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The 20 Best Things to do in Milwaukee For First Timers

Residence Inn Milwaukee Downtown

Planning on taking your very first visit to Milwaukee? Then get ready for some Fun with a capital F. Wisconsin’s largest city is positively bursting with things to see, do and experiences, guaranteeing a great time for all. Regardless of your age, taste, or budget, you’ll never be short of entertainment thanks to the incredible range of amusements and attractions on offer. Plan your itinerary with the help of our round-up of the 20 very best things to do in Milwaukee.

20. Grohmann Museum

The Grohmann Museum focuses on the evolution of human work, featuring over 1400 paintings, sculptures, and works that are as unusual as they are fascinating. Although it's often overshadowed by some of the city’s flashier museums, it's still more than worth a few hours of your time.

19. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

For botanists, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is the highlight of any trip to the city. The futuristic, domed buildings of the Conservatory house a vast array of plant life, with each dome dedicated to a different theme. The Desert Dome, for example, is a celebration of the cactus, while the Tropical Dome is a lush, vibrant display of tropical fauna and flora.

18. Lynden Sculpture Garden

For fans of contemporary art, a visit to the Lynden Sculpture Garden is a must-do. Opened in May 2010 by Harry and Peg Bradley, the garden takes in over 40 acres of tranquil woodland and hundreds of exquisite sculptures. Although a stroll through the gardens is the highlight of any visit, don’t miss taking a quick peruse through the paintings and exhibits housed in the inside galleries.

17. Palermo's Pizza Factory Tour

Who doesn’t love pizza? If the thought of some hot, freshly made slices of the world’s favorite dish has you chomping at the bit, head straight on down to join a tour of Palermo's Pizza Factory, where you’ll not only get to fill your face with cheesy goodness, you can even get to see it made (as well as learning some inside secrets about the art of pizza-making in the process). For more info, check out the website.

16. North Point Lighthouse Museum

Historically, Milwaukee played a huge part in the Maritime activities of the Great Lakes, a fact that’s put on fascinating display at the North Point Lighthouse Museum. Featuring artifacts, documentation, and artwork from the lighthouse over the years, it offers an intriguing glimpse into a history that very few of us are much aware of. The Fresnel lens and personal scrapbooks and artifacts that have washed ashore over the years are some of the key highlights, although there’s enough on offer to keep you happily browsing for hours.

15. Brady Street

The diverse, vibrant Brady Street is one of Milwaukee’s secret gems. Although the beautiful architecture is worth the visit alone, the real reason it draws so many crowds is the vast quantity of lounges, cafes, shops, restaurants, and taverns lining the avenue, almost each one representing a different part of the world. Once you’ve finished eating your way around the globe, don’t miss picking up some rare and unique souvenirs at one of the charming little local stores.

14. Betty Brinn Children's Museum

If you’re traveling with kids, it’d be remiss not to treat them to a visit to the charming Betty Brinn Children's Museum. With its focus on promoting the healthy development of children, the museum is a great resource for inspiring kids to recognize the importance of teamwork, building their self-esteem, and helping develop key skills. With its ever-changing lineup of activities and exhibits, it’s worth checking the website before your visit so you can plan ahead.

13. Manfred Olson Planetarium

Even if you’ve no more than a casual interest in science, the Manfred Olson Planetarium is worth a visit. Since opening in 1965, the Planetarium has been keeping visitors thoroughly entertained with its combination of learning and fun. The visual effects are stunning, while the range of interactive activities will keep kids amused for hours. For those seriously interested in astronomy, it’s well worth timing a visit to coincide with one of the regular stargazing events that are held at the observatory throughout the year – for details of upcoming events, check out the website.

12. Discovery World

If you’re traveling with the family in tow, don’t miss Discovery World, an engaging museum that will keep both kids and adults entertained for hours. With a focus on science and technology, the museum aims to make learning fun, taking ideas that might be challenging in other situations, breaking them open, and turning what could have been an intimidating concept into an accessible one. Although temporary exhibits change regularly, some of the permanent ones that shouldn’t be missed include Reiman Aquarium, Great Lakes Future, The City of Freshwater & Liquid House, Challenge, Simple Machine Shipyard, and the Music Factory.

11. Lakeshore State Park

If the relentless hustle and bustle of the city is getting you down, restore your equilibrium at Lakeshore State Park. Situated along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the serene grounds are a world away from the frantic city center- although that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to do. For outdoor enthusiasts, there’s every type of recreation imaginable, including kayaking or canoeing on the lagoons, boating on the lake, and biking, skating or hiking the numerous trails. If all that sound’s just too energetic to contemplate, don’t worry too much – you’ll also find plenty of places to sit back and relax with a picnic.

