The small city of Madison is located in Jefferson County, Indiana, United States.
It was founded in 1809 and was an important center for river trade and commerce in the 19th century.
It has a population of around 12,000 locals and it is the largest city between Cincinnati and Louisville.
The city’s National Historic Landmark District boasts over 130 blocks of stunning 19th-century architecture, featuring Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate styles.
Madison is renowned for its grand collection of over 2,000 historic buildings, each telling a unique story of the city’s growth and development.
One of Madison’s crown jewels is the Lanier Mansion, a majestic Greek Revival mansion built in the 1840s. This opulent residence once belonged to James F. D. Lanier, a prominent banker and statesman.
Interested in knowing more about Madison? Let’s explore together the top and most fun 15 things to do in Madison, IN:
Things to Do in Madison, Indiana
1. Check out the Francis Costigan House
The Francis Costigan House was built in the 1850s and it is representative of the architectural design of the 19th century.
Francis Costigan is the architect who designed the house, following the Greek Revival design.
You will be able to admire not only the captivating exterior but also the interior decorations with handcrafted wooden pieces.
The house is emblematic of how people used to live two centuries ago and it will give you a time-travel experience as soon as you get inside.
The fee for a complete house tour is $5. Make sure to check the tour schedule on their website and call 812-265-2697 if you wish to schedule a tour.
2. Discover local history highlights at Eleutherian College
There are plenty of historical places to check out in Madison and the Eleutherian College should have its place on your list. Here you will learn a lot about the main figures who created the Madison we know today.
The Eleutherian Institute was founded in 1848 by The Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society.
Eleutherian comes from “eleutheros”, a Greek word that stands for “freedom” and it was known for admitting students with no discrimination of race or ethnicity.
The building of Eleutherian College dates back to 1850, and it is very impressive to visit by itself.
Also, the college was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, and in 1997, it became a National Historic Landmark.
You will need to make an appointment to visit the college but the experience is worth it.
3. Visit Madison Railroad Station Museum
You will find the Madison Railroad Station Museum within Madison’s History Center Campus and you can easily spend a few hours here.
You will find the original equipment that was used along with the history of the railroad station as well as equipment used in its construction of it.
Each piece in this museum comes with an interesting story that you will be able to read in its description.
Once you check the railroad station museum, you will have a better understanding of the way the railroad system impacted the city’s growth over the decades.
4. Visit the Lanier Mansion Historic Site
This mansion was also designed by Francis Costigan in the 19th century and it is just as impressive as you would expect it to be, given the era it represents.
Dating from 1844, the building carries a lot of impressive details that make it stand out among other constructions.
FD Lanier, a railroad developer, and a banker owned this mansion and enriched it with a lot of unique decorations specific to the 19th century, that you will be able to admire as you are visiting.
5. Explore the beautiful Clifty Falls State Park
The Clifty Falls State Park spoils you with the best natural beauties Madison has to offer. It is situated right on the Ohio River and you can find fascinating waterfalls as you take your walks through the park.
There are plenty of spots to enjoy a picnic or play some outdoor activities with your friends or your pet as well. So, if you like to hike, there are several hiking trails inside the park that you can try out.
Look for the information center to find out more about the park and also about the types of activities you can enjoy here!
There are over 350,000 visitors that enjoy the beauty of the Clifty Falls State Park each year and you could be one of them if you go to Madison.
6. Try out the local beer at Mad Paddle Brewstillery
Brewing high-quality beer is another beautiful aspect of Madison that you will love. The brewing beer history here took off between 1823 and 1918 and the city became famous for it.
Mad Paddle Brewstillery is the best place in Madison to taste local beer and learn more about the process of making this delicious drink.
The brewery was launched by the Wade brothers in 2018 and it became an attraction point almost instantly.
The place hosts events such as music concerts and you can rent it for a private event as well.
7. Admire the architecture of the Sullivan House
If you love architecture and beautiful buildings, you can’t miss the Sullivan House in Madison. This house belonged to Judge Jeremiah Sullivan in the 19th century and it is one of the oldest buildings in town.
Urban legends say that Sullivan also named the city of Indianapolis.
The design of the house has a strong Federal style that offers the building a certain charm and personality. It dates back to 1818 and it is considered the first mansion in Madison.
The Sullivan family lived in this house for over 70 years and the place now operates under Historic Madison, Inc.
If you are interested in booking a tour of the house, contact Historic Madison and consider that there is a $5 fee per person.
8. Have a relaxing day at Crystal Beach Pool
The pool has been functioning since 1938 and it is the place where many locals and tourists decide to hang out during the hot, summer days.
The water has different levels of depth so you can get as deep as you are comfortable with and it is built in a completely safe structure.
