Things to do in Madison in Winter

Finding the Fun Over Winter Break: Things to Do in Madison

Published on December 23rd, 2015
By Jennifer Oppriecht

Photo credit: Jordan Richmond

Good-bye students. Hello winter ghost town. Madison clears out quite a bit during winter break, leaving apartment renters (especially students) left behind, wondering what to do in Madison. Our suggestions for things to do in Madison include new 2016 updates from last year’s list!


Wisconsin Historical Museum: The museum celebrates the history and shared experiences of the many cultures that shaped our state.  This year they’re featuring “Wisconsin Goes Hollywood.” The exhibit features Wisconsinites who have made it to Hollywood – runs until Feb. 13, 2016.

Hop Head Beer Tours.
Offering brewery, distillery and winery bus and bike tours. Hop Head Beer Tours promises you will have a fun, safe and educational experience – and notes the tours are NOT a party bus or pub crawl. Check their website for tour dates.

Hop Head Beer Tours Logo

Photo courtesy of


Ice Skating (and more) at The EdgewaterMadison’s landmark hotel and resort has a year under its belt, and features fantastic views, restaurants, lounges, spa and, you guessed it, ice skating! Check their website for special holiday packages.

Tour the Wisconsin State Capitol
Sure, you see it all the time, but have you actually been on a tour?  Great nuggets of Capitol trivia await:  did you know that over 40 different types of stone from around the world were used in the construction?  Plenty more where that came from, baby.  The tours also include insight on the Capitol murals, with fascinating stories behind each of the paintings, and much, much more.  Best of all – it’s FREE.

Interior of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building

Help the Less Fortunate:  
Have some spare time?  The local food pantries and homeless shelters are always looking for help.  Take a look at River Food Pantry and Porchlight.

Food Pantry for the hungry in Madison

Photo courtesy of

Providing there is snow, it’s a great time to take a ride down Elizabeth Waters hill on Observatory Drive.  For true adventure, trek out to Elver Park and ride the mammoth hill where Bo Ryan runs his troops into the ground.  The City of Madison’s website provides info on nine sledding hills.


Tour the Chazen Museum of Art
You walk past it every day, but have you ever taken a look inside the Chazen.  Or, if the weather outside is frightful, pour yourself a cup of cocoa and explore the entirety of their work online.

Sculpture in Chazen Art Museum

Photo courtesy of

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art provides free exhibitions and education programs for city residents and visitors. Housed within the Overture Center for the Arts, current exhibits include the art of Ellen Lanyon, a celebrated painter and printmaker who grew up in Chicago and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1948.

Madison Contemporary Art

Old Sugar Distillery
Located on East Main Street, the Old Sugar Distillery has informal tours and will provide you with everything you need to know about their homemade products, including Honey Liqueur, Cane and Abe Rum and more.

Old Sugar Distillery

Photo courtesy of

Henry Vilas Zoo:
Visit Henry Vilas Zoo for a glimpse at the real thing – a Bengal tiger.  You’ll also see African lions, tortoises from the Galapagos Islands, our favorite, the capybara, and our buddies the lemurs (pictured below).

Henry Vilas Zoo lemurs

Photo courtesy of

Ice Skating in Madison Parks
Ice skate rentals and concessions are available at Elver, Tenney and Vilas Park.  You’ll also find group ice skating lessons!

Ice Skating in Madison

Photo courtesy of

Visit Ye Old Microbrews (and Macro-Brews):
Madison is home to some great microbrews, including the refurbished Ale Asylum, the Vintage Brewing Company, the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company and Granite City out by West Towne Mall.  We also have the Capital Brewery in Middleton with brewery tours. Recent additions include the Next Door Brewing Company  and One Barrel Brewing Company.

Hike the Ice Age Trail
The Ice Age Trail is one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States.   It just so happens that it meanders through Dane County.

Ice Age Trail

Photo courtesy of

Take some Walking Tours
You can plan a tour of one of Madison’s historic districts by visiting the City of Madison’s Planning Division website. You’ll find fourteen pre-planned, self-guide tour maps complete with anecdotal history.

Lake Monona with the State Capitol in the background

Check out the Local Band Scene: 
If you’ve been too immersed in schoolwork to get a taste of live music scene, you’re seriously missing out.  You’ll find band performance listed on The Isthmus and this Yelp Listing shows all the local Madison live music locales.

High Noon Saloon in Madison

Photo courtesy of

Go Snowshoeing or Cross Country Skiing: 
Once again, if snow allows, you should take a look at snowshoeing.  The DNR provides a complete list of Wisconsin snowshoe trails. The City of Madison has a fantastic cross-country skiing page, and you can reach out to the Ski Trail Hotline for trail conditions at 608-242-4576.

Cross country skiing

Photo courtesy of

Take Classes: 
The Memorial Union offers classes on snow skiing, speed reading, and other interests, including  Wheelhouse Studios.

Art Class at Wheelhouse Studios

Photo courtesy of

Visit Devil’s Lake State Park
A spring and summertime favorite, Devil’s Lake State Park also features sledding, hiking and snowshoeing.  Added bonus: Snowshoes are available for FREE in January.

Go Snowboarding and Downhill Skiing: 
We’re not sure how we missed this in last year’s listing, but Tyrol Basin and Devil’s Head are both great places for snowboarding and downhill skiing.  You may also want to check into the UW Hoofers Ski and Snowboard club.

Tyrol Basin hill

Photo courtesy of

Freeze Your — Off for a Good Cause: 
Madison allows its inmates to express their insanity and help charitable organizations in the process. Freeze for Food is a 5K/10K run/walk at Vilas park, and it’s scheduled for Saturday, January 23, 2016.

Freeze for Food 5k

Photo courtesy of

Walk the UW Arboretum: 
The Arboretum offers natural beauty year-round.  There are also numerous walks, lectures, and volunteer opportunities during the winter. Includes ski and snowshoe trails too!

UW Arboretum in Wintertime

Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller

Try Snow Tubing: 
Ride down a snowy 1,000 foot chute at Cascade Mountain – all in a tube!  Great activity if you’re not a skier or snowboarder.

Clean House, Read a Book or Apartment Hunt: 
You’ve got some time on your hands, so why not take the time to clean out your apartment or catch up on your reading.  De-clutter, get rid of the junk and try and re-organize and/or redecorate and expand your mind.  The new look will feel better and make you more productive.

Tidying up the apartment kitchen

Things to do in Madison in Winter

We’ve likely just scratched the surface, and we’re sure you’ve got a few ideas to offer. Add a comment below and let us know what we’ve missed. Then enjoy the time off while you can.

You can win every month with our blog bonus!

Cash, Discounts, Gift Certificates and More!
Enter to win now!

Get Full Access to our Renter Resources!

Sign up for our monthly newsletter and you’ll also get full access to all Steve Brown Apartments renter resources, including our Subletter Guide and New Lease checklist!

You have Successfully Subscribed!