Top Ten College Towns

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
Memorial Union Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin
CONGREGATE: Memorial Union Terrace is the University of Wisconsin's student gathering spot (John Maniaci)

5. University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin

Wedged between lakes Monona and Mendota, with a population of around 235,000, Madison, Wisconsin, is on the larger side for most traditional college towns, but it certainly has the right atmosphere. Locals and students alike make use of the city's unique geography by hiking and cross-country skiing as well as jogging around, boating on, and fishing in the lakes. One of the most popular attractions, the student union terrace, is right on the water. Like most college towns, Wisconsin Badger sports—especially Big Ten football and basketball—are huge pastimes in Madison, and alums remain fiercely loyal to the Badgers long after graduation.

Even in the offseason, Madison has a robust nightlife. Dive bars abound, but so do unique haunts like Paul's Club, which is famous for its unusual indoor decoration: a tree adorned with Christmas lights—even in July. For those who crave the club scene, Inferno is the place to be. Ska, 80s, hip-hop, and trance are pumped through the club's three levels and two bars until 2:30 A.M. on the weekends. Madison, the state capital, also offers many big-city fine-dining opportunities. Locavorism is alive and well at L'Etoile, where ingredients on the acclaimed menu are sourced straight from local organic farms. And Wisconsin alums swear by Ian's Pizza, purveyors of unusual but delicious slices like guacamole burrito and chicken cheddar bacon.

For those seeking culture, you'll find it in this progressive city. It is, after all, the birthplace of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed not only Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center but also the Unitarian Meeting House for his church, the First Unitarian Society. Madison is also known for its thriving music scene. The High Noon Saloon is the city's top spot for indie rock. And each summer the city hosts a number of music festivals, including the Waterfront Festival. Ultimately, though, Madison is a city in Wisconsin, the state that is perhaps most associated with beer. If visiting in the summer, plan your trip around The Great Taste of the Midwest craft beer festival.

Published: 18 Mar 2010 | Last Updated: 8 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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