Don’t get me wrong, I love Chicago. It’s one of my favorite places to visit and it’s the first “big city” I ever visited. I can remember being twelve or thirteen years-old and going to stay with my mom’s cousins outside the city. We visited shops, went downtown to see the skyscrapers and I began eating food I never knew existed. I really credit this life experience as the one that opened up my mind to see just what existed beyond the world I grew up in.
So Chicago, I still love you. But, today I’m going to talk about Madison, Wisconsin, Chicago’s little sister to the north.
To many people outside the Midwest, Madison is just another podunk city in flyover country. To us, Madison was out state capital but also the “weird big city”. The people who live in Madison had different lives than those of us in the rest of the state. It’s where you went to university if you were smart enough to get in, and getting accepted to UW-Madison was really a big deal in our small community. Truthfully, the people that I knew always said Madison was a little “weird”.
But, as an adult it’s a different story. Madison is a really interesting city and worth spending a few days. If giant cities like Chicago aren’t your thing, then I highly encourage you to consider Madison.
There are a lot of really interesting things to do in Madison and it’s becoming a city that not only serves as the state capital but has a lot of cultural activities happening inside and outside the university community. One major plus from a planning side? Madison hotels, including the five-star variety are half or three-quarters the price that a Chicago hotel rents for!
Chicago is home to over 3 million people – Madison has just over 300,000 making it a lot more manageable! This matters for a few reasons. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Midwest nice,” well it’s true. In Madison you’ll quickly see people are very friendly and the city has a small town feel.
Food and Drink
Madison is in the heart of farm country – and not just the dairy industry. The city, in fact the entire state, has seen a big surge in the local food movement. From local dairies, bakeries, and produce vendors to locally sourced and raised meats and fish, Madison restaurants are taking the best products around them and creating fantastic food.
If you love beer, there’s no where better in America to go than Wisconsin. The craft brew movement is HUGE in Wisconsin and you’ll find dozens of options in Madison. Great Taste of the Midwest is a giant craft brew festival held yearly in the city bringing the best beer in the Midwest to one place.
Visit L’Etoile or Graze both headed by James Beard winning Chef Tory Miller, they’re some of the hottest restaurants in the city. On par with some of Chicago’s great restaurants you’ll pay a fraction of the price in Madison as you will in downtown Chi-town. With a knack for quirky names check out other Madison restaurants like A Pig in a Fur Coat, The Old Fashioned, or Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry. You have to drop into Ian’s Pizza, a cult-classic in Madison. Try a slice of mac and cheese pizza (or another of their quirky combos) just because.
Did you know Madison has more rock concert’s per capita than any other city in the United States except for Austin, TX? Even better, they have one of the cheapest prices per ticket. Sure you can see headliners in Chicago but it’s going to cost you! There are loads of venues all over the city with live music every night.
One of the biggest events that happens in Madison each year is Halloween. Nowhere in the Midwest does it bigger or better than Madison – not even Chicago. There are family friendly parties and activities and lots of parties for adults too. Freakfest combines music and Halloween on State Street (Madison’s biggest party street) for the festivities. Ten years ago the party was HUGE and gained a reputation for getting out of control. Today the crowds are smaller and it’s a more tame event.
Sure, winters are cold but they’re cold in Chicago too! Five lakes nearby Madison offer lots of opportunity to get out on the water, in the middle of the city! There’s more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails in the city and immediate surrounding areas.
Bicycling is popular and Madison was ranked #4 for it’s accessibility and number of cycling paths. There’s also a bike share program if you need to borrow one. (Chicago didn’t rank in the top 10). It also is considered one of the greenest cities in America thanks to factors like a growing number of green jobs and more bikes than cars per capita – Chicago ranks #45 on this list.
It’s no surprise that Chicago is full of people from all over the world, like most major metro cities in the US. But Madison too is not as monolithic as you may think. Early immigration and migration to the area was largely German, Scandinavian, and African American. In recent years Hmong, Hispanic, Chinese and Indian have become much more common. Thanks also to the university there are international students and staff from around the world that call Madison home.
So why choose Madison? What’s not to love about great museums, delicious food, a beautiful environment at a fraction of the cost a visit to Chicago runs?
This post was brought to you thanks to the support of trip.com.
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