Moving to Madison? Here's What You Need to Know Before You Go.
If you're looking for an excellent place to start a new life, consider moving to Madison, Wisconsin. With its strong job market, excellent schools, abundance of modern conveniences, and virtually endless recreational opportunities, this beautiful city attracts many job seekers, entrepreneurs, families, students, and retirees from across the country and beyond. Check out this comprehensive guide to determine whether Madison is the right relocation destination for you.
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Overview of Madison
Madison is the capital city of Wisconsin and the seat of Dane County. It forms the core of the Madison Metropolitan Area which consists of Dane County and nearby Green, Iowa, and Columbia counties. With about 255,000 residents, it's the second largest city in the state. It has an ethnically diverse population that's about 75% Caucasian, 9% Asian, and 6% African American.
Madison is a rapidly growing city with a rich culture that revolves around a keen appreciation of the arts, vibrant music scene, and locally sourced food. It's also an entrepreneurial hub that is attracting numerous tech, biotech, and health startups. Partly due to its world-class education facilities, it's one of the top 15 cities in the world in terms of venture capital deals per capita. Additionally, the city offers a great environment for relaxation and recreation with its scenic lakes and extensive networks of parks and biking trails.
Geography of Madison
Madison is located about 77 miles west of Milwaukee and 122 miles northwest of Chicago in south-central Wisconsin. It shares borders with four of its suburbs, which are Sun Prairie, McFarland, Middleton, and Fitchburg. It covers a total area of about 94 square miles, of which 76.7 square miles are land and 17.2 square miles are water.
The city is sometimes called “The City of Four Lakes” because of the presence of four large lakes in its vicinity. Located along the Yahara River, these lakes include Lake Kegonsa, Lake Waubesa, Lake Monona, and Lake Mendota. The downtown area is situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. This geographical characteristic is reflected in the city's other nickname “Lake, City, Lake.”
History of Madison
Human beings began inhabiting the area around Madison about 12,000 years ago. On the rich prairies around the four lakes, effigy mounds were built for ceremonial and burial purposes more than 1,000 years ago. In 1800, the area was known as Ho-Chunk County. The Native Americans referred to this place as Taychopera, which meant “land of the four lakes.”
European settlers arrived in Madison in 1829. James Duane Doty, who was a federal judge, bought more than 1,000 acres of land between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota with the intention of establishing a settlement there. He named the place “Madison” in honor of James Madison, a founding founder and the fourth president of the United States. In addition, he named the streets in the settlement after the signers of the United States Constitution.
In 1836, Madison was chosen as the capital of its surrounding region mainly because it was located halfway between Milwaukee and a long-established strategic post called Prairie du Chien. It was incorporated as a village in 1846. When Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, the village remained as the capital. It became home to the University of Wisconsin in the following year. In 1856, Madison was incorporated as a city with a population of about 6,800.
During the American Civil War, the city served as one of the Union Army's most important centers in Wisconsin. Camp Randall was constructed on the west side of town and was used as a training facility, military hospital, and a prison for captured Confederate soldiers. After the war, it became part of the University of Wisconsin campus and the site of Camp Randall Stadium.
Home to Wisconsin's seat of government and largest university, Madison has long been the political and intellectual center of the state. In the early 20th century, many progressive reforms were created there, including workers' compensation, Social Security, and unemployment insurance reforms. These reforms gave the city a reputation for liberalism that lasted through the 1960s when it became a center of anti-Vietnam War activity. Madison remains a liberal city today; the Progressive Dane party, a local political party, identifies with the Green and Democratic parties and holds several seats on the City Council.
Climate in Madison
Madison experiences warm, wet summers and freezing, windy, and dry winters. Over a year, temperatures typically vary from 13 degrees to 82 degrees Fahrenheit and rarely fall below -7 degrees or rise above 90 degrees. The best time to do warm activities in the city is from mid-June to early September when average temperatures range from the 60s to 70s.
