City Guides

12 Things to Know About Living in Madison

Thinking about moving to Madison? Mad City is not only one of the best places to live in the Midwest, but it’s also among the best cities in the country overall, thanks to its incredible outdoor recreation, great food and brews, and more! If you’re considering living in Madison, here are 12 things you should know.

Affordable Living in the Midwest

Photo via @ovjphotography

If you’re looking for an affordable city in the Midwest to settle down in, living in Madison is a great choice! In fact, Madison has been ranked as one of the most affordable big cities in the country. Though real estate prices are slightly higher than similarly-sized Midwestern metros like Milwaukee, Madison boasts a higher median household income and lower unemployment rate to make up the difference. Residents also have their pick of inexpensive rentals and homes across several affordable neighborhoods in Madison.

Good City for Job Opportunities

Photo via @theonlyvimal

Are you moving to Madison for a change in your career? Wisconsin’s capital city ranks as one of the best cities for young professionals in the country! As one of the top cities for jobs, Madison has an unemployment rate of 2.8% with careers in a variety of industries, from healthcare and government to bioscience and education. Mad City also has plenty of opportunities and resources for entrepreneurs, including networking events, co-working spaces, and more. Find work in finance at an award-winning Madison employer, TASC. Further your medical career as a nurse, lab tech, or any of the other specialist positions at UW Health, the top hospital in the state. Work in the insurance industry at the Madison headquarters office of American Family Insurance. Seek a job in the energy field at the Madison headquarters for Alliant Energy. Work on groundbreaking biomedical research to support the future of medicine at Promega Corporation. Or if you’re a college student looking for a fun side gig, apply to drive the iconic Wienermobile from the Oscar Mayer headquarters!

Attend Top-Rated Colleges & Universities

Photo via @uwmadison

As one of the best college towns in the U.S. and one of the most educated cities in America, Madison is a great choice for students moving to Wisconsin to pursue higher education. Attend a Big Ten school, root for the D-1 Badgers (NCAA), and choose from over 600 graduate and undergraduate programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Earn your associate’s degree in over 180 training programs, or get prerequisites for your four-year education with one of the 140+ transfer pathways at Madison Area Technical College. Get a degree in bilingual education, art therapy, thanatology, and more at the faith-based Edgewood College. Or work on your nursing degree at Herzing University.

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Take Madison Transportation

Mad City is one of the best cities for bicycling and has received the Platinum Bicycle Designation for its cyclist-friendly infrastructure. Don’t have your own bike? You can rent an electric-assist bicycle from one of the Madison B-cycle stations around the city! Certain areas of Mad Town—like Downtown Madison—are also very walkable, perfect for those who prefer to get around on foot. For faster commutes, Madisonians can take the Madison Metro Transit wherever they need to go. Or frequent flyers moving to Madison can hop on flights at Dane County Regional Airport.

Raise a Family in Madison

Moving to Madison with kids? You’ll be happy to hear that Mad City is considered one of the best cities to raise a family because of its many great neighborhoods for families, quality Madison schools, and kid-friendly things to do. Finger-paint the window in the Bakke Art Studio, take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s childhood bedroom, learn lessons in sustainability in the Urb Garden, or attend the free annual SummerPalooza Festival hosted at the Madison Children’s Museum. Head over to Henry Vilas Zoo—a unique, free thing to do in Madison—to admire American flamingos, red pandas, African penguins, and more. Catch an all-ages summer concert, stroll through the Wildflower Garden, or enroll in family classes and workshops at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Or give your kids a taste of the arts with acting classes, age-appropriate performances, and more at the Children’s Theatre of Madison.

Outdoor Fun for All Four Seasons

Photo via @visitmadison

Because this Wisconsin city is so close to the northern border, cold winters are a given. Fortunately, The City of Four Lakes has sunny summer days, too. During the warmer months, kayak, paddleboard, sail, fish, or enjoy other outdoor recreation in Madison on one of the many Madison lakes. Jam out to live music in Madison while attending Downtown’s “Summer in YOUR City” Free Outdoor Concert Series. Marvel at beautiful plant life at the Allen Centennial Gardens. Practice your slap shot or work on your triple axel once the weather gets chilly at the Elver Park Ice Rink. Ice fish for bass or musky at Lake Waubesa. Cozy up to a fire at Picnic Point after trekking along Lakeshore Path in your snow shoes. Or celebrate all things winter—from an ice fishing derby to ice climbing and gingerbread house-making—at Winter Carnival.

