Is Madison, WI a Good Place to Live? 10 Pros and Cons of Living in Madison

Madison, WI is a dynamic and diverse city that has won the hearts of many with its stunning lakeside views and a thriving food scene. But is Madison a good place to live? While the city provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities, career advancement, and a lively urban lifestyle, it also presents its own set of challenges like limited transportation and and expensive airfare. In this Redfin article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of living in Madison to help you decide if it’s the right place for you.

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An aerial photo of the downtown Madison taken from an airplane in the winter.

Quick Facts about Madison

Median home sale price $425,000
Average monthly rent $1,441
Walk Score 50/100
Transit Score 35/100
Bike Score 66/100

1. Pro: College sports

Madison is a mecca for college sports, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers commanding a loyal fan base and a rich athletic legacy. Whether it’s cheering on the football team at Camp Randall Stadium, experiencing the electric atmosphere of a basketball game at the Kohl Center, or attending a hockey match at the iconic “Madhouse on Madison,” the city is filled with excitement on game days.

2. Con: Harsh winters

One of the significant drawbacks of living in Madison is the harsh winter weather. The city experiences heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures that can last from November through March. This can make commuting difficult and outdoor activities less enjoyable. When it comes to winter, you’ll want to prepare your home and yourself for the colder months.

3. Pro: Access to outdoor activities

The city is surrounded by picturesque lakes and parks, offering residents and visitors a haven for outdoor activities. Lake Mendota and Lake Monona provide opportunities for boating, fishing, and kayaking, while the city’s extensive network of bike trails, including the scenic Capital City State Trail, invites exploration and adventure.

4. Con: Limited public transportation

While Madison does have a public bus system, it’s transit score of 35 means it’s lacking extensive or efficient options compared to larger cities. The bus routes can be limited, especially in suburban areas, making it challenging for residents without a car to get around. Additionally, the frequency of buses can be inconsistent, leading to longer wait times.

5. Pro: Strong educational institutions

Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top public universities in the United States. The university offers a wide range of programs and has a strong research focus, attracting students and faculty from around the world. Additionally, Madison has excellent public and private schools, making Madison a well-rounded place to live.

bike path madison wi GettyImages 157188798

6. Con: High cost of living

Compared to other major cities in Wisconsin like Milwaukee, Madison has a relatively high cost of living. Housing prices, in particular, can be steep with a median home sale price of $425,000. You’ll find these prices high especially in desirable neighborhoods close to the university or downtown. Even the cost of renting is on the more expensive side, where the median rent is $1,441. Additionally, groceries, dining out, and other essentials can also be higher than in smaller towns.

7. Pro: Thriving food scene

Madison, WI, boasts a thriving food scene that caters to diverse tastes and culinary preferences. From farm-to-table eateries like Graze, which showcases locally sourced ingredients, to iconic food carts lining Library Mall, offering a delicious array of international flavors, the city is a gastronomic paradise.

8. Con: Limited nightlife options

While Madison has a great food scene and plenty of outdoor activities, the city’s nightlife options can sometimes feel limited compared to larger urban centers. Despite charming bars and breweries like The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., most of the nightlife is concentrated around the university area where venues may close early, limiting late-night entertainment options.

9. Pro: Community events and festivals

Madison hosts a variety of community events and festivals throughout the year, fostering a strong sense of community. Events like the Madison Night Market and the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest bring residents together to celebrate local businesses and culture. The city also hosts the annual Rhythm and Booms fireworks display, which is a highlight of the summer.

10. Con: Expensive airport

In Madison, travelers often face the challenge of pricey airfare, tarnishing the city’s appeal for those mindful of their budgets. A study on domestic airfare revealed Dane County Regional Airport as a top contender in costliness. For instance, flights from this airport often bear premium price tags, especially when juxtaposed with fares from neighboring regional airports.


Methodology: The median home sale price and average monthly rental data is from the Redfin Data Center. The Walk Score, Transit Score and Bike Score data is from Walk Score.

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