Tips on Moving to Madison, WI: Relocation Guide

If you love cheese curds, want access to extremely fresh produce, and want to live in one of the nation’s best hubs of medicine and technology, you should definitely think about moving to Madison, WI.

Moving to Madison WI

Photo Credit: Jordan Richmond

Madison is one of the most popular cities in the Midwest amongst both families and young professionals for good reason. With solid real estate options, steady job growth with a low unemployment rate, and good job opportunities, the Madison area is a great choice.

The “City of Four Lakes” is nicknamed for its surrounding waters of Lake Monona, Lake Mendota, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa. If you’re into kayaking and lake life, think about moving to Madison.

But hey, we get it––whenever you’re moving to a new place it can be overwhelming to keep up with everything; that’s where we come in.

Our guide will provide you with all the important details you’ll need to prepare for a move to The Mad City.

Everything about relocating to Madison

And if you’re looking for more info on moving to Madison, check out our Madison move cost guide.

Quick Madison snapshot

  • Despite its popularity, Madison is relatively small, ranking 86th most populated US city with a population of 254,977..
  • Madison has an average one-bedroom rent of $1,364, up 6% from the year before.
  • For a capital city, Madison is also fairly affordable. Its cost of living ranks 40th highest in the country.

Before we dive any further, check out this video to familiarize yourself with Madison’s beautiful cityscapes!

Madison: a city divided (literally)

Madison’s neighborhoods are divided into three distinct areas by Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, and the Isthmus that lies between them.

Madison, WI Neighborhood Associations 2021

West Side: Home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the area west of the Isthmus naturally attracts a lot of students, but also features many family-oriented suburbs.

Isthmus: This small strip of the city is home to some of the city’s oldest and most prestigious neighborhoods.

East Side: This side of town is somewhat more suburban but still features many beautiful historic neighborhoods and is home to The Governor’s Mansion.

Here’s how the pricing breaks down

Madison, WI Trulia Rental Map 2021

  • As a general rule, the Downtown Madison and historic areas of any major city are going to be the most expensive.
  • South Campus, Greenbush, and Capitol are some of the pricier areas, with an average rent ranging from $1,725 to $2,017.
  • Meanwhile, you’ll find more reasonably priced rentals around Hawk’s Landing, Regent, and Sauk Creek with average rents between $1,221 and $1,390.
  • And if you’re looking for rent on the cheaper side, Schenk-Atwood, Ridgewood, and Leopold all have average rents around $1,056 to $1,157.

But the cost is only one factor when it comes to deciding where you’re going to live. You also need to make sure you actually enjoy being a part of the community you’re moving into.

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Where are people like me living in Madison?

Look, everyone would prefer to live in a neighborhood that fits their personality. Fortunately, Esri’s Zip Tapestry Tool makes it incredibly easy to find places with people who share your lifestyle.

Madison Neighborhood Demographics

For example, looking up the zip code of Capitol (53703) will show you descriptions and distributions of the three largest demographic groups in that area. Pretty neat, huh? This will help you narrow down the crowd you’re looking for––from college kids to retirees.

Madison Neighborhood Statistics

Now that you’ve found awesome neighbors, let’s make sure you’re close enough to work to get there on time.

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Commuting in Madison

Madison is a fairly car-dependent city. Luckily, it doesn’t have many of the traffic problems that tend to plague major cities.

Delays when driving in Madison

Most commute estimates you’ll find online should be fairly accurate but typical delay factors like snow or sporting events can increase commute times by around 25%, so as long as you’re aware of when the Badgers play and you don’t mind sledding to work some days, you’ll be fine.

But what if you don’t want to deal with all the hassles of driving? Madison has a few decent public transit options.

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Navigating Madison Without a Car

While Madison’s public transit system leaves a lot to be desired, it’s a pretty walkable and extremely bikeable city.

Madison, WI Walkscore 2021

A 48 walk score means, more or less, it’s possible to get around by walking in the more densely populated areas of the city like Capitol, Downtown, and the areas around the University of Wisconsin.

But you can’t exactly walk everywhere.

Madison’s public transit score is low

Madison, WI Weekday Metro Map 2021

Here’s the deal:

Madison Metro Transit is fine.

The problem is, the bus system has a fairly limited reach and the schedule isn’t super convenient.

As with walking, you’re kinda out of luck unless you’re in an urban area of the city.

Madison is, however, a great city for cyclists

With a Bike Score of 65, Madison has fantastic cycling infrastructure which can all be found on the Bike Madison site.

Madison Bike Map

Notice how much more extensive the bike paths and bike trails are than the bus routes.

Madison also offers B-cycle, a bike-sharing service that’s widely available throughout the city.

Now, let’s talk safety.

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Madison is relatively safe compared to other major cities

When discussing crime in large cities, the nuances make a big difference.

NeighborhoodScout has Madison’s crime score listed at 16 out of 100.

Madison, WI NeighborhoodScout Crime Rate 2021

While that doesn’t seem great, a closer look reveals that less than 10% of reported incidents are violent crimes.

