Madison might be Wisconsin’s capitol but many people consider Milwaukee to be the best city in the state. It was my home while I attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee up until now, even though I live in the suburbs. With tons of fantastic pubs and crowd-drawing festivals, there’s always something going on to be excited about.
Foodies will find internationally renowned cuisine and architecture fans will love touring Milwaukee’s famous Third Ward (the heart of the city) and its many different churches spread throughout the neighborhoods.
On the plus side, Milwaukee is an easy train ride away on Amtrak directly from Chicago’s Union Station (about $50 round trip), so travelers don’t need to worry about driving around if they’re coming from that area.
Best Time to Visit Milwaukee
Summer is the ideal time to visit Brew City; downtown can get pretty hot but the cool Lake Michigan breeze is never too far away. If you’re heading to the beach I would wait for a really hot day as the water is almost always just a bit too cold otherwise. On cooler summer days stay more inland or bundle up near the shoreline.
Avoid visiting Milwaukee during the winter months as Wisconsin is famous for having snowfalls of several feet (often at a time). Although winter 2016 wasn’t too bad, if you must visit during this time of the year be sure to bundle up and bring along some sturdy boots so you can make your way through the slush in the city streets.
Top Things to Do In Milwaukee
Milwaukee is the place to be in June, July, and August. The perfect sunny weather and beautiful lakeside location make the perfect recipe for great festivals, and it’s hard to avoid one during this time in the city. Between June and July is Summerfest, Milwaukee’s famous ten-day long music festival that draws all ages. Not only can you pay extra to see the current big timers like Pitbull or Blake Shelton at the Marcus Amphitheater, but you can also just buy a day pass and check out the free stages of other popular names like O.A.R., Willie Nelson, or even DJ Paris Hilton (really).
There are so many cultural and foodie festivals in Milwaukee and the surrounding area, too, in the hot summer months. Downtown in Cathedral Square you’ll find French-themed Bastille Days and on the Summerfest grounds you’ll find German Fest, Festa Italiana, and Mexican Fiesta. Just outside the city, too, are Strawberry Fest and IndiaFest.
Besides festivals, visitors can’t leave the city without checking out the Milwaukee Art Museum, famous for its fabulous architecture (it has wings that actually move!) and contemporary art from around the area or even the rest of the country. Young scientists should bring their parents to nearby Discovery World, a museum full of child-friendly activities and experiments that’ll keep kids amused for hours. A bit more inland is the Milwaukee Public Museum with dinosaurs, a butterfly exhibit, an IMAX theater and so much more!
Being in Brew City, there is no reason to pass up a brewery tour and sample the local favorites. Milwaukee Brewing Co., Lakefront Brewery, and MillerCoors are some of the most popular. Those looking for non-alcoholic options can check out the Sprecher brewery, too.
Sports fans can’t miss a Brewer game or the opportunity to participate in Wisconsin’s favorite pastime: tailgating. If you’re heading to Miller Park, load up the truck with brats and hamburgers, a portable grill, chairs, a cooler full of beer, and a game of bags (also called cornhole). Be sure to get there early as Milwaukeeans will probably be arriving anywhere from 3-5 hours prior to the first pitch.
To get a real taste of the city, take a stroll down Milwaukee’s RiverWalk, which will take you through the districts of the Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. Use the entire day to do this as you’ll definitely want to take your time checking out the Bronze Fonz, the Public Market, and the Old German Beer Hall.
Want more things to do in Milwaukee? Check out this article by US News on Best Things To Do in Milwaukee
Where to Stay in Milwaukee
Because there are some neighborhoods in Milwaukee that are considered a bit more dangerous, it’s advisable to book your accommodations either directly downtown or northeast of the city center, such a near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Of course staying downtown means higher prices, but the city’s transit system is very handy and Uber and Lyft should give travelers no problems in getting around all over the city easily.
Milwaukee has several fabulous hotels. The more famous ones include the Iron Horse (constructed in an old warehouse and adjacent to the Harley-Davidson Museum) and the Pfister, both in excellent locations downtown and providing luxury stays for their guests. There are several other chain hotels in Milwaukee that are found in any big city, such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and InterContinental.
For more advice on best hotels in Milwaukee, check out US NEWS‘s Best hotels in Milwaukee
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Backpackers and young travelers looking for hostels in the city will be disappointed as there currently aren’t any options.
Another great alternative for accommodation in Milwaukee is Airbnb, where private rooms start at $28 and offer a unique way to experience the city from a more local perspective.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive a discount to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat & Drink in Milwaukee
Naturally, Brew City has fabulous restaurants, but Milwaukee’s real heart lies in its pubs and breweries.
For eats, brunch is huge in Milwaukee. Check out Trocadero (the fried green tomato benedict is unreal), Café Benelux (amazing beignets with chocolate sauce), and Zak’s Café (the sweet potato hash is drool-worthy).
Many also know (or maybe not) that Wisconsin has the Bratwurst Capital of the World in Sheboygan, about an hour north of Milwaukee and visitors can find brats in pretty much almost any pub or restaurant in the city, typically served in a Sheboygan hard roll.
Cheese is also huge in Milwaukee as Wisconsin is the dairy state. Walk into a major grocery store to pick up a pack of cheddar cheese curds (the squeakier the better) or order some deep-fried ones at any pub. Pop into the Wisconsin Cheese Mart for some of the best cheese curds you can find (and more).
Appreciate a good Bloody Mary? Sobelman’s is famous nationwide for their bloodies which are more like full meals since they’re packed to the brim with so much delicious food (read: shrimp, sausages, sliders, or even an entire fried chicken).
Independent breweries are also abounding through Milwaukee and the trend is growing, with a more recent addition being Urban Harvest that drew hundreds over its opening weekend in June of 2016. Try the favorite Wicket Wheat or the rich Espresso Amber.
Looking for more restaurants to try while in Milwaukee? This Serious Eats guide How to Eat Well in Milwaukee will give you plenty of ideas.
How Much Time Do You Need in Milwaukee
Being a smaller-big city, travelers can likely do the majority of what they’re planning during a long weekend. Coming over July 4th or Labor Day weekends, for example, would pretty much guarantee good weather, a Brewer game if they’re home, and some kind of festival. Need help organizing your visit? Check out some ideas here – there are options for everyone:
About the Author:
Samantha is a freelance travel writer and blogger at Samantha En Route, her website she’s been running since she studied abroad in Santiago de Compostela, Spain from 2012-2013. She’s lived near Milwaukee for most of her life and loves spending time exploring the city. Samantha has traveled to 15+ countries (a small, unsatisfying number to her) and just can’t quite quench that thirst for wanderlust. She is also currently a contributing writer for Matador Network and Huffington Post.