The Pros and Cons of Living in Madison WI

Joe Marks
Published on November 30, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Living in Madison WI

Thinking about living in Madison WI? We know it is easy to find all the information you can imagine about the pros of living in Madison WI but what about the cons? Look no further as Krystle and I break it down for you! We’re excited to be your local Madison, WI guides and hope our combined experience with this city will give you valuable information as you learn about all things Madison, WI.

Cons of Living in Madison WI

1: The Weather

Beautiful night cityscape. Madison, the capitol of Wisconsin downtown street view with parked cars and Wisconsin state capitol building glowing in the snowy night. Wisconsin state, Midwest USA.

Con #1 of living in Madison WI, we have cold winters! How cold? The average low in winter is 10 degrees. With the cold, of course, comes the snow. We have, on average, around 42.5 inches of snow each year. However, the snow removal crews are excellent! We rarely have to shut the city down because the road crews are out working on getting the snow moved quickly and efficiently.

2: Property Taxes

Con #2 of living in Madison WI, property taxes are high. In fact, Wisconsin is ranked 5th highest in the country for property tax rates. What does that mean in real dollars? Depending on the price of your home and the area you are in, property taxes average around $6,000 a year in Madison. However, stay tuned, as this con actually leads to a pro!

3: Housing Costs

Con #3 of living in Madison WI, housing costs may be higher than you’re used to, depending on where you’re coming from. Again, real numbers, downtown Madison, a 1 bedroom apartment averages about $1,100 a month in rent. When considering buying a home, the average sale price for a pretty standard 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in the city of Madison is around $325,000.

4: Hard to Navigate

Con #4 of living in Madison WI, it’s hard to navigate. If you’ve never seen a map of Madison, downtown is located on an isthmus which means it is situated right between two lakes, Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. Because the streets have to wind around the lakes, Madison’s layout does not follow any sort of square grid. This can take some getting used to!

5: Politically Charged

Con #5 of living in Madison WI, it can be politically charged. Being the capital of Wisconsin, not infrequently, politically charged events take place in our area, protests, rallies and events of that nature. Depending on where you stand, this can be either a con or a pro. If political issues are something you are passionate about, there is no shortage of opportunities to get involved. The reason we’ve chosen to include politically charged as a con on our list is that it does have the potential to heat up the conversation at family dinners or get togethers and talking politics does not appeal to everyone.

Pros of Living in Madison WI

1: Outdoors and Views

Pro #1 of living in Madison WI, the outdoor activities and the beautiful views! Madison is a beautiful city! Downtown alone is home to the gorgeous Capitol Building, the Monona Terrace (designed by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright), and is nestled between Madison’s two amazing lakes, Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. The lakes offer activities like boating, swimming, fishing, sailing, paddle boarding, boat rentals, as well as ice skating and ice fishing in the winter. Among it’s many outdoor opportunities, Madison is known for it’s biking community. With over 200 miles of biking and hiking trails, Madison is often referred to as the bike capital of the Midwest. Plus, a recent article reveled that Madison will soon be adding an off road mountain biking trail system!

Woman cyclist riding mountain bike on bike path

Because of it’s access to the lakes and bike trails, Madison often hosts outdoor recreational events such as the Madison Ironman, the Madison Marathon, a triathlon, mini marathons, and much more!

Besides the recreational events, Madison also hosts a number of summer festivals including the world’s largest “Brat Fest”. Complete with live music, and of course, delicious brats! Speaking of good food, you’ll also want to check out Taste of Madison in the fall. Spread out around the capitol square, Taste of Madison features samplings from many area food vendors and restaurants.

Finally, the Madison park system is second to none. As one of the cities with the largest number of parks per capita (12.7 parks per 10,000 residents), a place to run and play is never far away. Check out the city parks in your neighborhood or take a day trip to one of the several state parks within driving distance of Madison like the ever popular Devil’s Lake State Park in nearby Baraboo or the UW Arboretum right downtown Madison.

City of Madison downtown skyline with state capitol building dome from Olin city park across the Monona lake with autumn colored trees.

