Despite winters that can last up to six months, Milwaukee stays busy year-round with seemingly endless festivals and events celebrating everything that makes the city great. Whether it’s art, beer, baseball, or otherwise, Milwaukee knows how to entertain locals and visitors alike. Though most of the city’s major events take place in the summer, winter brings its own unique events to Brew City, making Milwaukee a prime destination in any season.
Summerfest — It doesn’t matter what genre of music you prefer — if you like music, you’ll love Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. Previous headliners include big names from all musical styles, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, Tim McGraw, and Ludacris. Packed with A-list performers every year, Summerfest is Milwaukee’s crowning event. Bringing in nearly a million fans and 800+ artists each year, this outdoor music festival right on the banks of Lake Michigan is a destination in and of itself. The festival takes place on 11 days over the course of 2 weeks in the peak of Wisconsin’s summer, making it the best way to enjoy the warm weather, a few beers, and the best musical acts on earth.
When: Two weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July
Milwaukee Art Museum After Dark — On the last Friday of (almost) every month, Milwaukee’s iconic art museum transforms into a nightlife destination with cocktails, music, dancing, activities, and gallery tours all centered around a different theme every month. From celebrating Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community with a drag show to spending a night out in your pajamas for an artsy slumber party where nobody sleeps, this unique event is never the same twice. MAM After Dark has something for everyone, with games, arts and crafts, local artisan booths, and more, all in addition to free reign to explore the museum’s impressive collections.
When: Last Friday of the month
Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Games — If you’re in Milwaukee on the day that the Milwaukee Brewers are playing a Major League Baseball game, get ready for a Miller Lite-laden, blue-and-gold-donning party. If the Milwaukee Brewers are playing at Miller Park, it’s well worth the short drive to the iconic stadium to catch a game in person. Even if you aren’t typically a sports fan, the energy of dedicated Brewers fans will have you cheering them on as well. If nothing else, architecture buffs will appreciate the stadium’s convertible roof, which can open and close in just 10 minutes. If it’s an away game, attend a viewing party at a sports pub, like Major Goolsby’s, especially if the Brewers are playing their arch-nemesis, the Chicago Cubs.
When: End of March through the end of September
Lakefront Festival of Arts — A yearly tradition dating back to 1963, the Lakefront Festival of Arts, named one of the nation’s top twenty art festivals, features work from nearly 200 artists from across the United States. Meander through a sculpture garden, test your art knowledge on a scavenger hunt, or even bid on a piece of art to take home at a silent auction. The festival takes place over a weekend at the end of June, and attendees can enjoy live music, daily children’s activities, and food and drink from Milwaukee’s best vendors all while learning about art from the country’s best artists.
Cedarburg Strawberry Festival — Less than 30 minutes driving from downtown Milwaukee, the annual summertime Cedarburg Strawberry Festival is, perhaps, the only place in the world where you can try a strawberry brat corndog while listening to local musicians play the blues on the festival’s mainstage. Drawing tens of thousands of guests each year, the festival pays homage to Wisconsin’s favorite berry, with baskets of fresh strawberries for sale from local farmers, strawberry-themed crafts, and, of course, an abundance of strawberry wine.
Bastille Days — You don’t have to be a Francophile to say “oui” to Milwaukee’s annual Bastille Days festival, one of the largest French-themed festivals in the United States and one of the best Bastille Day celebrations in the world. Featuring food and wine demos, live music, and even a 43-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower, this free four-day celebration in East Town’s Cathedral Square Park kicks off with a “Storm the Bastille” 5k run/walk and continues with a Mardi Gras parade, a variety of acts inspired by Parisian street performers, and ballet lessons for the kids.
Milwaukee Brewfest — Serving up unlimited pours of beers, ciders, and meads from breweries around the world, Milwaukee Brewfest is a fun and efficient way to taste over a hundred different brews. Fest-goers enjoy musical performances, exhibits, and food for purchase from area restaurants all while getting happily tipsy throughout the festival grounds, located in a scenic park with Lake Michigan views.
Wisconsin State Fair — With the first Wisconsin State Fair taking place over 167 years ago, this annual 11-day event is Wisconsin’s original summer celebration. Though the fair did not originally take place in Milwaukee, it has called its current dedicated fairgrounds home since 1892. Fair-goers can enjoy the typical midway rides and funnel cakes, but don’t miss out on the only-in-Wisconsin opportunity to try the deep-fried spinach lasagna bites from Albanese’s Roadhouse or Slim’s PBR Park’s French onion soup on a stick. As educational as it is fun, visitors can learn about Wisconsin’s wildlife, agricultural industry, and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what it takes to run a dairy farm.
When: Late summer, typically August
Christkindlmarket — You don’t need to visit Europe to sip hot chocolate at a traditional Old World Christmas market, thanks to Milwaukee’s annual Christkindlmarket. Bavarian-themed with a Midwest twist, Milwaukee’s Christmas market has polka bands, parades, and dancing, all amongst stalls offering up decadent desserts, gluhwein, and hand-crafted ornaments.
When: Mid-November through late December
Polar Bear Plunge — Not for the faint of heart, the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Michigan is certainly an exhilarating way to start the year. Despite the extreme winter weather typical for a Wisconsin January, hundreds of undeterred participants annually convene on the shores of Bradford Beach for a dip into one of North America’s Great Lakes. With no official sponsors or registration, this is truly a grassroots event created and sustained by the local Milwaukee community. If you’re interested in channeling your inner Wim Hof, or just need to shock yourself out of your New Year’s hangover, Milwaukee’s Polar Bear Plunge is a brag-worthy way to do it.
When: January 1 annually