10. Milwaukee Public Market

Take a detour to the Historic Third Ward neighborhood and you’ll find the Milwaukee Public Market, a huge site dedicated to all thing’s food-related. As popular with locals as it is with tourists, the market is the perfect place to pick up some tempting local delicacies and interact with the producers themselves. If you’re more into homeware than edibles, check out the massive collection of flowers, clothes, and trinkets- and don’t forget to take a quick pitstop at Palm Garden on the second floor for a cooking class or demonstration.

9. Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts

Set in a restored 1850 farmhouse in nearby Cedarburg, the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts offers a first-class insight into needlework in all its forms. Along with the chance to view some of the spectacular historic and contemporary quilts on display, visitors can also get a hands-on chance to explore fiber arts with one from the range of workshops and classes on offer.

8. Charles Allis Art Museum

If you’re keen on checking out some world-class art during your trip, don’t miss a visit to the Charles Allis Art Museum. Set in an English Tudor style house (which would be worth a visit in its own right), the museum houses a fine collection of paintings, ceramics, bronzes, and antiquities – the result of the lifetime obsession of the house’s former occupants, Milwaukee native Charles Allis and his wife Sarah. The house itself stands much as it did during Charles and Sarah’s occupancy over a hundred years ago, with lavish interiors, a walnut-paneled French Parlor room, and hand-carved fireplaces in almost every room. Visit on the third Thursday of the month throughout spring, summer, and fall to enjoy a jazz performance in the mansion’s English Garden.

7. Basilica of St. Josaphat

If you’re in town on a Sunday, don’t miss taking a Sunday Mass at the spectacular Basilica of St. Josaphat- the best way to experience the splendor of the cathedral in all its luminescent glory. Even if you don’t make it to a service, it’s still more than worth a visit, with the tours of the premises coming highly recommended by past guests. Once you’re done admiring the huge copper dome and beautiful iconography, take a quick pitstop at the fascinating little museum in the pavilion to learn more about the church’s rich history.

6. Milwaukee Art Museum

Before you even step through the doors of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can’t help but be impressed by the stunning sight of its gleaming, futuristic walls, glistening 90-foot vaulted glass ceiling, and majestic cantilevered wings. Get past the architecture and you’ll find a seriously impressive display of art, which, unsurprisingly, features one of the largest collections of Wisconsin native Georgia O'Keeffe’s works in the world. Once you’ve finished perusing the collections, you’ll find a delightful little wine bar to rest up and enjoy a celebratory beverage or two.

5. Milwaukee County Zoo

Spread over 200-plus acres and home to more than 2000 animals, Milwaukee County Zoo is an evergreen family favorite. Along with the opportunity to fawn over the camels, hyenas, giraffes, and zebras, visitors can also get involved in the numerous hand-on experiences and attractions laid on by the zoo, including a safari train, a carousel ride, and, depending on the day of the visit, an “elephant appreciation day”.

4. Miller Park

Sports fan shouldn’t miss a trip to Miller Park. Situated just 5 miles from downtown, the park is home to Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers, a team whose somewhat dubious game record is more than compensated for by the enthusiastic support of their fans. If you’re in town on game day, grab a ticket and join the legions of supporters cheering on their team. Even if you’re not lucky enough to time your visit with a home match, there’s still a lot to be said for paying $12 for a tour of the stadium.

3. Lakefront Brewery

Like beer? Then you’re going to love Lakefront Brewery. While there’s no shortage of breweries for you to visit in Milwaukee, the fun, entertaining tours at Lakefront are what makes it stand out from the crowd. Hand over $10 and join the crowds taking an inside look at the workings of the brewery, along with the opportunity to enjoy four 6-ounce samples of beer, and even a free souvenir pint glass with a beer coupon to take home with you. Once you’re done with the tour, refuel at the onsite beer hall for some outstanding pretzels and brats.

2. Pabst Mansion

Ever downed a glass of Pabst and wondered about its origin? No, me neither, but that doesn’t stop the Pabst Mansion being a worthwhile experience. As the former home of the brand’s namesake, Captain Frederick Pabst, the grand mansion is an elaborate sprawl of carriage houses, pavilions, greenhouses and central residences (a massive affair that boasts 66 rooms and most than a dozen hidey places). The house today is very much as it was in Pabst’s era, offering visitors the chance to get a rare inside look into how the rich and famous of the 1800s lived. As you’d expect, you’ll also pick up a plethora of information along the way about the man and the beer…. although unfortunately, no samples of the latter.

1. Harley Davidson Museum

Even if you’ve never sat on a bike in your life, the iconic Harley Davidson Museum is still worth exploring. The vast site spreads over 20 acres, containing a huge collection of exhibits, artifacts, and Harley memorabilia. While admission prices are fairly steep ($20 for an adult and $10 for a child), few will consider it a wasted expense. To make the most of the tour, it’s worth shelling out an extra $4 for an audio headset – the astonishingly detailed narrative will make sure that if you weren’t an expert on Harley when you came, you definitely will be by the time you leave.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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