Top 25 Holiday Things to do in Madison

Joe Marks
Joe Marks
Published on November 29, 2017

There is no shortage of things to do in Madison this holiday season!  Take a look at our top 25 list and enjoy this wonderful time of year!

Holiday Fantasy in Lights
Olin Park |Nov. 10th – Jan. 1st | Dusk to Dawn
Fill your hot chocolate mug and put on your best Christmas jammies for a ride through Madison’s Olin Park during the spectacular Holiday Fantasy in Lights.  One of the most iconic things to do in Madison during the holiday season, this event features LED holiday-themed light displays that are sure to delight the young and young at heart. Admission is free!  Lights are on from dusk until dawn daily and grab a candy cane at booths that are open from 4:00-10:00PM each evening.

Zoo Lights
Henry Vilas Zoo | Nov. 23rd – Dec. 30th | 5:30-9:00 PM
Everyone knows one of the best things to do in Madison is the FREE Henry Vilas Zoo.  This Christmas, see the zoo in a whole new light as thousands of Christmas lights cover this Madison treasure from top to bottom.  Zoo Lights is open on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 5:30-9:00PM and admission is $7 (children 3 and under are free).

Caroling in the Cave
Cave of the Mounds | Nov. 30th – Dec. 2nd | Times Vary (See Below)
Experience Cave of the Mounds as you never have with this year’s Caroling in the Cave Concert Series.  Listen to holiday music from a variety of local artists in one of the main chambers of the Cave of the Mounds.  Lit only by candlelight, this event is sure to bring magic to your holiday season.  As this is one of the more popular things to do in Madison this holiday, tickets must be purchased in advance. Showtimes are listed below:
Friday, Nov. 30th, 7-8 PM – Deliberate Vibration (A capella Vocal Band)
Saturday, Dec. 1st, 5-6 PM – greenTONE: Women Without Instruments
Saturday, Dec. 1st, 6:30-7:30 PM – greenTONE: Women Without Instruments
Sunday, Dec. 2nd, 3-4 PM – Old Benfana featuring Ken Lonnquist

Pictures with Santa & Holiday Crafting
DreamBank Madison | Dec. 1st, Dec. 8th, Dec. 15th, Dec. 22nd | 10:00AM – 1:00PM
Still looking for even more things to do in Madison this holiday season?  Jump on the Downtown Holiday Trolley and take a ride to the Madison DreamBank for a day of family fun!  Have free hot chocolate and create special Christmas crafts as a family.  Don’t forget to snap a family photo with Santa while you’re there!

91st Annual Christmas Concert
Edgewood College | Nov. 30th  – 7:00 PM & Dec. 1st – 2:30 PM
After over 90 years of performances, the Edgewood College Christmas concert is a staple on the list of things to do in Madison during the holidays.  This year, catch one of the two performances and usher in the holiday season with beautiful music featuring the Edgewood College choirs and concert band.  Take part in audience sing-alongs, hear prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and enjoy a post-concert reception with the Jazz Ensemble.  Seating is limited so purchase tickets early!  Tickets are $10 a person.  

Casas for CASA Gingerbread Contest
Madison Children’s Museum | Dec. 1st & 2nd | 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
The Madison Children’s museum is one of the most popular things to do in Madison all year long but stop in to the museum this holiday season to see teams competing in the annual Casas for CASA Gingerbread Contest.  To see the works in progress come on Saturday, otherwise, visit the museum on Sunday to see the completed gingerbread homes.  Vote for your favorite gingerbread house and build your own in the art studio as gingerbread themed projects will be available all weekend long. Admission to this special event is included with the price of admission to the Madison Children’s Museum.     

Holiday Tours at Governor’s Mansion
The Wisconsin Executive Residence | Dec. 1st, 8th, 12th, 13th, 19th & 20th | Times Vary
One of the most impressive things to do in Madison is tour the Executive Residence.  How much more impressive during the holiday season when the residence is decorated beautifully in its Christmas finest.  Tours are free throughout the holiday season.  Check here for available dates and times.   

Holiday Art Fair
Middleton Outreach Ministry | Dec. 1st – 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM & Dec. 2nd – 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Looking for some charitable things to do in Madison this holiday?  Shop from local artists’ creations ranging from pottery to jewelry to blown glass to clothing items at this year’s Holiday Art Fair.  Plus, 20% of all proceeds are donated to Madison Outreach Ministry’s homelessness prevention and hunger fighting programs.  Get everything you need for Christmas and support a great cause at the same time!  

Fair Trade Holiday Fest
Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center | Dec. 1st | 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Pick out unique, socially responsible gifts for family and friends at this years annual Fair Trade Holiday Festival.  One of the most humanitarian things to do in Madison this year…and it’s fun!   

A Madison Symphony Christmas
Overture Center | Nov. 30th, Dec. 1st, & Dec. 2nd | Times Vary
Celebrate the holiday season at the Overture Center with A Madison Symphony Christmas.  With so many things to do in Madison, take time to relax this holiday and enjoy the sounds of the season at this gorgeous concert!  Arrive 45 minutes early to hear Christmas carols sung by the Madison Symphony Chorus in the Overture Lobby

Victorian Holiday Weekend
Stoughton, WI | Nov. 29th – Dec. 2nd | Various Times
Start your holiday season off with a weekend in quaint Stoughton, WI for a celebration that has a little something for everyone.  From a Holiday Gala and Fundraiser to a bake sale to a Holiday Fire Truck Parade, celebrate this magical season with the ones you love at Stoughton’s annual Victorian Holiday Weekend!

