Henry Vilas Zoo#7 in Best Things To Do in Madison, WI
Price & Hours
A great option for those traveling with kids, the Henry Vilas Zoo is home to more than 650 animals, including camels, tigers, flamingos and penguins. What's more, it's one of 10 remaining free zoos in North America. The zoo's free admission was a stipulation that Col. William and Anna Vilas made when they gave the land to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association in 1904 "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground." The zoo borrows its name from the Vilas' son, Henry, who died when he was young as a result of complications from diabetes.
Travelers can enjoy the various zoo exhibits, including a rainforest aviary, a big cats enclosure, a herpetarium (where cold-blooded animals like reptiles reside) and the Arctic Passage, home to grizzly bears, polar bears and harbor seals. There's also a children's zoo with a herd of goats, a zoo train and a carousel (both the train and the zoo cost $2 per passenger to ride).
According to past visitors, the zoo is small but still offers a fun outing for kids of all ages. Plus, the free admission makes it a no-brainer for families. Even better, the zoo is surrounded by Vilas Park, which features two playgrounds and plenty of open space for playing and picnics, among other activities.
The zoo is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Zoo admission and parking are free. You'll find the zoo less than a mile south of Camp Randall Stadium just south of the university campus downtown. On-site amenities include an indoor restaurant, a seasonal ice cream and coffee kiosk, and a gift shop. To start planning your visit, check out the official website.
More Best Things To Do in Madison, WI
#1 University of Wisconsin – Madison Memorial Union
One of the star attractions of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the Memorial Union is beloved by students and locals alike. Open since Oct. 5, 1928, and perched on the shores of Lake Mendota, the union is perhaps best known for its terrace, which faces the lake and is filled with colorful sunburst chairs and tables perfect for enjoying the view, a brat and a pitcher of beer. When the terrace closes for the season (typically in late September), retreat inside to Der Rathskeller. With its German beer hall vibe and cozy fireplaces, Der Rathskeller is a popular spot to watch Badger games. There's also a stage for open mic nights and plenty of seating. Other Union attractions include rotating art exhibits and galleries, an ice cream shop, multiple eateries and a store selling grab-and-go items, along with Badger apparel and gifts.
Past visitors raved about the union, specifically the terrace, with a few calling it among the top spots for Madison travelers to visit. According to reviewers, the best time to visit is in summer, when the weather is just right for enjoying the building's lakefront perch. Just remember: This is a popular spot, so you may have to wait for one of the coveted terrace tables if you're here during the busy evening hours.
Explore More of Madison, WI
If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.