Settled on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Madison, WI is an idyllic college town year-round. Yet, when the autumn leaves start turning and the apples show up at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, you’re sure to be in for a treat. Here’s a guide to 48 hours in this beautiful Midwestern city.
Friday Night Fish Fry
Madison is accessible by plane, bus, or car. If you plan your weekend getaway in time to reach Wisconsin by Friday night, be sure to take part in the state tradition of Friday night fish fry. Rooted in Catholicism (in which eating meat is forbidden on Fridays), this Wisconsin staple includes deep fried fish (usually cod, walleye, or perch), coleslaw, french fries, and a piece of white bread. From taverns to supper clubs, you will find Wisconsinites enthusiastically chowing down on this local fare. One recommended spot in the heart of Madison to visit is the Old Fashioned. Prices start at 9.95 USD, and can be accompanied by the state drink; The Old Fashioned (made with brandy instead of whiskey, and muddled sugar mixed with bitters).
Saturday Morning at Dane County Farmers’ Market
The largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States, Dane County Farmers’ Market is quintessential Madison. On “The Square” (the streets surrounding the state capital), this vibrant food market boasts fresh vegetables, breads, meats, and of course, cheese. Many Wisconsinites plan their Saturday morning around the market, with seemingly everyone flocking to The Square whether by foot, bicycle, bus, or car. The market starts at 6:15 am and runs until 2 pm.
Visit the State Capitol
While you’re at the market, be sure to stop into the Wisconsin State Capitol. You can schedule a tour, or simply do a self guided walk-through. It’s a beautiful building that was erected in 1837 for a humble 60,000 USD. While you’re there, be sure to look up when in the rotunda. Mosaics reach seemingly to the heavens, while the state statue, Miss Forward, sits on the exterior of the top of the building, cheering the state onward.
Apple Picking at Door Creek Orchard
Seeing all that luscious produce might have you excited to get to the farm! You-pick apple picking at Door Creek Orchard, just 12 miles (~19 km) outside of Madison in Cottage Grove, WI, provides a wonderful opportunity to do so. Open on weekends from 9 am – 5 pm, Door Creek Orchard grows an impressive 88 varieties of apples ranging from the better-known Granny Smith to more obscure varieties such as Pixie Crunch. While there, you should also pick up a gallon of apple cider, or sample their grapes and pears, grown on site.
Dinner and a pint at The Great Dane Brew Pub
If apple picking left you hungry (or thirsty!), you’re in luck! Madisonians love to eat, and given their German-ancestry, also know a thing or two about good beer. The Great Dane Brew Pub is a Madison establishment renowned for their in-home brewed beer. With about 15 beers on tap at all times, you’re sure to find something to fit the bill. Because it is a pub, the food really leans towards burgers and sandwiches, all priced around 10 USD. Don’t be afraid to try the deep fried cheese curds (10 USD on the starter section of the menu) either. They are not doctor-recommended to eat daily, but once in awhile can do the soul good.
Sunday morning bike ride
A visit to Madison would not be complete without a bike ride. Bike trails circumnavigate both of the lakes, and Madison streets in general, are bike-friendly. You can rent a BCycle bike—Madison’s bike rental system that allows one to bike and dock at a plethora of locations. Bike rental goes for 6 USD a day. The catch is, rides are limited to 30 minutes at a time. After that, you must redock and get a new bike (the program is targeted towards commuters). Places to visit while on your bike? The long and winding Observatory Drive that is the highest point on campus, Picnic Point just a few miles from the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Memorial Union, or anywhere on State Street, the quaint no-car street that runs from the capitol to the campus.
Bratwurst at University of Wisconsin Madison’s student union
One of the best places in Madison, and everyone knows this, is the Memorial Union, which sits on Lake Mendota. The terrace, which is an outdoor space overlooking the lake, is a wonderful place to grab a casual bite to eat, see some music, or simply people watch. For 3.95 USD, you can get a Wisconsin bratwurst from The Brat Stand. Be sure to ask for it the true Wisconsin way with sauerkraut! Or, if meat isn’t your thing, try some of the famous Babcock Ice Cream, made on campus!
There is so much to do in Madison that no doubt by the time you have to leave, you’ll already be planning another visit. For there’s still Wisconsin Badgers games to see, food to eat, and friends to meet in this friendly city. Know that fall is only one of four of the delightful seasons in which to visit, and hurry back soon!
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