Milwaukee, on the shores of Lake Michigan is the largest city in Wisconsin, although it is not its capital. Known above all for the Happy Days TV series, and for the Harley Davidson, too often it is overshadowed by the fame of nearby Chicago. In fact, in addition to the statue of Fonzie, it has a lot to offer visitors.
worth dedicating a whole day to discover all its attractions, from the recently renovated beautiful center to the interesting museums, up to the historic breweries of German origin. Let's find out then what to see in Milwaukee!
- Historical notes
- How to get there, where to park and how to get around
- Which itinerary to enter Milwaukee
- When to go
- How much time to spend
- What to see in Milwaukee
- Walking tour of the center
- Third Ward
- Harley Davidson Museum
- Tour of the Breweries
- Other museums to see in Milwaukee
- What to see and do on Lake Michigan
- Where to eat
The Milwaukee area was inhabited since ancient times by several Indian tribes. Its name, the same as that of the river that crosses it, derives from the Algonquin term Millioke, which means "the good earth". During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, several missionaries and traders passed through here, without however ever settling permanently.
The city was finally founded in 1818 by the French Solomon Juneau, but its expansion is mainly due to theGerman immigration, starting from 1840. This strong Germanic influence can still be seen today, in fact Milwaukee hosts many German breweries, restaurants, and in October it celebrates the Oktoberfest.
Being an industrial city, it later became a multi-ethnic and multicultural center, attracting Polish, Irish, Italian, Hungarian and African American communities.
From the 60s onwards, the city has undergone a real restyling, which has made it possible to reduce its depopulation and increase its livability. Entire neighborhoods, such as the Riverwalk, Third Ward and East Side, have been modernized and re-evaluated, new museums and commercial centers have been created.
Today, Milwaukee is home to many multinational, financial, and technology companies. It also hosts various events, including the musical event Summerfest, which is normally held at the beginning of July.
How to get there, where to park and how to get around
Milwaukee has an international airport, Mitchell International Airport, which is located 17 kilometers from downtown. There are, however, no direct flights from Spain. From both Rome and Milan, at least one stopover must be taken into account.
In any case, it is much more likely that you will visit the city as part of a road trip in the United States, and therefore you are already in America, and with a rental car. Here are the directions for reach Milwaukee by car:
- Yes Chicago, take I-94 / I-90 north (toll road), and continue to Exit 310C. Merge onto I-794 E towards Lakefront, and take Exit 1E. You will find yourself downtown, opposite the Milwaukee Public Market. The journey is 150 km long for an hour and a half, but consider at least two because of the very heavy traffic.
- Da Minneapolis, take I-94 East, and continue to Exit 1E, the one that takes you downtown. The journey is 550 km long, with a travel time of 5 hours.
If you are unable to leave your car at the hotel, you will need to use the paid parking in the center. The rates are disproportionate for short stays (1-2 hours), but become cheaper for long stays. Here are some solutions:
- Bonnie Lot South, in the area immediately west of the river, at 807 N 2nd Street. One hour costs $ 5, two hours $ 8, from 3 hours onwards the daily rate starts at 12$. Open 24 hours.
- Pavilion car park at 330 East Wells Street. One hour costs $ 6, two hours $ 9, from 4 hours onwards the daily rate starts at $ 18. Open 24 hours.
- Public Market parking at 400 N Water St. One hour costs $ 5, two hours $ 7, 3 hours onwards $ 16. If you shop inside, validate the receipt for one hour of free parking. Open from 10.00 to 20.00 from Monday to Saturday, and from 10.00 to 18 on Sundays.
- roadside with parking meter (metered parking). Depending on the area, rates range from $ 0,75 to $ 2,00 per hour, and free on Sundays. In some neighborhoods, such as Third Ward, parking is also free on Saturdays for two hours.
Milwaukee has a fairly extensive bus network, and at a low cost: the single ride costs $ 2,25, the day ticket only 4$. The advice is therefore to leave your car in a parking lot or in the hotel for the duration of your stay, and then move by public transport. On the website of the transport company MCTS Next you will find the map in pdf, the interactive map to calculate your route, and the complete rates.
Which itinerary to enter Milwaukee
Milwaukee goes well with a Great Lakes itinerary, which also includes Chicago, Minnesota, part of Canada with Toronto and Niagara Falls. Insert it between Chicago and Minneapolis.
When to go
Milwaukee has a humid continental climate, with frequent year-round rainfall and moderate winds.
- Winter is very cold, temperatures are well below freezing, and snowfalls are frequent.
- Spring is cool, with a significant difference in temperature between day and night. Temperatures start to get pleasant from May onwards.
