What's it like to live in Madison, WI?

Holly Henschen

Profile written by local expert:

Holly Henschen

Against a backdrop of high-tech businesses and acclaimed academic institutions, Madison, Wisconsin, exudes the casual, down-to-earth feel you'd expect in the capital of America's Dairyland. On a given night, Madisonians can dine on food prepared by award-winning chefs and take in performances by national and international musicians and actors. The next morning, Madisonians can buy produce, meats and baked goods at the Dane County Farmers Market, often grabbing breakfast and coffee there or at hot spots like Marigold Kitchen and Michelangelo's Coffee House.

A hotbed of the health care, information technology and manufacturing industries, Madison has steadily welcomed new residents over the past decade and is growing to accommodate and entertain these transplants. Developers are quickly erecting mixed-use luxury housing with ground floors occupied by trendy restaurants and coffee shops. Options for fine dining, microbrews and craft cocktails in Madison are constantly expanding.

Much like in New York City, it's somewhat rare to encounter a native Madisonian. Some who have relocated permanently attended UW-Madison and never left. Others relocated to Madison for work. Nevertheless, the small-town vibe of Madison shines through.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Madison, Wisconsin is ranked:

#16 in Best Places to Live

#38 in Best Places to Retire




Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
  • Value
  • Job Market
  • Quality of Life
  • Net Migration

Read how we rank places

Madison, WI Quick Stats

  • 634,269

    Metro Population

  • $50,830

    Average Annual Salary

  • 55.9° / 36.8°

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 35.9

    Median Age

  • $238,375

    Median Home Price

  • 34.5 inches

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 2.4%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $919

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 21.6 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What's the cost of living in Madison, WI?

The cost of living in Madison is higher than both the state and national averages. The median sale price for a home in Madison is slightly higher than that of the country. However, compared to other Midwest regions like Chicago, Madison is much more affordable.

Value Index

Index Score: 7.3 /10

How we calculate this.

Madison offers a better value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs this Year



Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Madison, WI.


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What's the weather like in Madison, WI?

During the summer, Madison residents waste no time taking advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities, such as jogging and boating. Residents are no strangers to single-digit temperatures during the winter. Ever pragmatic, Madisonians take to the frozen lakes for ice fishing, skating and hockey. Parks and golf courses transition to cross-country skiing trails in the winter.

Seasonal Temperature (Avgs)









Seasonal Rainfall (Avgs)

1.7 in


3.6 in


4.5 in


3.1 in


Monthly High and Low Temperatures (°F)

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center.

What's the best way to get around Madison, WI?

Madisonians who live near the city center often prefer to walk and bike when possible, which is easy in the region's pedestrian- and cycle-friendly downtown. Those who live outside the city proper usually commute by car.

The hub of Madison's extensive bus system is the UW Campus/Capitol area, but routes cover the majority of the region. There are ample routes and buses available during rush hour, though riders can be left waiting during off-hours and over the weekend. The region runs separate bus routes for public school students.

Dane County Regional Airport is just a 20-minute drive from downtown and offers nonstop service to more than a dozen larger domestic hubs, including New York City, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago. The city is also serviced by intercity charter buses. 

Commuting in Madison, WI

Means of Transportation
Below national average

Equal to national average

Above national average

Public Transit
Equal to national average
Average Commute Time

21.6 minutes

4.5 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Madison, WI?

Young professionals and families, as well as UW-Madison students and retirees, appreciate the relaxed lifestyle Madison offers. Although it is a highly educated region, the poverty rate is nearly 20 percent. 

Home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as Edgewood College and Madison Area Technical College, Madison is among the most educated metro areas in the country. More than 95 percent of residents above the age of 25 have graduated high school. But among grade school children, the racial education gap is quite large.

A little less than half the population affiliates with a religion, and the largest chunk of the religious population identifies with Catholicism.

Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown

About the same number of single people in Madison as national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

What is there to do in Madison, WI?

Madison's rich arts and food scenes impress even the most cosmopolitan newcomers. World-class performers and speakers regularly cycle through the region. Meanwhile, Madison appeals to foodies with its locally produced cheese and its local beer from a growing legion of microbreweries and gastropubs like The Great Dane and Ale Asylum.

Drinks and dining are a consistent source of conversation with friendly Madisonians, as is sports, especially if the conversation revolves around the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division I basketball team, the Wisconsin Badgers.

During the summer, Madison's lakes draw boaters, canoers, kayakers, sailors, swimmers and stand-up paddle boarders. Even more lakes and state parks await within driving distance. Regional bike paths wind outward in all directions for those up for a trek outside the metro area.