A Cheapskate’s Guide to Summer in Madison

Summer is a wonderful time to be in Madison: The weather’s nice, the grass is green, and after classes end at UW, the city has an appealingly laid-back, half-empty feel. It’s a great time to kick off your shoes, relax, and find something to do outside that cheap Madison apartment we helped you find. Best of all, you don’t have to be flush with cash to enjoy yourself. Wisconsin’s capital has a multitude of free, fun activities during the summer months. Here are four of our favorites.

  1. Concerts on the Square
    Few things are better than sitting on the Capitol Square lawn, a Spotted Cow in hand, while the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays selections from Holst’s The Planets. Concerts on the Square is a much-beloved Madison summer tradition, bringing thousands to downtown Madison every Wednesday evening from late June through late July. Local businesses offer picnic packages, but it’s always possible to BYOB.
  2. The Terrace After Dark
    You probably know that the UW Memorial Union Terrace is one of the best places in the city to catch a sunset (and some suds). But did you know that there’s a full schedule of programming during the summer months, May through August? On Sundays and Mondays, the Terrace projects films on a giant white screen — this summer, Sundays are for beach-related films, and Mondays are dedicated to the filmography of Samuel L. Jackson. Wednesday through Saturday bring musical acts of all styles. Best of all, it’s totally free.
  3. Garden Walks and Tours at the Arboretum
    The Arboretum is one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in a famously beautiful city. It features three distinct gardens: the Viburnum Garden, the Wisconsin Native Plant Garden, and the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, which features over 6,000 trees, shrubs, and native woody plants. It can all be a little overwhelming, which is why guided walks and tours are such a good idea. Public walks take place every Sunday at 1 pm, and expert-led tours of the Longenecker and Wisconsin Native Plant Gardens head out every summer Wednesday from 7 pm until dark, as well as Saturdays at 1 pm.
  4. Fete de Marquette
    Some of Madison’s best summer festivals are localized neighborhood parties. Fete de Marquette, which runs in Central Park July 14 to 17, is put on by the Wil-Mar Community Center on the isthmus and is co-sponsored by the Willy Street Co-op. It’s a celebration of all things east side: sustainable food, local beer, games for kids, and two music stages, one for acoustic acts (many of them reggae and folk) and one for EDM.
  5. Riding the Lake Loop Trail
    Madison is one of the best cities in the country for cyclists, with hundreds of miles of bike paths and lanes. One of the best is the Lake Loop trail, which circumnavigates Lake Monona. At a little over 14 miles, it’s long enough to break a sweat out without being totally exhausting. Much of the trail is right on the water, which will allow you to feel that nice lake breeze on your back. Plus, the segments of the trail in Monona and on John Nolen offer incredible views of the Madison skyline.