12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Wisconsin
One of the most northerly of the US states and bordered by Lakes Michigan and Superior, Wisconsin offers a diverse landscape. To the north and west are large expanses of hills perfect for hiking, and areas of lowlands to the south and east have proven excellent for dairy farming. While many of Wisconsin's top cultural attractions are in its two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee, smaller communities such as Spring Green, home to Frank Lloyd Wright's best work, are worth exploring. The state offers many exceptional cultural activities and events, too, from the huge Oshkosh Airshow to Milwaukee's popular Summerfest. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose from great fishing and boating as well as some of the best hiking and biking trails anywhere in the country.
1 Editor's Pick Oshkosh
The small town of Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago, northwest of Milwaukee, is famous for two things: the popular line of kids' clothing and its place on the world's airshow circuit. The world's largest meeting of aviators, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, has been held here every summer since 1970. During the weeklong event, the Oshkosh control tower becomes the busiest on the planet as up to 15,000 aircraft of all shapes and sizes descend upon the airport, along with an estimated one million visitors, all here to catch thrilling aerobatic displays, as well as flybys from vintage and contemporary military aircraft. Also of note is the superb EAA AirVenture Museum with its collection of 200-plus aircraft.
2 Taliesin East: Frank Lloyd Wright's Perfect Country Home
One of the most influential individuals to have called Wisconsin home was Frank Lloyd Wright. Numerous examples of the great architect's designs can still be seen across the state in which he was born and where he lived for much of his life, including the spectacular Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Madison's lakeshore (it was actually built long after his death but was based on his original plans), and Milwaukee's Greek Orthodox Church. But it's to Taliesin East in Spring Green that most people flock. Set amid 600 acres of beautiful rolling countryside, this spectacular home was started in 1911 and was a work in progress right up to Wright's death in 1959. Guided tours are available, taking in the home, theater, studio, gallery, and school. Other highlights include an informative visitor center with a restaurant.
Address: 5607 County Hwy C, Spring Green
3 Wisconsin State Capitol
Madison has many great reasons to visit, many of them found in the downtown core. One of the most attractive is the Wisconsin State Capitol, completed in 1917 and decorated with a 284-foot-high dome that's just three feet shy of Washington's Capitol building. Tours are available of the building's interior features, including its large murals and exquisite marble work. One of the best views of the Capitol is from the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center - it's simply stunning.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Madison
4 Home of the Hog: The Harley-Davidson Museum
Nothing says "freedom" quite like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a fact that is not lost on visitors to Milwaukee, the birthplace of the famous "Hog." The best place to find out more about this iconic machine is the city's Harley-Davidson Museum, home to more than 450 classic motorcycles. This fun family attraction also has excellent displays of the brand's famous teardrop tanks, as well as exhibits telling the story of the people and places behind the machines (a store and a restaurant are also on site).
Address: 400 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Milwaukee
5 Circus World Museum
In the small Wisconsin town of Baraboo, Circus World Museum is an excellent attraction for kids of all ages to learn about the day-to-day activities of a working circus. With its focus on the country's rich circus history - it was once one of the nation's leading entertainment industries - the museum features numerous fascinating displays including circus artifacts and exhibits. In summer, there's a Big Top with regular shows including traditional circus acts (check their website for scheduled performances). Baraboo is well qualified to host this museum given its former role as the headquarters of the huge Ringling Brothers Circus.
Address: 550 Water Street, Baraboo
6 The Dells of the Wisconsin River
Sometimes called the Wisconsin Dells - though this is often confused with the touristy town of the same name - the Dells of the Wisconsin River is a spectacular five-mile gorge on the state's largest river. This area of outstanding natural beauty boasts many unique sandstone rock formations, canyons, and cliffs, some as high as 100 feet. The Dells area is also home to an abundance of unique flora and fauna, such as cliff cudweed, found in only one other location on the planet, and six species of dragonfly. Given its fragile ecological state, it's not the easiest place to access, and those wanting to experience its beauty must do so by boat. A variety of regular excursions are available, taking in both the upper and lower areas of this spectacularly beautiful region.
