December in Milwaukee: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Waterfront House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Don’t let the cold weather deter you from visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the month of December. There are so many holiday events and other spectacular things to see in this Midwestern city during the most festive time of year. You can thaw out in a warm brewery—Milwaukee has some of the best—after exploring the western shore of Lake Michigan in frigid temps, for instance, or embrace the sub-zero climate by having your beer at an ice bar, the quintessential Milwaukee experience.

Weather

Although December starts out relatively warm with an average high of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the highs have been known to fall below freezing within the first week. Lows drop from 28 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the month, resulting in an average temperature of around 29 degrees. The city only sees about eight days of precipitation in December, resulting in anywhere from one to four inches of snowfall.

Wind speeds remain above 14 miles per hour throughout most of the month, making it feel even colder than it is. However, humidity levels stay at zero percent, which means you probably won't feel that familiar chill in your bones like you would in wetter winter climates.

What to Pack

Due to the severity of the cold, you'll want to pack your warmest layers and lots of them for a December trip to Milwaukee. Don't forget:

  • Thermal undergarments
  • A windbreaker
  • A heavy winter coat
  • Fleece layers
  • Comfortable, waterproof shoes
  • Hats, gloves, and scarves

Events & Attractions

From a European-style Christmas market to performances of “The Nutcracker” and even a bus tour that celebrates the folks behind Milwaukee's best festive treats, there are plenty of events happening this December to get you in the holiday spirit. Many of these events are family-friendly and kid-oriented, perfect for multi-generational groups. If you have limited time, simply stroll the downtown Milwaukee area where city streets are all aglow with holiday lights and decorations.

  • The German Christmas Market of Oconomowoc: One of the newer annual traditions for Lake Country residents is this German-influenced Christmas market, featuring outdoor beer gardens, more than 30 huts filled with vendors selling artisan-made goods (many linked to the holidays, such as tree ornaments and house décor), and live polka music.
  • Holiday Lights Festival: From mid-November through the first of the year, more than 500,000 lights will illuminate downtown Columbus (concentrated mostly near Cathedral Square and Pere Marquette Park, as well as by City Hall). This festival has been a Milwaukee staple for more than a century.
  • Christmas in the Ward: The Historic Third Ward is the artsy part of the city. It's especially decorated during Christmastime, when a colossal tree lights up the center. The tree lighting takes place in early December, featuring fireworks, visits Santa Claus and his reindeer, and a market. After that, you can head to this part of town to participate in the very cool (literally) and elaborate ice bars.
  • Christkindlmarkt: The West Allis Farmers Market’s annual shopping event, now in its third year, features German mulled wine, hot chocolate, and vendors selling a mix of locally made and imported products to help get your holiday shopping started.
  • Milwaukee Ballet’s “The Nutcracker:" The Milwaukee Ballet's yearly "Nutcracker" show brings together 150 students from the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, plus an additional 50 dancers, for performances throughout the month.

December Travel Tips

  • Due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, the windchill can be even colder than more landlocked cities in the northern United States. It's better to overpack layers than to not have enough.
  • In addition to the Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker" performances, various theaters and venues across the city will be presenting holiday shows this month. Tickets for these limited-run productions are likely to sell out, so try to book your tickets before your trip.
  • By the end of December, Milwaukee will likely be blanketed by fresh snow, making for the perfect opportunity to go sledding. There are some great public parks and giant hills in the area that seemed to have been made for this winter pastime.
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