The Midwest has become an increasingly popular place for young professionals to live, and Madison is one of the most popular of the Midwest cities. With the prestigious University of Wisconsin Madison campus, Madison has an upbeat college town vibe while maintaining its status as a hub for both technology and medicine. Ranked among the ‘Top 20 Best Places to Find a Job in 2019’ by WalletHub, Madison is an affordable, attractive city to call home. Dubbed ‘Berkeley of the Midwest,’ residents are progressive, creative, and outdoorsy. Tucked in among four beautiful lakes, Madison has a lot to offer – from dog-friendly parks to historic architecture to a vibrant food and music scene.
During the summer, Madison residents enjoy the outdoors as much as they can. And although winters are cold, the winter season doesn’t seem to keep locals indoors as much as you’d expect. Known as a winter wonderland, Madison is beautiful during the colder months of the year when locals-bundle up and head out to camp, ice fish, and cross-country ski.
Living in Madison, WI: What to Know Before Moving to Madison
There’s a reason that Madison ranks high on lists of the best places to live. With a strong job market, quality schools, a lively college-town vibe, and many affordable, friendly neighborhoods, the city is increasingly desirable for young professionals and families. At a population of just over 250,000, Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin, the state’s oldest and largest public university. Residents have great options for varied employment opportunities in the greater Madison metro area, with its population of 654,230.
Pros and Cons of Living in Madison
When you’re deciding whether or not to make a move to a new city, it’s always a good idea to consider the top pros and cons of living there. Here are the highlights for Madison.
- Madison is a university town and a cultural hub for entertainment and the arts.
- There’s plenty to do outdoors in every season.
- This town boasts lots of great restaurants, breweries, and a lively nightlife scene.
- Madison is a relatively safe city to live in compared to other major cities, and there’s not a lot of poverty in the area.
- The job market is hot. Low unemployment and a lot of job opportunities make Madison a great place to live and work.
- If you’re not a fan of winter, know that Madison winters are long, dark, and cold.
- The best way to get around is by car. If you prefer public transportation, you might be less than impressed with the transit options in Madison.
- The city is growing, which means there’s a lot of construction. Traffic, particularly during rush hours, can slow you down.
- Madison is known for its very strict parking enforcement. Don’t ever let your meter run out, or you’ll surely get a ticket.
- Aside from the university population, the city population isn’t diverse.
Madison sales tax is lower than many other states in the US; however, property and income taxes are higher than average.
- Property Tax: Property taxes in Madison are about double the national average. The Dane County property tax rate is 1.998%.
- Sales Tax: The combined sales tax in Madison is 5.5%, which is lower than the national average of 7.3%.
- State Income Tax: The income tax rate in Madison is 6.3%, which is higher than the US average of 4.6%.
Madison’s housing market is strong and active. Now is a good time to buy, as home appreciation was up 2.3% over the past twelve months and is expected to go up another 2% in 2020. As of October 2019, the median home value was $256,900, and the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,702. A large university student population means more people rent than own their homes, which isn’t surprising knowing that the 43,800 UW students may not stay permanently in Madison.
Cost of Living
The cost of living index assumes an average nationwide index of 100. At 100.6, the cost of living in Madison is very close to the US average. Housing is the highest expense at 111.1, followed by utilities at 107.5. Below average expenses include groceries at 97.9, health care at 86.3, and transportation costs at 85.8.
The median household income in Madison is $53,933. To afford to live in the city, a family of four needs to earn $88,283 per year to cover monthly bills.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Madison residents enjoy the beauty and benefits of all four seasons. In the winter, Madison is prone to blizzards and snowstorms. The average annual snowfall is 53 inches, and the months with the highest snowfall are December and January. The two coldest months are December and January. December sees average highs of about 30° F and average lows 16° F. January is a bit colder with an average high of 26°F and freezing low of 11°F.
The average annual rainfall is about 35 inches and falls most often in June, July, and August. You’ll find the two hottest months are July and August. July sees average highs of 82°F and lows of 61°F while August average highs are 79°F with lows of 59°F.
The city is at risk of various natural disasters such as flooding, tornadoes, blizzards, and wildfires. Flooding is common due to overflowing rivers, lakes, and surface run-off during periods of heavy rainfall. Tornadoes are common but rarely serious. Residents always need to be prepared to take shelter in a basement or under a reinforced ceiling should a storm hit. Thunderstorms are rampant in the area and are often accompanied by straight-line winds that don’t spiral like tornadoes. Wildfires are a risk in all of Wisconsin, especially in the spring. The urban areas are less likely to be affected by blazes, but it’s something to keep in mind when living in a more rural area surrounded by trees.
