There is no shortage of things to do in Milwaukee. Whether stopping into town just for a day or if you just moved to the city and are looking for exciting things to do with your weekends, at times it seems like the city offers limitless options for fun. From live sports, great dining and world-class museums, to outdoor activities and shopping, you can easily find your favorite leisure activities in the brew city.
Jump to types of attractions in Milwaukee:
- Year Round Fun things to do in Milwaukee
- Things to do in Milwaukee in Summer
- Winter activities in Milwaukee
- Things to do in Milwaukee with Kids
- Night attractions in Milwaukee
Year Round Fun Things to do in Milwaukee
No matter the weather, these local favorites are always a good idea. These top Milwaukee attractions are good to visit all year long.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee boasts numerous museums, but none are more famous than its art museum. The world-class art museum sits on Milwaukee’s lakefront, and a large section of it, the Quadracci Pavilion was designed by the internationally renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The iconic structure, which is meant to resemble a bird with an over two hundred foot wingspan, is a must-see in Milwaukee.
Beyond the building itself, the Milwaukee Art Museum houses over 25,000 works of art by world-famous artists spread across four floors, including works by Claude Monet and Andy Warhol.
There is also an excellent cafe in the basement level of the museum, and an incredible gift shop located on the first floor, both of which are worth a visit alone. Check ahead of time as well to see what the current rotating special exhibit will be going when you plan a visit.
Go on a Brewery Tour in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson, one of the most popular motorcycle brands in the world. Visitors to Milwaukee may be stopping through during Harley-Fest when you are certain to get your fill of all things Harley. If not, visitors can always check out the Harley-Davidson Museum, situated between downtown and Walker’s Point.
The museum has a number of permanent exhibits where you can learn about the history of the company, see tons of motorcycles, and learn about the internal workings of motorcycle engines. The museum also has a popular restaurant that serves up a top-notch barbeque and other staple American foods. Even if you aren’t a motorcycle enthusiast, you will still find a visit to the museum rewarding, consider stopping through when visiting the city.
Milwaukee Public Market
The Milwaukee Public Market, located in the Historic Third Ward, is a great place to stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just to do some shopping. There are numerous food vendors in the market, from places to grab a breakfast sandwich or a smoothie bowl, to Mexican and Thai-inspired restaurants, and even a fresh seafood restaurant and store where you can sit down for some freshly shucked oysters.
There are also stores inside the market where you can get freshly baked pastries, produce and cuts of meat, wine, and spices. A large parking lot behind the market and its convenient location make it an ideal place to stop before venturing further into the Third Ward.
Kopp’s Frozen Custard
First opened in 1950, Kopp’s now boasts three locations in the Milwaukee area. Fun fact, one of the Kopps locations stands in the former spot of the Milky Way drive-in restaurant, which was the inspiration for Arnold’s Drive-In in the famed TV show Happy Days. There are two reasons to visit Kopps: first, the amazing frozen custard, and second, the jumbo butter burgers. Besides for always offering chocolate and vanilla, Kopps also rotates two specialty flavors per day (which can come as frozen custard or as a milkshake), and a sundae and shake of the month special. You can check online to see the schedule of specialty flavors.
For something more savory, try one of Kopp’s famous jumbo burgers. The burger patties are thin but larger in diameter than most burgers and can come with numerous toppings so you can build the perfect burger for your palate. There is limited seating inside, so be prepared to find an outdoor seat or to eat in your car.
Mader’s German Restaurant
Milwaukee is known for its German heritage, and few restaurants make for a better destination to experience the city’s German past than Mader’s. The restaurant is located in the middle of downtown on the popular thoroughfare Old World Third Street and has been slinging authentic German cuisine for over one hundred years. They also can boast of having had dozens of famous celebrities and politicians walk through their doors.
While reservations are probably a good idea, the restaurant has numerous dining rooms with plenty of seating. If you do have to wait for a table, or just feel like having a refreshing German or local beer in a great setting, make sure you head next door to the Knight’s Bar, a cozy spot for a drink.
