Brew City, Miltown, Cream City, the City of Festivals… no matter what you call it, Milwaukee is a treasure just waiting to be discovered. This Midwestern gem is often overshadowed by Chicago, but Milwaukee has a charm and character all its own.
Did you know that Milwaukee was once known as the “machine shop of the world?” You can see this clearly at the Harley-Davidson Museum, which is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Or, take a walk through the Historic Third Ward, which has been revitalized with art galleries, trendy restaurants, and boutique shops.
Milwaukee is also home to some of the best beer in the world, so if you love craft beer, you’re going to feel at home here! We tasted everything from elegant barrel-aged stouts to hazy, juicy IPAs during our time in Milwaukee, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.
And of course, there’s the food. From Wisconsin cheese curds to Milwaukee-style brats, frozen custard, and flaky cream puffs, get ready to stuff yourself silly. Don’t worry because you’ll find tons of ways to burn off those calories! Milwaukee is one of the most walkable and bike-friendly cities in the United States, and the Mississippi River provides ample opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.
With so many things to see and do, the toughest part is deciding where to start. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Milwaukee. Whether you’re in town for a weekend or a week, stick to our fun and unique Milwaukee bucket list recommendations, and you’re guaranteed to have a great time!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Milwaukee
1. Explore the Milwaukee Public Market
Located in the Historic Third Ward, it’s hard to define the two-story Milwaukee Public Market. Is it a farmers’ market? A food court? A collection of unique shops? We’ll leave it up to you to decide, but one thing’s for sure, it’s one of the best things to do in Milwaukee!
Go hungry because the market has over a dozen vendors selling everything from Wisconsin cheese to vegan sandwiches, Thai sushi rolls, fresh seafood, and much more. You can also sign up for cooking classes – such as sausage-making and wood-fired pizza-making – right at the market.
If you need a break from all the food, browse the local shops, which sell everything from jewelry to kitchen gadgets. Stop by the Brew City Brand apparel shop and snag a shirt or hat with beer empire designs.
The Milwaukee Public Market is open every day, so drop by whenever you have a chance! You can ride The Hop (Milwaukee’s streetcar) to the market or drive there and get a free hour of parking if you purchase something inside.
2. See the Penguins at the Milwaukee County Zoo
With over 200 acres, the Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the largest zoos in Wisconsin and the US. You could easily spend an entire day here marveling at the 2,000 animals they have on display.
From camels and spotted hyenas to zebras and kangaroos, the Milwaukee County Zoo is home to a wide variety of animals. One of the best parts is that most of the exhibits are designed to recreate the animal’s natural habitat as much as possible.
There are also three species of penguin at the zoo, so if you’ve never seen a penguin in real life, this is your chance!
What’s so great about the Milwaukee County Zoo is that it’s more than just a place to see animals. They also have other attractions like a carousel, a safari train, a sky safari, a zoo playground, a goat yard, and an aviary.
There’s even a zip line and ropes course if you want to add a little thrill to your day! For something a little more relaxing, we recommend watching Kohl’s Wild Theater, a live animal show for kids and kids at heart!
Pro tip: Purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid long lines at the gate!
3. Go Day Drinking at Milwaukee’s Beer Gardens
Milwaukee loves its beer, and day drinking is practically a sport here. No one’s going to bat an eye if you want to sip on a cold one before lunch! In fact, you’re likely to make new friends if you do.
There are over a dozen beer gardens in Milwaukee, but our favorite is Estabrook Park Beer Garden, the original Milwaukee beer garden with a German theme. Another local hangout is Hubbard Park, which has a more secluded atmosphere and an extensive food menu. The War Memorial Beer Garden is yet another great option, especially if you’re looking for breathtaking views of Lake Michigan.
No matter which one you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Just don’t forget to drink responsibly!
4. Take the Kids to Discovery World
Located right on the banks of Lake Michigan is the Discovery World Science &Technology Museum, one of the top Milwaukee attractions for visitors of all ages. This museum is huge, and there’s so much to see and do! We swear we felt ready to win a trivia contest after a few hours here.
