A Getaway to Madison’s Capitol Square

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

When I plan a getaway, I want wonderful accommodations, eateries of all types, and a wide range of activities that will entertain and engage me. Madison’s Capitol Square has all of this and more, luring both Wisconsin residents and visitors. It was not always that way.

In 1837, when state leaders decided to build the Capitol in Madison, Madison was more of an idea than a city. The village of Madison “contained only two stores, three public houses, three groceries, one steam mill for cutting lumber, and a couple dozen houses” in 1840. 1 But by 1885, the Capitol Square had 125 stores and was a lively gathering and shopping district. Today it combines with surrounding areas to make a multiple-day adventure.

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

To stay close by, Hotel Ruby Marie is a restored 1873 building with a classic central staircase. The Mansion Hill Inn is a wonderful Bed & Breakfast option, sitting atop the hill just north of the Capitol. Another is The Livingston Inn, a 160-year-old Gothic revival mansion. For a larger hotel experience, The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club, which abuts the Capitol Square, cannot be beat. A bit farther out, HotelRED is a hip boutique hotel near the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Camp Randall.

Start your adventure at the Wisconsin State Capitol, which can be explored on your own or through a tour. If you choose the latter, tour guides provide details on history, interior decorations, and furnishings, historic collections and artifacts, and works of art that lie within the granite walls.

For insight into the state’s history, cross the street to the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Housed on multiple floors, the collections look into indigenous culture and life, the settlers and waves of immigrants that arrived in this part of the country, and the progression from settlement and development to industrialization.

Next door, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum honors the service of Wisconsin citizens in wars of the last two centuries. Exhibits start with the Civil War and continue to recent conflicts. Particularly moving is the special art exhibit, WAR RAW Healing Military Trauma Through Expressive Art. Nearly 60 works of art in different media serve as an outlet for veterans and convey to visitors the sacrifice these veterans have made physically and emotionally.

You can spend an entire day viewing art exhibits at Chazen Museum of Art, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), and James Watrous Gallery. Chazen has extraordinary collections, such as the Van Vleck collection of Japanese woodblock prints. The collection has more than 3,700 prints, including prints that Frank Lloyd Wright collected in the 1920s.

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

If you have children, unleash them at the Madison Children’s Museum. Open daily, the museum has two floors and a three-season rooftop garden filled with interactive exhibits. Additional things to do include Saturday mornings at Kids in the Rotunda at the Overture Center for the Arts, which offers free shows featuring performers, science programs, dance, and storytelling. On select Sundays at MMoCA, Kids’ Art Adventures uses current exhibits to serve as inspiration for early afternoon workshops. After an introduction to the topic, work of art, or artist, kids create a fun object or artwork to be taken home.

Plan ahead for evenings of music, live comedy, or theater, all within walking distance of the Capitol Square. The Overture Center for the Arts has larger and smaller scale theatre, music, and dance productions. The Bartell is a collaboration of five community theatre companies. The Orpheum Theatre and Majestic are live performance and music venues, and there are weekly acts at The Comedy Club on State.

Photo by Green Concierge Travel

I would also suggest a stop at Square Wine Co., which specializes in small batch wines. They offer wine tastings on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Perfect since you can do this and all of the above without a car! There is ample alternative transportation: Metro Transit bus service, taxi service, and bike rental options, including Madison B-Cycle, which has seven bike-sharing stations within a three-block radius of the Capitol. You can also walk.

And then there is food. The Capitol Square area is a hot spot for exceptional dining, snack, and beverage choices to cover all your needs. So numerous I can’t possibly list them all here. I recommend perusing this issue and view our archived issues at madisonessentialsmagazine.com for suggestions. And if you are visiting in the summer, be sure to visit the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square on Saturday mornings. It is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States!


Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com.

The Bartell
113 E. Mifflin Street
(608) 661-9696

Chazen Museum of Art
750 University Avenue
(608) 263-2246

The Comedy Club on State
202 State Street
(608) 256-0099

1501 Monroe Street
(608) 819-8228

Hotel Ruby Marie
524 E. Wilson Street
(608) 327-7829

James Watrous Gallery
201 State Street
(608) 265-2500

The Livingston Inn
752 E. Gorham Street
(608) 238-63317

Madison B-Cycle

The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club
1 W. Dayton Street
(608) 257-6000

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State Street
(608) 257-0158

Madison Taxi
(608) 255-8294

Majestic Theatre
115 King Street
(608) 255-1901

Mansion Hill Inn
424 N. Pinckney Street
(608) 255-0172

Metro Transit
(608) 266-4466

The Orpheum Theatre
216 State Street
(608) 250-2600

Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
(608) 258-4141

Square Wine Company
5 N. Pinckney Street
(608) 819-6191

Wisconsin Historical Museum
30 N. Carroll Street
(608) 264-6555

Wisconsin Veterans Museum
30 W. Mifflin street
(608) 267-1799

Wisconsin State Capitol
2 E. Main Street
(608) 266-0382