Capitol Christmas Pageant
Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol | Dec. 2nd | 4:15 PM & 5:15 PM
Be a part of one of the most traditional holiday things to do in Madison with The Capitol Christmas Pageant.  Experience the Christmas story anew in this one of a kind depiction spread throughout the Capitol building’s rotunda.  Admission is free but arrive early to get a spot.  A truly one of a kind event you don’t want to miss!  

Run Santa Run 5K
Capitol Square | Dec. 1st | 3:10 PM
With so many fun things to do in Madison this holiday season it’s hard to decide what to choose.  This is one event you won’t want to miss! The Run Santa Run 5K is fun for the whole family.  There are four costume choices (with hats and shirts provided by the race) so decide whether you want to be Santa, an Elf, a Reindeer, or a Christmas tree then grab your buddies and enjoy a brisk walk or run together.  Don’t miss out on the post-race after party at several local bars.  Also, for some extra fun, beat the Grinch and enjoy a slice of free Ian’s Pizza!!  

Tea & Trains
Madison Children’s Museum | Dec. 1st | 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM
Bring the whole family to the Madison Children’s Museum for this highly anticipated annual event, Tea and Trains.  Watch the museum’s signature train collection as it passes by while you meet Bucky Badger, drink your tea and eat your treats, listen to Andi Brooks of Q106 read The Big Bucky Badger Mystery, and bid on the awesome selection of gifts in the silent auction.  Besides all this fun, there will also be a magician, balloon artist, a chance to have holiday family portraits taken, and old fashioned silhouette making!  Don’t miss out on this Madison tradition and get tickets right away! 

Olbrich’s Holiday Express
Olbrich Garden | Dec. 1st – 31st | 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM Daily
Another one of the classic holiday things to do in Madison is to watch the large-scale model trains at the annual Olbrich’s Holiday Express. Trains of many shapes and sizes wind through a forest of Christmas greenery at this year’s event.  

Bucky’s Breakfast with Santa
The Edgewater | Dec. 8th | 9:00 -11:00 AM
Don’t miss this beloved holiday event for kids and grown ups alike!  Bucky’s Breakfast with Santa offers holiday fun for the entire family, including photos with Santa, holiday brunch favorites, including scrambled eggs, yogurt bar, pigs in a blanket, and French toast sticks, craft stations and more!

Madison Ballet Nutcracker
Overture Center | Dec. 8th – 26th | Times Vary
Loved all over the world, the Nutcracker is a classic holiday season experience.  Be amazed as Clara and her Nutcracker prince dance their way into your hearts this holiday at the The Madison Ballet’s Nutcracker in the Overture Center.  Tickets are limited so get yours right away! 

Jingle Bell Run/Walk
Verona Area High School | Dec. 8th | 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Worried about that holiday weight and wanting active things to do in Madison?  Run for a cause and have fun doing it!  Dress up in your most festive holiday gear and raise funds to help find a cure for arthritis.  Register or donate here 

32nd Annual Children’s Holiday Party
Fitchburg Community Center | Dec. 9th | 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Check out this year’s 32nd Annual Children’s Holiday Party.  Complete with face painting, inflatable castle, hot chocolate, and more, this family event is sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Holiday Ornament Sale & Blow Your Own Glass Ornament Event
Art Lofts Glass Lab | Dec. 15th & 16th | 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Shop for those hard-to-buy-for relatives at this years annual Holiday Ornament Sale and “Blow Your Own Glass Ornament” event.  Choose from a variety of beautiful handmade gifts!  For added fun, blow your own glass ball ornament with the help of a UW glass student.  Advance registration opens Dec. 1 so be sure to reserve your spot to blow your glass ornament in advance – this is one of the most sought after things to do in Madison during the holidays.  Tickets are $45 and they sell out fast!

A Christmas Carol
Overture Center Capitol Theater | Dec. 8th – 23rd | Various Times
No matter how many times you’ve heard the story, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol always brings magic to the holiday season.  Watch in the beautiful Capitol Theater of the Overture Center as Scrooge transforms from a dower recluse to a grateful friend and be reminded of the joys of this special time of year.  Another one of the most traditional things to do in Madison during the holidays, get your tickets in advance.     

Waffles with Santa
DreamHouse DreamKitchens | Dec. 8th & 15th | 8:00 AM & 9:30 AM
Enjoy a delicious waffle breakfast and get your picture taken with Santa and Mrs. Clause at this year’s annual Waffles with Santa and Mrs. Clause.  Have your breakfast in the beautiful DreamHouse | DreamKitchens showroom and watch as your kids’ faces light up with the magic that comes from meeting Santa!

Nutcracker Preview
Friends of the Waisman Center Auditorium | Dec. 9th | 1:00 PM & 3:00 PM
If you’d love to give your children a taste of the holiday classic but aren’t sure they’re ready for the full performance, the Nutcracker Preview might be perfect for you!  This special performance is geared specifically for younger audiences.  Including young dancers and exciting costumes, sets, and choreography, this production will delight those children in your life!

Holiday Tea at the Statehouse
The Statehouse at the Edgewater | Dec. 15th & 16th |2:30 & 3:00 PM
Looking for kid-free things to do in Madison this holiday? Celebrate the season at the second annual Holiday Tea at The Statehouse. Enjoy a traditional English-style afternoon tea, complete with currant scones, finger sandwiches, delicious desserts and more. Seatings are available at 2:30pm & 3 pm on both December 15 & 16.

Madison Family Eve
Monona Terrace | Dec. 31st | 4:00 -7:30 PM
This longstanding family tradition is an always popular holiday thing to do in Madison.  Ring in the new year with family and friends at Madison Family Eve, a unique celebration perfect for the whole family.  Enjoy the magic show, play laser tag, jump in the children’s inflatables, or just sit back and listen to the live music.  However you choose to participate, don’t miss this exciting family event this New Year’s Eve.  Don’t forget to stay until the end for the incredible balloon drop!