If you’re looking for a place with all the features of a big city but with a relaxing feel, heading to Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the best thing to do. Situated on the shores of the great Lake Michigan, this interesting city is all about feeling cozy and comfortable. However, since the turn of the century, it has been experiencing a huge development boom, and if you haven’t been here for a while, you may not be able to recognize the place. And if you’re here for the first time, you’ll love the mix between the modern architecture and the easygoing mentality of the locals. Yes, one day in Milwaukee has plenty to offer.
What’s the best time to visit Milwaukee?
Milwaukee’s climate is influenced a lot by the nearby Lake Michigan, and this is best seen in the wonderful light breeze you can feel around noon during spring. Overall, the winters here are fairly cold, while the summers are quite warm but not unbearably hot, although the humidity is quite high. If that’s a problem for you, May and September tend to strike a nice balance when it comes to weather, but otherwise summers are the best time to visit Milwaukee.
As for the events, there are plenty of music festivals during summer, and Milwaukee Film Festival is very much worth a visit in October. Of course, October is also time for Oktoberfest, but you can also celebrate the city’s German heritage during German Fest in July.
A few facts about Milwaukee
The history of Milwaukee starts in 1818, when Solomon Juneau, a French Canadian, built a settlement in the area. As years passed, his settlement grew and eventually merged with two nearby towns – that’s how Milwaukee was born. In the rest of the 19th century, the city saw a large number of German immigrants arrive and find a place to live, and the consequences of that are felt even today because Milwaukee is quite famous for its beer. Apart from Germans, however, the influence of the Polish community is also strongly felt in the city.
The word “millioke” denotes something beautiful in a group of indigenous languages, so you won’t be surprised that this is how the city got its name. Today, Milwaukee is home to about 600,000 people, although its metropolitan area has more than two million people.
One Day in Milwaukee Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Milwaukee.
Start your day at Milwaukee Riverwalk
There’s no better thing to do to start your one day in Milwaukee than by walking along the city’s Riverwalk and just chilling out and soaking in the vibe of the place. This is the very heart of Milwaukee and a lovely part of the city, plus Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown is very close to it, so you can easily get a good sense of how life revolves in the city. Grab a coffee in one of the numerous coffee shops (Holey Moley Coffee + Doughnuts is my favourite, but Kickapoo Coffee Roasters and Stone Creek Coffee are good too!
Visit Milwaukee Art Museum
Close to the Riverwalk is Milwaukee Art Museum, one of the most famous, if not the most famous institution in the city. The building itself is quite beautiful, but what makes it stand out is the fact that there are thousands of paintings inside, some belonging to the likes of Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Andy Warhol.
All periods are covered, from antiquity to modern days, which is no wonder since this place has a tradition of well over a century. One of the best things to do and see in Milwaukee, no doubt about that!
Learn more about the city through lunch
As previously mentioned, there is a whole lot of German influence in this city, and you can see that in the food and especially beer. Milwaukee is famous for its beer production, but there are also many places serving delicious German food – Milwaukee Brat House is a great place to enjoy it, and Mader’s Restaurant brings that cuisine to an exquisite level. If you want something other than German food, though, Swingin’ Door Exchange is a great place to eat, and Harbor House has some excellent seafood to offer.
Move on to exploring Third Ward
Third Ward is probably Milwaukee’s most famous neighborhood full of restaurants, spas, shops, galleries and all that good stuff. So, a great place to visit, relax and really vent all that stress. There are some things to look out for, though, and huge murals on some of the buildings in the area are one of them. Also, be on the lookout for the Pritzlaff Building, an impressive complex with a lot of history behind it. All in all, if you fancy a walk after lunch, this is a great part of Milwaukee to explore.
Go to Harley Davidson Museum
When it comes to places to see in Milwaukee, the Harley Davidson Museum is at the top of just about every list. Just west of Third Ward, across the Menomonee River, it is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee even if you’re not a fan of motorbikes. It tells you a lot about US history through interactive exhibits and various models which changed a lot through time, plus the guided tour is very, very good, so you’d do well to tour the museum that way. Also, if your kids love motorbikes, there’s not a better thing to do with kids in the whole Milwaukee.
Grab a bite at Milwaukee Public Market
For dinner, head over to Milwaukee’s Public Market. The food here is prepared from fresh ingredients and you can find dishes from all over the world.
Thai, Middle East and Europe are just some of the regions represented, and you can get anything from a pizza to cheese and sausages. If you’re a foodie, you will absolutely love what this market has to offer, but even if you don’t consider yourself to be a food lover come here for a nice meal and to further get to know the city.
Enjoy Milwaukee at night
If you have any energy left after your one day in Milwaukee, the city has plenty of great clubs where you can dance until your legs give out. Lucid Light Lounge is on the fancier end of the spectrum (and the Pfister Hotel is right next to it), perfect if you want to dress up for the occasion. Victor’s is a club that will throw you back in time, as will Mad Planet, whereas Apartment 720 is the place to go if you’re hoping to see a celebrity.