In Madison, the wetter season lasts from late March to early October, with more than a 25% chance of any day being a wet day. The greatest chance of a wet day occurs around mid-June. The drier season lasts from early October to late March. The lowest chance of a wet day happens around mid-February. Snowfall is most common from mid-December to mid-February, with the highest chance of a snow day occurring around mid-January.
Transportation in Madison
Getting around in Madison is easy because of its excellent public transportation system. The city offers a reliable bus service called the Madison Metro, which operates an extensive network of routes throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs. It also has four taxi companies, several companies offering specialized transportation for people with disabilities, and a few car-sharing service providers.
Since the late 20th century, Madison has been one of the best cities for bicycling. As a result of its many biking lanes and trails, more than 5% of its working population use bicycles to commute to work. Driving in Madison is a relatively pleasant experience. With fewer vehicles per household than the national average, the city is generally less traffic-congested than other big cities.
If you're planning to travel long distances, you have many options available. Located about 6 miles northeast of Madison, Dane County Regional Airport serves approximately 1.8 million passengers every year making it the second-busiest commercial airport in Wisconsin. From there, you can fly with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines to many cities across the country.
For long-distance road transportation, Madison offers a wide range of bus services to Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and other cities in Wisconsin; these services include Badger Bus, Greyhound Lines, Van Galder Bus Company, Megabus, and Lamers Bus Lines. Also, the city is served by I-90 and I-39, which connect it to Chicago, Rockford, Janesville, La Crosse, and Wausau. These two interstates also intersect with I-94, which runs to Milwaukee and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
Education in Madison
Whether you're looking for a good school for your kids or pursuing higher education yourself, you won't be disappointed with the quality of education in Madison. According to Forbes, the city ranks third in the United States in education. With an enrollment of roughly 25,000 students in 46 schools, the Madison Metropolitan School District is one of the largest school districts in Wisconsin. Many of these schools continually surpass their counterparts in other states in terms of academic performance.
In addition, Madison is a great place for obtaining higher education. It's home to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison Area Technical College, and Edgewood College, as well as satellite campuses of many universities and colleges. The University of Wisconsin-Madison regularly ranks among the top 50 universities in the world and has an enrollment of about 44,000 students. Also, Madison is one of the cities with the highest number of college graduates per capita in the country.
Economy of Madison
Madison has one of the strongest job markets in the United States. In 2009, when the country was undergoing its worst recession in recent times, the city managed to record an impressive unemployment rate of 3.5% and ranked among the top cities for job growth. Today, its unemployment rate remains significantly lower than the national average while its median income is slightly higher than that of the average American worker.
The government of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are the two largest employers in Madison. Nonetheless, the city's economy has become more diverse in recent years as it becomes increasingly focused on consumer services and technological innovation, especially in the biotech, health, and advertising sectors. Madison has been experiencing an economic boom since the early 1990s as a result of the rapid growth of the high-tech industry. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been working with many local tech companies to turn research findings into real-world applications, particularly biotech applications.
Madison attracts many job seekers because it's home to the headquarters and offices of many large companies, including Spectrum Brands, Alliant Energy, Epic Systems, American Family Insurance, American Girl Brands, Zendesk, Trek, Google, Microsoft, Raven Software, and Aprilaire. The city is also one of the best places in the country to start a business. With its abundant talent pool, easy access to capital, and excellent connectivity, it provides the ideal environment for startups to grow.
Living in Madison
Despite being a rapidly growing city and tech hub, Madison exudes a surprisingly down-to-earth feel. It's one of the few places where urban living blends seamlessly with authentic Midwestern culture. The locals are kind and hospitable people who thank the bus driver at the end of a ride and cheer on strangers in a marathon. There are bustling areas where people of different ethnicities and backgrounds meet and talk about the latest happenings around the country. You'll find it easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger, make new friends, and even get some help settling down.
