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Note: Destination Madison kindly invited me on a 3 day press trip in exchange for coverage.
As always, all opinions are my own, and it’s my number one priority to tell my readers a truthful and candid experience.
As a solo traveler, I purposely seek out destinations that make me feel warm, comfortable, and safe. Now, that our country is slowly recovering from the worst waves of the COVID-19 Pandemic, personal safety on the road is more important now than ever.
It’s been a rough and scary year for travelers. No doubt about it.
But, as a fully vaccinated individual, I’m slowly (but surely) starting to travel the United States again. And Madison, WI had the honor of being my first post-COVID trip!
And guys, guys, guys. Madison blew me away. Wisconsin’s capital is seriously an awesome city that 110% deserves more recognition as a premier travel destination.
Whether you’re planning on a Madison WI weekend getaway or a road trip across the country, this city will exceed all of your needs.
Not to mention, Madison is a fantastic destination particularly for those of us who like to travel alone. Yay!
Table of Contents
Solo Travel Madison Wi: My Experience
Why I Loved Madison As a Solo Traveler
Madison is a fantastic destination for solo travelers. My best advice is not to overlook Madison if you’re planning an independent trip around the USA. This city “has it all” and will meet any discerning solo traveler’s needs.
Firstly, Madison might be the capital of Wisconsin, but as a city, it’s not overwhelming. Instead Madison is safe and walkable.
For example, I walked around Madison in the early morning until evening, and never once did I feel uncomfortable, which is incredible considering the world literally just emerged from a global pandemic!
Not to mention, as an independent traveler in Madison, you’re able to experience the best of both worlds.
What do I mean by that? Madison’s lakes, bike lanes, and gardens offer a nature escape, while at the same time, the city’s downtown offers exquisite food options, plenty of free museums, and some excellent local shopping.
Is Madison Worth Visiting?
Even though I was invited on a fam trip, I would wholeheartedly recommend coming to Madison as a solo traveler. This city’s coolness surprised me, and I want to come back in the near future.
Madison’s food, museums, and nature are all high-quality.
Let’s talk specifically about the best things to do in Madison WI alone.
11 Wonderful Things to Do in Madison WI Alone
Below I’ve listed 11 fabulous things to do in Madison WI alone right now.
Some of these outdoor activities are “weather dependent,” but if you visit Madison in the summer (like me!), then warm and sunny days should be in the forecast.
Relax at Memorial Union Terrace
Want to enjoy a local spot with live music, great food, and views of Lake Mendota? Then you need to walk to Memorial Union Terrace, which is a fun and vibrant place for solo travelers to feel right at home in Madison.
Memorial Union Terrace is easy to walk to from Madison’s downtown since it’s located right on the University of Wisconsin’s campus. From the Capitol, the walk is only about 15 minutes.
On my own trip, I had a wonderful time just sinking into one of the sunburst lawn chairs and eating an ice cream from nearby Daily Scoop.
No reservations are needed to attend any of the events either! Just make sure to check the schedule ahead of time.
If you want to make new friends, then come to the terrace at sunset, which is very popular for obvious reasons.
Thought-Provoking Art at Chazen Museum
Chazen Museum of Art is conveniently located right on the University of Wisconsin campus.
As you know, I adore art museums, and think they are the perfect sanctuaries for solo travelers to mentally decompress and enjoy incredible masterpieces at the same time.
Chazen Museum is also one of Madison’s free museums. So, not only are the exhibits high quality, but visitors with any budget are able to see all the paintings and sculptures (as it should be!).
In addition to the permanent collection, Chazen Museum features special exhibits that change on any given month.
On my visit, I was absolutely blown away by The Prints of Alison Saar and had to keep stopping to read all the descriptions.
You can find Chazen Musem of Art at 750 University Avenue.
Make New Friends on a Betty Lou Cruise
Madison is known for its spectacular lakes. In particular, Lake Mendota and Monona are accessible to downtown visitors.
So, do you want to make new friends on your solo trip to Madison WI and ogle at some incredible lakeside views?
