Often overlooked in favor of its big-city neighbor to the south, Milwaukee is stepping into the spotlight, ready to welcome visitors with its Midwest charm, unparalleled brewery experiences, and the electric energy of a city that has finally arrived on the international tourism scene. The ever-growing list of things to do in Milwaukee has primed this historically humble city to show the world that its blue-collar vibe highlights a slice of American culture visitors won’t find elsewhere. A city where over 30 breweries coexist with six Fortune 500 companies’ international headquarters and a world-class art museum sits just two miles from a museum dedicated to the history of motorcycles, Milwaukee is a city that embraces its contrasts. Whether you’re looking to tick off UNESCO-listed Frank Lloyd Wright sites from your bucket list, experience the world’s largest music festival, or just want to indulge in the best food and drink the Midwest has to offer, our travel guide to the city of Milwaukee promises to deliver.
Unless you're particularly hearty against extremely cold weather and frequent snow, the best time to visit Milwaukee is between May and September. Temperatures in the warmer months rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with averages being in the high 70s at the peak of summer. Even then, lows can dip down to the 50s at night. If you plan on spending plenty of time on the water, bring a light jacket for the lakeshore breeze.
Regardless of when you visit, the city has frequent festivals and events throughout the year. Annual outdoor music festival Summerfest features headlining acts from all musical genres, attracting 800,000 people every year. In the winter, several Wisconsin cities, including Milwaukee, host European-inspired Christmas markets.
Outside of Summerfest, Milwaukee rarely feels overwhelmed with tourists. During the warmer months, the streets will feel lively with pub-crawlers and sports enthusiasts, whereas the streets can feel eerily vacant in winter. Regardless of the weather outside, you will always find locals and visitors alike in one of the city’s many bars.
Part of the United States, Milwaukee uses the US Dollar. Though Wisconsin borders Canada, few travelers make Milwaukee their first stop when visiting the United States from another country. If arriving by plane, the most reliable place to change your currency will be Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport.
Tipping is customary and expected in the United States as a whole, including Milwaukee. As a general guideline, you should tip $1-2 per drink at a bar, and between 15 and 20 percent of your total bill for service at a restaurant. When taking a taxi or an Uber, you should plan to tip about 10 percent of your fare.
The majority of people in Milwaukee speak English; however, you’d do well to brush up on Wisconsin vernacular to avoid confusion when looking for a bubbler (water fountain), Tyme machine (ATM), or hog (motorcycle).
Milwaukee is a diverse city, home to immigrants and refugees from around the world. Most people speak at least some English, but you may meet people who do not. Heightened political tensions and discrimination against minorities in the United States mean it’s even more important than usual to be kind to everyone, regardless of the language they speak or where they are from.
Overall, Milwaukee is a safe city. Like any large city, there are neighborhoods more prone to crime and gang-related violence. However, visitors would have a hard time stumbling upon those parts of town without actively seeking them out.
Wisconsin is one of the US states with both an “open carry” and “concealed carry” gun law. This means that any adult over the age of 18 is legally permitted to carry a gun on them on public property. Those without a license must carry the gun openly (meaning within sight), while those with a license are permitted to carry a concealed weapon. While gun violence is no more or less likely to take place in Milwaukee than other US cities, visitors, especially from countries with more restrictive gun laws, should familiarize themselves with the history of gun violence in the US before deciding if they would be comfortable visiting. Seeing someone openly carrying a firearm in public could be alarming if you aren’t used to seeing it or didn’t expect it. In general, the risk of gun violence is small; however, a healthy dose of caution is wise in public spaces.
Milwaukee is a fairly walkable city, and there are also many bike paths connecting neighborhoods throughout town. In the summer, this is the most popular and easiest way to get around. In the winter or in inclement weather, taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts are easy to find in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee County Transit System’s bus network connects most of the city, and navigating is easy thanks to the Ride MCTS app. If you want to travel further afield or take day trips outside of the metro area, a rental car is the best option. You can rent a car at the airport or at car rental agencies throughout the city, particularly in West Town where most visitors stay.
Although the United States is not well-connected by rail, the Milwaukee Intermodal Station downtown offers multiple train trips to and from Chicago each day.