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15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Milwaukee, WI

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Updated Mar 9, 2021

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The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lies just 90 miles north of Chicago on the west side of Lake Michigan. The state's largest city, it's situated at the inflow of the Milwaukee River, which is joined within the city area by two tributaries: the Menomonee and the Kinnickinnic. It's here you'll find the city's splendid Riverwalk pedestrian path, a delight to explore day or night.

Perhaps the city's greatest claim to fame, however, is that it's the home of Harley-Davidson, the legendary motorcycle. And, of course, Milwaukee was the setting of the hit 70s TV show, Happy Days; a fun free thing to do is search out the famous "Bronze Fonz" statue of the series' leading character.

Learn about the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and fun things to do in Milwaukee.

See also: Where to Stay in Milwaukee

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Take a Stroll along Milwaukee's Lovely Lakefront

Milwaukee's Lovely Lakefront
Milwaukee's Lovely Lakefront

Milwaukee's Lakefront area is one of the prettiest downtown areas of any American city. Whether your interest is shopping in boutique stores and galleries, dining al fresco on the shores of Lake Michigan, or simply exploring the city's many pleasant walking trails (check out the Lakefront Trail), parks (yes, there's even a beach), and attractions, visiting here is time well spent.

One of the most prominent landmarks to be in icluded on your waterfront stroll should be the War Memorial Center, which commemorates the dead of WWII and the Korean War. A newer landmark is the Milwaukee Art Museum, a striking building with collections that include American and European works from the 19th and 20th centuries. And as you walk around the shoreline to Discovery World, you'll also see the Denis Sullivan, a 137-foot replica of the tall ships once so common here.

Also of note are the Municipal Pier and the Henry Maier Festival Park, where the famous Summerfest is held. And just a short walk away from the lakefront and well worth visiting, the Historic Third Ward is one of the city's most vibrant creative hubs. Here, you'll find numerous old renovated warehouses with great art galleries and studios, along with fun boutique shops and craft stores, and great restaurants. There is also a regular indoor market selling fresh produce.

You can visit this area, and many of the other important attractions around the city, on a hop-on, hop-off Milwaukee Sightseeing Bus Tour. This cost-effective, convenient pass allows you to see the city at your own pace and can be purchased online before you travel.

2. Go Whole "Hog" at the Harley-Davidson Museum

The Harley-Davidson Museum
The Harley-Davidson Museum | Ed Bierman / photo modified

One of Milwaukee's oldest industries is also one of the city's newest attractions: the Harley-Davidson Museum. This iconic motorcycle brand came into being here in 1901, when William S. Harley, Arthur and Walter Davidson, and a German engineer produced their very first motorbike.

Mass production followed in 1903, and the rest, as they say, is the kind of history now on display at the excellent Harley-Davidson Museum. All told, this superb family attraction boasts more than 450 motorcycles and artifacts, including "Serial Number One," the oldest Harley.

Other highlights include interesting displays relating to the people behind the machines, a store, and a fun themed restaurant. If you can, be sure to visit during one of the museum's "bike nights," when often hundreds of Harleys — many of them customized — are put on display by their proud owners.

Address: 400 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/museum.html

3. Get Your Art Fix at the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum | Matthew Juzenas / photo modified

Founded in 1888, the excellent Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is home to more than 20,000 works of art dating from antiquity to the present day. The lakeside building itself is an architectural work of art and resembles a cross between a sleek ship and an aircraft, with a tall, retractable structure resembling wings perched atop its roof.

Highlights of a visit include seeing its many European, American, modern, and contemporary works. These include many fine prints, drawings, and photographs, as well as Asian and African collections. A good day to visit? At the time of writing, the museum has a free admission policy in place for Thursdays (be sure to check their website for further details).

Other city galleries of note are the Charles Allis Art Museum, with American and European art from the 19th and 20th centuries, housed in a lavish Tudor-style villa built in 1911; the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, built in 1923 in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa with decorative arts from the 15th through the 18th centuries; and the Haggerty Museum of Art, with a collection of more than 2,000 pieces, including many Old Masters.

If there's still room in your Milwaukee itinerary, include the Grohmann Museum located at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Here, you'll find a fascinating collection of art depicting the advancement and growth of human ingenuity related to work.

Address: 700 N. Art Museum Dr, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: https://mam.org

4. Take a Free Tour of Milwaukee City Hall

City Hall
City Hall

Despite being surrounded by numerous taller and more modern buildings, Milwaukee City Hall continues to be an important part of the city's skyline. Built over a number of years and finished in 1895, the building, at 393 feet, remains one of the tallest 19th-century skyscrapers of its kind.