- Summer is hot and humid, with possible afternoon thunderstorms, especially in August.
- Autumn is pleasant between September and October, while from November it can already start snowing. As in spring, there is a significant temperature range.
The best time to visit Milwaukee is from May to September. August is considered high season, therefore the availability of hotels could be lower, and the prices higher. The same is true for periods close to national holidays.
How much time to spend
If you're short on time, you can see Milwaukee's essentials too in half a day; visit the Harley museum, take a tour of a brewery, and then take a ride on the Riverwalk with dinner in the area.
However, it would be appropriate to dedicate to the city a whole day, or rather two half days with an overnight stay. In this way you will have the opportunity to calmly appreciate the beautiful historic center, rich in public art, and see an additional museum. Here's what you can do in Milwaukee in one day:
- Harley Museum, then a ride to Third Ward and lunch at the Public Market
- Ride downtown and the Riverwalk, walk on the lake, another museum of your choice and tour of a brewery
Many visit Milwaukee like trip out of town from Chicago. However, considering the traffic and a travel time of 2 hours, this is not an advisable option. It is much better to arrive late in the morning, sleep there, and leave after lunch the next day.
What to see in Milwaukee
Walking tour of the center
Here's what you can see on a leisurely stroll through the city center.
The Riverwalk is a walkway on wooden walkways, stretching over 20 blocks north to south along the Milwaukee River, connecting the Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B districts. It was born in the 90s from an idea of a committee dedicated to urban renewal, and is an excellent way to explore the center on foot.
Its most famous attractions are the Bronze Fonz, which depicts the mythical Fonzie from Happy Days, and the small statue ofAnatra Gertie, whose story is very interesting. Gertie was a female mallard who made her nest just under the Wisconsin Avenue bridge in 1945. In the middle of the Second World War, this small family of birds gave a message of hope to the citizens, who often stopped to observe the progress of the brood, even sending letters of wishes for Mother's Day. Of the 9 eggs laid, 6 hatched, and finally 5 chicks remained. Gertie and her children were first transferred to the mall Gimbels, where they were visited by over 2 million visitors, and finally relocated to the lake of Juneau Park.
These two statues are part of the Riversculpture!, a larger public art project, which I will discuss in the next paragraphs. In addition to all this, along the Riverwalk you will find shops, bars, restaurants and clubs. It also crosses the theater district, with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pabst and Riverside Theater, and the Marcus Center for Performing Arts.
In the summer, the Pere Marquette Park comes alive with outdoor events, which attract many people. Just beyond the park extends a block, called North Old World 3rd street, reminiscent of the city's Germanic origins. Here are in fact some German-style buildings, themed restaurants and breweries, including the Old German Beer Hall.
Il municipality in Milwaukee, from 1895, is an imposing building in Flemish Neo-Renaissance style. The palace has eight floors, and a tower of over 100 meters, whose bell is dedicated to Solomon Juneau, founder and first mayor of Milwaukee. The top of the tower was rebuilt following a fire in 1929, and is very reminiscent of the typical civic towers of Germany.
Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist
The cathedral, built in 1852 and in neo-Renaissance style, is the episcopal seat of the Catholic archdiocese. Designed by architect Victor Schulte, it is built of local cream-colored clay brick.
The church had a rather troubled history. In 1893, the original tower was replaced for safety reasons, while in 1935 a fire completely destroyed the building, ironically leaving the tower intact. It was rebuilt in 1942, and finally restored in 2012. This last restoration aroused quite a few controversies, mainly due to the displacement of the altar from the apse to the center of the nave.
Inside, the detail fiberglass crucifix surrounded by a crown of thorns is the work of the Italian artists Arnaldo Pomodoro and Giuseppe Maraniello.
In some ways, Milwaukee is one Chicago in miniatura. Both cities are on Lake Michigan, have beautiful avenues decorated with flower beds, and respectable public art galleries. Undoubtedly, the one in Chicago is much more famous, as it includes works of high-sounding names, from the Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor to the sculptures of Picasso and Miro.
Milwaukee's artwork is more modest, but still very interesting. These are mostly sculptures and murals, scattered across Wisconsin Avenue, the Riverwalk, and North Broadway Street. The themes represented are often of a social background, such as immigration, racism, political current affairs, but there are also lighter works, which depict musical and cinematographic subjects.
Online you will find the map and the description of all the works, these are the most famous ones:
- Immigrant Mother, statue of an immigrant woman with her two children.
- Holocaust Memorial, near the Jewish Museum, dedicated to the millions of Jews killed by the Nazi regime.
- The Calling, in William O'Donnel Park, a huge rising sun made of steel, 12 meters high and painted orange.