The City of Madison Emergency Management website suggests you have a communication plan in place and stock an emergency supply kit for all family members and pets. Before you move to Madison, read up on the city’s emergency plan.
Economy & Job Market
The job market in Madison is strong and thriving; jobs are interesting and diverse. With an unemployment rate of only 2.1%, which is lower than the US average of 3.9%, future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 37.9% compared to the US average of 33.5%.
The top industries are advanced manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, information technology, and life sciences. The largest employer is the University of Wisconsin, which provides over 10,000 jobs. Some of the other large employers are Epic Systems Corp, American Family Insurance, Sub-Zero, and WPS Health Insurance.
If you’re moving to Madison and will be looking for a job, consider visiting the University of Wisconsin job board. For jobseekers beyond the University, the city has a job board that’s worth checking out, as well as the local jobs website jobsinmadison.com.
Traffic and Transportation
Madison sits about 80 miles directly west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and about 150 miles northwest of Chicago. Interstate 90 runs north-south through the east side of the city, and Interstate 94 intersects I-90 east to west. In town, State Street is the main thoroughfare and connects the University of Wisconsin campus to Capitol Square.
The best form of transportation in Madison is your four wheels; however, depending on where you live, your commute, and when you run errands, you’ll have to deal with some traffic congestion. As the city grows, construction traffic slows, especially during rush hour. The average commute in the city is about 20 minutes compared to the US average of 26 minutes.
Metro Transit serves the city and UW campus via a bus system, but Madison is considered a car-dependent city, according to WalkScore.com. In terms of walking, Madison is ranked 49 on a 100-point scale. The transit score is 39, and the bike score is 63. If biking is your thing, you’ll enjoy the extensive Madison trail system during spring, summer, and fall. According to mapmyride.com, the Madison area has over 9,000 bike trails. No wonder the bike score is higher than average.
What to Do
Madison, sometimes called the “City of Four Lakes,” offers something to do in every season. In the summer, visit the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, or enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, or fishing on one of the lakes. In the winter, Lake Waubesa has great bass and musky ice fishing. You’ll be able to ice skate, snowshoe, and ski, and during the Madison Winter Festival, everyone celebrates with snow carving, sledding, and a candlelight ski tour.
It’s no secret that Wisconsin is known for cheese, and Madison is no exception. You’ll find cheese curds of many varieties throughout the city, and if you fancy a pint to accompany them, you’ll find plenty of craft breweries where you can sip your favorite suds.
Madison has a variety of entertainment options, so there’s something for everyone. Local music is the soundtrack in many pubs, and the arts and culture scenes are lively. There are ballet performances, hands-on science museums, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra is known to impress. For sports-lovers, you can root on the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Schools and Universities
The Madison Metropolitan School District and Verona School District serve students in Madison. It includes four regular high schools, one alternative school, 11 middle schools, and 31 elementary schools. Some of the elementary schools rank particularly well compared to other schools throughout the US. The top schools, according to greatschools.org, are Van Hise Elementary School, rated 10/10; Shorewood Hills Elementary School, rated 9/10; and Monona Grove High School, rated 8/10.
The University of Wisconsin – Madison is a public research university that was founded in 1848 when Wisconsin became a state. Nearly 44,000 students attend the university each year. The Madison Area Technical College also serves the area.
Property crime rates in Madison are 16.7 compared to the US average of 22.7. The violent crime rates are 41.6, compared to the US average of 35.4. The crime rate is higher in the center of the city than in the outlying neighborhoods.
When moving to Madison, you’ll need to contact several providers to set up your utilities.
- Gas service: Madison Gas and Electric. Visit this site to set up your service.
- Electric service: Madison Gas and Electric. Visit this site to set up your service.
- Water service: Madison Water Utility. Visit this site to set up your service.
- Trash pick-up/recycling service: City of Madison. Visit this site to set up your service.
- Internet/cable service: You have a choice of companies for your internet and cable service in Madison. Compare options here.
Best Neighborhoods in Madison, WI
The Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood is the best of the best. Rated 9.5 on a 10-point scale for jobs and safety, it’s one of the most desirable, trendy, hip places to live in the city. The boundaries of the neighborhood are the SW Commuter Path on the north, Edgewood Avenue on the east, Lake Wingra on the south, and Odana Road on the west. This neighborhood is only 1-2 miles from downtown Madison, the University of Wisconsin, and local hospitals.