Besides the pool, here you will find a bathhouse that is made out of stone and still has its original design.
9. Discover the herbs at the Stream Cliff Farms
Stream Cliff Farms is one of the farms that made history in the region. You can find all kinds of organic herbs and other types of food here, as well as original wine. However, the market is not open daily all year round.
You can find the farm open on Saturdays, between 12.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. and if you want to visit it on other days, you should check their website for the updated schedule.
Some events take place here such as the Barn Market and it is very much worth it to check them out if you are in the area.
10. Try out original sweets at Cocoa Safari Chocolates
Who doesn’t like chocolate? While you are in Madison, you can’t miss the Cocoa Safari Chocolates. While there are many places where you can find tasty sweets in Madison, this is where you want to go for chocolate art.
At Cocoa Safari Chocolates you will find all kinds of artisanal sweets that will steal your heart and spoil your taste buds.
The shop was opened in 2005, and the team aims for creating the best-tasting chocolate sweets and a wide variety to satisfy all expectations.
11. Take a riverboat cruise on the Ohio River
A typical riverboat cruise on the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana offers scenic views of the river and its surroundings, as well as opportunities to learn about the history and culture of the area. The experience can vary depending on the specific tour company and package you choose.
Some of these cruises typically last several days and include meals, accommodations, and various on-board activities and entertainment options.
If you’re looking for a shorter riverboat experience, some local tour companies offer sightseeing cruises that last between one and two hours.
These tours typically depart from Madison’s riverfront area and may include narration about the city’s history and landmarks, as well as views of the area’s wildlife and scenery.
12. Attend a live performance at the historic Ohio Theatre
The Ohio Theatre itself is a piece of history, as it was built in 1938 as a movie theater and was later restored in 2000 to its original Art Deco design.
The building features beautiful architectural details, such as the intricate plasterwork on the walls and ceiling, the neon marquee, and the original Wurlitzer organ.
Before attending a performance at the Ohio Theatre, travelers should know that seating is limited, so it is best to purchase tickets in advance.
13. Sample some local wines at Madison Vineyards Estate Winery
Madison Vineyards Estate Winery offers a variety of wines that visitors can sample. The winery specializes in producing dry, European-style wines using grapes grown on-site in their vineyards.
Some of the wines available for tasting include Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Riesling. They also offer a few sweet wines, such as their Blackberry Wine and Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.
14. Take a scenic walk or bike ride along the Ohio River Greenway
A day walking or biking ride along the Ohio River Greenway in Madison, Indiana is a great way to enjoy the scenic views of the river and the surrounding natural beauty. If you are in Madison, you can start your ride from the trailhead near the Madison-Milton Bridge on Vaughn Drive.
The greenway is a 1.25-mile paved trail that follows the river’s edge, offering a smooth and easy ride or walk. The trail provides access to several parks and recreational areas, including the Madison Veterans Memorial Park, the John Paul Park, and the Bicentennial Park.
The Ohio River Greenway is suitable for kids of all ages, as it is a flat and easy trail to navigate.
15. Take a self-guided walking tour of the city’s historic homes and buildings
When you take a self-guided walking tour of Madison, Indiana’s historic homes and buildings, you can see a range of well-preserved architectural styles from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some notable structures include the Schofield House, the Craven-Hall House, the Kiefer-Freund Building, the Ryan-McMahon Building, the Madison National Bank Building, the Dr. William D. Hutchings Office and Museum, the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, the J.F.D. Lanier House, the Ohio Theatre, and the Jefferson County Courthouse.
These buildings range from Greek Revival mansions to Art Deco-style theaters, offering a glimpse into Madison’s rich history and diverse architectural heritage.
