The Scoop: The college town of Madison, Wisconsin, is a wonderful date destination for couples who have a variety of interests. They can visit museums, hear live music, or enjoy cultural events throughout the city. Nature lovers can enjoy biking the trails or getting on the water by renting kayaks, boats, or paddleboards. The local food scene is also a highlight. Madison — aka Mad Town — is known for its waterfront restaurants and cocktail lounges, and visitors don’t have to wander far to find a dateworthy meal in the walkable downtown area.

Madison, Wisconsin, is a vibrant college town with plenty of date activities available throughout the year.

The city is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is the flagship university of the state’s system. This institution supports hundreds of annual arts performances, lectures, and sporting events each year.

Madison is the state capital of Wisconsin, and the dome of the Capitol Building is one of the most iconic parts of the city skyline. Since its establishment in 1848, Madison has seen a lot of history. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright worked in the area, and two of the homes he designed here have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. His largest contribution to the city is the Monona Terrace® Community and Convention Center, which features panoramic views of Lake Monona.

The area has a great deal of natural beauty on display. Situated on an isthmus, Madison is surrounded by five lakes that are open to the public. The city also has 260 parks and 240 miles of biking and walking trails.

Photo of kayakers in Madison

Madison has a youthful energy fueled by outdoor fun and adventure.

Thanks to its many outdoor and cultural offerings, Madison is a lively place to enjoy a day in the sun or a night on the town.

“Madison is teeming with the youthful energy of a university town. It boasts an independent, inquisitive, quirky spirit,” said Anna Shircel, the PR and Communications Manager of Destination Madison. Anna and her team bolster Madison’s national reputation by attracting events and visitors to the city.

Couples of all types can enjoy a date in Madison. Some outdoorsy folks rent bikes or take boating trips to get a little fresh air on their days off. Meanwhile, art lovers can explore cultural events, and foodies can enjoy classic American cuisine at local eateries.

“Whether you’re on a first date or celebrating an anniversary, looking to spend time outside or in a dreamy restaurant, Madison has the perfect places to make your time special,” Anna said.

Explore the Outdoors and Visit Many Art Venues

When it comes to an outdoor date activity, Madison locals and visitors have plenty of options to explore.

Anna recommends renting a kayak or paddleboard from Madison Boats. The rental company has three locations throughout the city, and couples can choose from a fleet of water crafts that suit all experience levels.

Couples may want to bring their own bikes or rent bikes to circle the Lake Monona Loop, a 13-mile loop around one of the city’s most picturesque bodies of water.

“Bikers looking to get a workout can loop the lake without stops. There are some minor hills to keep the legs burning and heart pumping,” the Destination Madison team explained. “The Lake Loop is not limited to those traveling via bike. Take a long walk or run and experience the route from a different vantage point.”

Photo of bikers in Madison

Biking around Madison is a healthy date activity.

Other options for couples who want to spend time outside include visiting a local park, taking in a Forward Madison soccer game at Breese Stevens Field, or strolling through the wooded and prairie trails at the UW-Madison Arboretum.

After spending the day outside, couples can then move their dates indoors to one of the city’s art venues.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art preserves modern and contemporary art for community enjoyment. The space is a great place for quiet reflection and thoughtful conversation. The MMoCA’s exhibits and educational programs are free, so it’s an affordable date activity.

Art lovers may also want to check out the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus to see the state’s second largest collection of art.

Music lovers can listen to contemporary performers at the city’s newest concert venue, The Sylvee. The Overture Center for the Arts is home to Madison’s Broadway series.

Restaurants and Lodging Range From Casual to Upscale

Madison is home to high-end restaurants, pubs, distilleries, and food trucks, so it can satisfy just about every craving on a lunch or dinner date.

If couples are looking for a casual dinner, they should try Ian’s Pizza, a fun and iconic spot with three locations in the city. The pizzeria serves handmade pizzas with unique toppings. Its popular flavors include the Mac n’ Cheese, the Drunken Ravioli, and the Macho Nacho, which comes topped with chorizo, pico de gallo, salsa verde, and tortilla strips.

In the mood for something fancier? Then L’Etoile can raise the culinary bar and provide a lovely backdrop for a high-end date. The restaurant is headed by Chef Tory Miller, who has won a James Beard Award in recognition of his cooking skills. Since its establishment in the 1970s, L’Etoile has brought a taste of France to the American Midwest and supported local farmers and artisan producers with its ethical  and wholesome cuisine.

L’Etoile features a five-course tasting menu as well as à la carte options that highlight fresh, seasonal ingredients. Couples should be sure to save room for dessert too because the croissant doughnuts are made to order and are a perfect indulgence on a date night.

Photo of Madison

The walkable downtown area has both casual and upscale restaurants.

Couples can cap their night with a drink at Eno Vino Downtown. The wine bar and bistro has a casual atmosphere, and over 150 wines are available by the bottle or by the glass. Anna said this spot has unbeatable views of the State Capitol.

When it comes to lodging, Madison has a lot of wonderful and affordable options. Anna recommends couples book a stay at The Edgewater, a revived historic hotel and resort with more than 200 rooms on the shores of Lake Mendota. It is conveniently located within walking distance of the Capitol Square and downtown area.

Other highly rated Madison accommodation options include the Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, which offers a luxurious date night package for couples, and the Hotel Indigo, which is a trendy spot in the up-and-coming Capitol East District.

Madison Has Options for Every Type of Couple

Romantic getaways to Wisconsin’s state capital can be fun and exciting. Some couples only have a weekend to enjoy the sights of Madison, but that can be enough to hit some of the city’s quintessential spots.

First, couples can take part in a Wisconsin tradition, the Friday fish fry, at The Old Fashioned. This tavern and restaurant serves good grub with tons of lagers, pale ales, IPAs, porters, and stouts on tap.

Later in the evening, couples can wander down State Street, a pedestrian mall that’s the heart of the city. In the warmer months, musicians and dancers perform on this street, and couples will find a lot of outdoor dining options available.

On sunny Saturday mornings, couples can check out the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which operates from November to April. More than 150 vendors hawk their wares each weekend, and visitors would be remiss not to pick up cheese curds — another Wisconsin specialty — from one of the stands.

Madison is a versatile destination that allows people to explore the outdoors as well as city sights. They can visit a museum or botanical gardens and go boating or hiking on the same day.

“Madison’s walkable downtown makes it simple to get from the feeling of nature along the lakes to the heart of the urban state capital in minutes,” Anna said.

Photos courtesy of Focal Flame Photography