Located near Mader’s on Old World Third Street is another gem of Milwaukee’s German past, in this case, one of the best-known sausage makers, Usinger’s. First opened in 1880, Usinger’s still stands out as an artisanal sausage making company in the Milwaukee area. Given its convenient location, Usinger’s is well worth a visit when touring the city. Although due to food sanitation issues visitors are not able to see the sausage making operations, Usinger’s has an extensive gift shop ideal for sampling various sausages and deli meats, various gift boxes for sale, and best yet, the gift shop has all the original decor from the past, making it a historic site on its own.
While in the area, consider also stopping over to the Spice House, for all of your spice needs, and the Uber Tap Room and Cheese Bar for a refreshing beverage paired with some famous Wisconsin cheeses.
Discovery World in Milwaukee
Discovery World, located on the lakefront near the Milwaukee Art Museum, is Milwaukee’s version of a science and technology museum with particular emphasis on issues pertaining to the Great Lakes. Discovery World is a great time, both for kids and adults. It includes interactive exhibits, an aquarium with fish from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean, two theaters with rotating shows, and an exhibit based on Les Paul and his contributions to rock music.
Be sure to save time for the labs and studios sections of Discovery World. There are ten total, each enabling guests to become involved with the innovation portion of science, technology, and the environment. For example, the biology lap gives you hands-on experience of working in a laboratory, while the MillerCoors lab provides insight into the role of water in product development.
Finally, don’t let checking out two nineteenth-century era ships on site, the Challenge, and the Denis Sullivan. Discovery World is an innovative take on a traditional museum experience, so be sure to check it out while in Milwaukee.
Things to do in Milwaukee in Winter
Life doesn’t stop during the winter here in Milwaukee – a little bit of snow and cold isn’t going to prevent us from having some fun. This list of things to do in Milwaukee in the winter focus more on indoor activities to stay warm during the colder months. Most of these attractions could be done all year (except the ice-related ones), but we save these for the winter so we can be outside in the summer.
Check out the Milwaukee Bucks Brand New Stadium the Fiserv Forum
The newly built FiservForum in the heart of downtown is the place to go for live basketball. For professional basketball, you can catch the Milwaukee Bucks, while for college basketball you can see Marquette University’s team The Golden Eagles. For both teams, tickets tend to be affordable, and given its location (and enormous parking structure), getting to the stadium or parking should be no problem.
With its state-of-the-art design, the Fiserv Forum hosts an array of awesome dining options, typically branches of local restaurants, and will soon be surrounded by other entertainment options, including a micro-brewery, a beer garden, and an outdoor space for events. If live basketball is not your favorite activity, check out Fiserv Forum anyways since it also is the new home to large arena-style concerts. If in Milwaukee just for a few nights, why not check out the city’s top basketball teams or a major national act in person.
Warm up at a Tiki Bar
The Tiki Trend hasn’t missed Milwaukee and these fun bars are the perfect place to escape the winter, even if it’s only for a few hours. Put on your best Hawaiian shirt and head down to one of the Tiki Bars in Milwaukee to escape the winter weather and take a mini vacation to the South Pacific. Sipping Tiki drinks and Asian fusion bites are sure to help you forget about the subzero temperatures at least for a little while.
Visit the Mitchell Park Domes
Even if it’s below freezing in Milwaukee – inside “The Domes” as locals call them, are always a steady 70°F and full of blooming plant life. If you’ve got a case of the winter blues, this might be just what you need.
Lake Geneva Ice Castles
On the shores of Lake Geneva just over an hour away from Milwaukee is a massive display of ice. Walk through the towers of ice built into castles in the popular tourist town of Lake Geneva. The castles will be around as long as the temperatures stay cold enough. Tickets sell out quickly, but you can also show up and wait in the stand by line for a chance to get in if you don’t have tickets.
Milwaukee Pabst Theater
The Pabst Theater was built in the 1890s and is one of the oldest continuously running theaters
in the country. The theater is also known for its ornate decor, including larger chandeliers, marble arches, and gold leaf highlighting on the stage’s frames, which harkens back to a different time in Milwaukee history when you can imagine the city’s elite packing the seats for a show. Milwaukeeans still show up in droves to the Pabst Theater. With over thirteen hundred seats and in excess of one hundred shows per year, this downtown landmark is nearly always thriving. Today you can expect to catch everything from theater-style plays to national music acts, and even comedy and dance shows. If the shows currently offered don’t pique your interest, check out the nearby Riverside Theater and the Turner Hall for other noteworthy concert venues.