Discovery World has interactive exhibits on everything from water technology to medical science and automation. We particularly loved the Les Paul’s House of Sound exhibit, which has various guitars and audio equipment that you can play with. There’s also a design lab open on the weekends, where you can use 3D printers, laser cutters, and other cool machines.
The museum also has a section on the future of the Great Lakes, interactive machines and shipyards, virtual reality, and so much more! They also have events from time to time, so check their website before you visit.
5. Fill Up on Milwaukee’s Favorite Foods
You can’t come to Milwaukee and not eat! This is a comfort food town. We’re talking fried cheese curds, bratwurst, fish fry, and all the frozen custard you can eat.
First, the cheese curds. You can find these fried bites of goodness at just about any restaurant, but some of our favorites are at Wisconsin Cheese Mart and Clock Shadow Creamery.
For the best bratwurst, you have to go to Usinger’s, a Milwaukee institution that’s been around since 1880. The sausages here are made with only the finest ingredients, and they’re absolutely delicious.
Don’t sleep on the Milwaukee-style pizza as well! Starring a cracker-thin crust and topped with a variety of meats and cheeses, it’s sliced tavern-style or in squares. You can find some of the best pies at Zaffiro’s, which was founded in 1954 and still uses the same secret family recipe.
Ever heard of a butter burger? It’s a burger with, you guessed it, a healthy dollop of butter on top. It might sound strange, but it’s actually really delicious! You can find some of the best butter burgers at Sobelman’s, a local chain with several locations around town.
Still hungry? The Friday fish fry is a year-round Milwaukee institution, but they’re especially popular during Lent. Order it Milwaukee-style with potato pancakes, tartar sauce, and sliced caraway rye bread plus coleslaw for a hearty meal.
Finally, we didn’t forget about dessert! Get your sugar high at one of Milwaukee’s many custard shops. We love Leon’s, Kopp’s, and Gilles, which have been around for decades. Plus, the gigantic cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair are also a must-try!
6. Stroll Through the Historic Third Ward
This revitalized warehouse district is one of the most essential Milwaukee attractions and is filled with unique boutiques, eclectic eateries, and remarkable displays of art and culture.
The Historic Third Ward (HTW) is actually the oldest center of warehousing and commerce in the city. It was also where Milwaukee’s most devastating fire happened, which led the way to its redevelopment.
Nowadays, the HTW is home to some of the top Milwaukee attractions. There’s the Marshall Building, American Family Insurance Amphitheater, and the Henry Maier Festival Park (where Summerfest happens!), just to name a few.
You’ll actually find the Milwaukee Public Market on the north side of the Third Ward, while the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is located on the south side.
The Third Ward is also where you’ll find a variety of art galleries, such as the Haggerty Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Museum. In short, it’s hard to run out of things to do in Milwaukee at the Historic Third Ward alone!
7. Go Tailgating at American Family Field
Tailgating is a time-honored tradition in cities around the United States, and Milwaukee is no exception. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Milwaukee, head to American Family Field to go tailgating before watching the Milwaukee Brewers play.
Tailgating starts early here, so make sure to get there well before the game to snag a spot. Then, set up your grill and cook up some brats (a Milwaukee specialty!). Don’t forget to bring a cooler stocked with beer because what’s tailgating without some cold ones?
8. Check Out Milwaukee’s Many Museums
You’ll want to set aside a full day for this one because Milwaukee has a lot of incredible museums!
Start your day at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is world-renowned for its unique architecture. Then, drive down the road to the Haggerty Museum of Art to see a variety of American artwork.
If you’re interested in Milwaukee’s history, make your way to the Milwaukee County Historical Society. This museum is housed in an old Bank of Montreal building and has a variety of exhibits on Milwaukee’s past.
The Harley-Davidson Museum also deserves a spot on your Milwaukee bucket list. This museum chronicles the history of the iconic motorcycle brand and has a variety of interactive exhibits, such as a motorcycle simulator and actual relics from Harley-Davidson’s past.
