Madison is a great town in which to live and study. It is frequently ranked as one of the best cities in the country in terms of livability, health, business, food, family, and environmentalism.
Madison is a city of 200,000, with another 150,000 in the surrounding area. Madison also boasts one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates. It includes a chain of lakes that provide both beauty and recreational opportunities. Both the Overture Center for the Arts and the university bring internationally famous performers to Madison in all types of music, ballet, theater, and performance art. The American Players' theater at nearby Spring Green stages Shakespeare and other classic plays in a delightful open air setting during the summer, and Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio at Taliesin showcases this most important of American architects. The city also boasts the Madison Museum of Modern Art and the Chazen Museum of Art, both of which are free to students. The local Vilas Zoo is one of the largest free accredited zoos in the world.
Madison is not just a college town. As the state's capital, Madison is a center of political activity. The international headquarters of several major corporations have a substantial impact on the local economy.
Although Madison offers many of the advantages of a major metropolitan area, it is small and compact enough to avoid the problems of large cities. Housing is comparatively inexpensive, the crime rate is relatively low, and you can live here easily without a car. There is a good bus system that graduate students may ride for free, and there is high-quality bus transit to Milwaukee and Chicago. The Dane County airport, about 10 minutes drive from campus, is served by multiple airlines.
When you want to forget about political science for an evening, there are many attractive alternatives within walking distance of North Hall. Most prominent is the Wisconsin Memorial Union, which has a resort-like waterfront with a wonderful view of Lake Mendota, a large selection of beers to sip while watching the sailboats on the water, and ice cream made by UW's own Babcock Hall. If you grow tired of the Union, the shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes that line State Street should keep you entertained for quite a while; here the range is from grungy to epicurean. Just off State are more places to sample, and throughout Madison are numerous interesting neighborhoods, each with its own character.
When you want a break from the life of the mind, there is plenty to do for the life of the body. In the summer, there is Hoofers, the UW outing club located at the Union that rents everything from volleyballs to sailboats. They also organize a huge number of sports instruction classes and activities. There are many miles of biking and running trails throughout town, including both the campus area and the University Arboretum, which offers over 20 miles of trails in its 1,000 acres. In both winter and summer, several major University athletic facilities are open to students. These include two fully equipped free gyms with facilities for swimming, circuit training, weight rooms, indoor track, indoor basketball, volleyball, and badminton. The Nielsen facility also provides indoor tennis, squash and racquetball courts. For those who want to brave the elements, cross-country skiing is a favorite, and there is always ice boating, ice skating, and ice fishing. Madison has many public golf courses which hibernate in winter under miles of groomed ski trails.
In short, Madison has a great deal to offer as a place to live while you complete your studies for the Ph.D.