If you’ve been reading our blog (for even 5 minutes) you know that Meagan and I are MASSIVE fans of Ann Arbor, MI. And we promise that our love for the city is completely unrelated to the fact that we spent many of our early adult years together there, fell in love there, yada yada yada.
But a trip we took this past weekend made us rethink everything about college campuses and midwestern cities. The destination? Madison, WI.
The unassuming city or town (depending on who you ask) is nestled between two beautiful small lakes, the Monona and the Mendota and is about a 1 hour, 15-minute drive west from Milwaukee.
Our visit was timed perfectly: It was a cold (very cold) and clear Fall football weekend. The campus was teeming with people (it was Michigan State vs. Wisconsin) and the first snow hadn’t arrived yet.
In short, Madison blew us away. Here are a few things you should do on your first (or your next) trip to this college town.
Visit on a Game Weekend
Duh! But seriously, football brings out everyone young and old and the city becomes a sea of red and white. Pro tip: You can pick up a $5 Wisconsin Football t-shirt at the bookstore on campus to blend in better.
Students and Alumni tailgate pretty much everywhere around campus, but if you want to see where it gets pretty rowdy, take a walk down Regent Street on the south side of the stadium.
The fans and people of Wisconsin were very friendly and welcoming! Midwesterners are just downright good people. We were even invited to a free all-inclusive tailgate sponsored by Travel Wisconsin (shout out!).
Don’t Miss the Terrace and German Beer Hall in The Student Union (!)
Yes, you read that right. The Wisconsin Student Union has a German Beer Hall in it.
And not a small one, the Der Rathskeller can seat hundreds and on the aforementioned game day it turns into a hot destination for both locals and visitors to catch the game, drink a stein, and eat a pretzel or fried cheese curds (yummm).
Outside the Union, you’ll find a massive terrace with several other eating options. The terrace can fit another thousand people or so and overlooks the lake. On warmer days, this is a great option!
Walk Around Epic’s Campus in Verona, WI
While we were surprised by the beauty and energy of the University of Wisconsin campus, Epic’s campus surprised us even more.
Epic is a healthcare company (hang with us, we promise it’s worth it!) that, for some strange reason, decided to build their corporate campus into a series of different “worlds”. These “worlds” include storybook (Alice, Oz, Chocolate Factory), Galaxy (Andromeda, Borealis, Heaven), and one that even makes you feel like you’re in Harry Potter! Check out these pics of the amazing campus:
The best part of it all? You can tour the campus on the weekend for free.
All you need to do is show up, they provide the maps, and you can go at your own pace. Make sure to allow at least a couple hours. Even in that time, you’ll probably only be able to see about 2-3 worlds (at a brisk pace!)
Stop by the Capitol Farmers’ Market on Saturday
While you’re in Madison, swing by the Capitol on Saturday morning to see an impressive farmer’s market that wraps completely around the square.
You’ll find fun options for breakfast including a LOT of different types of pastries. And, of course, you’ll find cheese! Actually, you’ll find cheese pretty much everywhere you go in Wisconsin. We even stocked up and brought some home with us! (Yes the cheese is that good and lives up to the hype).
Grab a Drink at the Weary Traveler
On our first night in town, we were looking for somewhere close for a drink and a bite. Fortunately, the Weary Traveler was incredibly close to our Airbnb! We got a spot up at the bar, grabbed 2 nitro stouts, a meat and cheese plate, and really enjoyed the atmosphere and incredibly friendly Madisonians.
If you want to get a local feel for Madison, put the Weary Traveler on your list!
Get Some Time in Milwaukee – Especially the Historic 3rd Ward
On Sunday, our flight wasn’t until very late at night, so we took advantage of the extra time to explore Milwaukee’s Historic 3rd Ward.
Start your visit here by seeing the Milwaukee Public Market which has many fresh options ranging from Seafood to Sandwiches to Sushi and (of course) more cheese.
If the Public Market is too busy for you or doesn’t have the right options, walk across the street to the Belgium Restaurant Cafe Benelux.
Here, you’ll find great Belgian and non-Belgian food options, great beers, and an amazing indoor-outdoor space that can accommodate whatever weather Milwaukee can throw its way.