For the little ones, there’s the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This hands-on museum is designed for kids 10 and under and has a variety of exhibits, such as a grocery store, a doctor’s office, and a construction site.
Last but not least, don’t forget about the Milwaukee Public Museum. You’re going to love this natural history museum, which has a planetarium, a butterfly garden, and an IMAX theater.
9. Adventure Through the Great Milwaukee Outdoors
Where else can you kayak and canoe between skyscrapers, bike to the Great Lakes, and stroll through nature trails all in the same day but beautiful Milwaukee?
If you’re looking for a way to burn off all those cheese curds, beers, and brats, you have lots of options. Want to go on a water adventure? Go kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding along the Milwaukee River. You can also bike the 6-mile loop of the Lake Front trail, which takes you past the Discovery World Museum, the Domes, and Bradford Beach.
For a more leisurely pace, stroll through the Boerner Botanical Gardens or the Whitnall Park Beer Garden. If you’re feeling really adventurous, hike up to the top of the Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens for an incredible view of the city.
Finally, don’t go home without getting a tan at Bradford Beach! This Milwaukee staple is the perfect place to relax, people-watch, and take a dip in Lake Michigan.
10. Enjoy a Peaceful Stroll at the Milwaukee RiverWalk
The Milwaukee RiverWalk is a beautiful pedestrian path that runs along the Milwaukee River. It cuts through the heart of the city and links the three waterfront neighborhoods of the Beerline B, Downtown, and Historic Third Ward.
The RiverWalk is not as crowded as other areas of the city, so it’s the perfect place to take a peaceful stroll. Along the way, you’ll see a mix of permanent and temporary art exhibitions, as well as a variety of restaurants and cafes.
Make sure to snap photos along the “RiverSculpture!” part of the Milwaukee RiverWalk with its classic and wacky sculptures, such as a duck named Gertie.
11. Sip on Wisconsin Beer and Spirits
It’s a crime to visit Milwaukee and not drink at least one of its amazing, locally-brewed beers! The city has a long and rich brewing history, dating back to the 1800s.
Visit the Brewers Hill neighborhood to tour the Miller Brewery, one of the largest breweries in the world. We strongly suggest booking a tour with Lakefront Brewery, one of the wackiest and most beloved breweries in the city! Their tours are insanely funny and informative at the same time, and you get to taste great craft beers along the way.
If cocktails are more your style, make sure to stop by Great Lakes Distillery for a tour. Milwaukee’s whiskeys, vodkas, and gins are as legendary as its beers!
Lastly, Milwaukee also has a wealth of bars and taverns to wet your whistle. The Landmark 1850 Inn used to be a stagecoach stop in the 1850s and is now one of the best places in the city to drink, eat, and be merry.
Puddler’s Hall is another great option, especially if you’re looking for a dive bar atmosphere. Plus, Kneisler’s The White House is another historic tavern that has been serving Milwaukee since 1891.
12. Visit Milwaukee’s Famous Landmarks
When in Milwaukee, you have to visit at least a few of its iconic landmarks. The Pabst Mansion (yes, of Pabst beer fame!) is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture and a living history museum. Make sure to take a tour of this Milwaukee landmark to learn about the city’s brewing history and see the opulent rooms of the mansion.
The city’s other famous landmark is the Bronze Fonz. No trip to Milwaukee is complete without getting your photo taken with this larger-than-life statue of one of the city’s most beloved characters, Arthur Fonzarelli, from the TV show Happy Days!
Milwaukee’s City Hall is also worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in architecture. Other must-see sights are the Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse, the Basilica of St. Josaphat, the Allen-Bradley Company Clock, and the tranquil Forest Home Cemetery.
13. Drop by the Domes
The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, better known as the Domes, is easily one of the best things to do in Milwaukee.
These massive domes are living museums and are home to three different gardens, each with its own unique climate. The Tropical Dome is a lush, humid rainforest filled with more than 1,200 species of tropical plants, waterfalls, frogs, insects, and different kinds of birds gliding through the air.
The Desert Dome represents the deserts of Africa, South America, Madagascar, and the American Southwest. Walk through a cactus garden, see how plants adapt to different climates and learn about the cultures of the people who live in these regions. After that, cool down beside the oasis.