- Holiday Home, next to The Calling, is a pink house that looks like something out of a comic, the work of British artist Richard Wood in 2019.
- Dream With the Fish, of the little fish swimming on the walls of the Empire Building along the Riverwalk. In the evening, illuminated by neon lights, they are even more fascinating and enliven the atmosphere.
Third Ward is the neighborhood south of the East-West Freeway, the old one commercial area and warehouses. Founded by the Irish community and devastated by fire in 1892, it was a disreputable area with a high crime rate, known as the 'bloody third'. After the fire, it was the Italians who repopulated the area, founding several companies. This is how pasta factories, groceries, fruit stalls and, of course, Italian restaurants were born.
Following the construction of the highway, the neighborhood was effectively cut off from city life, and the storage of goods also declined. After a period of decline, starting in the 80s, a vast redevelopment of the district began, with major renovations and a new urban layout. A new spring, which has brought the Third Ward to be one trendy area, where art galleries, graphic and architecture studios, photographers and advertising agencies are based. The Riverwalk section of this neighborhood was awarded in 2007 by the American Institute of Architects for excellence in urban architecture.
Here is also the recent Public Market, which has attracted 2005 million visitors every year since its inception in 1. It is a covered market where you can buy groceries, including the famous Wisconsin cheeses, but I recommend it especially for the food stands. Between pizza, Mexican tortillas, sushi, huge cookies and street food, you will surely find something to satisfy your appetite!
Harley Davidson Museum
In 1901, William Harley and Arthur Davidson built an engine, and mounted it on a bicycle, thus creating a prototype motorcycle. The experiment was a failure, but the two did not give up and, after 2 years of trying, in 1903 they built the first Harley Davidson motorcycle.
The company was founded in the same year, and grew slowly thanks to sales for the police force and the post office. At the time, the civilian recreational market was underdeveloped.
A strategy that allowed the company to make a fortune during the two world wars, selling motorcycles to the army, and also adapting them with a sidecar for the transport of objects. In the Second World War, the company is estimated to have produced 88.000 motorcycles for the military.
The real turning point in the world was the end of the war, when the soldiers returned to their homeland abandoning their motorcycles in Europe. These vehicles were recycled by the civilian population in the old continent, sparking a real passion that helped to increase sales all over the world, and above all to clear customs the civilian market.Whether you like engines or not, the Harley museum is a must-see in Milwaukee. Because the Harley is not just a motorcycle, but a symbol of the United States, of travel on the road, and of American dream. The huge structure houses over 450 models, from the oldest to the most modern and hyper-technological ones. The main gallery consists of 3 sections:
- in the central corridor the motorbikes are exhibited, in chronological order.
- on the right the story of the company is told, with some of the models supplied to the police, the post office, and the army
- on the left are the areas dealing with technology. You can listen to the unmistakable sound of engines from various eras, discover all the various components and new developments.
Beyond this section there is the most beautiful gallery in the museum, the one dedicated to the iconic ones tanks. They are exhibited per year, on a neon panel that brings out the colors. Have fun finding the one corresponding to your year of birth!
Continuing you arrive at the area dedicated to folklore. Here the most bizarre and curious Harleys are on display, as well as all the accessories and clothing that contribute to fueling the myth of this brand: belts, caps, brooches, bags, and so on. One of the most particular bikes is the one recovered from a container found on the Canadian coast, dragged there from Japan following the 2011 Tsunami.
Finally, you can try riding some Harley models. Check out the gift shop, which is also very well stocked with regards to clothing.
Tickets for the Harley Davidson Museum
In addition to the standard visit, those who wish can purchase a guided tour, to visit the museum in the company of an expert guide. The museum can be reached by car, or by bus with line 19. For updated information on opening hours, consult the official website.
Tour of the Breweries
German immigrants brought the art of brewing to Milwaukee, founding numerous breweries. Today, we still have several establishments offering guided tours, of which the two most famous are the ones mentioned below.
Lakefront Brewery it's my favorite brewery, for many reasons. First of all, due to its suggestive position on the river, in addition it is the only brewery to carry out tours until the evening, but above all, together with the tour they offer 4 samples of beer of 20 cl. You will be accompanied by prepared and witty guys, who tell the production and bottling process in a fun and interactive way. In fact, they let visitors participate in some simple games, then rewarding them with a further taste of beer.
Tours run every day, every 30 minutes, and last approximately one hour. To be allowed, you must be 21 years old. During the week they start at 12.00 and continue until 19.00 - 20.00 depending on the day and the season. In this case, however, the tour is more limited, as the brewery is operational and it is therefore not possible to visit all areas. On Sunday, however, the last tour is at 16 pm, but on the other hand it is possible to make a more complete visit. The cost is $ 10 during the week and $ 12 at the weekend.