Besides being a warm and welcoming place, Madison is also one of the healthiest and fittest cities in the United States. Its wide availability of affordable fresh produce makes it easy for residents to eat healthy, while its beautiful lakes and parks, extensive bicycling infrastructure, and many walking trails provide endless opportunities for physical activity. Additionally, its low crime rate contributes to greater peace of mind and better overall well-being.
On U.S. News & World Report's rankings, Madison finished 16th in “Best Places to Live in the U.S.A.” and 38th in “Best Places to Retire in the U.S.A.”
Top Attractions in Madison
Whether you're interested in art, history, outdoor adventure, or family activities, you'll never run out of things to do in Madison. The following are some of the most popular attractions around the city.
Wisconsin State Capitol
If you enjoy viewing historical architecture or want to snap some amazing photos, check out the Wisconsin State Capitol on East Main Street. This majestic building was constructed in 1917 and is the most recognizable landmark in Madison. It features a 284-foot-high dome and two large wings on each side. It looks stunning on the inside with its ornate marble work, European-style murals, and a huge, colorful skylight. From Memorial Day to the first week of November, you can climb up to the observation deck to get a panoramic view of the city. Free guided tours are available daily.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin East
Located about 35 miles west of Madison in Spring Green, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin East has long been a pilgrimage site for fans of the revolutionary architect. This incredible property started in 1911 and remained a work in progress until Wright's death in 1959. It encompasses over 600 acres of breathtaking rolling countryside and consists of an intricately designed home, studio, gallery, theater, Midway Farms, Romeo and Juliet Windmill, a dam, and waterfalls. Taliesin East was designated a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another notable Spring Green attraction is the House on the Rock, an architecturally distinct structure reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's works. This property is perched atop an outcropping, contains more than 3,000 windows, and features the famous 218-foot-long Infinity Room that juts out from a cliff like a knife.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
If you're a nature lover, you must pay a visit to Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Situated on Madison's scenic waterfront, this attraction covers an area of 16 acres and features beautifully designed themed gardens with plants from different parts of the world. Highlights of the gardens include a huge collection of roses, unique hostas hybridized by accomplished horticulturist Eunice Fisher, the glass-enclosed Bolz Conservatory, and an elaborate Thai pavilion called a “sala” which is the only pavilion of its kind in the contiguous United States. The Olbrich Botanical Gardens are open daily and free to the public.
Chazen Museum of Art
Chazen Museum of Art features more than 20,000 artworks in a variety of mediums including oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, sculptures, prints, photography, and applied arts. You'll get the chance to view the works of famous artists such as Joan Miro, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Augustin Rodin, Thomas Gainsborough, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. Additionally, the museum has an extensive collection of ancient objects, some dating back thousands of years. Temporary exhibitions featuring local, national, and international artists are held throughout the year. Guided tours are available several times a week.
Allen Centennial Gardens
The Allen Centennial Gardens are the outdoor classroom for students enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's horticulture program. It consists of the Sustainable Garden that showcases sustainable practices, the Edible Garden with a wide range of edible plants, and several themed gardens such as English, French, Italian, and Japanese gardens. At the center of the gardens, you'll find a Gothic Victorian house called Dean's Residence, which was home to the first four deans of the university. This building has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Allen Centennial Gardens are open daily from dawn to dusk.
Henry Vilas Zoo
If you're looking for a place to take your kids, head down to Henry Vilas Zoo. This zoo draws almost a million visitors a year and is one of the most popular attractions in Madison. It features a wide array of animals from tropical, savanna, plains, arctic, and other habitats.
In the tropical rainforest exhibit, you'll see rainforest plants, a variety of fish, and a free-flight aviary where you'll be surrounded by birds. The Arctic exhibit has an underwater viewing area for observing polar bears and harbor seals as well as a stream where grizzly bears fish. Other notable residents of the zoo include African lions, Amur tigers, red pandas, and reticulated giraffes. Children can have fun at the petting zoo, huge playground, and carousel, or enjoy a ride on the electric train.