Check out the Lux Domes at Cafe Benelux
In Milwaukee we are pretty good at improvising, so what happens to a rooftop bar in the winter? You get Lux domes! On top of one of the cities best Rooftop bars, they have put up small clear dome tents to enjoy the view and have a unique winter experience in Milwaukee.
Skating at Red Arrow Park
Have some winter fun right in the middle of downtown Milwaukee at Red Arrow Park. This city park is home to an ice skating rink that is perfect for fun with kids or in the evening makes a great date activity.
The Oriental Theater
Seeing a movie may not be the first item on your bucket list when checking out a new city, but the Oriental Theater on Milwaukee’s East Side is certainly worth a visit. The movie theater was first opened in 1927 and is ornately decorated with an East Indian theme, including porcelain lions, elephants, Buddha statues, minaret towers, and large glass chandeliers. While the theater occasionally plays major Hollywood films, it is more common to find independent and art films on rotation, especially since the Milwaukee Film Group, which hosts a film-related festival every year, took over operations over the past year.
The theater is also famous for its Saturday night showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, which its been doing continuously since 1978. With three screens and an ever-changing rotation of well-chosen movies, take a night off from tourism with a fun night out at the movies.
Check Out The Different Neighborhoods in Milwaukee
Historic Third Ward
The Historic Third Ward is probably Milwaukee swankiest neighborhood. Located just south of downtown, the neighborhood is filled with trendy restaurants, interesting bars, loft-style apartments, and upscale shopping options. Head to the neighborhood to check out the Milwaukee Public Market, take a stroll to do some shopping for things like gourmet chocolates or designer clothing and stay for dinner or drinks.
You’ll find an array of restaurant options, from the Belgian-inspired Cafe Benelux, great barbeque at Smoke Shack, or interesting takes on Chinese classics at DanDan. Grab a drink at the Milwaukee Ale House, the Wicked Hop, or at the rooftop bar The Outsider. The Third Ward is also home to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, lending itself to various art galleries and impromptu art showings. No visit to Milwaukee is complete without sampling the many options that the Third Ward has to offer.
Brady Street is the main entertainment street in the heart of the East Side. From its humble roots as one of the centers of what was once an Italian neighborhood, the street has transformed over the years to its current status as one of the top destinations for nightlife in the city. There are still good reasons to visit the street during the day, most notably the iconic Italian market Gloriosos, and the nearby Italian bakery Peter Sciortino’s, or to stop into one of the street’s historic institutions, Rochambo, a coffee shop that will bring you back to the 1960s.
For dinner, Brady Street boasts some impressive food options, including Casablanca, one of the city’s top destinations for Middle Eastern cuisine, Balzac for small plates and wine, and La Masa Empanada Bar. Stay around for some drinks afterward at the Hi-Hat Lounge, Jo Cats, or the Nomad World Pub.
Bayview has transformed over the past couple of decades from a sleepy residential neighborhood just south of Milwaukee to being one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. While there is no shortage of eclectic shopping options, tattoo parlors, and interesting corner markets in Bay View, the real reason to visit the neighborhood is its plethora of both classic and hipster dining and bar hopping options. Three Brothers is one of the neighborhood’s institutions, serving up traditional Serbian food in a one-hundred-year-old bar setting.
For something newer and trendier, check out the small plates at Odd Duck or the unusual twists on sausages at The Vanguard. For nightlife, head over to Sugar Maple for a great assortment of craft beers, Tonic Tavern for live jazz, or the Cactus Club for an intimate indie rock concert. Consider a nightcap at the historic bar At Random, where you enter a time machine that brings you back to the 1950s, making it the perfect ending to a night out in the Bayview neighborhood.
Things to do in Milwaukee with Kids
Sprecher Brewery Tour
Most brewery tours don’t offer much for kids, but at Sprecher, they are just a famous for their rootbeer as they are for their real beer, so kids can actually do some sampling on this family-friendly brewery tour. See our full Brewery Tour Guide!