The brewery also has a restaurant serving typical American cuisine, open until 21pm. There are many beers, from classic lagers or IPAs to seasonal ones, for example pumpkin beer, and limited editions, such as the one aged in bourbon barrels. . You can reach the Lakefront Brewery by car, on foot (30 minutes from downtown), or by bus line 15.
Miller Brewery is the largest and most famous brewery in Milwaukee. The tour takes place both inside and outside the factory, and tells the story of the brand since its inception in 1855, when Frederick Miller arrived from Germany carrying a special type of yeast with him. First, they will offer you a taste, and then you will go to discover the techniques of production, bottling and packaging, and the cellars. The most beautiful rooms are there Miller Inn, Bavarian-style brewery, and theHigh Life Room, a saloon decorated with wood paneling, which has all the air of an early 900s gentlemen's club.
The tour is open to the whole family, costs $ 10 for adults and is free for under 20s, as no alcohol is served under this age. There is a tour every 30 minutes, from 10.00 to 15.30 in winter and until 16.00 in summer. You can go by car, or with the GOL bus line. For updated info on opening hours, consult the official website.
Other museums to see in Milwaukee
Milwaukee Art museum
The Milwaukee Art Gallery dates back to 1888, and contains over 25.000 pieces, from the 2001th century onwards. The complex, in a panoramic position on Lake Michigan, was enlarged and restored in XNUMX, a restoration that bears the unmistakable imprint of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Looking at the futuristic structure from the outside, you will likely think of New York City's Oculus, which rises above the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center.
Inside we find works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Miro, Picasso, Andy Wharol, and many other famous names, but the centerpiece of the collection are local artists, such as Georgia O'Keeffe, and American art from the 60s. on. The permanent collection includes not only paintings and sculptures, but also photographs, pieces of furniture, and objects of American pop art. In addition to all this, the ticket also includes access to temporary exhibitions.
Admission costs $ 19 for adults, $ 17 for over 65s, and is free for children and teenagers up to 12 years of age. You can reach it on foot from the center, or by car by paying for parking, $ 5 for the first hour, and $ 7 for up to two hours. For updated info on opening hours, consult the official website.
Il Science and Technology Museum Discovery World is also located on the shores of Lake Michigan, and was born in 1982. Although also interesting for adults, it is especially designed for children and teenagers. Its exhibits are educational and focused on interactivity, real laboratories for learning notions of technology, and on freshwater ecosystems.
For example, you can find out how a tornado is born, how motors work, play with gravity, make it rain or create fog. In addition, ultra-immersive films are shown, such as the one about the solar system, in which it seems to walk on the rings of Saturn. Finally, it houses the Reiman Aquarium, populated by sea and Lake Michigan fish, and a replica of the Challenge schooner (from 1852), which you can try to fly.
Admission costs $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for children aged 3 to 17 and over 60s. This museum is also within walking distance of the center. For updated info on opening hours, consult the official website.
This historic home was the home of Captaino Frederick Pabst, who arrived in Milwaukee from Germany in 1848. In addition to being a captain in the Navy, Pabst was also a philanthropist, advocate of the arts, and founder of the Pabst Brewing Company. As well as the Town Hall, it too is in Flemish Neo-Renaissance style, and since its inception in 1892 it has been considered the most beautiful mansion in Milwaukee.
Today it can be visited with a guided tour of about an hour, which explores all its environments. It goes from the luxurious living room to the kitchens, up to the rooms and studies on the noble floor. All the interiors are richly furnished, and decorated with stucco, inlaid wooden doors and stained glass windows.
Admission costs $ 14 for adults, $ 8 for children aged 6 to 15, and $ 12 for over 65s. There is a small car park behind the house, but you can also take bus line 30. , which departs from the Riverwalk in 15 minutes. Tours run every day, but at different times, so check the official website.
Milwaukee Public Museum
The natural history and anthropological museum was established in 1882, while the current location dates back to 1962. Much like the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it contains dioramas that detail different environments. The installations truly cover the entire globe and all eras, ranging from the African savannah to the freezing Arctic, from Japanese gardens to an Indian market, from Easter Island to Native American tent villages.
The most popular reconstructions are Streets of Old Milwaukee, which depicts the city at the beginning of the 900th century, and the representation of a European village from the same period. Speaking of animals, prehistoric and otherwise, we have it skeleton of a mammoth found in the area, of a humpback whale and a triceratops. And then various insects, reptiles, dinosaur models and reconstructions of various ecosystems, such as the tropical forest.