Monroe Street runs directly through the neighborhood and is where you’ll find all kinds of shops, cafes, coffee houses, and restaurants. Residents are diverse – academic staff, students, and families all reside here.
Madison residents join with Dudgeon-Monroe locals to enjoy the fine arts center, galleries, and the annual Jazz in the Park festival. The homes are expensive compared to other Madison neighborhoods, and the median income is just over $100,000 a year.
- Population – 2,932
- Home Price – Median home value $366,567
- Rent Price – Median rent $1,119
- Schools – The schools serving this neighborhood are: Thoreau Elementary School, Cherokee Heights Middle School, and West High School
Something to try: Moonlight paddles on Lake Wingra.
Westmorland is another great Madison neighborhood. It ranks 9.5 of 10 for jobs, 10 of 10 for safety, 8 of 10 for affordability, and 8 of 10 for amenities. Unlike the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood, which is very expensive for the area, the Westmorland neighborhood is a bit more affordable.
Westmorland is located on Madison’s west side and is bordered by Mineral Point Road on the north, Glenway Golf Course on the east, Southwest Bike Path on the south, and South Midvale Blvd on the west. Downtown is about three miles east of the neighborhood.
Friendly residents have a broad range of professions and interests. This community is a great area to live in if you enjoy recreation, as it’s near the golf course, arboretum, zoo, and various parks. The warm, inviting neighborhood organizes year-round social events such as a Winter Play Day, Summer Garden Tour, and Halloween Parade and Party.
Homes in a variety of architectural styles sit along tree-lined streets, and the area’s residents include young professionals, families, and the elderly alike. Interestingly, Westmorland features seven Lustron houses, which are distinctive prefabricated enameled steel homes built between 1949 and 1950.
- Population – 2,290
- Home Price – Median home value $259,299
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,119
- Schools – The schools that serve this neighborhood are Midvale and Lincoln Elementary Schools and West High School
Something to try: The Westmorland 4th of July Celebration.
The Regent neighborhood is desirable, but it’s also one of the most expensive places to live in Madison. As one of Madison’s first suburbs, it’s close to the university and home to many professors and business people. The neighborhood is bordered on the north and east by the UW campus and is just a few blocks from Lake Mendota. The eastern end borders UW’s Camp Randall football stadium and field house. The area bustles during home football games, so don’t forget to wear your red and white on game day.
Regent is known for its beautiful Queen Anne, Prairie-style and period revival houses that were designed by famous architects such as Keck and Keck, George W Maher, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
You’ll find all kinds of shopping, galleries, and restaurants galore in Regent. People love to support the local businesses, and you might see them arriving in the area either on foot or by bike. Some favorites are Blue Moon Bar & Grill, Lombardinos Italiana, and Wings Over Madison. This area is home to two of the best schools in the city: Randall Elementary and West High School.
- Population – 6,315
- Home Price – Median home value $436,460
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,162
- Schools – The schools that serve this neighborhood are Midvale, Randall, and Lincoln Elementary Schools, Hamilton Middle School, and West High School
Something to try: Plan a tailgate event with friends for a University of Wisconsin – Madison home football game.
The Wexford Village neighborhood is a great place to live in Madison. Jobs rank 9.5 of 10, safety is 10 of 10, and affordability and amenities are 8 of 10. The neighborhood borders the city limit on the north, North Gammon Road on the east, Old Sauk Road on the south, and West Beltline on the west. Wexford Village is about five miles west of downtown.
The Wexford Village Homes Association was established to maintain consistent characteristics in the neighborhood, and like most HOAs, encourages some activities and restricts others. A restrictive HOA may appeal to some people, but for others, it won’t.
Wexford Village features homes built on wooded lots. With greenways and a large park, Wexford has a lovely, almost rural feel. You’ll be able to enjoy Stricker’s Pond Conservation Park, Walnut Grove-Foxboro Greenway, Wexford Prairie Recreation Area, and Wexford Park. The community is friendly and welcoming with annual events such as an Easter Egg Hunt, Earth day Challenge, Fourth of July Parade and Picnic, and End-of-Summer Potluck.
- Population – 2,590
- Home Price – Median home value $247,950
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,098
- Schools – Stephens Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School, Memorial High School
Something to try: Join in on the fun at the Wexford Village Easter egg hunt.
