Best Places to Live

Madison, WI

Population: 243,122
Photo: Gregg Schieve for Greater Madison CVB

State Street in Madison, WI, makes both a symbolic and literal connection between a university and its city. Set in the city's historic downtown, on an isthmus between two scenic lakes, the iconic street is lined with shops, galleries and restaurants, and links the University of Wisconsin to State Capitol Square. Students, residents, and tourists frequent this pathway of commerce and entertainment. State Street gives visitors a taste of the city's cultural and epicurean offerings, which include craft beer pubs, music venues, art galleries and shopping centers. Madison's high concentration of independent restaurants helped it land on our Top 10 Foodie Cities 2013 list.

University officials strongly support a tradition known as the Wisconsin Idea, which stems from a political philosophy that education should improve people's lives beyond the classroom, and have embarked on a mission to incorporate community partnerships into course work. The university's Morgridge Center for Public Service connects students with Madison residents through community-service opportunities, such as mentoring and tutoring programs with local schools and children's groups. The university gives low income adults the opportunity to take a six-credit humanities courses free of charge, and UW students have helped collect and distribute farm crops to at-risk families across the state.

Natural attractions in and around the city help residents stay active. More than 20 miles of trails in the 1,260-acre UW-Madison Arboretum are nearly always open for exploration. Five nearby lakes provide opportunities to fish, swim and boat. During winter months, ice skating and sledding are popular activities in town, while people can go snowmobiling and snow skiing a short drive away.

Population: 240,013

Student population: 42,820

Don't Miss: Babcock Hall Dairy Store on campus for award-winning ice cream and cheese

See where Madison ranked on these lists:

Top 100 Best Places to Live 2017

Best Cities for Entrepreneurs 2017

Top 100 Best Places to Live 2016

Best Cities for Entrepreneurs 2016

99 Best Beers in 99 Best Beer Cities 2015

Top 10 Cities with the Best Music Scenes

Top 10 Cities for Veterans

Top 10 Cities for New Years Resolutions