Things to do for couples
Madison can be a romantic gateway and for this reason, I made a list for you and your partner to make the best of your trip:
|Stroll Along the Riverfront||Enjoy a leisurely walk along the scenic Ohio River waterfront, soaking in beautiful views.|
|Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride||Experience the town’s historic charm with a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride through Madison’s streets.|
|Visit Clifty Falls State Park||Explore Clifty Falls State Park’s trails, waterfalls, and natural beauty for a nature-filled day together.|
|Wine Tasting at Local Wineries||Indulge in wine tastings and savor local flavors at Madison’s wineries, adding a touch of sophistication.|
|Riverboat Cruise||Cruise the Ohio River on a riverboat, admiring historical architecture and enjoying a relaxing atmosphere.|
|Art Galleries and Studios||Discover local art galleries and studios, appreciate unique artworks and maybe find a keepsake.|
|Historic Home Tours||Immerse yourselves in history with tours of Madison’s historic homes, including the grand Lanier Mansion.|
|Picnic at Clifty Falls||Pack a romantic picnic and savor lunch amidst the natural beauty of Clifty Falls State Park.|
|Candlelit Dinner||Enjoy an intimate dinner at Madison’s charming restaurants, creating a memorable culinary experience.|
|Sunset Overlook||Witness a breathtaking sunset from a high point or overlook, adding a touch of magic to your evening.|
|Antique Shopping||Explore Madison’s antique shops and boutiques, seeking out unique treasures and keepsakes.|
|Live Music and Performances||Attend local live music events or theater performances for an entertaining and cultural evening.|
|Coffee Date||Share a cozy coffee date at Madison’s cafes, relishing your favorite beverages in a relaxed ambiance.|
|Couples’ Spa Day||Treat yourselves to a rejuvenating spa day, indulging in massages, facials, and relaxation.|
|Cooking Class||Learn to prepare a romantic meal together in a cooking class, creating a special dinner from scratch.|
|Hot Air Balloon Ride||If available, take a hot air balloon ride for a unique perspective of Madison’s beauty from the skies.|
|Festival or Event||Check the events calendar for festivals and special events that provide opportunities for shared fun.|
Things to do for families with kids
If you are wondering if Madison is the right place for your family in the care you have children as well, here’s a list of fun activities suitable for kids in Madison, Indiana:
|Visit Clifty Falls State Park||Explore Clifty Falls State Park’s trails, waterfalls, and nature, offering a great setting for family hikes.|
|Riverfront Play Area||Enjoy the riverfront play area with playgrounds, providing a safe space for kids to have fun and make friends.|
|Children’s Museums and Exhibits||Discover children’s museums and interactive exhibits, such as the Lanier Mansion Education Center.|
|Ice Cream Treats||Treat the kids to ice cream from local shops, a perfect way to cool down and indulge in a sweet delight.|
|Farm Animal Visits||Visit nearby farms that offer opportunities to interact with farm animals, providing an educational experience.|
|Family-Friendly Restaurants||Dine at family-friendly eateries that offer kid-friendly menus and a welcoming atmosphere for all ages.|
|Riverboat Rides||Enjoy riverboat rides along the Ohio River, providing a unique perspective of the town’s history and scenery.|
|Local Parks and Playgrounds||Explore local parks with playgrounds, where kids can run, climb, and play to their heart’s content.|
|Nature Scavenger Hunts||Organize nature scavenger hunts in parks, encouraging kids to explore and engage with the environment.|
|Craft Workshops||Participate in craft workshops or art classes, fostering creativity and allowing kids to express themselves.|
|Library Storytime||Attend library storytime sessions for young children, combining learning with entertainment and imagination.|
|Miniature Golf||Enjoy a game of miniature golf at local courses, providing family-friendly fun and friendly competition.|
|Festivals and Family Events||Check for family-oriented festivals and events in Madison, offering entertainment and activities for all.|
|Play Areas at Restaurants||Dine at restaurants with play areas or activity corners, giving kids a chance to play while parents enjoy.|
|Outdoor Movie Nights||Attend outdoor movie nights, a great way to enjoy a film under the stars with family and friends.|
|Biking on Trails||Explore family-friendly biking trails together, promoting outdoor activity and exploration.|
Top 5 activities to enjoy on a rainy day in Madison
|Explore Museums||Visit local museums like the Lanier Mansion and the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum for cultural enrichment.|
|Indoor Shopping||Browse charming boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries along Main Street for a unique shopping experience.|
|Café Retreat||Relax at a local café, sipping hot beverages and indulging in treats while enjoying a cozy and inviting atmosphere.|
|Movie Theater Excursion||Catch a movie at a local theater for a classic rainy day entertainment option that offers cinematic enjoyment.|
|Creative Workshops||Join an indoor workshop or class to learn a new skill, whether it’s cooking, crafting, or painting.|
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Madison, Indiana is worth visiting. It offers a charming historic district, scenic riverfront, museums, outdoor activities, and a vibrant community.
Madison is known for its well-preserved historic architecture, the Ohio River, cultural festivals, and its role in American history.
Madison boasts the Lanier Mansion, often called the “Crown Jewel of Indiana’s Historic Sites,” showcasing Greek Revival architecture.
Yes, Madison is often considered a pleasant place to live, with a friendly community, historic charm, and a variety of amenities.
The best time to visit Madison is during spring and fall when the weather is pleasant and outdoor events and activities are abundant.
Yes, Madison is family-friendly, offering parks, museums, riverfront play areas, and events suitable for all ages.
Madison is generally pet-friendly, with pet-friendly accommodations, parks, and places that welcome pets. Always check specific policies.