The most recent section is Crossroads of Civilization, from 2015, which houses over 200 artifacts from ancient civilizations of Asia, Europe and Africa, analyzing where they meet and how they intermingled. There are also temporary exhibitions, included in the ticket.
Admission is $ 18 for adults, $ 12 for children between 4 and 13, and $ 14 for over 65s. The museum is a 10-minute walk from the Riverwalk. For updated info on opening hours, consult the official website.
American Family Field (Miller Park)
American Family Field is the home of the local baseball team, i Milwaukee Brewers, who play in the Major League. The guided tour lasts approximately 90 minutes, and allows you to visit the playing field, the benches, the press room, and much more.
The cost of the tour is $ 15 for adults, $ 10 for children between 3 and 12, and for over 60s. It can be reached by bus lines GOL and BLU, plus a short walk. Or, you can go by car, the free parking reserved for tours is Parking Lot 2, next to the team's official shop.
Times vary, as they depend on the baseball season schedule. They are usually available between March and September, in the morning at 10.15 and 11.15. However, they could be canceled in case there was a match, or some concert. Then refer to the official website to check if there is a tour available on your dates.
Milwaukee County Zoo
Lo Milwaukee Zoo it was founded in 1892, and is home to animals from all over the world, such as tigers, bears, reptiles, penguins, seals and lions. Many attractions and activities are designed to entertain the little ones. For example, there is a pet farm, where children can pet the animals, and at certain times it is also possible to feed them (for a fee). Download the map to discover all the animals and sections of the zoo.
In addition to the animals, there is a carousel, and in summer a train and an elevated chairlift, which go around the park allowing you to observe the animals while sitting comfortably.
Admission costs $ 14,25 for adults, $ 11.25 for children aged 3-12, and $ 12.75 for over 60s. You can reach the zoo by car, paying $ 15 for parking, or by line of the GOL bus. In this case, the journey from the center takes about 50 minutes.
The zoo is open every day except Christmas, New Year and Thanksgiving, with varying hours. For updated information on opening hours, consult the official website.
What to see and do on Lake Michigan
After a lot of walking and visiting, you also need a refreshing break, and in Milwaukee there are many green areas to relax by the lake.
The first is Veterans Park, a beautiful lakeside promenade overlooking the skyline and the Milwaukee Art Museum. In the internal area of the park there is a lagoon, where you can rent swan-shaped pedal boats, kayaks and stand-up paddles.
Further north is the McKinley Park, which is mainly a small port, but also has a pebble beach. To find the sand, however, you will have to go a little further north, a Bradford Beach. This is the best place to spend a few hours sunbathing and swimming. The atmosphere is really holiday, and in addition, Lake Michigan is so extensive that you will feel like you are at the seaside. Free parking.
The largest park, Lake park, it is still a little further north. Established in 1889, it has large green spaces, a cycle-pedestrian path, small waterfalls, bridges, and a Lighthouse (North Point Light Station) from which you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of Lake Michigan.
If you want to sleep in the center, so as to be closer to the main points of interest, I recommend the hotel Spring Hill Suites by Marriott Milwaukee Downtown, a few minutes walk from the Riverwalk. Or, not far from the cathedral, the The Plaza Hotel, where the rooms are also equipped with a kitchenette. This hotel is very nice but does not have a lift.
To save a few dollars, and enjoy services such as parking and breakfast included, you will have to move away from the center a little. Some solutions are the Best Western Plus Milwaukee West and‘Holiday Inn Milwaukee Riverfront, both within 8 miles of the Riverwalk.
For an atmospheric stay, choose it instead Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast, a sumptuous historic home where each room is furnished with a unique style.
All accommodations in Milwaukee
Where to eat
In Milwaukee you can taste cuisines from all over the world. Given its German origin, we suggest the historic Mader's restaurant, where you can eat shank, sausage and sauerkraut, potatoes and gigantic pretzels.
On the subject of American cuisine, two high-calorie local specialties that you must try are fried cheese curds, fried cheddar cubes, and tater tots, small potato croquettes. Both dishes are not suitable for those on a diet!
You can find them at AJ Bombers, which serves unusual burgers, such as the one with bacon and peanut butter, or at the Red rock saloon, which also serves southern cuisine such as pulled pork and fried chicken with buttermilk sandwiches. In this last place they often play live music.
Finally, barbecue lovers must head to the Smoke Shak, where they will eat ribs, brisket and chicken wings, with excellent side dishes such as cream of corn and mac & cheese.
For lunch, the best place is the aforementioned Public Market. In its food stands you will find all kinds of delicacies, but also simple salads and fruit salads.