15 Free Family-Friendly Activities

By Katie Vaughn | Photography by Sharon Vanorny (Pictured: Marquette Waterfront Festival)

Our vibrant city comes especially alive in the summer, with every day offering an exciting experience, event or place to explore. Kick off the season with one of these free activities.


Celebrate Norwegian culture at Syttende Mai (May 17-19), Stoughton’s annual folk festival. Across the village, take in a parade, Norwegian dance performances, a Viking games strongman competition, live music and a crafts fair — and eat your fill of traditional fare from lefse to lutefisk to sweet krumakake.


Head to McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg for Festa Italia (June 1-2), the annual “cultural picnic” hosted by the Italian Workmen’s Club of Madison, one of the longest-running Italian clubs in America. Enjoy Italian foods and desserts, live music and dance performances, cooking demonstrations, bocce tournaments, children’s activities and more. Everyone’s welcome at the pasta dinners — or maybe you have what it takes to win the pasta- eating contest! Kids 12 and under can attend the festival for free; admission is $7 for adults.


One of Madison’s most beloved events, the Marquette Waterfront Festival (June 8-9) helps kick off summer festival season in the city. At Yahara Place Park, you’ll find two stages of live music, kids’ games and local food, beer, art and vendors. Don’t miss the Fools’ Flotilla, a spirited boat parade that floats down the Yahara River from the Tenney Park locks to the park on Sunday morning.


The Madison Children’s Museum brings the fun with its annual SummerPalooza (June 8). Live music and a variety of Marquette Waterfront Festival entertainers keep the party going in the museum’s Wonderground area and on the streets, while families can also enjoy free admission to the museum.


A day to celebrate freedom and liberty and commemorate the end of slavery in America, Juneteenth brings a parade and festivities to Penn Park on June 15. Come for kid’s activities, food, art, live entertainment and more in this event hosted annually by the Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self-Determination. (Note: Juneteenth is commemorated nationally on June 19.)


Cotton candy, carnival rides, games and parades … there’s nothing like the summertime fun of a small-town festival. Take your pick among the Verona Hometown Days (May 31-June 2), Mount Horeb Summer Frolic (June 6-9), New Glarus PolkaFest (June 7-8), Cottage Grove Fireman’s Festival (June 13-16) and Oregon Summerfest (June 21-23). Or, check ’em all out!


Every year on the summer solstice, Make Music Madison (June 21) turns the city into a continuous concert venue. Restaurants, cafés, parks, shops, side- walks, front porches and more host local musicians who perform for the public. The event is part of the international Make Music Day, with more than 1,000 cities participating.


Tour the world without leaving Overture Center at the International Festival (June 29-30). Performances by musicians who call Dane County home showcase the cultural heritage and diversity of the community, while local artists and food vendors represent more than 20 cultures in the international market and café.


Gather the family, pack a picnic and head to a summer concert where music mingles with a beautiful outdoor setting. Concerts on the Rooftop at Monona Terrace take place Thursdays from June 13-July 25 (excluding July 4), the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square are Wednesdays from June 26-July 31 and Olbrich Botanical Gardens’ Olbrich After Hours runs Tuesdays from June 25-August 13.

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