Madison is one of the Best Cities to Live in America (rated number #14 out of 228!). So what’s it like to live in the heart of a place like this? Living in downtown Madison is super walkable and bikable. When you live downtown, there’s no need to get in the car for errands. And there is no shortage of fantastic local shops, restaurants, entertainment, and recreation. Life in downtown Madison is energetic and adventurous.

History At Every Turn

Downtown Madison sits on a strip of land between the shorelines of Lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, and Waubesa. These lakes are glacier-formed natural masterpieces. They were created by the ice melt at the end of the last Ice Age around 18,000 years ago. 

Fun fact:

Madison’s original name was Taychopera. Our downtown Madison was originally occupied by the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nation. The native name translates to “land of the four lakes”. 

In 1829 Judge James Duane Doty traveled to the isthmus. It’s no surprise that he quickly fell in love with the area. He bought the majority of the land and named it Madison after the 4th president of the United States. When Wisconsin became a state in 1848, Doty was responsible for convincing the legislature to make Madison the state capital. Madison soon saw a huge rush of immigrant settlers, and Madison, as we know it today, began to form.

A Unique Skyline

The Madison skyline has a clear focal point: The Capitol Building.

It towers over Madison’s other buildings. Its domed roof is an impressive sentinel, and a powerful cultural symbol for the city. It’s nicknamed “the people’s house”. This just goes to show the level of comfort Madisonians feel with being involved with their local government.

As a whole, Downtown Madison architecture tends to go for more detailed, ornate buildings rather than looming skyscrapers. A few standout buildings are:

Salt Life? Naah… We go for Lake Life

When your city sits on a thin strip of land between two beautiful lakes, you’re always going to have fun things to do. Madison’s shorelines make up the better part of downtown’s outdoor recreation scene.  Laid-back lake life culture is embedded in everyday living for downtowners.  It’s hard to have a bad day on a boat. Set out your fishing pole or hop on a kayak. Or simply throw out your towel and relax on the beach at:

In the winter, pop-up sledding and snowman building are common in downtown greenspaces. For a nature fix head to:

Tapping Into Madison Culture

Madison was famously described by a governor candidate as “30 square miles surrounded by reality”. He meant it as an insult, but in my opinion, it’s a glorious representation of Madison’s personality. We’re ok with weird. We’re ok with quirky. We’re ok artistic. We’re ok with being ourselves. To be part of the downtown Madison culture is to be part of something spirited and fun.

To become part of Madison’s cultural center, all you need to do is simply stroll down to State Street.  Bike lanes, nightlife, shops, and cafes are sprinkled on this tree-lined promenade. has adorable shops and cafes. It’s the go-to place for arts and events.

Dining In Downtown Madison

The Old Fashioned 

If you need to know one thing about The Old Fashioned… it’s that they were voted Wisconsin’s best cheese curds. The menu in this cozy spot is full of classic Wisconsin comfort food that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. The extensive beer list helps with that too! 

View Menu 


This upscale gastropub has one of the best views of the capital building. At night, the view truly sparkles. The new-American menu has Korean-inspired flavors and super-fresh ingredients. 

View menu

Genna’s Lounge 

Although the flatiron building it occupies has been around since 1874, Genna’s has been a Madison staple since 1993. Food consists of appetizers and small bites, but the taps are bountiful and always rotating. On a sunny day, their patio overlooking capitol square cannot be beaten.

 Learn more. 


Critics rave about this farm-to-table Italian spot. Here you can find hand-made pasta, a woodfired oven, and creative use of classic flavors. This is an upscale spot that’s perfect for a date night. 

View menu 

Homes for Sale in Downtown Madison 

Downtown Madison is very cosmopolitan. This means that downtown dwellers have usually invested in a condo, townhome, or apartments. It’s rare to find a single-family home in the heart of downtown. But this doesn’t mean that these properties aren’t valuable. A posh downtown condo with a lake or sparkling city lights view will hold its value. Many downtown condos have community spaces that are great for forging connections with your neighbors. This makes it easy to build friendships if you’re new in town.  If you’re certain that a condo isn’t a good fit for you, check out some downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. Maple Bluff and Shorewood Hills are popular spots as well as Monroe St and Atwood Neighborhoods. Here, you can be walking or biking distance to downtown while still owning a traditional house. Get in touch for more information.