Best Things To Do in Milwaukee
In Milwaukee, you'll find your usual assortment of art museums (Milwaukee Art Museum), historic homes (Pabst Mansion) and sports venues (Miller Park). You'll also find interesting areas to meander through like the Victorian-Italianate Brady Street and the Historic Third Ward. And for those into craft beer (and who isn't these days?), the Lakefront Brewery is an excellent way to taste some of Milwaukee's best. And we couldn't forget the Harley-Davidson Museum. It shows, among other things, many bikes from the motorcycle purveyor's history.
Updated August 18, 2016
- #1View all Photos#1 in Milwaukee1.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're a diehard biker or someone who just happens to be in the area, many visitors say the Harley-Davidson Museum is worth exploring. Spread across 20 acres of prime Milwaukee riverfront property, the Harley-Davidson Museum continuously wows travelers with its 11 permanent exhibits and rotating special exhibits, including a recovered motorcycle from a tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011. Some permanent exhibits include a an engine room and an extensive motorcycle gallery that showcases the evolution of the company's bikes.
For those interested in the nitty-gritty of Harley bikes and history, consider paying an additional $4 per person for an audio headset. Prior visitors said the in-depth narration provided a superb detailed description of everything in the museum. (But if you don't feel like paying extra for a headset, the written explanations provided at each exhibit offer a wealth of excellent context, so you'll still learn plenty, according to previous travelers.)
- #2View all Photos#2 in MilwaukeeFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Milwaukee's indoor market is home to more than a dozen food and beverage vendors serving a variety of dishes, like Thai sushi rolls, vegan sandwiches, and Belgian beer. Patrons can grab a pizza from Foltz Family Market or indulge a cupcake craving at C. Adam's Bakery. If you'd rather see how the sausage literally gets made, sign up for one of the market's cooking classes. Hands-on and demonstration-only options are available, as well as classes geared toward kids. In addition to food and beverage offerings, Milwaukee Public Market's list of vendors also includes Brew City Brand Apparel, where you can find designs that celebrate Milwaukee's beer empire origin stories.
Past market visitors enjoyed the array of options available for hungry customers to choose from. (Quite a few reviewers specifically recommend the food at St. Paul Fish Company.) However, they also note that the market can get very crowded, so keep that in mind before you go.
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This art museum, located in downtown Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, gets more praise for its buildings (there are three) than the art it contains. And that's because the Milwaukee Art Museum looks futuristic with its gleaming white suspension bridge, 90-foot vaulted glass ceiling and cantilevered wings. Just make sure to visit on a calm, sunny day. According to past visitors, the Quadracci Pavilion's wings (the Burke Brise Soleil) won't open if it is raining or windy.
Inside, the art is also worth perusing. Within the 341,000-square-foot complex, visitors can browse 30,000 works of art, including one of the largest Georgia O'Keeffe collections in the world (she was a Wisconsin native).
- #4View all Photos#4 in Milwaukee1.4 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.4 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Pabst Mansion – the former home of captain Frederick Pabst (of beer fame) – was just one of a few dozen lavish estates that lined what was then Grand Avenue (so named for its wealthy residents and their impressive homes). Built in 1892, the home became a bastion for the luxe life. Costing a little more than $254,000 (in 1892 dollars) to construct, the elaborate mansion includes a carriage house, a pavilion, a greenhouse and a main residence – which boasts 37 rooms, 14 fireplaces and more than a dozen hidden compartments.
And while touring the century-old mansion today, tourists learn all about the Pabst Mansion's construction, as well as the history of the Pabst family and their iconic brewery, Pabst Brewing Company. In fact, the brewery's impact on the family can even be felt within their former residence, where decorative elements like hops bud finials adorn the exquisite grand staircase.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Milwaukee6.5 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND6.5 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Spotted hyenas, camels, and three species of penguin are just some of the animals you'll see if you visit the Milwaukee County Zoo. Opened in 1892, the once-small space has expanded to nearly 200 acres containing more than 2,000 animals. But this zoo offers more than just animals. There are also a number of rides and attractions (additional fees apply) like a carousel and a safari train, as well as special events that occur throughout the year, such as breakfast with Santa Claus and an elephant appreciation day.
Of all of the zoo's offerings, previous visitors especially enjoyed the Halloween event, Boo at the Zoo, and the Sunset Zoofari, which gives patrons evening access to the animals alongside live music. (However, according to some travelers, steer clear of the zoo's free days. Hordes of people visit during these days, so lines for attractions tend to be long and views of the animals can be poor at best.)
