There’s a fantastic range of things to do in Milwaukee, and it’s in the enviable position of being both an urban area and a lakeside retreat. Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s largest city, with a population of around 595,000 people. The state is located in the MidWest of the United States, and it sits on the shore of Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan along its eastern side.
Milwaukee itself is on the east coast of Wisconsin, meaning it also sits on the bluffs of Lake Michigan. The word Milwaukee is from the Algonquin native language and means ‘pleasant land’ and ‘beautiful.’ Milwaukee has earned the nickname ‘the city of festivals’ for its many annual themed celebrations. Milwaukee has a diverse population comprising many cultures and ethnic groups.
So, let’s take you on a quick journey and explore all the great things to do in Milwaukee on your visit.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee’s Art Museum is one of the largest in the US, with more than 25,000 works of art. The museum complex includes the War Memorial Center, the Kahler Building and the Quadracci Pavilion. The Pavilion, which is also known as the Calatrava Building, was completed in 2001. The Calatrava is an impressive sight, mainly due to its Brise-Soleil. This is an architectural feature that reduces heat in the building by deflecting sunlight.
The Calatrava’s way of doing this is to have an actual wing, which gently moves during the day. The wing opens up to 217 feet and folds over the building when the weather is bad. It’s like the coolest art gallery raincoat you’ve ever seen. Anyways, as impressive as the exterior structure is (an Instagrammers dream, no less), what is inside is just as good. Milwaukee Art Museum holds one of the largest collections of work by Georgia O’Keeffe in the world. This isn’t too odd, given she was a Wisconsinite. Other collections include works by Monet, Andy Warhol, Picasso, and Mark Rothko. Checking out the collection (and the building) is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee.
Tickets required, available online or at the entrance, $17-$19
Harley Davidson Museum
If you’re into bikes, then a visit to the Harley Davidson Museum will end up being your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee. The museum showcases more than 100 years of Harley history and has been attracting visitors since 2008. Few visitors realize that Harley Davidson company is native to Milwaukee. It started in 1903 by William S Harley, Walter and Arthur Davidson, and that fact also explains how it got its name. The very first Harley Davidson was built in a shed in the backyard of one of the founders. These days, the bikes are built in factories throughout the US, Australia, and Southeast Asia. The museum showcases a wide range of old bikes that the company has produced over the years.
Tickets required, available online or at the entrance, $8-$22
Milwaukee Public Market
Shopping at the Milwaukee Public Market is one of the most popular things to do in Milwaukee for visitors and residents. The market is located within the Historic Third Ward of the city and is a real community hub. The focus was to provide spaces for small businesses to trade while also keeping an area to hold local events to bring people together. Many of the vendors sell food and drinks, and there’s ample space to sit and eat. Other items on sale include candy, seafood, wine, and gifts. The Public Market is a fun thing to do in Milwaukee for an afternoon of sampling food and drinks, as well as chilling out and taking it easy after a hard morning’s sightseeing.
The Milwaukee Riverwalk follows the outline of the Milwaukee River and joins together three riverside neighborhoods. Downtown, Beerline B and the Historic Third have some of the best brewpubs, bars, restaurants, and shopping areas, and a stroll through the Riverwalk is an enjoyable thing to do in Milwaukee. The east side of the Riverwalk is home to the ‘Bronze Fonz’ statue, which celebrates the popularity of the show, Happy Days. Happy Days was based in Milwaukee, and the figure has become a firm favorite with residents. Visitors also flock to stand next to Fonzie and have their photos taken. Chilling on the Riverwalk and taking selfies with The Fonz is one of the great free things to do in Milwaukee.
Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory
The Conservatory is a set of three domes, set in the beautiful surroundings of Mitchell Park. Each contains a variety of plant life and are the world’s first set of conoidal domes. Each beehive-shaped dome is 85 feet high and 140 feet wide. The Arid Dome shows collections of plants from Africa and the Americas, and also has specific plant collections from Madagascar. The Tropical Dome houses more than 1,000 species of plant and is dominated in the center by a massive Kapok Tree.