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
One of the best things to do in Milwaukee with kids is to check out the featured exhibit at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum located in Downtown Milwaukee and right across the street the Milwaukee Art Museum. Click here to see the exhibits. The children’s museum is open year-round.
- Address: 929 E. Wisconsin Ave.
- Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.
- Adults and children age 1 and older: $9
- Seniors (age 55 and older): $8
- Children younger than 1 year: Free
- Out-of-State Visitors: $1 more per person
- FREE every 3rd Thursday of the month 5pm-8pm
- Phone: (414) 390-5437
Milwaukee Public Museum
Located downtown, the Milwaukee Public Museum caters to lovers of different cultures, dinosaurs, and Milwaukee’s past. The museum boasts a collection of over four million artifacts. Be sure to plan ahead so you know which exhibits you intend to see since one can easily spend a whole day in the museum and not see everything. There are seventeen permanent exhibits to choose from, along with special exhibits and a dome style theater for IMAX shows.
The permanent collections include explorations to different continents, including Africa, Antarctica and Latin America; exhibits on different civilizations, such as Native Americans; and some of the most popular exhibits which include a butterfly area, the Streets of Old Milwaukee (which takes you back to late nineteenth century Milwaukee), and the European Village, with recreations of homes from over thirty different European cultures. You won’t be sorry if you dedicate a large portion of a day to exploring the many exhibits that the Milwaukee Public Museum has to offer.
Things to do in Milwaukee for Adults
Milwaukee is often called the Brew City for a reason. The city is famous for its beer making past and continues to boast an incredible number of large- and small-scale breweries. Few are as popular to visit as Lakefront Brewery. Not only do they make great beer, but the tour is a blast, which comes with included free samples, and the space housing the brewery is simply awesome. Hang out in the enormous indoor beer hall before or after the tour, and definitely consider ordering some food, the cheese curds are excellent, and the Friday fish fry is often thought to be one of the best in the city.
Book your tour ahead of time since they typically fill up quickly.
With two locations and a number of tour options, MKE Brewing is definitely worth checking out. Their location in Walker’s Point is known for having a brief yet entertaining tour, accompanied by an all-you-can-sample finish to the tour ensuring you will have your fill of MKE beers. The new second location is located in the former Pabst district and hosts an expertly designed space with excellent food and more taps than you can count. For a brewery well worth your visit, consider stopping at one of the MKE Brewing locations.
Miller-Coors Brewery Tour
Visitors to Milwaukee are reminded that one of the largest beer-making companies in the world is located right in the center of the city. Miller has a long history in the city and is one of the few large-scale beer makers still left, even though it has merged with other companies, most recently with Coors. For an affordable price, you can tour parts of the facilities to see how beer is made at a macro-scale. During the brewery tour, you can learn about the company’s past, tour parts of the facilities, sample some Miller products only available on site, and even see the historic caves that used to store the beer. Learn about what it takes to be one of the biggest beer companies in the world by visiting Miller-Coors.
The Jazz Estate
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood on Milwaukee’s East Side is the city’s best destination for live jazz, The Jazz Estate. The bar and lounge have hosted top-level jazz acts since 1977 and shows no signs of slowing down since it just went through a renovation to freshen the place up. Beyond the music, they also have a great cocktail menu and numerous drink specials, making it a unique spot to grab a drink. The Jazz Estate is open daily from 5:00 pm to 2:00 am, and be sure to get there early on weekends since no reservations are accepted. Check online to see which act is playing on the night you are planning your visit.
Things to do in Milwaukee in Summer
Of all the seasons in Milwaukee, there is the most to do in the summer. Every weekend in Milwaukee there are festivals and events going on during the summer months. In addition to the city’s long line up of festivals, there are other traditions that are summer only like baseball, beer gardens, boating down the river.
Tailgate & Catch a Milwaukee Brewers Game at Miller Park
Milwaukeeans love their baseball, and that means live Milwaukee Brewer games at Miller Park. Located just a few minutes from downtown, Miller Park is iconic for its retractable roof, its large parking lots ideal for tailgating, and the enormous crowds it draws regardless of whether the team is having a winning season or not.