Designed in a mix of Flemish and German Renaissance Revival styles, it was, when completed, the tallest habitable building in the country. Free tours of this iconic building in Milwaukee's historic East Town district are available the second and fourth Wednesday each month during the summer and include a chance to climb the spectacular bell tower and view the beautiful interior.

Address: 200 E Wells Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: https://city.milwaukee.gov/cityclerk/Tours

5. Take in a Show at Pabst Theater

Pabst Theater and Pabst Mansion
Pabst Theater | Seth Anderson / photo modified

The Pabst Theater — affectionately known simply as "The Pabst" to locals — is one of Milwaukee's architectural gems. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, the theater is built in a style reminiscent of Europe's best opera houses, with a charming Baroque interior, including a spectacular chandelier and an Italian Carrara marble staircase.

Included on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater is still used for stage and musical productions and other events.

Address: 144 East Wells, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: https://pabsttheater.org

6. Pay a Visit to Pabst Mansion

Pabst Mansion
Pabst Mansion | Richie Diesterheft / photo modified

A popular related attraction to Pabst Theater, the Pabst Mansion near Marquette University, is also well worth including on your list of top places to visit in this Wisconsin city.

Also known as the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, this attractive building was constructed in 1893 for the wealthy Pabst family. It's notable for its Flemish Renaissance Revival style, with period furnishings and décor, and is beautifully decorated for Christmas events and celebrations. Free guided tours of the mansion are also available and are well worth joining. Be sure to visit the on-site gift shop, too, for a selection of unique related souvenirs.

Address: 2000 W Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.pabstmansion.com

7. Explore the Domes: Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

The Domes: Mitchell Park Conservatory
The Domes: Mitchell Park Conservatory

The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory in the western part of town has three very distinct gigantic glass domes containing plants from the tropics and from desert areas. They're impressive architecturally as well, each dome spanning 140 feet in diameter and standing 85 feet tall, and were the first of their kind when built in 1959.

Numerous shows and festivals are held throughout the year in the Show Dome, including a well-attended Christmas event with an extensive garden railway, a farmers market, along with regular light shows at night. Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.

Address: 524 South Layton Blvd, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/Parks/Explore/The-Domes

8. Go Wild at Milwaukee County Zoo

Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee County Zoo

If you are looking for things to do in Milwaukee with kids, this is the place to come. The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the largest in the US and has a variety of unique and rare animals among its 1,800 permanent residents (some of them even born here), including polar bears, gorillas, and cheetahs.

Covering an impressive 200-acre site, the zoo offers an active educational program with numerous fun seasonal events. The zoo has earned a reputation for its bonobo breeding program, which has seen their collection of these delightful pygmy chimps become one of the largest in captivity.

There's also an impressive display of North American animals, including grizzly, polar, and black bears, along with moose and deer. For youngsters, highlights include an animal petting area; a raptor show; sea lion show; penguin viewing area; walk-through aviary; camel rides; and the fun Safari Train, an authentic mini-steam train, which runs throughout the complex. Be sure to check their website for news of their seasonal "free days" when no admission is charged.

Address: 10001 West Bluemound Road, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.milwaukeezoo.org

9. The Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum | Ed Bierman / photo modified

Don't be fooled by the rather simple name. The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) is an excellent place to pass a few hours exploring its many collections and exhibits. Highlights include fascinating natural history displays of life-size dinosaurs and a reconstruction of a tropical rainforest, as well as a presentation of Milwaukee's past in the "Streets of Old Milwaukee" exhibit.

Other popular permanent exhibits (the museum boasts 17 all told) include displays related to the continents of Africa, Asia, and the Arctic; a village with reconstructions of homes from Europe; and a variety of diorama scenes relating to the region's native populations. The six-story Dome Theater presents planetarium-type shows and is worth the additional admission cost (and check their website for news of special exhibits and "free days").

Address: 800 West Wells Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.mpm.edu

10. Discovery World

Discovery World
Discovery World | Michael Pereckas / photo modified

Milwaukee's Discovery World Museum — also known as the James Lovell Museum of Science, Economics, and Technology — has a variety of interactive exhibits sure to fascinate young and old alike. Located on the lakeshore and boasting a stunning architectural design, the museum also presents an ever-changing roster of traveling exhibits related to the disciplines highlighted in its name.

Must-sees include the Reiman Aquarium, the tall ship Denis Sullivan, and the excellent Les Paul's House of Sound, which showcases the work and career of one of the world's legendary guitar makers. Big screen movie adventures and live theater experiences are also available.

The museum has also accumulated a great deal of artifacts and research related to the Great Lakes, with a special emphasis on conservation and education and a huge scale model of the entire Great Lakes area. Also of interest to families with youngsters (under 10 years) is the Betty Brinn Children's Museum with its fun interactive displays.

