Your Trip to Milwaukee: The Complete Guide

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If you like nature — Milwaukee is filled with green spaces and located along Lake Michigan — but also crave cutting-edge arts and entertainment and historic architecture (paired with ethnic dining), this is your city. Traffic is never horrendous and hotel rates hover at affordable prices.

Best Time to Visit

Like most Upper Midwest destinations, summer is flush with festivals and events (including one nearly every weekend along the lakefront) but shoulder seasons of spring and fall yield beautiful foliage and flowers. You’ll score lower hotel rates and fewer crowds outside of summer.

Language

English is widely spoken here with immigrant populations speaking Spanish on the South Side as well as Russian in various pockets of the North Shore.

Getting Around

New in 2018 is The Hop, a streetcar with free fares through the end of 2019. The cheapest and fastest way to traverse the entire metro area — including between neighborhoods and to and from the airport — are Milwaukee County Transit System’s buses, which operate nearly around the clock and offer short-term passes designed for visitors.

Travel Tip

Wisconsin’s wintry weather is no joke. On days when wind chills plummet, cover your face and always pack mittens and a hat.

Things to Do

Milwaukee’s bicycle paths are among the best in the country and afford stunning views. Craft breweries are opening in record numbers, following beer brands like Miller, Pabst and Schlitz, established by German immigrants more than a century ago. Professional sports teams host games in the heart of the city, including the Milwaukee Bucks (basketball) at its brand-new Fiserv Forum and Milwaukee Brewers (baseball) who play in a stadium with a retractable roof.

Browse boutiques, art galleries and chic cafes in the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee’s mini version of SoHo in New York City.

Take a stroll or borrow a shared bicycle to explore Lake Michigan’s shoreline (between downtown and the Upper East Side) via Lincoln Memorial Drive.

Gaze up at the jaw-dropping Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Explore more attractions with our full-length articles on the must-visit neighborhoods in Milwaukee, kid-friendly things to do, and 14 free things to do in Milwaukee.

What to Eat and Drink

You’ll find cuisine from nearly every ethnic group in Milwaukee even if the number of restaurants does not appear as vast as New York City or Chicago. Craft beer and artisan cheese are must-eats and drinks while in Milwaukee and a staple at every restaurant. Other items to try are deep-fried cheese curds, Bloody Marys that will blow your mind (like Sobelman’s version with a fried chicken) and a thriving Mexican-restaurant scene in Walker’s Point. Despite Milwaukee’s German-immigrant roots, there are not many German restaurants. Mader’s is here (on Old World 3rd Street downtown, open since 1902) and it’s worth checking out. Fine-dining is sprinkled throughout the area, from Lake Park Bistro and Sanford Restaurant on the East Side to Eddie Martini’s in Wauwatosa, with other stand-outs to include Ardent, Mason Street Grill, Harbor House, Bacchus, Carnevor and Braise.

The Bay View neighborhood 10 minutes south of downtown is turning into a mecca for cutting-edge chefs. Goodkind and Odd Duck are two solid examples.

You’d be remiss to not visit at least one craft brewery’s taproom as many are not yet distributing their beer. In other words, you can only sip it at the source. Vintage cocktail bars are currently a hit in Milwuakee, including the recently renovated and reopened At Random in Bay View and standbys like Bryant’s on the South Side and Jazz Estate on the East Side (listen to jazz while enjoying a Brandy Old-Fashioned, which is Wisconsin’s flagship cocktail).

Where to Stay

The majority of Milwaukee’s hotels — both boutique and chains — are downtown although you’ll find cozy B&Bs tucked into rambling historic mansions on the near West side closer to Marquette University. In recent years, design-oriented hotels have opened in the Third Ward (Kimpton’s The Journeyman Hotel), downtown (The Brewhouse Inn & Suites) and Walkers Point (Iron Horse Hotel), which show off the city’s industrial roots with exposed-brick walls and high ceilings. Catering to business travelers are larger hotels associated with big brands (i.e., Sheraton) on the North Shore, in Brookfield and in Wauwatosa near Mayfair Mall and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. The Westin Milwaukee is a new arrival to the downtown area, satisfying both leisure and business travelers with an Italian restaurant and wellness-oriented rooms. Airplane travelers will find plenty of lodging options on South Howell Avenue near the airport. Airbnbs are primarily in Milwaukee’s Bay View, East Side, Historic Third Ward and downtown, plus first-ring suburbs like Wauwatosa and Shorewood. 

Explore the different neighborhoods you can stay in plus our recommendations on the best hotels, whether traveling for a romantic getaway or with the family.

Getting There

Mitchell International Airport (MKE) on Milwaukee’s South Side is the region’s only commercial airport although some travelers will arrive via Chicago O’Hare International Airport and take a 90-minute Coach USA Airport Express ride to Milwaukee (there are several stops) from there. Getting from Mitchell International Airport to downtown is an easy, quick trip. Greyhound buses arrive at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station downtown, as do Badger Buses from Madison.

Money Saving Tips

  • Check out free days at Milwaukee’s museums and attractions (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee County Zoo).
  • Traffic is rarely an issue outside of morning and evening rush hours and the city isn’t as spread out as most, which means you’ll rarely pay a lot for an Uber.
  • Milwaukee’s public parks are among the best in the nation so don’t leave without exploring at least one.
  • Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun in Milwaukee by exploring the best free things to do.
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