Ticket prices, and the cost for drinks and food while at the stadium, are really affordable when compared to other Major League stadiums across the country, so you won’t even have to break the bank to see a live baseball game. Even better, given the retractable roof, you can book your tickets well ahead of time and rest assured the game will be played without rail delays or a cancelation. Any visit to the city during the baseball season is incomplete without checking out a game at Miller Park.
Have a Beer at a Beer Garden in Milwaukee
What’s better than mixing a world-class public park system with beer, the beverage that made Milwaukee famous? Also tapping into Milwaukee’s German past is the extensive number of beer garden options dotting the city. Historically, Milwaukee used to have plenty of beer gardens, and although they went away for a number of decades, they have returned and are here to stay. There are roughly ten beer gardens across the city, some located in Milwaukee public parks, others in non-Milwaukee parks, and a couple of “traveling” beer gardens, meaning beer serving trucks that set up shop for a couple of weeks at a time in various Milwaukee parks along with plenty of seating.
Nearly all of the beer gardens serve full- and half-liters of a variety of beers, or you can bring in your own non-alcoholic beverages. You can also bring your own food, although most of the beer gardens also serve beer garden favorites, such as grilled sausages, extra-large soft pretzels, and other salty snacks that perfectly compliment a large beer. Check our guide to the best beer gardens in Milwaukee!
Running every year for eleven days in late June and early July, Summerfest in Milwaukee is one of the largest music festivals in the world. In fact, some Milwaukeeans would suggest that if there is one single reason to visit the city, Summerfest would be it. From small local acts to internationally renowned artists, the festival, which takes place on a permanent festival site along Lake Michigan hosts nearly one thousand concerts on eleven different stages. While at the festival, you can also enjoy an enormous variety of food options, fireworks, and of course plenty of drinks and other activities to go around.
Many of the concerts are free with admission, while some require the additional purchasing of tickets. When planning your trip to Milwaukee, consider making late June your ideal time to come, and plan on checking out the Summerfest lineup to determine which day (or days) you plan on attending.
Leon’s Frozen Custard
Few things say Milwaukee quite like frozen custard, and no place in the city is more famous for it than Leon’s, first opened in 1942. Leon’s has that classic 1950s drive-in restaurant appearance, and nearly year-round you can expect a line of people waiting to enjoy their frozen custard. They offer three regular flavors, which includes vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan, in addition to sundae options. On weekends Leon’s also offers a fourth specialty flavor. While there are a few other food options, like hot dogs and hamburgers, most people choose Leon’s for its well-priced extremely high-quality frozen custard. The only difficult part is choosing whether to have it served in a cup or a cone.
Wisconsin State Fair
State Fair happens yearly on the permanent state fairgrounds located in the middle of the city, typically over the first eleven days of August. Depending on your personal interests, there are diverse reasons for heading to the fair. Kids may enjoy seeing a variety of animals from throughout the state, and the various entertainment options and rides geared toward children. Others may head to the fair to see an assortment of live music options, or to see a race at the Milwaukee Mile, which is part of the fairgrounds.
Those that enjoy an interesting drink and food options delight at the plethora of unique food and drink stands, often attempting to show up one another in providing unusual fair foods and deep-fried treats. A must-have is the famous Cream Puffs, a sweet pastry sandwich filled with Wisconsin dairy-made cream. Given its affordable entry price and the many reasons to go, plan on checking out the State Fair while in Milwaukee.
Beyond Summerfest and the State Fair, Milwaukee is a city that enjoys its summer festivals. With a few notable exceptions, Bastille Days, in particular, the majority of them happen on the Summerfest grounds located along Lake Michigan next to the downtown area. Most people refer to them as either the “Lakefront Festivals” or the “Ethnic Festivals,” and they typically start in either late May or early June and run until sometime in September.
There are quite a few to choose from, but all of them hold a few things in common: cheap admission tickets, live music, great food options, fireworks, and interesting cultural experiences. The first one of every summer is usually Pride Fest, a great gathering point for a weekend of LGBTQ pride and festivities, while the last one of the year is often Indian Summer, a Native American heritage festival, or the Big Rig BBQ Fest, an all-out homage to all things barbeque. In between, you can enjoy festivals dedicated to Italian, Irish, German, and Polish heritage, all of which last for about a weekend.
