The 5 Best Madison Summer Festivals

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Capitol building and lake Mendota

Summer is a great time to be in Madison, Wisconsin. The weather is mild, the Terrace is open, and the town loses roughly a quarter of its population as a result of UW’s summer recess. The city’s mood is relaxed and as sunny as the weather. Plus, a series of outdoor festivals provide a wealth of culture, food, and merriment.

Here at ABODO, we aren’t just experts at finding you cheap apartments in Madison. We’re also based in Wisconsin’s capital, so we’re quite familiar with the best ways to get outside and enjoy the warmer months. Here are our five favorite Madison summer festivals.

1. Brat Fest
When most people think of Wisconsin, they think of three things: brats, curds, and beer. All three can be found at Brat Fest, which has sold over 3.8 million brats every Memorial Day weekend since 1983. With outdoor vendors, rides, and great musical acts — this year the headliner is George Clinton — Brat Fest is fun for all ages. Plus, it’s free, and all proceeds from food and beverage sales go to local charities. (May 26-29. Free.)

2. Waterfront Festival
Waterfront Festival is a lighthearted, nautically themed celebration held annually in Tenney Park, on the shores of Lake Mendota. The festival brings vendors, kids’ activities, and music on two stages to a gorgeous outdoor setting on the water for two days of fun. The sounds from the stage tend toward jazz and world music, with a healthy smattering of children’s music as well. Don’t miss the Fool’s Flotilla, an aquatic canoe parade down the Yahara River. (June 10-11. Free.)

3. Concerts on the Square
Ok, so it’s not a festival per se… but one of the best things about living in Madison in the summer is sitting on the Capitol Square lawn, a Spotted Cow in hand, while the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays selections from Holst’s The Planets. Concerts on the Square is a much-beloved Madison summer tradition, bringing thousands to downtown Madison every Wednesday evening from late June through late July. Local businesses offer picnic packages, but it’s always possible to BYOB. (every Wednesday from June 28 to August 2. Free.)

4. Fete de Marquette
Some of Madison’s best summer festivals are localized neighborhood parties. Fete de Marquette, which runs in Central Park from July 14-17, is put on by the Wil-Mar Community Center on the isthmus and is co-sponsored by the Willy Street Co-Op. It’s a celebration of all things east side: sustainable food, local beer, games for kids, and two music stages, one for acoustic acts (many of them reggae and folk) and one for EDM. (July 14-17. Free.)

5. Atwood Fest
Atwood, the neighborhood just to the east of Willy Street/Marquette, has become one of the hottest real estate markets in Madison in recent years. With an ever-increasing number of bars, restaurants, and shops, it’s a thriving corridor for local businesses. Atwood Fest, which brings two days of music, food carts, and general merriment to the stretch of Atwood Avenue between Winnebago and Dunning, is a yearly celebration of everything that makes the area unique. (July 29-30. Free.)