Address: 500 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.discoveryworld.org

11. Frank Lloyd Wright's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church

The Greek Orthodox Church
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church

Milwaukee's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church is famous for two reasons: first, it was built and designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and second, it resembles either a spaceship or an alien with a very toothy grin, depending upon the angle from which it's viewed.

None of this should stop you from visiting this unique circular structure with its large blue dome and gold cross on top. While visitors are welcome to attend regular church services, group tours are available outside these times with advance notice. The church is also the setting for the popular Greek Fest, an annual event celebrating Greek culture, food, and music.

Address: 9400 West Congress Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.annunciationwi.org

12. Boerner Botanical Gardens

Boerner Botanical Gardens
Boerner Botanical Gardens | Cliff / photo modified

Located an easy 20-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee, Boerner Botanical Gardens consist of five delightful formal gardens — a peony, rose, annual, perennial, and a rock garden — that were laid out in the 1930s. These original gardens have grown to include a variety of others, most notably those dedicated to lilies, herbs, and shrubs.

There's also an interesting test garden chock full of American hostas and other flower varieties. Also worth a visit is the adjacent arboretum, a pleasant place for a stroll after all that flower viewing.

Address: 9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, Wisconsin

Official site: https://boernerbotanicalgardens.org

13. Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

For those interested in cultural activities such as classical music and theater, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts should be on your itinerary. This fine facility - known for its Brutalist architectural styling - was built in 1969 and is home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera, both of which offer a regular season of performances, as does the Milwaukee Ballet.

It's also home to the First Stage Children's Theater, which offers a variety of fun programming young and old alike will enjoy. The center also has a number of movie theaters, as well as an outdoor stage for seasonal performances.

Address: 929 N Water Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Official site: www.marcuscenter.org

14. The Milwaukee Mile Speedway

Formula One race car at the Milwaukee Mile
Formula One race car at the Milwaukee Mile

At the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis, the Milwaukee Mile Speedway — also known as "America's Legendary Oval" — is the world's oldest active motor speedway.

Dating back to 1903, the track has a rich history of hosting world-class IndyCar Series and NASCAR events and is one of only a handful of independently owned major league speedways left in the US. Widely regarded as a driver's track, this unique one-mile "flat oval" creates some of the best racing in the country.

Address: 640 South 84th Street, West Allis, Wisconsin

Official site: https://wistatefair.com/wsfp/milwaukee-mile-speedway/

15. Day Trip to Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin
Old World Wisconsin | Randen Pederson / photo modified

In Eagle, an easy 45-minute drive west of Milwaukee, you'll find the Old World Wisconsin open-air museum. This fascinating tourist attraction includes a collection of 65 historic pioneer-era buildings constructed in styles reminiscent of the homelands of the area's first settlers, including Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Finland.

It's a fun and very realistic recreation of pioneer life, complete with costumed staff and re-enactments. Other highlights include summer camps and workshops, as well as a chance to play vintage baseball using the original rules and equipment associated with the sport. The museum is also a popular destination at Christmas for its many festive events and displays.

Address: W372 S9727 Wisconsin 67, Eagle, Wisconsin

Official site: https://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org

Where to Stay in Milwaukee for Sightseeing

Downtown Milwaukee, with an abundance of beautifully restored buildings, interesting attractions, and a lovely waterfront, is the best place to stay. In the southeast of downtown, close to the lakefront, are the family oriented Discovery World and Betty Brinn Children's Museum. For theatergoers and sports fans, the Pabst Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center lie to the east. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:

Luxury Hotels:

  • Housed in a 100-year-old historic warehouse, a short stroll from the famous Harley-Davidson Museum, the Iron Horse Hotel is one of the city's most unique boutique hotels.
  • The elegant Pfister Hotel has been an iconic Milwaukee establishment since 1893. Only a couple of blocks from the lakefront, this hotel is in the center of everything.
  • Well situated and connected to the Wisconsin Conference Center is the historic 1927 Art Deco-styled Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • With one of the city's trendiest addresses, the The Brewhouse Inn & Suites is a boutique hotel housed in a former industrial building, and features rooms with exposed brick and an eclectic decor.
  • Set in the late 19th-century Loyalty building, the Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Downtown is in the city center and offers rooms with a fridge and microwave.
  • For an exceptional Art Deco experience combined with modern conveniences, the Ambassador Hotel is the place to stay. It is located slightly west from downtown but offers a free door-to-door shuttle to the main attractions.

Budget Hotels:

  • A good option in the center of downtown near the Milwaukee Art Museum, and ideal for families, is the Art Deco-style The Plaza Hotel. Each room is outfitted with a full kitchen.
  • Eight miles farther out, near the airport, and offering spacious rooms and an indoor pool, is the recently remodeled Quality Suites Milwaukee Airport.
  • In the same area and also featuring an indoor pool is the well-priced Sleep Inn & Suites.
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