The Outsider Rooftop Bar at The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel
The Outsider, Milwaukee’s most popular rooftop bar on top of the Journeyman Hotel in the Historic Third Ward, is a must stop destination while visiting the city. With rotating specialty cocktails and gourmet small plates crafted up in the hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, Tre Rivali, The Outsider makes for an excellent place to either start or end your night out. During summer you can soak in the comfortable breeze off Lake Michigan, while in winter the space is surrounded by protective glass and heaters to ensure you can enjoy the rooftop during all times of the year. Finish off your visit to Milwaukee at The Outsider, one of the best rooftop bars in Milwaukee, located on top of the Journeyman Hotel.
Walk the Riverwalk
In the summertime, the banks of the river in Downtown Milwaukee come to life. Many of the city’s best restaurants can be found here as well as a few breweries and other top attractions.
Kayak the River
The adventurous can hop in a kayak and make their way down the river and out into the harbor. From here you’ll get great views of Downtown and the city skyline.
A fun way to spend a summer evening or weekend is aboard a boat in the river and Milwaukee Harbor. There are several options for riverboat tours.
Jazz in the Park
Every Thursday evening in the summer Cathedral Square fills with the sounds of Jazz music. Pack a picnic and listen to music. This is one of the locals favorite things to do in the summertime in Milwaukee.
Walking Trails in Milwaukee
With all the great eating and drinking options in Milwaukee, you may want to consider some exercise while visiting the city. If not for exercise, the numerous walking and biking trails throughout the city offer an excuse for sightseeing and getting some fresh air when the weather is pleasant. There are lots of options to choose from. The Oak Leaf and Hank Aaron State Trails make their way throughout the city, winding through parks, along the Milwaukee River, and various neighborhoods alike, or you might choose the extensive trails that run along the Milwaukee lakefront.
Maps of the city’s bike and walking trails are available online and make for a great way to get in some exercise when moving from one part of town to another.
Bradford Beach (The Best Beach in Milwaukee)
Most visitors to Milwaukee are surprised to discover that the city has a fantastic beach located just a few minutes from downtown. When the weather is nice, you can expect large crowds at Bradford Beach soaking in the sun, swimming, or even taking part in yoga and CrossFit classes. The beach has easy areas for parking and offers options for food and drinks, including a few tiki-style bars. One of the most popular activities on the beach is volleyball – there are numerous volleyball nets making it easy to stake out a spot and even to make new friends over a match.
Located right next to Bradford Beach is also Northpoint, a popular spot for grilled burgers and one of the best spots for frozen custard. Weather depending, consider stopping over to Bradford Beach for some outdoor fun in Milwaukee.
There are over 150 parks in Milwaukee County, which is no wonder why the city has long been known for having one of the best park systems in the country. Nearly all of the parks have their own attractions, whether it’s a great view of the Milwaukee River or Lake Michigan, such as Estabrook Park and Lake Park, excellent hiking trails like Grant Park, numerous golf courses including the one at Brown Deer Park, or smaller parks tucked in between bars and restaurants, such as Cathedral Square. Some of the parks have their own restaurants or beer gardens, while others have extensive trails leading down to small beaches on the lake. Probably the most popular park for tourists is Veterans Park that runs along the lake and the McKinley Marina, and Red Arrow Park downtown, which in winter converts into a charming destination for ice skating.
For some fun outdoors, be sure to take advantage of the Milwaukee Park System while visiting the city.
Things to do in Milwaukee at Night
Dine at one of Milwaukee’s Unique & Trendy Restaurants
See our full Milwaukee Restaurant guide here!
Blu at The Pfister Hotel
Every great city has those perfect spots to take in some views of the city skyline. Ideally, these spots also boast expertly crafted drinks, comfortable seats, and maybe even some live music. Blu on top of the century-old beautiful hotel, The Pfister, is Milwaukee’s swankiest spot to catch some views of the city from 23 floors up. Make this your top destination for a romantic night out or even to just grab drinks with a couple friends. They offer fantastic drinks and have live music a couple nights of the week. Enjoy views of Lake Michigan and the rest of Milwaukee while sipping your favorite adult beverage at Blu on top of the Pfister.
Enjoy the Nightlife in Milwaukee
See our full Milwaukee Nightlife Guide!