Olbrich Botanical Gardens#5 in Best Things To Do in Madison, WI
Price & Hours
The Olbrich Botanical Gardens date back to 1921, when Michael B. Olbrich first purchased a plot of land along Lake Monona. Since then, the gardens have expanded to 16 acres and the tropical Bolz Conservatory. One highlight is the Thai Pavilion and Garden – a gift from the Thai government to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The ornate pavilion, which features gold leaf etchings, a lacquer finish and intricate decor, was built in Thailand and disassembled to ship to Madison where it was reconstructed by Thai artisans. Visitors will also want to make time for the 2-acre Rose Garden, which shelters roses alongside perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, ornamental trees, annuals and spring bulbs.
If you happen to stop by this attraction when the outdoor gardens aren't blooming, consider warming up in the Bolz Conservatory. The balmy conservatory houses more than 650 plants, a waterfall and free-flying birds with temperatures inside the glass pyramid resting between 65 and 80 degrees year-round.
Past visitors raved about the variety of plants on display at the gardens. Others appreciated the many water fountains and benches interspersed throughout the property. The free admission was also a big hit among reviewers.
You'll find the Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Lake Monona's northern shore about 5 miles east of downtown Madison. On-site amenities include a horticultural library, as well as a gift shop. Due to COVID-19, the gardens are only open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The conservatory is closed until further notice. Admission to the outdoor gardens is free, though donations are welcome. Admission to the conservatory costs $2 per adult and is free for kids 5 and younger. Parking is free. For more information, visit the official website.
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#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.
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