The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lies just 90 miles north of Chicago on the west side of Lake Michigan. The state's largest city, it's situated at the inflow of the Milwaukee River, which is joined within the city area by two tributaries: the Menomonee and the Kinnickinnic. It's here you'll find the city's splendid Riverwalk pedestrian path, a delight to explore day or night.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Milwaukee
1. Take a Stroll along Milwaukee's Lovely Lakefront
Milwaukee's Lakefront area is one of the prettiest downtown areas of any American city. Whether your interest is shopping in boutique stores and galleries, dining al fresco on the shores of Lake Michigan, or simply exploring the city's many pleasant walking trails (check out the Lakefront Trail), parks (yes, there's even a beach), and attractions, visiting here is time well spent.
One of the most prominent landmarks to be in icluded on your waterfront stroll should be the War Memorial Center, which commemorates the dead of WWII and the Korean War. A newer landmark is the Milwaukee Art Museum, a striking building with collections that include American and European works from the 19th and 20th centuries. And as you walk around the shoreline to Discovery World, you'll also see the Denis Sullivan, a 137-foot replica of the tall ships once so common here.
2. Go Whole "Hog" at the Harley-Davidson Museum
One of Milwaukee's oldest industries is also one of the city's newest attractions: the Harley-Davidson Museum. This iconic motorcycle brand came into being here in 1901, when William S. Harley, Arthur and Walter Davidson, and a German engineer produced their very first motorbike.
Mass production followed in 1903, and the rest, as they say, is the kind of history now on display at the excellent Harley-Davidson Museum. All told, this superb family attraction boasts more than 450 motorcycles and artifacts, including "Serial Number One," the oldest Harley.
3. Get Your Art Fix at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Founded in 1888, the excellent Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is home to more than 20,000 works of art dating from antiquity to the present day. The lakeside building itself is an architectural work of art and resembles a cross between a sleek ship and an aircraft, with a tall, retractable structure resembling wings perched atop its roof.
Highlights of a visit include seeing its many European, American, modern, and contemporary works. These include many fine prints, drawings, and photographs, as well as Asian and African collections. A good day to visit? At the time of writing, the museum has a free admission policy in place for Thursdays (be sure to check their website for further details).
4. Take a Free Tour of Milwaukee City Hall
Despite being surrounded by numerous taller and more modern buildings, Milwaukee City Hall continues to be an important part of the city's skyline. Built over a number of years and finished in 1895, the building, at 393 feet, remains one of the tallest 19th-century skyscrapers of its kind.
Designed in a mix of Flemish and German Renaissance Revival styles, it was, when completed, the tallest habitable building in the country. Free tours of this iconic building in Milwaukee's historic East Town district are available the second and fourth Wednesday each month during the summer and include a chance to climb the spectacular bell tower and view the beautiful interior.
5. Take in a Show at Pabst Theater
The Pabst Theater - affectionately known simply as "The Pabst" to locals - is one of Milwaukee's architectural gems. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, the theater is built in a style reminiscent of Europe's best opera houses, with a charming Baroque interior, including a spectacular chandelier and an Italian Carrara marble staircase.
Included on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater is still used for stage and musical productions and other events.
6. Pay a Visit to Pabst Mansion
A popular related attraction to Pabst Theater, the Pabst Mansion near the University of Wisconsin's Milwaukee campus, is also well worth including on your list of top places to visit in this Wisconsin city.
Also known as the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, this attractive building was constructed in 1893 for the wealthy Pabst family. It's notable for its Flemish Renaissance Revival style, with period furnishings and décor, and is beautifully decorated for Christmas events and celebrations. Free guided tours of the mansion are also available and are well worth joining. Be sure to visit the on-site gift shop, too, for a selection of unique related souvenirs.
7. Explore the Domes: Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory
The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory in the western part of town has three very distinct gigantic glass domes containing plants from the tropics and from desert areas. They're impressive architecturally as well, each dome spanning 140 feet in diameter and standing 85 feet tall, and were the first of their kind when built in 1959.
Numerous shows and festivals are held throughout the year in the Show Dome, including a well-attended Christmas event with an extensive garden railway, a farmers market, along with regular light shows at night. Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
8. Go Wild at Milwaukee County Zoo
If you are looking for things to do in Milwaukee with kids, this is the place to come. The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the largest in the US and has a variety of unique and rare animals among its 1,800 permanent residents (some of them even born here), including polar bears, gorillas, and cheetahs.
Covering an impressive 200-acre site, the zoo offers an active educational program with numerous fun seasonal events. The zoo has earned a reputation for its bonobo breeding program, which has seen their collection of these delightful pygmy chimps become one of the largest in captivity.
9. The Milwaukee Public Museum
Don't be fooled by the rather simple name. The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) is an excellent place to pass a few hours exploring its many collections and exhibits. Highlights include fascinating natural history displays of life-size dinosaurs and a reconstruction of a tropical rainforest, as well as a presentation of Milwaukee's past in the "Streets of Old Milwaukee" exhibit.
Other popular permanent exhibits (the museum boasts 17 all told) include displays related to the continents of Africa, Asia, and the Arctic; a village with reconstructions of homes from Europe; and a variety of diorama scenes relating to the region's native populations. The six-story Dome Theater presents planetarium-type shows and is worth the additional admission cost (and check their website for news of special exhibits and "free days").
10. Discovery World
Milwaukee's Discovery World Museum - also known as the James Lovell Museum of Science, Economics, and Technology - has a variety of interactive exhibits sure to fascinate young and old alike. Located on the lakeshore and boasting a stunning architectural design, the museum also presents an ever-changing roster of traveling exhibits related to the disciplines highlighted in its name.
Must-sees include the Reiman Aquarium, the tall ship Denis Sullivan, and the excellent Les Paul's House of Sound, which showcases the work and career of one of the world's legendary guitar makers. Big screen movie adventures and live theater experiences are also available.