2: Food and Drink

Pro #2 of living in Madison WI, the food and drink scene. Wow! We are blessed with amazing food and drink in Madison. As a Midwest city, farms are never far off. Because of this, Madison was an early adopter of the farm to table movement meaning there is no shortage of fresh, local food that we get to enjoy. Some restaurant highlights include Graze and L’Etoile, both projects of chef Tori Miller whose restaurant L’Etoile was featured by Gourmet magazine as one of America’s top 50 restaurants. Some of our favorite restaurants are The Old Fashioned (excellent cheese curds), Cooper’s Tavern, Merchant, Brasserie V, Pig In A Fur Coat (fun, family style atmosphere), Heritage Tavern, Tornado Room (delicious steak in a supper club environment), Naples 15, and Lombardinos.

Beer Battered Wisconsin Cheese Curds with Dipping Sauce

Other than food, Madisonians never turn down a good drink. Madison is home to “The Great Taste of the Midwest”, an annual beer festival featuring a number of local brewers. Some breweries you’ll want to be sure to try are The Great Dane (which also has excellent food), Ale Asylum, Capital Brewery, Wisconsin Brewing Company, Vintage Brewing Company, Karben4, and New Glarus Brewing Co. (home of the wildly popular Spotted Cow Beer).

3: Family Friendly

Pro #3 of living in Madison WI, the city is family friendly. There are any number of wonderful family friendly places, activities, and events happening in Madison throughout the year. Chief among them is the FREE Henry Vilas Zoo. A favorite of kids and parents alike, the Henry Vilas Zoo features animals from around the world and is one of only 10 free zoos remaining in North America.

Polar bear takes a swim at Henry Vilas Zoo

Nestled squarely downtown is another family favorite, the Madison Children’s Museum. It is pretty fantastic! They have many different exhibits on topics from art, science, history, and culture. Plus, many of the exhibits are hands on, perfect for little learners with busy hands and busy minds.

Another place to take the family is Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Wonderful in all seasons but especially for a winter pick-me-up, Olbrich Gardens is home to over 16 acres of display gardens as well as a conservancy. With a large variety of plants from all over the world and events happening throughout the year, Olbrich is a perfect place for your family to learn about and experience the natural world around them.

Olbrich Gardens Tai Pavillion

Madison does a great job of focusing on the arts and because of this there are a number of opportunities for you and your family to experience music, art, theater, and more. A couple of our family favorites are Kids in the Rotunda, a Saturday morning event held in the beautiful Overture Center for the Arts featuring family friendly performances of all kinds and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, where beautiful and unique art exhibits are displayed. Additionally, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has wonderful kid art classes and in the summer they have a truck that rotates to different city parks offering kids art activities.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Another super fun summer event that is unique to Madison is the Madison Mallards baseball team. The stadium does a great job of making the experience family focused offering entertainment between each inning, a few mini parks within the grounds of the stadium, as well as a large sandbox to keep your kids entertained while you enjoy the game.

4: Schools

Pro # 4 of living in Madison WI, the schools are highly rated. This is our pro to the con of high property taxes! Part of the reason we have high property taxes is because we have amazing schools. According to the statewide rating system, Madison area schools are highly rated among the state and nation. Some of the school districts in the area with the highest Department of Public Instruction rating are in the surrounding suburbs, for example, Middleton, Waunakee, McFarland, and Shorewood are all highly rated schools. In addition, many of the districts offer charter options including alternative learning opportunities such as bilingual programs and a STEM focused school which is where our children attend.

5: College Town

Pro #5 of living in Madison WI, we are a college town through and through! Madison has been rated the #1 college sports town by Sports Illustrated and with good reason. The University of Wisconsin campus in and of itself is beautiful. We have some of the top education programs in the country and with a number of successful sports programs, game day in Madison is a unique and thrilling experience. Camp Randall on game day is unlike anything else! Besides the sports, state street, a main shopping and eating area near the square, is often flooded with students and full of life and you don’t want to miss out on ice cream, live music, and lake views at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union.

Camp Randall on Game Day

These are just the tip of the iceberg of the pros of living in Madison WI. We hope you’ll check our city out and feel free to contact me with any questions as you explore the option of living in Madison WI.