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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Fun and free activities for every Badger

Orientation and move-in day are just around the corner for the newest batch of Badgers at UW-Madison! For impressionable freshmen and cultured seniors alike, downtown Madison has no end of charming restaurants and activities.

While you will certainly be kept busy upon arrival with seminars and exploring campus, you may also find yourself spending a bit more money than you intended. Between eating out, losing ready access to a kitchen and getting swipe-happy with your brand new Wiscard, you may find yourself at a loss when it comes to finding some fun activities that also fit into the college budget. Luckily, there is plenty to do in Madison without getting concerned texts from your parents about that dwindling checking account.

The Zoo

Henry Vilas Zoo is renowned in Madison for its variety of wildlife and beautiful location in the Vilas neighborhood. If you are already on the south side of campus, the zoo is within walking distance. And if you’re not, there is also a bus line that can take you there with your free ASM student bus pass. Admission is free all day every day, and if you feel like splurging a little bit the concessions food is pretty reasonably priced and worth your money to keep a well-run establishment going!

Free Movies

The Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee is student-run and has been providing campus and the Madison community alike with free films since 1940. Every week during the school year they show a variety of films, sometimes old and sometimes just a month or two after the original theater debut. During the summer they often do screenings at Memorial Union as well. Give yourself plenty of time to head over to the Marquee when it’s a popular weekend showing, because seats fill up fast! Be sure to check out their Facebook page and website to stay on top of what’s coming next.


Madison has quite a history, so naturally it also has a stockpile of museums. Popular choices near campus include the Chazen Museum of Art and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Situated right next to the Humanities building, the Chazen has a rotating stock of art from just about every time period, and admission is free. The Historical Society is just across the street, and besides being a beautiful building with a hidden library on the second floor, it is chock-full of historical photographs and knick-knacks that you can browse at no extra cost. The Veterans Museum is a bit of a walk, located at the head of State Street up by the Capitol, but it is also a no-charge display of dioramas, life-size figures and painted murals.


Located between two lakes, you have to admit that the summertime and late fall beauty of campus had to be a significant factor in your decision to attend UW-Madison. Be sure to really take in the downtown scene by meandering over to Picnic Point for a fun little hike or bonfire. If you’re willing to get off campus, Madison has several other little parks and beaches scattered across the isthmus. Some options include the popular James Madison Park on Lake Mendota, B.B. Clarke Beach on Lake Monona, the Olbrich Gardens and several others.

These are only a handful of cost-effective options for a fun day in Madison, and they all have flexible enough hours to make either a good study break or a good alternative to a pricey night on the town. Have fun exploring, future Badgers!

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