The Nakoma League neighborhood is extremely safe, but it’s a bit more expensive than other neighborhoods, and its amenities aren’t as available as they are in other parts of the city. The Nakoma League neighborhood borders the Illinois Central Railway and Odana Road on the north, Manitou Way on the east, Mohawk Drive on the south, and Whenona Drive and Waban Hill on the west. Downtown is about three miles east.
Nakoma is a prestigious neighborhood that started as a suburb in 1915. Planners designed homes along winding roads and set aside land for parks, greenways, and the prestigious Nakoma Country Club, built in 1921. The 800 homes represent classic examples of Colonial, Greek, Tudor Revival, French Provincial, and Prairie-style architecture.
This neighborhood is very appealing to families. The Nakoma League’s mission is “to promote neighborliness and friendliness among its members and to contribute to the welfare of the community.” They sponsor year-round events such as Twelfth Night Dinner & Theater, Tulip Time Progressive Dinner, Fall Gathering, and a Spring Egg Hunt.
- Population – 1,526
- Home Price – Median home value $334,433
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,017
- Schools – The schools that serve this neighborhood are Thoreau Elementary School, Cherokee Heights Middle School, and West High School
Something to try: Join your neighbors at the Tulip Time Progressive Dinner.
Though it’s a small area on the west side of Madison, with a population of fewer than 600 residents residing in 85 homes, the Highlands Community ranks high for amenities, low crime rate, and highly rated schools. Bordered by the Soo Line Railroad on the north, Old Middleton Road on the south and east, and South Highlands Avenue on the west, this community is about six miles west of downtown.
Upscale vintage homes sit along narrow, tree-lined streets, surrounded by woods and clearings. Planned by renowned landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds in 1911, the neighborhood maintains its original rustic natural style. The average age of residents is 54, and nearly 90% of people who live here own their homes. An affluent area compared to other Madison neighborhoods, Highlands has a median household income of $119,911.
- Population – 594
- Home Price – Median home value $334,500
- Rent Prices – Median rent $964
- Schools – The schools that serve this neighborhood are Crestwood Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School, and Memorial High School
Something to try: Participate in the Fourth of July brunch.
The Glacier Ridge neighborhood is located on the southwest side of Madison and is bordered by McKee Road on the north, County Grove Drive to the east, Iris Bloom Drive on the south, and Madison City Limits to the west. Downtown sits about 10 miles east of Glacier Ridge. Affordable and safe, with lots of job opportunities, Glacier Ridge earns an A+ for amenities, low crime rates, and schools, according to areavibes.com.
A real plus to living in Glacier Ridge is the huge amount of green space on its western and southern boundaries. Outdoor spaces include Glacier Crossing Park, Ice Age Ridge Park, Country Grove Park, and Badger Prairie County Park. The Ice Age Trail is popular for hikers and is evidence of historic glaciers that once dominated the Wisconsin area.
- Population – 1,293
- Home Price – Median home value $248,200
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,151
- Schools – The schools that serve this neighborhood are Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Toki Middle School, and Memorial High School
Something to try: Visit Badger Prairie County Park.
The Maple-Prairie Neighborhood Association, established in 1992, is bordered by Putnam Road on the north, city limits on the east, McKee Road on the south, and Maple Grove Drive on the west. Located on the southwest side of Madison, the neighborhood is about four miles from downtown.
Lining quiet residential streets, homes in Maple-Prairie are more modern than some of the other neighborhoods featured in our guide. Apartment complexes and a commercial area line the southern border of the neighborhood.
Situated only minutes away from shopping and entertainment venues, this family-friendly neighborhood features the 12.5-acre Maple-Prairie Park. Located in the center of the neighborhood, children enjoy the playground, and youth and adults often play rousing soccer games. Locals appreciate that the neighborhood is close to grocery stores and main commuter routes.
- Population – 1,656
- Home Price – Median home value $223,900
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,119
- Schools – The Verona schools serve this neighborhood: Stoner Prairie Elementary School, Savanna Oaks Middle School, and Memorial High School.
Something to try: Support local youth and watch a soccer game at Visit Maple-Prairie Park.
* * *
If you’re ready to get your cheese on, Madison might be the place for you! Grab your warm winter gear, a bicycle, and get a free moving quote from Great Guys Moving. We only work with licensed, insured moving companies, so you can be assured of quality relocation.