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Living in Madison, Wisconsin

Learn why Madison ranks so high in many quality of life surveys.

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What’s so great about Madison, Wisconsin?

Why work in Madison? There are many reasons why so many people like to live, work, and play in our fair city. For one, we rank high on several “best places to live” lists every year. We highlight many more reasons below!

Family friendly

Kids in a huddle

Madison boasts a variety of family friendly activities and venues to entertain kids of all ages. From the beautiful landscapes of the Arboretum and Olbrich Gardens to the kid friendly Henry Vilas Zoo, family fun and relaxation is abundant. If you’re looking for something geared towards the creative, check out classes at the Children’s Theater of Madison or stop by Kids in the Rotunda, a free theater program hosted on Saturdays, October through April. Families love to play at the highly interactive Madison Children’s Museum downtown—explore our beautiful Capitol building while you’re there and see the area from a birds-eye view.

Families can enjoy even more excitement at a number of different sporting events like Madison Mallard baseball games and the increasingly popular Forward Madison semi-professional soccer team events. For more hands on fun, spend the day at Vitense Golfland, which has three mini-golf courses, climbing wall, batting cages, and more.

Keep your eyes open for special events for the whole family throughout the year (many of which are free!), and explore numerous family-friendly places and events within driving distance of Madison such as waterparks, museums, train rides, and more.

Food and drink

Group enjoying food and drink

If you’re a “foodie”, you’re in luck! The long-standing Dane County Farmer’s Market that takes place around the Capitol square is the largest producer-only market in the U.S., and there are many smaller farmers markets throughout the city.

Local restaurants, farms, and other food producers offer up fun, fresh food options—there is always something in season and always something new to try. In fact, Madison is home to several James Beard award winners. For the adventurous, the Madison food scene routinely hosts restaurants that are cooking up home grown recipes from every part of the world, including Peruvian cuisine, Japanese hibachi, and Spanish tapas, to name a few.

If something a bit stronger is your style, Madison is known for its superb selection of craft beverages. The greater Madison area is home to over 40 breweries, wineries, and distilleries.

Home of the Badgers

UW Madison football

If you’re a Madisonian, you’re likely a Badger. Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is seamlessly built into the downtown area and is one of the Big 10’s most iconic schools. The University has been consistently rated as one of the best schools in the country by US News, ranking #10 in the country out of all public universities. With the Badgers competing in over 20 NCAA Division 1 sports, you may routinely find yourself immersed in a football rivalry at Camp Randall Stadium or cheering on both basketball and hockey teams at the Kohl Center.

Night life

Group enjoying food and drink

Nightlife is abundant and there are options for everyone. The Overture Center routinely hosts big-name shows and musicals for all ages, and if you’re looking for something to do before, or after, the show, the ever-popular State Street is just a stone’s throw away. Home to numerous pubs and late-night eateries, State Street is always a fun attraction.

Historic Union Terrace, with it’s backdrop of starry skies and sunset on beautiful Lake Mendota, offers outdoor movies and music during the summer to enjoy while you sit on one of the iconic sunburst chairs with a brat and some famous Babcock ice cream.

And there are numerous venues around the city that offer live music, movies, games, comedy, and more.

The Arts

Contemporary art piece

The opportunities to enjoy music, theater, dance, concerts, and more are simply too many to list! Madison boasts numerous museums, theaters, galleries, and concert venues as well as a myriad of festivals and community events, including Art Fair on the Square, that take place throughout the year.

The Chazen holds a collection of approximately 24,000 works of art covering diverse historical periods, cultures and geographic locations, and the Contemporary Art Museum features features spacious galleries as well as a children’s classroom, study center, and rooftop garden.

The Overture, Orpheum, Sylvee, and other venues draw major theater productions and musicians. The Symphony has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras and treats the city to Concerts on the Square in the summer, and Madison Opera is only one of two opera companies in Wisconsin that provide the experience of fully-staged grand opera.

