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A Guide to Madison, the City of Four Lakes

Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city, is a quintessential college town, home to one of the country’s top public universities. The University of Wisconsin and the state capital dominate this mid-size city. Outdoor-oriented publications often name Madison as one of the United States’ fittest cities. With its reputation as a place that attracts a well-educated populace, Madison is a city for anyone who wants an active and interesting lifestyle but without the stress of a large metropolis.

What to Know Before Moving to Madison, Wisconsin

For a town of less than 300,000, Madison has an economy and cultural activities that rival nearby big cities like Milwaukee and Chicago. Wisconsin is in the northern Midwest of the United States, bordering Canada. This gives Madison a cold climate, with a long winter. The weather does not prevent residents from being outside, however, and they can enjoy more than 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. Most residents still find that a car is needed for daily errands, but the reliable public transit system adds another transportation option. Before you move to Madison, check out our guide to the city:

What is Great About Madison?

The city of Madison is the predominant hub of activities in a small region. It has a stable economy that is built around state government jobs, one of the country’s top universities, and a vibrant insurance sector. In addition, it is creating a business climate that supports new technology startups.

College Town

As a storybook college town, Madison has NCAA Division 1 sports with games often broadcast nationally. The Wisconsin Badgers football team play at Camp Randall Stadium. Its world class performing arts centers bring in well-known musicians and national tours of plays, among other things. Independent and locally owned small businesses are much in evidence around the town. The UW Arboretum adds hiking trails through a forest, surprisingly near the center of the city. On six or seven Saturdays in the fall, more than 100,000 people descend on Madison to tailgate and watch a college football game.


Madison’s economy is mainly built around the local university and the state government, giving it a certain stability. They represent a third of the region’s jobs. The finance, insurance, travel, transportation and utilities sectors have a significant presence in the regional economy too, and Madison is the headquarters of several corporations. Compared to established industries, the tech scene is small but is growing fast.

The Capitol Square

Madison has no shortage of weekend activities, centered around its various neighborhoods. The area occupied by the Wisconsin State Capitol is known locally as the Square, and has a grassy space encircling the domed capitol building. It is in the center of many activities that bring city residents together. The Dane County Farmers Market starts in the spring and runs through late fall, and each Saturday it hosts farmers from around the state and neighboring Iowa. During the summer, the Square hosts free weekly concerts as well.

What is Madison Famous For?

Madison is famous for more than its university and its status as a state capital. Cheese is incorporated into a multitude of dishes in the region, with fried cheese curds being a popular dish. A common icon, the cheesehead hat is a knick-knack that can be found at many stores. The City of Four Lakes is a common nickname for Madison, thanks to Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. The core of the city is on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, making Madison one of only two cities in the United States to have this rare distinction. The city’s cold climate means the average temperature is below freezing for a third of the year.

Why Move to Madison, Wisconsin?

Madison attracts anyone who gravitates towards active lifestyles and towards people with progressive values, or anyone with a desire to work in public administration. The city’s unemployment rate is 2.2%, very low even in an era with record low unemployment rates. The stability of the regional economy is enhanced by a growing technology scene oriented towards bio and health tech industries. The city’s low violent crime rate ensures a safe and comfortable feeling in neighborhoods throughout the city.

What Does the Moving Process to Madison, Wisconsin Involve?

While Madison attracts people of all ages, it draws college students perhaps famously of all. If you are in your 20s and entering graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, you have several affordable living options. The average rent in the city is $1,256, but this buys an apartment covering nearly 900 square feet. A studio or one-bedroom apartment near the university can be cheaper – costing maybe about $800 to $900 in the Regent, Vilas, and Greenbush neighborhoods. About a third of the total rental apartments in the city cost less than $1,000.

What Are the Costs of Moving to Madison, Wisconsin?

If you are moving to Madison for graduate school following a few years working in Chicago, for example, expect your move to cost less than $3,000. It costs about $200 an hour to hire movers to pack your belongings, drive the moving van and unload your boxes. Tips are not included in this quote. But a soon-to-be graduate student looking to move cheaply, but owning a good car, can attach a moving trailer and do the driving themselves. A rental trailer is available for roughly $150, depending on moving date.

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