Madison ’s HI Madison Hostel (141 S. Butler St., 608/441-0144, www.madisonhostel.org , $22 members, $25 nonmembers), a year-round facility, is central, progressive, and very well run. Six-bed dorms and one- to three-person rooms book out in summer so try to make reservations.
You may (but probably not) find (barely)-sub-$100 prices with a decent view at the Best Western Inn on the Park (22 S. Carroll St., 608/257-8811, $99), which sits opposite the magnificent Capitol. The hotel is nothing flashy, but it’s in a prime spot.
But here’s something no one else seems to know about: stay at the you’re-gonna-go-there-anyway UW Memorial Union (800 Langdon St., 608/262-1583, www.union.wisc.edu/guestrooms , $75–102). Perfectly comfortable rooms with a couple of double beds; higher-end rooms have lake views.
Gorgeous vistas of a more natural bent are found at the Edgewater (666 Wisconsin Ave., 608/256-9071, www.theedgewater.com , $119), plopped on a small bluff overlooking Lake Mendota a handful of blocks east of the university campus. Rooms are smallish but decent. They don't offer many extras. Health club privileges mean a bit of a hike—but hey, it’s got a swimming beach! The dining room is popular with locals for the sunsets as much as the food. This place is at the center of one of those only-in-Madison hoo-hahs about its proposed expansion and rejuvenation.
The towering (for the Mad City, anyway) Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club (1 W. Dayton St., 608/257-6000, www.concoursehotel.com , $119) certainly can boast some of the most reputable dining and seen-on-the-scene options in town. Equally up to snuff and with killer views (in some rooms) is the Hilton Madison (9 E. Wilson St., 608/255-5100, $125), adjacent to the Monona Terrace .
A spiffy boutique hotel with European stylistic flair just off the State Street  corridor is the Campus Inn (601 Langdon St., 608/257-4391, www.thecampusinn.com , from $135). It's very distinctive. More than one traveler has raved about the service.
Recommended without hesitation is the Mansion Hill Inn (424 N. Pinckney St., 608/255-3999, www.mansionhillinn.com , from $200), an opulent 1858 Romanesque revival on the National Register of Historic Places. Set snugly along a quiet residential street close to downtown, this ornate piece of Victoriana features a distinctive gabled roof and wrought-iron railings encircling the etched sandstone facade. Inside, the opulence is breathtaking, with thrusting round-arched windows, ornate cornices, hand-carved marble, spiral staircase, and a wraparound belvedere. All surrounded by Victorian gardens. The eight rooms vary from Empire style to a Turkish nook, Chinese silk, an Oriental suite, a room done up as a study, and more.