Best Restaurants in Madison
If you enjoy exploring different culinary experiences, you'll have a field day in Madison. The city has established itself as the foodie capital of Wisconsin with its diverse and innovative food scene. Whether you're looking for a juicy burger or authentic local meal, you'll have plenty of options to choose from. Some of the best restaurants in Madison include:
The Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is perhaps the best place in Madison to experience Wisconsin cuisine. Located on North Pinckney Street, this restaurant uses the finest ingredients from local farmers and suppliers to craft delectable dishes that reflect the state's unique culinary offerings, such as cheese platters, brats, and spicy pickled eggs. Must-try items include the Wisconsin beer cheese soup with popcorn, house-made Wisconsin beer-battered cheese curds, wood-grilled pork shoulder, and Lake Perch fish fry. The restaurant also offers a great selection of Wisconsin beers, spirits, wines, and specialty drinks.
Bonfyre American Grille
Bonfyre American Grille serves contemporary American dishes in an elegant yet relaxed setting. Some of the popular items on the menu include Bonfyre Cheese Curds, Bonfyre Bacon Cheeseburger, the wood-fired Butcher's Cut, Herb Rotisserie Chicken, Mort's Pot Roast, and Blackened Salmon. The restaurant also offers the Wisconsin Cheese Board, which features a variety of local cheeses served with artisan bread and fresh fruit. There's also a wide selection of local beers on tap, specialty cocktails, and wines.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a favorite haunt for locals who love Asian cuisine because of its delicious food, huge menu, and great value for money. It specializes in authentic Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian dishes. You can opt for familiar Asian fare such as spring rolls, Thai fried rice, seafood tom yum, and Vietnamese beef pho, or try something unique such as the Vietnamese crepe, drunken noodles, roast duck curry, or crispy rice with pork sausage. For dessert, order the sesame balls with red bean or coconut sticky rice with mango or vanilla ice cream.
The Green Owl Cafe
Located on Atwood Avenue, The Green Owl Cafe claims to be the only vegetarian restaurant in Madison. This restaurant offers delightful gourmet dishes without any meat at all, and also offers a vegan and gluten-free menu. Its Jambalaya & Cornbread, Veggie Loaf Dinner, and Peanut Macrobowl are firm favorites, while its custom salad bar allows you to pick and choose from a wide selection of fresh ingredients. To ensure the healthiest meals, The Green Owl Cafe only uses ingredients from local farmers and suppliers.
Habanero's Mexican Grill
If you like Mexican food, go to Habanero's Mexican Grill for a healthy, sumptuous meal. This restaurant offers authentic Mexican food prepared with fresh, locally grown ingredients and traditional Mexican cooking techniques. You can either build your own burrito or taco or try one of the signature dishes, such as the fajita burrito and burrito bowl. Top off your meal with a slice of tres leches cake or Neapolitan flan. Also, make sure you order one of the restaurant's popular Mexican drinks, such as horchata and Jarritos soda.
Annual Events in Madison
Madison holds numerous events throughout the year to celebrate its rich and diverse cultural heritage and provide a wide range of exciting activities for its residents. The following are the most popular annual events in the city:
Dane County Farmers' Market
Dane County Farmers' Market is best known as the largest producers-only farmers market in the United States. All the items sold in this market are grown, raised, or produced by the vendors themselves, so you can expect to find only the freshest, highest-quality produce there. Throughout the year, there are approximately 275 vendors offering a huge selection of products including meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, flowers, plants, cheeses, baked goods, and specialty products. Food and beverage carts, arts and crafts vendors, and street musicians are also present to add to the festivities.
Dane County Farmers' Market is held every Saturday morning on the Capitol Square from April to September. A smaller version of the market takes place every Wednesday morning on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Concerts on the Square
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra usually plays chamber music at the Overture Center for the Performing Arts. However, come summertime, you'll find them playing outdoors in front of the Capitol on six consecutive Wednesday nights. On these nights, Capitol Square will be filled with thousands of music lovers and many food and beverage vendors. Led by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the orchestra will play a variety of classical music, popular music, and some out-of-the-box selections.
