A guide to what to see and do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to avoid the crowds
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, may not be your typical destination for a city break, but it’s actually one of the coolest weekend trips in Wisconsin. While the state of Wisconsin is known for its scenic natural landscapes, Milwaukee has everything you need for a formidable city trip!
But if you’re like me, you’ll want to check out the usual sites AND some of the more unique things to do in Milwaukee!
There is a whole range of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, for couples, or even on your own!
There are also plenty of cool things to do in Milwaukee if you love the outdoors. In this guide, I’ll show you all my favorite places to visit in Milwaukee to avoid the crowds.
When you’re done reading about all the coolest unique things to do in Milwaukee, I recommend watching some of the best movies set in Wisconsin for even more inspiration for your trip!
If you have more time and are wondering what to do in Milwaukee and surrounding areas, you can also take one of the many great day trips from Milwaukee.
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Useful Travel Information for Wisconsin
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➳ Book vacation rentals in Wisconsin with VRBO
✔ Book tours in Wisconsin with Viator
☘ Get the best discounted outdoor gear (outlet) at REI.com
Where to stay in Milwaukee
I’d recommend staying at one of the lovely hotels near downtown Milwaukee since they’re close to the city’s main sights.
You can visit many of Milwaukee’s most important places of interest on foot or by car. But you don’t want to miss any of the unique things to do in Milwaukee because of a bad hotel location!
If you are an Airbnb fan, have a look at these top reviewed Airbnbs in Milwaukee Downtown:
- Industrial Loft close to the 3rd Ward
- Historic Third Ward 2BR Apt
- Stunning Riverview Home
- Public Market Luxury Condo
- Downtown Penthouse
There are also a lot of amazing pet-friendly hotels in Milwaukee if you plan on visiting with your furry friends.
Alternatively, if you are visiting for a romantic city break, check out these amazing romantic hotels in Milwaukee.
1. Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum was my absolute favorite. If you are looking for unique things to do in downtown Milwaukee, you must go here.
The building is stunning and its extraordinary architecture alone is well worth a visit. The Quadracci Pavilion, created by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is an eye-catching expansion of the museum, which first opened in 1888.
During the day, the building’s “wings” open up, and they fold over the arch-shaped construction at the end of the day. The views from its balcony on the lakeside are particularly beautiful.
Even though the building often gets more praise than the art collections it holds, you shouldn’t miss its interior, either.
The gallery’s permanent collection includes 20,000 works of art including contemporary art, American and European art, American decorative arts, and much more.
2. Harley-Davidson Museum
Milwaukee’s greatest claim to fame is that it’s home to the legendary Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
So of course the Harley-Davidson Museum is one of the most unique things to do in Milwaukee as it’s so iconic to the city. This is one of the top things to see in Milwaukee, whether you’re a fervent biker or a hobby rider.
This is one of those fun places in Milwaukee for the whole family. Of course, if you are a rider this will be top of your list for cool things to do in Milwaukee!
Those who are less into motorcycles will enjoy a stroll through the museum’s shop, where you can get everything Harley-Davidson-related.
3. Historic Third Ward
The Historic Third Ward is Milwaukee’s art and fashion district. Located south of downtown, it’s the best place to wander around and get lost along historic streets.
Take the time to explore the restaurants set in old warehouses, visit the neat art shops, and walk along the award-winning 2-mile Riverwalk.
The Third Ward is also home to some of the state’s best breweries. It’s the perfect location for bar-hopping and meeting interesting people.
Even during the holiday season, the Third Ward is a cool place to visit thanks to its numerous bars. It’s also a great idea when looking for things to do in Milwaukee in winter!
4. Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee’s Public Market is an essential stop when you’re looking for an authentic Milwaukee experience.
Located in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood, the Public Market features several local businesses. Here, you can get fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, and artisan Wisconsin cheese.
Some merchants also sell freshly prepared food or ethnic specialties. Cooking classes are held on the Public Market’s second floor.
