Madison vs. Milwaukee | Which Is Better for You, Madison Wisconsin vs Milwaukee?
Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller

Madison vs Milwaukee | πŸŒ‡ Which Is Better to Live, Madison Wisconsin vs Milwaukee?

The Badger State is full of great cities to live in! Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin, with a soaring economy, fun things to do, and great schools. Madison is the state capital and the state's fastest-growing city, with top colleges and beautiful outdoor attractions.

Each city has something to offer, so it can be hard to decide whether to move to Madison or Milwaukee. Start by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of both cities. Then take a look at a few major factors for moving, like housing costs and education opportunities, and make accurate comparisons between Madison and Milwaukee. Here is your Madison vs Milwaukee guide.

Pros and Cons of Living in Madison vs. Milwaukee

Before you can compare Madison to Milwaukee, you should learn a little about the pros and cons of living in each city. Here's what you should know about the benefits and disadvantages of both cities.

Living in Madison Pros

A garden in downtown Madison, a vibrant cultural scene

Ask a local about the positives of living in Madison, and they'll talk about the University of Wisconsin Madison (UW Madison). US News ranks University of Wisconsin Madison in the top 50 public universities and the top 20 value schools in the country. UW is the largest university in the state, with nearly 50,000 students in 136 undergraduate programs, 148 master's degree programs, and 120 doctoral programs.

UW Madison affects much of the culture in Madison. Many top restaurants, things to do, and points of interest are located on or near the campus, making them easy to access. Many graduates of UW stay in Madison, making Madison a great place for young professionals and recent graduates, even if you didn't go to UW.

Madison is well-known as a bicycle-friendly city. The League of American Bicyclists has designated Madison a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community. The city contains over 200 miles of scenic biking and hiking trails.

Living in Madison Cons

Madison winters can be very brutal. The average temperature remains below freezing throughout the whole winter. The average lows are below freezing between mid-November and late March, with temperatures dropping as low as 14 degrees regularly in January. Madison receives 19.5 inches of snow on average every year, but major snowstorms can drop more than one foot of snow at a time.

Affordable Madison real estate can be hard to find. According to Redfin, Madison homes for sale cost $437,650. While this is affordable compared to other major cities, the price rose by 18.3% between February 2023 and February 2024. The median price per square foot is $241, up by 9.5% since 2023.

Do you think the pros of living in Madison outweigh the cons? Call 608-856-6683 and get a free estimate for Madison movers now!

Living in Milwaukee Pros

A gathering in Downtown Milwaukee

Milwaukee has many neighborhoods, giving you plenty of choices for housing and family-friendly environments in the city. The best places to live in Milwaukee include Wauwatosa, a neighborhood in downtown Milwaukee with great parks and a top public library. If you prefer outdoor attractions and a quieter environment, you can move to Riverwest.

Your kids can go to several top public school districts in Milwaukee. Elmbrook School District is an open school district, meaning you can live in any part of Milwaukee and send your kids to an Elmbrook school. All teachers at Elmbrook School District are professionally certified, and 95% of them have at least three years of experience.

Living in Milwaukee Cons

Many residents discussing living in Milwaukee pros and cons will tell you that the pros outweigh the cons. However, crime is the largest obstacle for living in Milwaukee. Milwaukee crime rates are some of the highest of any major city. The total crime rate is double the state’s average, and the violent crime rate is nearly five times higher than the state average. There are safe places to live in Milwaukee, but you will need to avoid unsafe neighborhoods if you move to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee winters are freezing and harsh. Average lows remain well below freezing throughout the entire winter, as well as in the late fall and early spring. The weather is consistently cloudy throughout the year. August is the clearest month, yet one-third of days in August are overcast or mostly cloudy.

Population and Demographics

A presentation at Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee is currently twice as big as Madison, but that may change because of Madison's rapid growth. The Milwaukee population decreased by 3.0% between 2010 and 2020, while the Madison population grew by 15.7% during the same time period.

Milwaukee is a more diverse city than Madison. 38.6% of Milwaukee residents identify as Black or African American and 20.2% identify as Hispanic or Latino. By contrast, just 7.3% of Madison residents identify as Black or African American and 7.8% identify as Hispanic or Latino. If diversity is one of the most important assets to you in the Madison vs Milwaukee debate, you should live in Milwaukee over Madison.

Cost of Living and Housing Costs

The cost of living index compares the cost of items in a city to the national average. The Madison cost of living index is 106, meaning items cost 6% more in Madison than the national average. The Milwaukee cost of living index is 98.1, meaning items cost 1.9% less in Milwaukee than the national average. Every type of expense, including housing and groceries, is more expensive in Madison vs Milwaukee.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of four would need to earn $119,563 a year to cover the cost of living in Madison. The same family would need to earn $111,053 a year to cover the cost of living in Milwaukee. Madison is more expensive in every category except health care. Residents in both cities pay a high amount of taxes, but you can avoid this by renting a home instead of buying one.

Homes for sale and apartments for rent are more affordable in Milwaukee than in Madison. The median cost of Milwaukee homes for sale is less than half of the cost of Madison homes for sale ($185,000 vs. $437,650). According to RentCafe, Madison apartments cost $1,622 a month on average, while apartments for rent in Milwaukee cost just $1,402 a month on average.

Contact Dairyland Moving to set up an efficient and affordable move to Madison or Milwaukee today!