Taste of Madison
Held since 1983, Taste of Madison is one of the most anticipated culinary events in Madison. Drawing more than 250,000 attendees, it features over 80 restaurants serving an extensive array of local and international dishes, 27 beverage vendors, and three entertainment stages. Food items cost no more than $5 and top out at 6 ounces so you can try many different types of food. Taste of Madison is held every Labor Day weekend in Capitol Square.
Art Fair on the Square
Art Fair on the Square is another major annual event that takes place in Capitol Square. Held around mid-July, it's one of the most popular outdoor art festivals in the Midwest, attracting almost 200,000 visitors. About 500 artists showcase a wide range of artworks, including paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, crafts, jewelry, and handmade clothing and accessories. Besides immersing yourself in art, you can also enjoy music and dance performances and delightful outdoor dining.
Madison Winter Festival
Madison Winter Festival is a fun-filled festival that celebrates and promotes outdoor activities and healthy lifestyles during winter. Held every February at Elver Park, it features two days of winter outdoor activities for people of all ages and includes snow sculpting, ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing, candlelight skiing, and family-friendly winter games. Hot chocolate and s'mores are available to keep you and your children warm. During this event, Elver Park is covered with miles of man-made snow to ensure that the activities will proceed regardless of the weather.
Best Neighborhoods in Madison
Madison consists of many neighborhoods that may differ significantly in terms of cost of living, convenience, amenities, and overall quality of life. Nonetheless, some neighborhoods are generally considered better than others for a variety of reasons.
Situated just east of the Capitol, Tenney-Lapham is the perfect neighborhood for singles and young professionals who want to live in Madison without getting sucked into the university culture. It's a fast-growing, affluent area with many newly built condominiums and skyscrapers, so you'll have access to the most advanced amenities. Tenney-Lapham is also a great place for people who are looking to support the local music and art scene. It has a number of venues that showcase local and touring musicians, dancers, and artists, as well as several cash-only bars with a laid-back feel.
If you're studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison or enjoy the feel of a college town, Campus is a great option. Located on the west side of the Capitol, it's the place where students of the university spend most of their time. It provides easy access to all the amenities you need, including grocery stores, restaurants, bars, parks, and museums. Apartments are the most common housing option in this neighborhood, and many of them offer low rental rates to accommodate the budgets of students.
Although it's within walking distance to Campus bars and Camp Randall, Vilas is a surprisingly quiet neighborhood. The houses in this area are old and surrounded by plenty of foliage creating a tranquil and laid-back environment. Vilas is the ideal neighborhood for families and young adults as it's located close to several family-friendly and outdoor attractions, including Henry Vilas Zoo and Lake Wingra. It also has a wide variety of local businesses, such as coffee shops, knick-knack shops, and a record store as well as the only Trader Joe's in the city.
Willy Street is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Madison. It offers some of the best shopping and dining in the city making it a popular destination for locals on weekends. This community is mostly made up of families and young professionals who can afford its somewhat pricey homes. There aren't many apartments in this area, but there are some if you look. Instead, you'll find old and beautiful homes that give the neighborhood its historic ambiance. Willy Street is situated close to Lake Monona and Madison's main drags.
Shorewood Hills is different from the aforementioned neighborhoods in that it isn't within walking distance to the Capitol. It's a suitable place for families and single adults who want to live close to the city center but prefer to be a little farther from all the hustle and bustle. The average age of the residents is 49, and most of them own their homes. Shorewood Hills is a wonderful place for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers because of its nine beautiful parks, proximity to Lake Mendota, and dedication to wildlife preservation.
Whether you're relocating for better job opportunities, retirement, education, or just a change of environment, you won't be disappointed with a move to Madison. This amazing city has consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States, and it has attracted numerous new residents from near and far. If you're looking for a reliable long-distance mover to help you transport your stuff to Madison, feel free to contact our customer service representatives.