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Cheap of the Month gives a snapshot of a cheap weekend getaway each month.

It’s warming up in the Midwest (finally) and it’s time to get outside. Madison, Wisconsin is a great place to get outdoors for cheap. Named for James Madison and nestled between Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison is small but mighty. A population of about 250,000 makes it the second largest city in the state after Milwaukee, but small enough to be a breath of fresh air if you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby Chicago.

 

The drive to Madison. Courtesy of Sarah Kolb-Williams at www.kolbwilliams.com/.

The drive to Madison. Courtesy of Sarah Kolb-Williams at www.kolbwilliams.com/.

Plane, train or automobile — Depending on where you are coming from, car is probably the best way to arrive in Madison. The town is small enough that you won’t have to worry about parking or traffic, and it would be good to have some wheels to get into the countryside. There are a couple regional airports surround Madison, but the closest commercial airport is in Milwaukee, about a 1.5-hour drive east. Chicago is about a 2.5-hour drive. Hotels are available for less than $100 per night.

 

A row of Madison B-cycles near University of Wisconsin's campus. Courtesy of Phil Roeder.

A row of Madison B-cycles near University of Wisconsin’s campus. Courtesy of Phil Roeder.

Cheap local transit — Madison’s Metro Transit busses cover most of the city. You can buy a one-day pass for $4.50 when you hop on the bus, or a single-ride pass for $2. A better way to get around may be by bike. Rent a bike for the day from Madison B-cycle, the city’s bike share program. It’s $3 per half hour or $5 per day, and there are 39stations throughout the city.

 

A spring day on State Street. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

A spring day on State Street. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Dine on student’s budget — State Street is the hip place to be around dinner time. It links the University of Wisconsin campus with Capitol Square and is littered with cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that target the student population. Hope you rented that bike, because no cars are allowed on this street.

 

Heirloom tomatoes at Dane County Farmers Market. Courtesy of Emily Mills.

Heirloom tomatoes at Dane County Farmers Market. Courtesy of Emily Mills.

Eat local — Every summer Saturday, farmers from around the area submerge on the Capitol lawn for the Dane County Farmers Market. Buy some local Wisconsin cheese or other produce. Or, just go for the samples.

 

Courtesy of Sara.

Courtesy of Sara.

Have a brewski — Milwaukee holds the working title of Beer Town, but Madison is certainly not lacking in great breweries. Check out one of the cities dozen breweries, such as Ale Asylum or Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company for a taste and a bite to eat. You can tour most of them for a reasonable price, too. If you hold off on your visit, the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival is held the second Saturday of August. Tickets go on sale this month.

 

Kayaker on Lake Wingra in Madison, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Kayaker on Lake Wingra in Madison, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Love the lakes — Madison is known as the “City of Four Lakes,” so get out on one. Going by kayak is recommended. There are a slew of kayak companies around town. You can rent one for the day for about $25, or pay a little extra for a guided tour.

Hoyt Park in Madison. Courtesy of Kenneth Casper.

Hoyt Park in Madison. Courtesy of Kenneth Casper.


Hit the trails —
They say there are more bikes than cars in the Madison area, and they have the bike trails to back it up. There are more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails in and around Madison, so take your pic for a free and physical activity. Try an easy, two-hour ride around Lake Monona to get your blood pumping.

Tagged: Cheap of the Month, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Events, FREE!

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