7 The Green Bay Packers: Lambeau Field and the Walk of Legends
The story of the Green Bay Packers is a remarkable tale of a small town's ability to host a major league professional sports team. Take the team's stadium: nearly large enough to house the city's entire population of 72,000, Lambeau Field was opened in 1957 and is the longest continuously occupied stadium in the league. Formed in 1919, the team is the third oldest in the NFL, and the league's only non-profit team (it's owned by the city of Green Bay). Whether you're a sports fan or not, you'll enjoy a tour of the stadium with its behind-the-scenes look at how a major league team operates. Two superb self-guided tours of Packers-related landmarks are also worth checking out: the Walk of Legends is an art walkway of 24 statues celebrating the history of football in Green Bay between 1895 and the present and the Packers Heritage Trail, a walking tour taking in city landmarks associated with the team.
Address: 1265 Lombardi Ave, Green Bay
8 Exploring the Land O' Lakes
The lovely Land o' Lakes region is tucked away between Boulder Junction, Eagle River, and Rhinelander in the northern part of Wisconsin. Hugely popular with watersports enthusiast, it boasts more than 200 unspoiled lakes of various sizes. Campers and backpackers are particularly fond of the region, which is wonderful to explore by canoe or kayak. Highlights are its abundant flora and fauna, with good fishing and bird watching, including an opportunity to see one of the few remaining white-tailed eagles in the area. The town of Eagle River is a good place to begin exploring the region, and offers recreational activities such as fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and swimming in summer, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
Address: 6484 Hwy 45, Land O' Lakes
9 All Steamed Up at the National Railroad Museum
There's no better family outing than the excellent National Railway Museum in Green Bay. Home to more than 20 steam and diesel engines plus numerous items of rolling stock, the museum houses a variety of railroad artifacts and memorabilia. A highlight is the Eisenhower collection, which includes the Dwight D Eisenhower, a streamlined vintage British engine used to pull the leader's military train across Europe during WWII. Fun events include excursions aboard a train decked out like the famous Thomas the Tank Engine, and haunted train rides at Halloween. An 80-foot-tall observation tower offers great views of the museum's collection and the surrounding area.
Address: 2285 South Broadway, Green Bay
10 The Great Outdoors: Door County
One of the prettiest corners of Wisconsin is Door County. About 46 miles northeast of Green Bay, this area of outstanding natural beauty lies on a peninsula overlooking Lake Michigan. This pleasant rural countryside draws numerous visitors each year for its trout fishing, sailing, diving, and swimming, as well as hiking and biking. Small towns of note include picturesque Sturgeon Bay with its lovely old lighthouse (one of numerous such buildings sprinkled across the state), and Ephraim with is old harbor and historic buildings. Washington Island is also worth visiting and has the country's oldest Icelandic settlement.
11 Take a Hike: Wisconsin's Wonderful Trails
One of the best ways to explore wonderful Wisconsin is to take a hike (or bike) across the state's extensive trail networks. Many trails cross the state provide a look at how landscapes have been shaped by glaciation including the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, an epic 1,000-mile-long trail stretching from Potawatomi State Park to St. Croix Dalles. Then there's the North Country National Scenic Trail encompassing states from North Dakota to New York, 117 miles of it passing right through the heart of Wisconsin. A gentler and extremely pleasant hike is the Geneva Lake Shore Path, a 21-mile trail that crosses many of the state's classiest country estates.
12 The House on the Rock
The curious House on the Rock is one of Wisconsin's most unusual tourist attractions. High atop Deer Shelter Rock in Spring Green, it's a fascinating mix of oddities and antiques housed in a sprawling complex of structures built to mimic the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose famous Taliesin East home is nearby. A highlight of a visit is the 218-foot-long Infinity Room that seems to disappear into the distance when you stand in it. This fun attraction is also part of a larger complex that includes a resort and an inn.
Address: 5754 State Road 23, Spring Green