University of Wisconsin – Madison Memorial Union

#1 in Best Things To Do in Madison, WI
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Joey Reuteman/Destination Madison

Key Info

800 Langdon St.

Price & Hours

Hours vary seasonally

Details

Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend

scorecard

  • 4.0Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

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.

You'll find the Memorial Union on the university’s campus between Helen C. White Library and the Armory (Red Gym). Note that the union and terrace are membership organizations and not technically open to the public, except for special events. However, you can purchase a single-day membership if you're not a guest of a member. The terrace is open seasonally from April to September. The union is open year-round, though its hours change seasonally, so you'll want to check the official website before you visit. Though you'll need a membership to purchase items from the food and beverage vendors in the union and on the terrace, you can still hang out at the terrace and Der Rathskeller even if you're not a member. There are several parking lots surrounding the union.

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#2 State Street

To experience the heart of downtown Madison, you must take a stroll along State Street. Anchored by the Wisconsin state Capitol on one end and the University of Wisconsin campus on the other, State Street shelters hundreds of shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, pubs and taverns, museums and performance venues, including the Overture Center for the Arts. Thanks to its close proximity to the campus, the street is home to a variety of wallet-friendly shops and eateries suitable for the student budget. If you're looking for a more formal sit-down meal (or a restaurant that may not attract many students), head to the Capitol Square. Here's where you'll find perennial favorites like The Old Fashioned and Cooper's Tavern serving up the state's famous cheese curds alongside an impressive list of local beers. Graze, Cento and Tavernakaya are three other popular restaurants around the square.
 
If you're visiting the area on a Saturday, you can't miss the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Square. Nearly 300 vendors set up shop outside the capitol building selling meats, cheeses, flowers, vegetables and specialty items all grown or produced in Wisconsin. Adding to the atmosphere are a variety of street musicians. 
 
Past visitors had fun perusing the shops and restaurants along State Street, though a few warned of panhandlers and said they felt safer exploring the area during the day versus the night.
 
State Street spans from Park Street to the Capitol Square. Aside from city vehicles, the area is pedestrian-only. There are a variety of parking garages surrounding the area. State Street is free to visit day or night, though businesses operate their own hours. For a business directory, consult the Downtown Madison website.

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