This is a paradise for foodies, and one of the top things to do in downtown Milwaukee.
5. Take a Ride with Bublr Bikes
Milwaukee is making a considerable effort to promote a healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle for residents and visitors. The Bublr bike-share system hosts more than 50 bike stations all over the Milwaukee area, and you can rent them for a small fee.
Due to the success of this project, more than 100 stations are in the planning stages. Not only is biking a fun way to explore the city, but it also sets an example for sustainable travel.
If you’re looking for fun things for kids to do in Milwaukee, renting a Bublr bike is a fun way to see the city and get some exercise.
This is also a great option if you don’t know what to see in Milwaukee first, because you can bike around and just get a feel for the city. This is also one of the unique things to do in Milwaukee at night, but make sure you have proper reflective gear!
6. Visit Fun Restaurants in Milwaukee
There are so many fun places to eat in Milwaukee!
Make your way to the Lakefront Brewery for their Friday Fish Fry, complete with accompanying Polka music. Or you could try out Odd Duck for a good mixture of tapas dishes and small plates (it’s also one of the best places to go in Milwaukee for vegetarians and vegans).
For a truly unique experience, head over to SafeHouse – the spy themed restaurant James Bond would approve of!
There’s delicious food to go with your cocktails, and the entrance is even hidden secretly in an alleyway. To avoid having to prove yourself at the door, you’ll need to know the password (but don’t worry; they just want to make sure you’re “in the know”).
For dessert, Purple Door Ice Cream has got you covered. Their artisanal creations come in almost every flavor imaginable, including Raspberry Green Tea, Butternut Squash and Olive Oil! Trust me, it’s delicious!
If you’re a foodie in search of great Wisconsin vacation ideas, you need to add Milwaukee to your list ASAP!
7. Watch the Bucks and the Brewers
Of course, one of the top things to do in Milwaukee for sports fans is to catch a game. And there are plenty of fun places in Milwaukee for sports fans.
Head downtown to the Fiserv Forum to see the Milwaukee Bucks – the former team of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Games are held several times a week in this brand new stadium, built in 2018. The Bucks are named after Wisconsin’s official wild animal, the white-tailed deer.
If you’re more of a baseball fan, make your way over to Miller Park.
Here you can some excellent Major League Baseball with the Brewers, so named for Milwaukee’s brewing industry. It might get loud though – the Miller Park Stadium can seat almost 42,000 people!
8. Go Hiking Near Milwaukee
Time to get those legs pumping! Milwaukee has a huge amount of nature to explore, and plenty of parks to do it in. It is also home to some of the best hiking trails in Wisconsin.
The Oak Leaf Trail contains over 125 miles of multi-use trail system, and is one of the most extensive in the country. It connects all of the major parks in the Milwaukee County Park System, so just pick which segments you like and away you go!
The Seven Bridges trail is another great trail and one of the best places for fall colors in Wisconsin.
There is no shortage of what to do in Milwaukee if you love the outdoors! And the best part is that hiking is easily one of the best free things to do in Milwaukee year-round.
Yes, even if you’re things to do in Milwaukee in winter, I highly recommend hiking.
If you’re on holiday with children, try out Kohler-Andrae State Park, where you can find paths through pine trees, sandy beaches and sand dunes. It’s one of the best hiking trails in Southern Wisconsin.
The Creeping Juniper Nature Trail can be found here and is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee with kids if the great outdoors is where they like to be.
9. Go on a Food Tour in Milwaukee
One of the best ways to mix learning and leisure in Milwaukee is to go on a food tour. On the tour, your guide will show you all the fun places to eat in Milwaukee, and top places to visit in Milwaukee for foodies.
Whether your interest lies in the historical, the cultural, or even the architectural, Milwaukee has got you covered (and fed!). You’ll get to sample Polish, German and Italian cuisines, as well as locally brewed Wisconsin beer, while you learn the history of the city.
Food tours can be taken in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood, Brady Street, Walker’s Point, and Bay View areas, among others, and are for both sweet and savory food lovers.
