Madison Children's Museum, featured in Visit Madison, Wisconsin with Your Kids on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

Across the U.S., many cities serve as the capital of the state and are home to a major university. Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts are just a few that come to mind.

Madison, Wisconsin is one of those cities in the Midwest where you can do both — visit the historic Capitol building as well as a Big 10 campus — the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

This is one of the best reasons you should plan a vacation to Madison. It’s a family-friendly destination and will give your kids an authentic college campus experience.

No matter how old your kids are, take them now. Let them see what college is all about, so they will aspire to work hard in school and make college a reality for themselves.

My husband and I took our kids to visit the schools we attended. It opened their eyes to the importance of going to college and what it would be like. After our visits, they strived to earn that experience and make it their own.  

I can proudly say that I have three college graduates and one with a master’s degree.


Family-Friendly Venues

Here are a few places you should put on your itinerary.


Madison Children’s Museum

The Madison Children’s Museum is designed for kids up to age 12. Come inside and explore a variety of interactive exhibits. Let your kids learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and design their own house. Check out their Art Studio to stimulate their imaginations and let them build their own city in Possible-opolis! The recently renovated Wonderground takes kids on an outdoor adventure with spiral slides, Cocoon Climber, and an 1830s log cabin. It’s all in the name of fun.


The State Capitol Welcomes You to Madison

The impressive Wisconsin State Capitol is a magnificent archeological wonder with a unique granite dome. Take a free guided tour of the State Capitol which houses both chambers of the state legislature, the governor’s office, and the Supreme Court. Tours take place every hour, every day. Let your children see democracy in action. 

Wisconsin State Capitol, featured in Visit Madison, Wisconsin with Your Kids on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

If you’re in Madison on Saturday, head to the Dane County Farmer’s Market at Capitol Square through November. Pick up the freshest produce, artisan cheese, baked goods, and flowers. Have a picnic on the lawn and enjoy the music. 


Walk through the University of Wisconsin Campus

Madison’s founding fathers made a good decision to connect the Capitol with the campus by way of State Street where you’ll find restaurants, shops, bars, and food trucks, ranging from Asian to African. In season, thrill to the fun of college sports. Cheer on the UW Badgers on the football field or on the basketball. court.

Make sure you stop by the UW Union and sample some of their homemade ice cream, made on campus. Then head outside, sit on the famous multi-colored chairs, and admire the views of the lake.

At UW, families can participate in programs at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery on campus through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

WARF presents several learning opportunities to K-12 students and their families. Steeped in creativity and science, these programs are intended to intrigue young learners and encourage them to think outside the box.

In addition, WARF programs offer a wonderful hands-on opportunity for kids to interact with UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students. Most programs are open to the public. Some of their programs include Live Classical Performances with a Scientific Discussion or the annual Wisconsin Science Festival.  


It’s All Happening at the Zoo

The Henry Vilas Zoo is a free attraction. From the Zoo Train to the Carousel, there is a lot for families to enjoy as you visit the animals. Before or after the zoo, head to Zuzu Café for breakfast burritos, salads, sandwiches, and daily specials. 

Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, featured in Visit Madison, Wisconsin with Your Kids on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

Feel like Tom Sawyer at Cave of the Mounds


Chill out at Cave of the Mounds where it’s always a cool 50 degrees. This National Natural Landmark is filled with natural wonders and families love the adventure of feeling like Tom Sawyer. Walk along the lighted paths and admire the crystals that hang down from the ceiling.  Take a self-paced or guided tour for more explanation about the cave formations.   


Get Out on the Water

Go kayaking, canoeing or paddling on Lake Monona and see Madison from the water. Check out Brittingham Boats to rent kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, and more.

What sets Madison apart is that it is a very walkable city. You can park your car once and walk everywhere.  

Madison Wi is approximately an hour and a half from Milwaukee and two and a half hours from Chicago. For more information about Madison as a great getaway, go to


Photo credits: Mira Temkin


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