There are many college towns in the country, but there are none better than Madison, Wisconsin. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama is tied with Madison a top my list of college football experiences in case the SEC fans start going wild.) Wisconsin has been rated the #2 party school in the country, so you know the people in town like to have a good time. The Badgers may not have a team that competes for national championships, but they’re always competing for the Big Ten title. Midwestern people are very friendly and welcoming, so you’ll feel right at home for the weekend.
You won’t eat healthy, but you’re not supposed to while enjoying a football weekend and Madison sure knows how to make that unhealthy food taste wonderful. Get ready to shake your keys before kickoff and jump around before the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium as you embrace the Wisconsin spirit head on.
When to Go
The University of Wisconsin resides in the West Division of the Big Ten, meaning it alternates home and road games every year with Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Purdue. Nebraska and Iowa mark the best games on Wisconsin’s schedule, so you’ll enjoy your football the most if you can set up your trip to see one of those games.
As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by. You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Wisconsin because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options like StubHub and eBay or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets.
You can also try working the tailgates before the game to see if anyone’s selling, but it’s probably worth securing the tickets earlier if you’re traveling all that way.
Madison is big enough to have its own airport and offers flights daily to major cities in the Midwest like Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Dallas, while also reaching Atlanta, Denver, and New York. Madison is also less than an hour and a half drive from Milwaukee, whose airport has more flights daily. Chicago is only two and a half hours away with Des Moines and Minneapolis within a four and a half hour drive as well. Unfortunately, there’s no train service into Madison, but you can catch an Amtrak from Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis that stops in Columbus, 28 miles away.
Where to Stay
Madison is bigger than most college towns given that it’s the capital of Wisconsin, but getting around in taxis can be an ordeal given their availability on football weekends. Thankfully there’s plenty of options downtown. The Doubletree is right on campus and the Hilton, Hyatt Place, and Best Western Plus are near the Capitol Building. There are also other smaller hotels downtown like The Campus Inn. You’ll find a pocket of hotels less than a ten-minute drive south of downtown like the Sheraton and the Holiday Inn Express.
They’re right off the highway and can be useful if downtown is already booked up. Per usual you’ll need to book well in advance for football weekends.
If the hotel situation is dire by the time you start booking, you should look into renting a house or a condo via VRBO or AirBNB. Look for places within walking distance to State Street and University Ave because that’s where most of the bars are located.