Finally, the Show Dome is always different each time you visit, as it gets transformed at least five times each year! From fantasy themes to historical, cultural, and holiday-themed displays, the Show Dome is always a fun and fascinating experience.
14. Go Bar Hopping on Brady Street
Exploring Brady Street’s nightlife is hands down one of the coolest things to do in Milwaukee! Brady Street is always lively, and there’s a bar for everyone, whether you’re looking for a rowdy night out or a more low-key evening.
If you happen to stop by during the day, you’ll find spas and brunch spots, boutiques and antique stores, and coffee shops aplenty. We enjoyed looking through the Art Smart’s Dart Mart & Juggling Emporium and browsing the racks at Glorioso’s Italian Market.
As for bars, take your pick! The Balzac Wine Bar is fantastic for date night, while Casablanca‘s belly dancers take the stage on Friday nights. The Hi-Hat Lounge and The Garage on Brady are both excellent dive bars, and Club Brady is the perfect place to dance the night away!
P.S., Regano’s Roman Coin is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along for the Brady Street bar crawl!
15. Spend the Day at the Wisconsin State Fair
The Wisconsin State Fair Park is home to the annual Wisconsin State Fair, which is one of the biggest and most popular events in the state and the country. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during the fair, then you definitely have to add this to your Milwaukee bucket list!
The rides at the Wisconsin State Fair are some of the best in the country. Fair-goers can enjoy everything from classic carnival rides to thrill rides like the Giant Slide, SpinCity, SkyGlider, and the Salto Fower Jump. There are also a ton of great food options at the fair, from traditional fair food like funnel cakes and fried cheese curds to more gourmet fare like wood-fired pizza and grilled salmon.
Be sure to sample at least a few of the more famous and offbeat fair foods, including the Jumbo Stuffed Lobster Tater Kegs, the pancake-wrapped Breakfast-On-A-Stick, the Deep-Fried Milk with Cookie Dip, and the Dill Pickle Pizza. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a Unicorn Beer Float!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Milwaukee. What’s your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee?
Planning a trip to Wisconsin? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!
Frequently Asked Questions
With over 200 acres, the Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the largest zoos in Wisconsin and the US. You could easily spend an entire day here marveling at the 2,000 animals they have on display. There are also three species of penguin at the zoo, so if you’ve never seen a penguin in real life, this is your chance!
Located right on the banks of Lake Michigan is the Discovery World Science &Technology Museum, one of the top Milwaukee attractions for visitors of all ages. This museum is huge, and there’s so much to see and do! They also have events from time to time, so check their website before you visit.
It’s a crime to visit Milwaukee and not drink at least one of its amazing, locally-brewed beers! The city has a long and rich brewing history, dating back to the 1800s. Visit the Brewers Hill neighborhood to tour the Miller Brewery, one of the largest breweries in the world. We strongly suggest booking a tour with Lakefront Brewery, one of the wackiest and most beloved breweries in the city!
When in Milwaukee, you have to visit at least a few of its iconic landmarks. The Pabst Mansion (yes, of Pabst beer fame!) is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture and a living history museum. The city’s other famous landmark is the Bronze Fonz. No trip to Milwaukee is complete without getting your photo taken with this larger-than-life statue of one of the city’s most beloved characters, Arthur Fonzarelli, from the TV show Happy Days!
The Wisconsin State Fair Park is home to the annual Wisconsin State Fair, which is one of the biggest and most popular events in the state and the country. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during the fair, then you definitely have to add this to your Milwaukee bucket list! The rides at the Wisconsin State Fair are some of the best in the country.
You can’t come to Milwaukee and not eat! This is a comfort food town. We’re talking fried cheese curds, bratwurst, fish fry, and all the frozen custard you can eat. Ever heard of a butter burger? It’s a burger with, you guessed it, a healthy dollop of butter on top. It might sound strange, but it’s actually really delicious! You can find some of the best butter burgers at Sobelman’s, a local chain with several locations around town.