Plus larger metropolitan areas such as Milwaukee and Chicago and their arts opportunities are just a short drive or bus trip away.


Student group

A leader in higher education since 1848, UW-Madison is a public land-grant university and major research institution and home to roughly 50,000 students annually. It consistently ranks high on numerous factors both nationally and worldwide. Madison College, a community college, offers career training in 11 areas of study, from architecture to gender studies to welding, and provides transfer options to UW-Madison and beyond.

The Madison Metropolitan School District is the second largest in the state, and is comprised of 32 elementary schools, 12 middle schools, and six high schools.

There are several other private and technical schools in the city as well.

Health and fitness

Bicyclist on Lake Monona

For the athletes and fitness gurus, Madison has it all, including countless running, hiking, and biking paths, endless ski trails, easy access to water sports, and countless gyms, health clubs, and wellness centers. In fact, Madison is considered one of the fittest cities in the American Fitness index.

If you’re into team sports, both adults and kids can participate in organized team sports like soccer, baseball, skiing, golf, volleyball, and even curling, to name a few. Madison School & Community Recreation offers numerous classes and events at an affordable cost.

The greater Madison area also hosts numerous marathon, biking, and triathlon events. If you’re into the extreme, Madison has hosted countless Iron Man triathlons and even the world famous Cross Fit games.

Outdoor activities

A man and his dog enjoying a canoe ride

When you live in Madison, you’re never more than a 10-minute walk from a park. With 270 locations and over 6,000 acres of space, the city of Madison has something for everyone. If that isn’t enough, the greater Dane County area has another 5,000 acres of parkland to explore.

With five lakes in direct proximity to the city limits and 12 beaches in town, you might enjoy trolling for walleye along the shores of Lake Waubesa, skiing on Lake Mendota, taking a casual boat ride on Lake Wingra, or walking along the miles of beautiful shoreline.

Madison is the most bike-able city in the country—our biking and hiking trail system covers more than 200 miles. We have more bikes than cars! Bike rentals are readily accessible, so pedaling the city on bike is both easy and beautiful. You’ll also find plenty of places to ride throughout Dane County and beyond.

And we have a treat for those green thumbs! Featuring 16 acres of outdoor gardens, an indoor conservatory, and a Royal Thai Pavilion, Olbrich Gardens is a gorgeous place for gardeners and non-gardeners to enjoy alike.

Historical sites

Madison Wisconsin State Capitol

Nestled between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, the Wisconsin State Capitol building rests in beautiful Capitol square. Originally built in 1917, the Capitol building is accessible to the public and regularly hosts tours that can take you all the way up to the top of the center dome. Stop by the Governor’s Mansion, a Southern Classical Revival home that is open seasonally.

If architecture is of interest, there are multiple Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the area, including the beautiful Monona Terrace® Community and Convention Center and the Unitarian Meeting House, and not too far from Madison is Wright’s Taliesin home and studio.

Camp Randall, today home of the Wisconsin Badger football team, was originally a staging place and POW camp during the Civil War.

You can also explore Native American effigy mounds built more than 1,000 years ago right in the city! And learn more Madison area history at several of our local museums.

Did you know?Fun pop culture facts about Madison

  • Scenes for the 2009 film Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp, were filmed at the Capitol and surrounding areas.
  • Rodney Dangerfield’s classic Back to School is set in Madison and features classic landmarks like Bascom Hill, Lake Mendota, the Red Gym, State Capitol Building, and more.
  • The band Garbage got its start in Madison in 1993.
  • In 1988, The Onion was founded by Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, students at UW-Madison.
  • Nirvana recorded its breakthrough album Nevermind in Madison
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Miller is a UW-Madison graduate.
  • Elvis Presley famously broke up a street fight in Madison in 1977.
  • Soul legend Otis Redding sadly passed away in a plane crash in Lake Monona.
(source: Destination Madison)