Skip to main content

Best views on and around UW–Madison’s campus

September 13, 2017 By Emily Hamer

Birds soar across the sky and boats sail across Lake Mendota on Aug. 23, 2017. Emily Hamer

With two lakes, scenic trails and impressive city architecture, Madison strikes a balance between the natural and the industrial.

All around the city, and even right here on campus, you’ll find a variety of vistas that you’ll want to take in again and again. From the Capitol to Observatory Hill, art museums to the Terrace, there’s no way your eyes will get bored. 

To get you started on your visual journey, here are some of the best views on and around the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s campus.

Roof of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

For a great view of the Capitol and State Street, head up to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s rooftop restaurant, Fresco. Whether admiring the Museum’s sculpture garden or dining outside, MMOCA’s rooftop offers some terrific sights.

The roof of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Emily Hamer

Northwest end of North Henry Street

In the Langdon neighborhood, where North Henry Street meets Lake Mendota, a wooden staircase leads down to the water’s edge. Take a seat underneath the willow trees and watch the boats sail across the water.

A sailboat glides across Lake Mendota on Aug. 18, 2017 near N Henry Street. Emily Hamer

Chazen Museum of Art

In addition to housing the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin, the Chazen Museum also has a bridge gallery that overlooks Library Mall. Whether looking down over Library Mall or taking in more than 20,000 works of art, the Chazen has plenty of opportunities for you to feast your eyes.

The Chazen’s bridge gallery overlooking Library Mall.  Emily Hamer

Wisconsin Historical Society library overlook

On the third floor of the Wisconsin Historical Society is a small observation deck that overlooks the building’s library. Trek up the marble staircases and sit in the balcony to get a bird’s eye view of one of the most impressive libraries on campus. And don’t forget to gaze up at the ornate ceiling architecture before you leave.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s library Emily Hamer

Roof of the Education Building

If you’re looking for a quiet place to study or have lunch, the roof of the education building offers tranquil seating and a beautiful view of Lake Mendota. Sit back in one of the wooden chairs look out over the trees across the lake — all while among the bushes and flowers planted along the roof.

The roof of the Education Building Emily Hamer

Memorial Union Terrace

With the iconic chairs, gorgeous sunsets, and boats coming in and out of the marina, the Terrace offers some of the best views on UW’s campus. Pull up a chair and relax by the water before the warm weather runs out!

A sailboat takes off from the Memorial Union Terrace docks on Aug. 18, 2017. Emily Hamer

Nancy Nicholas Hall rooftop terrace

If you’re looking for a more industrial view, head up to the rooftop terrace of Nancy Nicholas Hall, also known as the School of Human Ecology Building.

With the unique Tetris-like design of the McArdle Cancer Research Building in front of you, Henry Mall off to your right and purple and yellow flowers surrounding you, at Nancy Nicholas Hall you get to experience the city and a garden all at once.

The view from Nancy Nicholas Hall’s rooftop terrace. Emily Hamer

Wisconsin State Capitol Observation Deck

You see the Capitol building from campus almost every day — maybe even using it as a landmark for when you get lost — but one thing you might not know is that you can go inside and explore Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Take in the elaborate rotunda inside, or if it’s summer, check out the Observation Deck for a 360° view of the city of Madison, including UW’s campus. Unfortunately, the deck closed labor day, but it will reopen next year on Memorial Day.

The view from the Capitol Observation Deck. Emily Hamer

Observatory Hill

For the most expansive view of Lake Mendota, head to the top of Observatory Drive. Enjoy the view of Picnic Point, the full length of Lake Mendota and the north and east sides of Madison. Just choose a comfortable spot on the grassy hill and take in the vista.

Better yet, come back in the winter for one of the best sledding hills on campus.

The view from the top of Observatory Hill.

Picnic Point

Arguably the best view of UW–Madison can be seen from Picnic Point. You get a full view of Madison’s skyline, including campus. Plus, on your way there you get tons of glimpses of the lake and trees along Lake Shore Path. For the best view, wake up early in the morning to see the sun rise over campus.

The view looking from Picnic Point to the Capitol September 10, 2017. Emily Hamer

Know of spots on campus with even better views? Email us at to let us know!