Don’t feel like clubbing? Sit down and order yourself a beer! Or a cocktail. At Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, you will get more than just a cocktail, you’ll get a slice of history because this is the oldest cocktail lounge in the city and they’ve actually invented a number of drinks. Lakefront Brewery is open till 9 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, but if that’s not enough for you, head to Brewhearts for some beer AND cocktails. There’s something for everyone here!
Where to stay in Milwaukee?
If you’re here just for a day, choosing the right hotel is one of the most important things to do is organizing your trip. Should you have an early flight, you will want to get a room somewhere near General Mitchell International Airport. Otherwise, stay somewhere near the city centre to be able to explore everything thoroughly, maybe choose one of hotels close to the Harley Davidson Museum. To save you time, we’ve chosen the best hotels in Milwaukee for you. Take a look!
Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast
3209 West Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53208, United States
Without a doubt the most luxurious place to stay in Milwaukee is Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Located in an incredible building from 1892, this place will take you back in time with its lavish rooms, dining halls and a wonderful garden. The breakfast is excellent, and they even serve tea here every Saturday, Sunday and Thursday. Exquisite is the best way to put it!
The Pfister Hotel
424 East Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, 53202, United States
Another luxurious accommodation, The Pfister Hotel is located in downtown Milwaukee. It has a wonderful collection of art pieces from the Victorian era, a great spa, gym and an indoor pool. The rooms are extremely well equipped and you get plenty of stuff in them (bathroom items), plus some boast a really wonderful view of the city. Additionally, it’s one of those hotels that are relatively close to the Harley Davidson Museum. If you want luxury in the city centre, this is the place to go.
Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown
800 W. Juneau Avenue, Milwaukee, 53233, United States
A great value for money, Hyatt Place Milwaukee has everything you need for a pleasant and comfortable stay. Its rooms are very spacious and all have flat-screen TVs, desks, sitting areas and sofa beds. The restaurant focuses on authentic US cuisine, and you certainly be disappointed, and the location is very, very good – within walking distance to the city centre. The hotel is also close to Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Cream City Hostel
500 E Center St, Milwaukee, WI 53212, United States
Traveling on a budget? Then you’ll love what Cream City Hostel has to offer. For example, the place has a garden and even a bike shop should you need it. People working here are exceptionally nice too and will go out of their way to provide you with useful tips and help you as much as they can. The hostel is clean, nice and pleasant to stay in, so if you’re looking for this type of accommodation, this is the hostel to book.
Day trips from Milwaukee
If, by some chance, you are spending more than one day in Milwaukee, do try to organize a day trip from the city. There is a lot to explore, especially because Lake Michigan is so near, so you’ll have a great time for sure. Here are a few suggestions.
Old World Wisconsin
Less than 40 miles from Milwaukee is Old World Wisconsin, one of the most popular day trips from Milwaukee you can make. It is a huge open museum dedicated to life in the area during the time of the first settlers, i.e. the 19th century. You can see actors dressing as German immigrants or people from the Nordic countries and everything is life-sized and perfectly accurate. Excellent for children and grown-ups alike.
If you really want to take things slow, a day trip from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva is a great choice. This is a resort town ideal for long walks and enjoying nature. You can also hop on the cruise line for a narrated tour of the lake. Or you can simply enjoy the charming little buildings, hit the beach and grab a bite to eat under the warm sun. Whatever you do, rest and relaxation are pretty much guaranteed.
But why not spend one day in Chicago as your day trip from Milwaukee? The two cities are less than 100 miles apart, and you can make the trip between the two in about an hour and a half by car. Very much worth it! Great food, fantastic architecture and awesome sports events are just a fracture of what this great US city has to offer. Art Institute of Chicago, Wrigley Field, Hancock Tower… you’re going to have a wonderful day!
The last entry on our list of suggestions for a day trip from Milwaukee is Kenosha, an incredibly charming place with a very special vibe. Vintage streetcars look awesome as they patrol the city centre, and Kenosha Public Museum has a lot to offer, but it’s all about the stroll along the lakeside here. The city is vibrant but relaxed at the same time, and you really shouldn’t miss visiting the farmers’ market if you’re in town on a Saturday.
Extra tips for visiting Milwaukee
- Hotel prices in Milwaukee are by far the highest in July, more than twice what most other months bring. September is also quite expensive, but during other months the prices are significantly lower. You may want to keep that in mind when planning your trip.
- Public transportation revolves around buses, with special shuttles often taking people to big events. But the streetcar known as The Hop will take you to many of the city’s most famous sights, so consider hopping aboard if you don’t have a car with you.
- Milwaukee is generally considered to be a very safe city, but a healthy dose of caution is always advised, just to be on the safe side.
- As far as the tipping goes, around 15-20% is fine ins restaurants, but when in coffeehouses or food trucks a dollar or two per item will be more than enough. The same goes for regular bars, although in cocktail bars you should tip around 20% again.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).