Experience Capitol Square

Photo via @cityofmadison

Located in the heart of Downtown Madison, Capitol Square is a vibrant hub where people living in Madison can find everything from movie theaters and art galleries to fun bars and amazing cafes. Unfold blankets on the green space and listen to Concerts on the Square from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Tour one of the state’s most significant historical sites and see where local legislation happens at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Buy a bouquet of tulips or snag fresh produce from over 275 vendors at the largest “producer-only farmers market” in the nation, the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Or grab popular food truck eats like Beef Brisket Tacos from El Grito Taqueria, The Caprese Grilled Cheese from Melted, or spring rolls and smoothies from Thai-inspired Fresh Cool Drinks.

Be Part of Madison Festivals

Photo via @mononafestival

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Madison, attend a festival! Celebrate the LGBTQ community with a day of performances, games, parades, and more at the annual Magic Pride Festival. Take in free concerts, craft beers, and fried cheese curds or BBQ ribs at Taste of Madison. Eat your fill at the world’s largest brat festival, featuring live music, a carnival, and tasty bites at Brat Fest. Eat burgers, buy jewelry from the art fair, and see fireworks shoot through the sky at one of the best Madison activities for families, the Monona Community Festival. Celebrate Irish culture at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Or watch films in a variety of genres over the eight-day Wisconsin Film Festival.

Immerse Yourself in Art & Culture

Photo via @madisonballet

Support local artists at Art Fair on the Square, or view the permanent collection of paintings and sculptures at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Admire traveling exhibits like Suspended Landscapes: Thread Drawings by Amanda McCavour at the Chazen Museum of Art. Attend a writing workshop, performance art piece, or film screening at the Arts + Literature Laboratory. Learn about local history at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on Madison’s Museum Row. Clap for stunning soloists and classical arrangements like Debussy’s “La Mer” performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Or get tickets to musicals like Pretty Woman or see the Madison Ballet dance The Nutcracker or Cinderella at the Overture Center.

The Capital of America’s Dairyland

Photo via @justminspired

When you’re living in the Capital of America’s Dairyland, be prepared to sample lots of cheese, chocolate, and other dairy products. Take a cheese tour and browse over 100 artisanal cheeses for sale at Fromagination. Sample flavors like Chocolate Cheesecake Fudge or Ghost Chili Pepper Jack cheese at the local cheese shop, Mousehouse Cheesehaus. Try another staple of the Madison food scene, Cheese Curds, at The Old Fashioned. Get some of the best fried cheese curds in Madison from locally-beloved food truck Curd Girl. Dig into locally-sourced offerings like the ten-year-aged cheddar Mac n’ Cheese at Graze. Or watch from the observation deck as your favorite ice cream flavors like Salted Caramel Toffee or Bec-Key Lime Pie are created at Babcock Dairy Store.

Try Delicious Madison Restaurants

Wisconsin may be known for its cheeses, but there are plenty of other great Madison restaurants that go beyond dairy. Share Truffle Fries with friends, or order the delicious Local Lamb Burger for yourself at Tipsy Cow. Feast on Char Siu Heritage Pork Shoulder & Tuna and sip a Bourbon Cure-All or Pear Gin Rug cocktail at farm-to-table restaurant Heritage Tavern. Chow down on award-winning burgers like the Heart Throb or Melting Pot at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry. Make a reservation at L’Etoile and settle in for the multi-course Tasting Menu, featuring elegant dishes like Wild Alaskan Halibut or Spanish Octopus. Grab delicious soul food like Fried Chicken or Pork Ribs with sides like Collard Greens or Sweet Potatoes from Marie’s Soul Food. Sample a variety of Russian dumplings with fillings like beef and potatoes at Paul’s Pel’Meni. Or find authentic Laotian dishes like Kang Gai, Khua Mee, or Gang Phet curry at Lao Laan-Xang.

Sip on Madison Brews & Cocktails

Photo via @greatdanepub

Fun things to do in Madison don’t stop when the sun goes down—especially since Mad City is one of the best places to live for singles! Shoot billiards, play darts, and sip cocktails like the Madison Bulldog, A Pear of Mules, or Hot Toddy at City Bar. Saddle up to the outdoor bar while listening to local bands at High Noon Saloon. Tailgate a Badgers game with friends and fans at Jordan’s Big 10 Pub. Grab a seat at the courtyard beer garden and order a Black Earth Vanilla Porter, Dog Daze Citrus hard seltzer, or Cotton Candy cocktail at Great Dane Pub & Brewing. Or browse the long list of unfiltered and all-natural brews like the Velveteen Habit, the Ambergeddon, or the Kaboom Yo at Ale Asylum.


Moving to Madison? Extra Space Storage has facilities located throughout the Mad City metro to help with your transition. Find cheap storage in Madison!


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