20 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Madison

Getting ready to move to Madison?

Let us pull back the curtain on Wisconsin’s capital city to give you a taste of what you have to look forward to. (Hint: There is a lot more to offer than cheese curds and Oscar Mayer wieners.)

1. It’s a Large College Town.

Even though Madison is a full-blown city, it can often feel like a really big campus if you’re hanging out in certain areas. The University runs this town, and you’ll see a significant drop in population during the summer. There’s always a bar to watch sports with other Badger fans, and you’ll start to feel a part of the UW community in no time. But if you’re not looking to be fully immersed in the campus lifestyle, spend some time on the East Side of the Capital to get away from the student majority.

2. The West Side is for Students.

The University of Wisconsin’s campus spreads throughout the West Side of the Capital, spanning from the Union on lake Mendota to Camp Randall near Regent street. It’s a big chunk of the city, and a lot of the apartments there are reserved specifically for student housing. A lot of the bars are really fun and cheap, but don’t be surprised if patrons suddenly break out into “On, Wisconsin.”

3. The East Side is Growing.

If you’re a young professional looking to be close to downtown but not too close to campus, the East Side of the Capital is your neighborhood. They have high rise condos, new apartment complexes, as well as older houses built in the early 20th century. They have awesome music venues like the High Noon Saloon, trendy bars like the Robin Room, and vintage clothing stores like the Good Style Shop.

4. We’re Really Into Cheese.

If you’re not from Wisconsin, you might have no idea what a cheese curd is. It’s a ball of gooey cheese, deep-fried, that you dip in ranch. Seeing as we’re the ‘dairy state,’ we’re never at a shortage of cheese, and most grocery stores have an entire aisle devoted to different types of cheese.

5. Parks, Parks, Parks.

Madison is consistently named one of the best cities for parks. Because it’s on an isthmus, the town is surrounded by water, so views from lakeside parks are really beautiful.

6. Going to the Dogs.

Walking around Madison in the spring, summer, and fall, it’s difficult to not run into your fair share of pups. Some of the best dog-spotting spots are the Union Terrace, James Madison Park, and State Street.

7. Watch Out For Parking Enforcement.

Madison is a pretty low-crime town, so police officers may be able to lay back more than they would in a bigger city. But Parking Enforcement is always on their A-game. Most free street parking from 8 AM to 6 PM is a 2-hour limit, and even if you’re only 10 minutes late to moving your car, you’ll probably arrive to a little white slip on your windshield.

8. Culver’s is the Best Fast Food.

Every region has their favorite local burger joint, and Wisconsinites are pretty loyal to Culver’s. They’re known for their butter burgers, cheese curds, and custard milkshakes that change flavors every day.

9. More Than Burgers and Brews.

Wisconsin loves some good bar food, but Madison has so much more to offer. Ha Long Bay is the best Thai food around, Tavernakaya has excellent sushi right on the square, and Bel Air Cantina has great deals on gourmet tacos.

10. Cyclists Galore.

If you arrive to Madison in the winter, you might be confused as to why there are so many bike shops across the city. But once the weather warms up, you’ll see bikers everywhere. The only public transport is a bus, and the parking situation isn’t the best, so having a bike can be a good travel alternative. Just make sure to lock it up.

11. Get You a Subaru.

The winters here are no joke, so make sure your car is able to handle heavy snowfall. A lot of people have Subarus, which are known for being a really great in bad weather, and they’re pretty affordable. If you’re moving from somewhere that snow isn’t so much of an issue, make sure you drive slow and don’t follow other cars too closely during a storm.

12. We Aren’t Afraid of Winter.

Even though January can be oppressively cold you won’t find too many Wisconsinites letting it get in the way of their daily lives. People still walk and bike to work when temperatures are below freezing, and you’ll see a lot of people camping out and ice fishing on the frozen lakes in the middle of the day.

13. Active Summers.

In a city with long, harsh winters, it’s no surprise that locals want to take as much advantage of the summer as they can. You’ll see people kayaking, swimming, canoeing, and water-skiing on the lakes all summer, and you might even want to invest in some outdoor equipment yourself.

14. Jam Out to Local Music.

Even though we aren’t packed with legendary venues or big name record labels, the local music scene in Madison is a really great community. People play anything from country to metal to indie, and there are lots of small venues and open mics where you can see new, local music on pretty much any night.

15. Construction Backs Things Up.

Even though we’re a small city, we’re growing really fast. Any road could be under construction at any time, so make sure you give yourself a little extra time, especially during rush hour. Make sure to avoid John Nolen Drive at peak times if you can, and get to know some alternate routes if you need to get around a jam.

16. Shop On Willy Street.

It’s really easy to just order everything you need on Amazon, but Williamson Street is the best place to go to support local stores. The Greenhouse Store is a beautiful plant store, and the employees will actually help you learn how to take care of your plants if you just ask. St. Vincent’s is the best thrift store in town, and MadCat is a funky local pet supply shop.

17. You’re Not Far From the Dells.

The Wisconsin Dells are only an hour away, and a great place to go if you need to get away for a weekend. They have a ton of water parks, many of which are indoors, so you can have fun on the slides even in December. There are a ton of other attractions, like the Ho-Chunk casino, fishing on the lake, and a Ripley’s museum.

18. Craft Beer Culture is Lit.

People in Wisconsin love to drink, and though we love a good PBR as much as the next state, there are too many awesome local breweries to not take advantage of the craft beer culture.

19. Saturdays are for the Farmers’ Market.

Every Saturday morning from April into November, the Dane County Farmers’ Market sets up shop on the Capitol Square. You can get really cheap and fresh groceries here, as well as some awesome art, music, and flowers.

20. Everyone is Diehard Wisconsin

If you’re a transplant, it won’t take you too long before you start to feel at home here. The University culture makes it easy to develop some pride for your new city, and the locals will be friendly and ready to celebrate the Dairy State with you.



Samantha Harton