Some food tours also offer secret dishes and destinations, to be revealed only once you’re on the tour, which adds a level of excitement and anticipation to the experience.
Plus, if you’re looking for things to do in Milwaukee in October, or perhaps at Christmas time, you can choose to go on a seasonal food tour.
10. Rent a cabin near Milwaukee
Who doesn’t love getting cosy next to the fireplace with a hot drink in their very own cabin? You can find a wide variety of cabin rentals less than a couple of hours drive from downtown Milwaukee.
Although this is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee year-round, it is one of my FAVORITE things to do in Milwaukee in October because it isn’t as busy, and the weather is cozy with a fire.
I especially recommend getting a cabin on one of the best lakes in Wisconsin.
You could head west towards McFarland and you can find lakefront homes with bespoke vintage furniture and huge windows overlooking Lake Waubesa.
To the south, Lake Geneva is host to cabins that boast fire pits with spacious decking. And up north near Wisconsin Dells, tucked into the woods, the Lazy Bear log cabin will have you back to nature and relaxing in no time.
Hanging out around a campfire near the cabin is one of the most unique things to do in Milwaukee at night. However, some people also rent cabins and take day trips from Milwaukee just to go fishing!
11. Get Locked inside an Escape Room
Escape rooms are a fun and unique way to spend an afternoon with friends and family and one of the most unique things to do in Milwaukee.
They’re also one of my favorite date ideas in Milwaukee.
For 30-90 minutes, you and your friends get “locked” inside a room and have to solve a series of puzzles in order to get out before it’s too late!
There are several excellent escape rooms in Milwaukee to choose from to suit all age groups, and accommodate large groups.
Do you want to pretend to be Indiana Jones or an undercover spy? At an escape room you can do just that!
Solve a crime, diffuse a bomb, or discover buried treasure, whichever game you choose, you won’t soon forget it.
Book an afternoon at one of the best escape rooms in Wisconsin, you won’t regret it!
12. Visit a Historic Lighthouse
The Milwaukee coast has a few of the best Wisconsin lighthouses: Milwaukee Pierhead Light and North Point Lighthouse.
Both of these lighthouses have been around since the late 1800s, and can still be visited.
The Milwaukee Pierhead Light actually still works and runs on solar power now. It flashes every 4 seconds and can be seen 12 miles out on the lake.
So anyone looking for unique things to do in Milwaukee should consider visiting a lighthouse and learning a bit about the city’s rich history.
Looking for a fun city break? Milwaukee has everything you need for a memorable stay!
How about you? Have you visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin? What are your favorite unique things to do in Milwaukee?
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll snap tons of photos and I love to take my GoPro in order to shoot even in extreme situations.
- Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and hiking sandals when traveling to warm countries. Consider trying some of these eco-friendly vegan hiking boots.
- Sunscreen is key! I always take with me my eco-friendly sunscreen by Thinksport.
- I always carry a light rain jacket, just in case. Pack smart with these organic cotton clothing companies.
- Be environmentally friendly and get one of these awesome backpacks made from recycled materials.
- Get in the mindset with these amazing wilderness survival books.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel is protected against all odds with HeyMondo.
Short FAQ about Unique Things To Do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1. What are unusual things to do in Milwaukee, WI?
There are many unique things to do in Milwaukee, but perhaps the most unusual are the Harley Davidson Museum and visiting the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee’s art and fashion district.
2. What are some free things to do see in and around Milwaukee area?
My favorite free things to do in Milwaukee are walking around the Historic Third Ward (free to wander, but not free, of course, if you choose to buy something!), working up at appetite at the Public Market. There are also so many amazing hiking trails around the city, and just outside of Milwaukee, which are also free!
3. What are some non touristy things to do in Milwaukee?
If you really want to avoid the tourists, check out a
Bucks or Brewers game. Pretty much everyone else there will be local. Hiking, riding a Bublr bike, or renting a secluded cabin are also unique things to do in Milwaukee away from the crowds.