Then you need to go on a Betty Lou Cruise – especially if you visit on a glorious summer or autumn day! The breezes feel heavenly.
On your Betty Lou Cruise, you’ll enjoy dinner and drinks on board. Check the menus ahead of time. They are all different (and all delicious).
You’ll find your Betty Lou Cruise moored at Mariner’s Inn on Lake Mendota. Reservations are required.
Eat Verrrry Well at Parthenon Gyros
Are you like me and nervous about eating in restaurants alone? Never fear! Parthenon Gyros is the perfect option for you!
This incredible Greek restaurant has been family-run for three generations. The mythology-based art indoors, as well as the outdoor patio, both make for a unique and fun dining experience even if you’re by yourself.
Parthenon prides itself on making their gyros entirely in-house. For example, they grind whole cuts of premium beef and lamb, and mix in their own spices to create their exquisite gyros. Be still my beating heart!
Another cool fact about this place: Parthenon pivoted during the Coronavirus Pandemic (like many other small businesses) and started selling Yogurt Chips, which make a perfect and healthy snack for solo travelers to take on their walks around Madison! Yummy!
You can find Parthenon Gyros at 316 State Street.
Kayaking Adventures with Brittingham Boats
Okay, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, then you know that I’m super awkward outdoors doing any physical activity, such as hiking or biking.
However, kayaking with Brittingham Boats was a fun and adventurous experience even for awkward people like me!
I loved kayaking with Brittingham so much, because the rental shop’s atmosphere immediately makes you feel welcomed and valued. Solo travelers will fit right in.
The owners and staff at Brittingham Boats care deeply about their customers. They’ve also transformed this part of Brittingham Park, which wasn’t always the safest area, into an absolute oasis for lake lovers.
So, take a kayak onto Lake Monona and see Madison’s beautiful Capitol from the gently lapping water.
You can push yourself for a work out, or you can do what I did and unwind in the boat, soaking up the sun and listening to the traffic’s low hum, which is surprisingly soothing out in the water.
You can find Brittingham Boats at 701 W Brittingham Pl.
Sample Local Food at Dane County Farmer’s Market
Are you a solo traveler who’s visiting Madison on Saturday or Wednesday? Then you’re in luck, my friend!
Dane County Farmer’s Market is a beloved tradition among locals here. And it’s easy to understand why people flock here.
To tell you the truth, sometimes being a solo traveler is a little lonely. It’s important not to feel too disconnected from our temporary homes when we venture out onto the road alone.
Without a doubt, exploring the Farmers Market makes you feel as if you’re part of the community’s fabric. You’ll have conversations with vendors and shoppers, and these discussions are among the best souvenirs to bring home.
Not to mention, you’ll also have a chance to sample some super healthy food and support the local farms. Win/win if you ask me.
Dane County Farmer’s Market is one of the coolest things to do in Madison WI alone.
Support Restaurants on Bike n’ Bites Food Tour
Do you want to support restaurants, but also want to enjoy the communal act of sharing a meal together? I know I still get nervous eating alone in restaurants.
Then you should reserve yourself a spot on a Bike n’ Bites Food Tour.
What I loved about this tour was it gives solo travelers a chance to go beyond Madison’s immediate downtown and see other areas, particularly Willy Street, Atwood and Olbrich neighborhoods.
The restaurants are all local, thoughtfully chosen, and absolutely delicious. Come with an empty stomach.
Again, this tour is a great option for solo travelers, because it eliminates the awkwardness of asking for “a table for one.”
And the best part? The bikes are electric! So you can breeze your way to the next spot on the itinerary without feeling out of breath.
Be “Wowed!” by the Capitol
So I already talked about Madison’s Capitol a lot, haven’t I?
That’s because visiting the Capitol is one of the coolest things to do in Madison WI alone right now. Not only can you snap a ton of pictures outside, but the Capitol’s interior is fascinating too!
The Capitol is open to the public every single day unless otherwise noted. And what’s really nice, especially for solo travelers who may be nervous, is that there are no invasive security screenings as you enter the building.
