zoo is a great place to learn about a variety of animals and conservation efforts to protect wildlife. In 2015, the zoo completed construction of the Arctic Passage Exhibit, the largest renovation the Zoo has ever done.

1) Take some time to relax at either of the Wisconsin Unions

UW Memorial Union 05-18-2013 182-01

The brand new Union South building was recently opened in 2011, and major updating and renovations are currently in process at the Memorial Union making this duo of hangout spots some of the best in the nation. Grab a drink with some friends and enjoy the outdoor terrace at Memorial Union, or head inside Union South where you can listen to live music at The Sett, catch a free film at The Marquee Cinema, or go bowling, or indoor rock climbing. At either Wisconsin Union in Madison, there is never a shortage of things to do.

Do you have a favorite thing to do in Madison that is free and not listed above? Leave a comment below! For questions or media inquiries, please contact

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