Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the US state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is a fascinating, unique city. Whether you’re interested in beer, festivals, crazy cocktails, architecture, or golf (or just about anything else, really) Milwaukee has something to offer.
In this episode of the Indie Travel Podcast, Craig chats with Megan Suardini from Visit Milwaukee about her adopted city.
So, what are the top things to do in Milwaukee?
1. Experience beer
Sure, drink some beer while you’re there, but beer in Milwaukee is more than just a beverage, it’s an essential part of its heritage — so much so, that the city is known as Brew City. The pumping craft beer scene is backed up by the original big four breweries of Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz, and there are over 60 breweries and beer experiences to have in the city.
2. Go to Summerfest
The world’s largest music festival is hosted at Milwaukee’s permanent festival grounds on the lakefront, and features big names like Jennifer Lopez, the Killers, and Lionel Ritchie. It’s a must for music lovers, and in 2019 it starts on June 26.
3. Take part in a cultural festival
As well as Summerfest, Milwaukee hosts festivals dedicated to all sorts of countries and cultures, such as the world’s largest Celtic festival. There are also Italian, Mexican, German or Polish festivals, among many others.
4. Head to a street festival
Festivals don’t just happen at the festival grounds! All over the city, local street parties celebrate everything you could imagine, from tomato throwing (like La Tomatina) to a parade of Santa Clauses on bikes.
5. Go to the Harley-Davidson museum
The world’s only Harley-Davidson museum is obviously a must for motorbike lovers, but it’s also surprisingly interesting for people who’ve never given motorcycles a second thought. Learn about the history of the company and America and check out the 450 bikes on display.
6. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum
Even if you’re not into art, the Milwaukee Art Museum is worth a visit for its crazy architecture. The building features two large white wings, which open at 10am, “flap” at noon, and close when the museum closes — definitely worth seeing! If you DO like art, you’ll be able to see works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Andy Warhol, among others.
7. Head to a performance
Whatever kind of performing arts floats your boat, you’ll be able to find it in Milwaukee, whether that’s ballet, opera, theatre, broadway shows, or musicals.
8. Have a cocktail (or several)
Milwaukee is known for several signature drinks, such as the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, which you can try at bars throughout the city. You should also have at least one Bloody Mary, though every bar puts its own spin on it, including one that serves the Bloody Mary with an entire roast chicken on top (it’s designed to be shared by several people).
For a classic cocktail experience, head to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, which famously doesn’t have any menus — you just describe the kind of drink you’d like to the bartenders, who will choose from their mental menu of over 400 recipes. The Pink Squirrel (an ice-cream drink) was invented there, so that could be a good option, too.
9. Eat fish on Fridays
The city’s German Catholic heritage is demonstrated in the Friday fish fry — many restaurants serve fried fish on Fridays, with a side of coleslaw and french fries, each with their own take on this classic meal. Most restaurants in the city are locally owned, so you’re sure to have a unique experience, even if you don’t choose the fish (or go on a Friday!).
10. Play golf
As the number-one golf destination in the United States, if you’re a golfer you’re sure to find a course that suits you. There’s everything from $20-green-fee courses to high-end courses that provide a caddy. Plus, many major events (like the PGA, the Ryder Cup and the US Open) have been or will be held at courses in the Milwaukee region.
How to get to Milwaukee
Milwaukee’s location in the midwest of the United States makes it an easy drive from a lot of the rest of the country — about a third of the US population can get there within a day’s drive. It’s also close to the Canadian border, and driving in from Toronto is a good option.
Flights from around many US hubs (and a few international destinations) come into Milwaukee Airport, but if you’re coming from overseas flying into Chicago might make more sense. It’s only 90 minutes away by car or train, and is a major transport hub — you can even fly direct to Chicago from Auckland! (That’s important for us, being from New Zealand). Flying into Detroit or Minneapolis and catching a quick flight across to Milwaukee is also a good option, especially since the airport is only ten minutes’ drive from the city centre.
Where to stay in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is very compact and has great transport options, so you don’t need to choose your accommodation based on location! That said, hotels near the airport tend to be better value and have better parking, as well as swimming pools, so could be a better choice for families.
Some hotels to consider:
- The Pfister for high-class luxury with a historical twist.
- The Brewhouse Inn, located in an old brewery building for beer lovers.
- The Iron Horse hotel for Harley-Davidson fans.
- Saint Kate for art lovers.
- The Westin for runners — make use of its running concierge.
- Potawatomi Hotel & Casino if you want a casino experience.
- The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel for hipsters.
Milwaukee is a quirky city with a unique vibe — whether you’re there for a weekend or a week, you’re sure to have an awesome time!
Vogue Magazine says Milwaukee, Wisconsin is “the Midwest’s Coolest and Most Underrated City.” Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is the original Brew City, the home-base of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and so much more. It’s home to Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, and the city that roots for Bucks basketball and Brewers baseball. If you’re an urban kayaker, a cheese fiend, an art lover, a beer geek – it’s time to get to know Milwaukee. It’s totally random and totally wonderful.
Start exploring at visitmilwaukee.org.