Crime Rates

Here are Madison crime rates from the FBI in 2020:

  • Total crime rate: 3,099 offenses per 100,000 residents
  • Violent crime rate: 320 crimes per 100,000 people
  • Property crime rate: 2,779 offenses per 100,000 people

Here are Milwaukee crime rates from the FBI in 2020:

  • Total crime rate: 4,325 offenses per 100,000 people
  • Violent crime rate: 1,597 crimes per 100,000 residents
  • Property crime rate: 2,729 offenses per 100,000 residents

The total crime rate in Madison is 28.3% lower than the total crime rate in Milwaukee. While Madison's property crime rate is higher, its violent crime rate is 80% lower, so Madison is a safer choice than Milwaukee.

Things to Do

Many people enjoy Milwaukee things to do and things to do in Madison WI, so what city you'll consider to be better depends on your personal tastes. Madison contains 270 parks, five lakes, and 200 miles of trails, so it's one of the best Wisconsin cities for outdoor enthusiasts. Olbrich Gardens is one of the best botanical gardens in the country and contains unique features like a Thai sala.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a popular place in Madison WI to spend time in

Many top Madison attractions are free or affordable. Henry Vilas Zoo, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Olbrich Gardens are free to visit throughout the year. If you're looking to save money on attractions, you should move to Madison over Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has more things to do because it's a bigger city, and things to do in Milwaukee are more popular and famous than things to do in Madison. The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in the Midwest, and the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of the largest art museums in the state.

An art installation at Milwaukee Art Museum, a great place for families to explore

Milwaukee has a prominent beer industry, and you can find microbreweries, bars, and gastropubs throughout the city. Eagle Park Brewing Company is one of the most popular microbreweries in the city and is a popular destination for live musical performances and private events. If restaurants and bars are important in moving to Madison Wisconsin vs Milwaukee, you should move to relocate to Milwaukee.


Weather is not a major point in the Milwaukee vs Madison debate, as the two cities have nearly identical weather conditions. Harsh winters are a downside of living in both cities, though Madison weather and Milwaukee weather in the spring and summer are pleasant. Milwaukee gets 27 inches of rain and Madison gets 28.3 inches of rain; Milwaukee gets 15.3 inches of snow and Madison gets 19.5 inches. If you want drier weather, Milwaukee is superior to Madison.

Call 608-856-6683 for a free and personalized quote for Dairyland Moving, the top moving company in Wisconsin!

Traffic and Public Transportation

Milwaukee traffic is worse than Madison traffic. According to INRIX, the average Milwaukee driver spends 32 hours every year in traffic, while the average Madison driver spends 16 hours in traffic.

An MCTS bus in Milwaukee going to another part of town

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is the largest public transportation system in WI. You can take dozens of bus routes to all Milwaukee neighborhoods and a number of suburbs. Metro Transit is the public transportation system for the Madison area. It has fewer routes than the Milwaukee system, but you can still use it to get around the city and access the best suburbs of Madison. If public transportation is a factor to you in considering moving to Milwaukee vs Madison, you can pick either city.

Jobs and the Economy

The Madison job market grew by 1.9% between 2020 and 2021, while the Milwaukee job market shrank by 2.9% during the same period. According to Payscale, Madison jobs pay an average salary of $74,000 a year and an average hourly rate of $22.25. By contrast, Milwaukee jobs pay an average salary of $73,000 yearly and an average hourly rate of $21.41. While Milwaukee jobs pay slightly less than Madison jobs, the Madison cost of living is higher, so living in Milwaukee may make it easier to cover your expenses.

Both cities have diverse economies, giving you plenty of opportunities to look for employment. The three biggest sectors for Madison jobs are educational services, health care, and professional services. UW Health and UW Madison are the two largest employers in the city. You can find small businesses with job opportunities in many of the best neighborhoods in Madison, including Maple-Prairie.

The three biggest sectors for Milwaukee jobs are health care, manufacturing, and retail trade. Major employers in Milwaukee include Advocate Aurora Health, BMO Harris Bank, and Northwestern Mutual. If you're a health care or financial worker in the middle of your career considering Milwaukee vs Madison, you may want to move to Milwaukee. In comparison, Madison may have better opportunities if you're looking for entry-level work or work after college.

Madison to Milwaukee Distance

It is 79.4 miles from Madison to Milwaukee. Driving between the city can take roughly an hour and 15 minutes, depending on traffic. Most people drive between the two cities, using Interstate 94, which provides direct access from Madison to Milwaukee. You can take buses between the two cities, though train services are not currently available. Amtrak is currently considering plans to provide services from Madison to Milwaukee.

Madison vs Milwaukee: Where Are You Moving?

Which is better: Madison vs Milwaukee? Each city has strengths and weaknesses, and which one is better depends on a few categories. Madison is a safer city with more affordable attractions and less traffic congestion. Milwaukee is more affordable, more diverse, and better for students in public schools and people looking for interesting neighborhoods.

No matter where you're deciding to move to, you should hire experienced Madison movers to help you. Dairyland Moving has served over 15,000 customers over the past decade. Call 608-856-6683 for a free estimate today.

Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller is the owner of Dairyland Moving & Storage, a moving company dedicated to being responsive, friendly, and reliable, providing our customers with more than just an efficient relocation, but also a stress-free, positive experience.
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