You’re simply welcome to enjoy the stunning mosaics, jaw-dropping and gorgeous rotunda, and informative museum exhibits. You can even see the outside of the governor’s office!
Madison’s Capitol turned 100 in 2017, so this is a building that has a ton of great history for visitors willing to learn.
Get in Touch with Nature at Olbrich Botanical Garden
I could spend hours in botanical gardens. I love flowers and sculptures so much, and the gardens always help relax my nerves after a busy day of traveling.
Olbrich Botanical Garden are open daily and year round, and cover an entire 16 acres.
I particularly loved Bolz Conservatory that is home to a wide variety of tropical plants. You feel like you’ve transported to a jungle!
In addition, don’t miss the Thai Pavilion and Garden! I’m not kidding when I say that I literally gasped out loud at the site of this golden temple! The Pavilion was a gift from the Thai government to the University of Wisconsin. You really and truly feel like you’re in Thailand.
Relax at the Pavilion, and take plenty of pictures. I personally think this part of the botanical garden is best experienced alone, because you have no one distracting you from the temple’s majestic beauty.
Lakeside Views at Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center
Want easily accessible views of Monona lake not too far from your downtown hotel? Then you want to walk to Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center.
This convention center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And he did his job well, folks. The building’s terrace opens to beautiful panoramic views of Monona Lake.
As a solo traveler, grab a coffee or tea, and see Madison looking beautiful in the early morning or evening hours. I visited Monona Terrace on my own a few times to unwind and simply enjoy the water.
If you want to learn more about the building, public tours are available for only $5.00! Well worth the cost.
See Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Exhibits
Last but not least, another wonderful museum option for solo travelers in Madison is MMoCA (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art).
Admission is free to the museum, and you’ll see a lot of unique and fascinating exhibits. On my visit, I saw Natalie Frank: Unbound which consisted of paintings that showed a feminist interoperation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I loved the vivid colors and emphasis on female agency.
The MMoCA is also inside a beautifully decorated modern building that is quite Instagram worthy if I do say so myself!
You can find MMoCA at 227 State Street.
Practical Tips for Traveling Alone in Madison
I hope you had fun reading about all the great things to do in Madison WI alone.
I wanted to wrap up this solo travel guide with a couple of practical suggestions for your upcoming stay in Madison.
Getting Around Madison
You’ll likely fly into Dane County Airport if you’re arriving in Madison from out of state.
As a FYI, you all know how much I hate flying, but this airport immediately put my nerves at ease! On my trip, the birds were contently chirping outside and security literally took 15 seconds.
Seriously, I love this airport, and that means a lot coming from me.
Go to the Welcome Desk and call your hotel. Most hotels offer rides to and from the airport. For most travelers, a rental car is unnecessary, particularly if you want a downtown experience.
Safety in Madison
To tell you the truth, I didn’t have too many safety concerns in Madison at all. Solo travelers should have nothing to worry about as long as they exercise usual street smarts.
Because Madison is Wisconsin’s capital city, you might see protests about a variety of issues, but these protests are usually peaceful and shouldn’t concern visitors.
Honestly, as a solo traveler, the biggest threat to your safety is staying hydrated and protected from the sun. If you want to enjoy all these lakeside activities, wear a hat and sunscreen, and pack a water bottle! You will thank me later.
Where to Stay in Madison
Downtown Madison has a variety of hotels that suit any budget.
On my own trip, I had the honor of staying at The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club and highly recommend this hotel to all of my readers.
First of all, it’s easy for solo travelers to get to this hotel. At the airport, you call for a free shuttle and are picked up in a reasonable amount of time. No fussing with taxis!
Furthermore, this hotel is located right next to the Capitol, which puts you in the middle of all the action. Madison’s best and free attractions are within walking distance, which is perfect!
Also, if you access to the Governor’s Club, go at night for a cocktail to see Madison’s Capitol all lit up in the dark! So beautiful!
I hope you had a great time reading about these solo travel experiences in Madison WI! Will you be adding this city to your bucket list? You should!