The Kapok Tree is native to Asia but lives well within the tropical climate in the dome. The Tropical Dome is also home to many trees that bear tropical fruit, such as bananas, avocado, and papaya. The third dome, the Show Dome, is generally reserved for featured shows on public holidays and the festive season. The Conservatory sits within the 50,000 acres of Mitchell Park. Checking out the flowers and plants at The Domes is a great thing to do in Milwaukee. If you’re in town when there’s an evening event on, it’s worth going down to see the domes lit up.
Tickets required, available from the entrance, $5.50-$8. Special events tickets must be purchased separately.
Miller Park is home to Milwaukee’s only MLB team, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers have been playing there since it opened in 2001 and the stadium has a capacity of more than 41,000 seats. The stadium has a unique fan-shaped roof, which is fully retractable and can open and close in ten minutes. When the roof is fully shut, the temperature is 30 degrees warmer inside than out. It’s excellent news for a city that’s known for having dangerously cold winter weather. If the Brewers don’t have a game when you’re in town, you can still purchase a walk-up ticket and take a tour of the stadium. It’s an excellent thing to do with kids in Milwaukee.
Tickets required for tours, available from the ticket office, $10-$15
The Pabst Mansion
The Pabst Mansion is a great historical thing to do in Milwaukee during your vacation. The mansion was once home to Captain Frederick Pabst, who started and owned the Pabst Brewing Company. The house was built in a Flemish Renaissance Revival style and is a beautiful and imposing structure. After Pabst moved out in 1908, it was bought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Priests, Nuns, and Archbishops resided in Pabst Mansion until 1978. From there, it was turned into a historic house and opened to the public. Yay! Daily tours of the house are on offer. If you like ostentatious, chintzy decor and over the top furnishings, you’ll want to go straight home and replicate it in your own space.
Tickets required, available online or from the entrance, $8-$14
Off-beat things to do in Milwaukee
Do we have some odd things to do in Milwaukee for you? Yes. Yes, we do. Take a wander over to Shaker’s Cigar Bar and see the venue that was once an Al Capone Speakeasy. Also, it’s haunted, so there’s that. The bar has great food and drinks, but also offers creepy ghost tours. Alternatively, head over to Burnham Block and see the biggest grouping of Frank Lloyd Wright homes on earth. The six homes were built by the architect in 1915. Four of them are now owned by a foundation who have been restoring them. Two are privately owned. All are spectacular.
Frequently Asked Questions by Travelers About Milwaukee
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and things to do in Milwaukee. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this Mid-Western city has to offer residents and visitors alike.
When should I visit Milwaukee?
Summer or Autumn is the best time to visit Milwaukee. The weather in summer will be hot, but the prices will be higher. Although the weather will be cooler in Fall, prices throughout the city will come down. Unless you’re a hardy midwesterner, or from somewhere pretty darn chilly, winter can be a shock to your system.
What is there to do in Milwaukee at night?
Hit up Old World Third Street to experience the heart of the German community in the city. The area is known for its lively nightlife and range of food and drinks. Be sure to check out Milwaukee Brat House for all your sausage-based needs.
How safe is Milwaukee?
Milwaukee’s crime rate is higher than the national average for the United States. However, there are obviously ways to keep yourself safe when traveling in the city. Don’t go out on your own late at night, take a cab or Uber if you’re out after dark, and keep your valuables hidden at all times. The downtown areas and east side are generally seen as safe areas of Milwaukee, and there’s always a good police presence.
What food is Milwaukee famous for?
Traditionally, Milwaukee has always had a large German population and, with that, comes German food. Naturally, this means the city makes a mean Bratwurst. Wisconsin as a whole is known as the home of dairy farming, so cheese curds are a must try when visiting. The other famous export from Milwaukee is Miller Beer. Miller has been brewing beer in Milwaukee for more than 160 years, and it’s rude to visit and not drink some. Honestly, it really is. Checking out the local food scene is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee is an atmospheric city, famed for its cheese and beer and its position on the coast of Lake Michigan. It’s a town with a sense of humor, and it’s a lively and vibrant place to spend time. The city has a special place in pop culture, being the home of Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days. I mean, they have a statue of the Fonz. Who doesn’t want to have their photo taken with that?? Also, Milwaukee is a place where Presidents can be shot and then get straight back up and give speeches. This is precisely what happened to Teddy Roosevelt in 1916. Suffice to say, Milwaukee has a quirky and interesting history. We hope we’ve managed to convince you about all the amazing things to do in Milwaukee when you visit.