Property damage and vandalism are still bad, but they’re no reason to be scared away from perfectly good areas.

For the most part, crime really isn’t a big issue in Madison.

Cool, now that we’ve gotten the bigger details out of the way, it’s time to dig into figuring out where to live.

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Madison apartments

Before you rent a place, always consider what accommodations you’ll need.

As a friendly reminder, Madison is not only located in the Northern Midwest, but also near two sizable bodies of water. Because of this, you should be prepared for some cold, cold winters.

Madison Average Temperature

Also, Midwest summers are a lot hotter than people give them credit for.

You’ll spend a solid three months wishing the sun would just go away.

Basically, your apartment needs access to heating and air-conditioning.

With things getting so cold, you should think about your average monthly gas bill as you think about how much you can spend on rent.

Even though some areas are pretty walkable, you’d be smart to find a place with washer/dryer units included since laundromats tend to be scarce outside of the downtown areas.

Where to look for apartments

Here are a few of our favorite sites for finding apartments. They each feature pretty great search functions that help you to narrow results down to your preferred number of bedrooms, price, amenities, etc.

You might have some justifiable hesitation, but Craigslist can be a pretty solid source for finding affordable rentals in Madison, so long as you know where to look.

Note: This DOES NOT mean you should trust Craigslist implicitly. Here’s their own guide on how to recognize potential scammers.

Madison’s rental market

Renting in Madison is relatively affordable compared to other major cities and college towns.

The city’s rental market isn’t in awful shape at the moment.

From 2021 on,, rent in Madison has increased by 6%, which isn’t substantially higher than the overall average rent increase throughout the US.

At the same time, Madison’s vacancy rates have decreased to 3.4% which isn’t great, but is less than the national average.

Wisconsin rental laws you should know

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Madison homes and suburbs

Then again, maybe you prefer a more permanent living situation.

In which case, you should consider checking out these areas of Madison that have been ranked as some of the best suburbs in the country.

Madison, WI Monona Zillow Housing Market 2021

Monona

Monona is a small suburb bordered by Madison proper and Lake Monona that packs all the amenities of the city, combined with access to grocery stores and decent school districts, it’s a perfect, cozy suburban package. This is the perfect spot for someone who wants to live in the ‘burbs’ but still have easy access to the big city.

Similar Suburbs: Fitchburg, Verona, Middleton

Madison, WI Marquette Zillow Housing Market 2021

Marquette

Meanwhile, Marquette is a solid suburb located near the UW-Madison campus. It’s far enough to be a fairly quiet and calm area but still close enough to provide plenty of things to do. It also tends to bring in a lot of recent college graduates and young families who are attracted to both the location and it’s moderately-priced homes and rentals.

Similar Suburbs: Fox Point, Shorewood, Mequon

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Now that you’re ready to move to Madison…

Use our moving cost calculator to estimate your moving costs to Madison.

Also, if you are coming from out of state, be sure to have a look at our long-distance relocation guide for more info and tips.

Moving vehicle parking in Madison

In general, the city would prefer you park moving vehicles on private property, such as a driveway or parking lot.

Sometimes, the only option is parking on the street, though. That’s where permits come in.

If you find yourself in need of a special Street Occupancy Permit, you can apply for one here.

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Your Madison post-move checklist

Now that the hard part’s out of the way and you’re officially a Cheesehead, it’s time to get your final moving tasks out of the way.

  • Voter registration: Voting is one of your most important civic duties and you should absolutely register as soon as you can after moving. For more info, go here.
  • Driver’s license: You’ll also need to update your license with your new address. Here’s where you go to get a new ID.
  • Vehicle registration: And if you have a car from out of state, you’ll need to get it registered by following the instructions here.
  • Trash & recycling: You’ll be able to set up trash and recycling services for your new home by going here.
  • Make friends and meet people: It’s hard to find new connections when moving to a new city. Fortunately, the internet makes it easier than it’s ever been to find new friends. Meetup.com is a great place for finding local networks of like minded individuals and r/madisonwi is a good place for keeping up with things going on around the city.

Meetup Madison

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Fun things to do in Madison

The city of Madison has a wide range of great things to do, but the sheer number of options can be a bit overwhelming.

Frank Lloyd Wright Madison

Here are a few go-to’s: Badgers games, Vilas Zoo, the Dane County Farmers Market, and basically anything going on around State Street.

If you’re in the mood for something a bit livelier, the city’s full of nightlife to fit any personality. From the chill vibes of the Vintage Spirits & Grill and the music scene at High Noon Saloon to Five Nightclub’s bumping dance floor, there’s a little something for everyone.

Madison, WI Cask and Ale Whiskey 2021

Bar hoppers in Madison will also find a lot to love with Cask and Ale’s immense whisky and spirit selection as well as the dive-y charms of Le Tigre Lounge. There’s also something for you if you’re into the the upscale exclusivity of Merchant Madison’s food and cocktails.

Moving to Madison? Let us know what we missed in the comments!

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