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Considered by several former visitors as one of the best brewery tours in Milwaukee thanks to its tasty brews and wildly entertaining guides, Lakefront Brewery's tours are also one of the best deals around. For between $10 and $12 (depending on the day), tourgoers can see much of the brewery, enjoy four 6-ounce samples of beer and take home a souvenir pint glass.
While the brewery's offerings change throughout the year, some previous brews featured include a pumpkin lager, a barley wine, an organic chocolate stout and an India pale ale. And for a true taste of Wisconsin, previous travelers recommend eating at the on-site beer hall after your tour to savor some regional delicacies like cheese curds, Bavarian-style pretzels and Usinger brats. The Friday fish fry is especially popular with locals and tourists, thanks to its pairing of delicious brews and fresh fish with a live polka band.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Milwaukee3.3 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.3 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Situated a few blocks west of the Kinnickinnic River and about 2 miles south of the Harley-Davidson Museum, the grandiose Basilica of St. Josaphat is worth a visit, even if you're not Catholic. Modeled after Rome's famous St. Peter's Basilica, this Milwaukee religious site was designed by German architect Erhard Brielmaier after the original church burned down in 1889. And like its Roman counterpart, the Basilica of St. Josaphat features a cross-shaped floor plan, as well as a massive copper dome.
Although several former visitors highly recommend attending Sunday Mass here, in order to take in all of the church's beauty, consider going on one of the property's tours, which are offered when Mass is not being held. There is also a small museum in the pavilion's lower level for those looking to learn more about the church's history. Additionally, walking tour brochures are available free of charge.
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Miller Park, which sits about 3 miles west of the Harley-Davidson Museum and 5 miles southwest of downtown, is home to Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers. Although the Brewers may not have the greatest game record, they are certainly beloved by their fans. And whether you're a long-time fan or a first-time spectator, you'll enjoy taking in a game beneath the stadium's retractable roof, which is the only fan-shaped convertible roof in North America. (Thanks to this unique roof, you'll never have to worry about inclement weather, which is a huge perk to many visitors.)
Inside the stadium, visitors will find ATMs, restrooms, phone charging stations, merchandise stalls and food vendors scattered throughout the complex. There are also several all-inclusive areas for larger parties and celebrations during Brewers games.
- #9View all Photos#9 in MilwaukeeTours, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDTours, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Rum, whiskey, vodka and gin aren't just the staples of a good bartender – they're also what you'll find at Great Lakes Distillery. Located south of the Harley-Davidson Museum, just over the Menomonee River, the first distillery in Wisconsin to open since prohibition prides itself on using local ingredients. Visitors can take a tour of the distillery or take a seat in the tasting room for cocktails and Wisconsin classics like sausage and cheese curds.
Recent visitors spoke highly of the tour guides and said the tours are informative, especially regarding the history of prohibition. The food and drink offerings receive high praise, as well.
- #10View all Photos#10 in MilwaukeeMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For a kid-friendly spot, spend some time at the local science center. Discovery World offers multiple hands-on exhibits and experiences to keep the little ones engaged. At the museum's Reiman Aquarium, different days of the week offer different demonstrations – watch the staff feed sturgeon on Wednesdays, stingrays on Thursdays and pythons on Fridays. Interactive displays at the museum include a virtual reality exhibit, a bed of nails at Innovation Station and a lab where kids can make crafts to take home. Consider visiting in the warmer months, when you can board the Denis Sullivan – a replica of a 19th-century ship – and set sail on Lake Michigan.
The aquarium is a common favorite among previous visitors, and many of them recommend Discovery World for families with children. Several visitors caution that the underground parking garage, while convenient, fills up quickly and can be difficult for larger vehicles to navigate (street parking is also an option).
- #11View all Photos#11 in MilwaukeeMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're looking for ancient creatures, human history, and live butterflies all in the same place, the Milwaukee Public Museum has you covered. Permanent exhibits range from a 14,000-year-old mammoth skeleton to a life-size diorama of early-1900s Milwaukee. Enjoy a walk through a re-created century-old village, inspired by 33 different European cultures. Then stop by the Puelicher Butterfly Wing, where you can watch butterflies flit around their two-story garden. And in the Native Games exhibit, visitors can learn about the history and significance of games played by indigenous tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Previous visitors sang the praises of the butterfly exhibit and recommended a visit to the museum's candy store. They also point out that there's no coat check, so you'll have to either carry your jacket or rent a locker for a small fee.
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