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One of the most underrated cities in the Midwest, Milwaukee is full of surprises. It boasts a rich and fascinating history that started with German immigration during the 1930s and 1940s. This explains why you can find some of the best beer and cheeses in the country right here in this city. Milwaukee is also called the ‘Cream City’ because of the lovely yellow and cream-colored bricks made here in the 19th century and used in many of the historic buildings.
Following a period of heavy investment in its socio-cultural landscape, Milwaukee is now a rising star in the Midwest, attracting art aficionados with its world-class museums and festivals. And that’s just the tip of what Milwaukee has to offer. Find out this city’s secrets for yourself by pre-booking your rental car with Enjoy Travel. Average daily prices for Milwaukee car rental are about $85 for a standard vehicle, like a Toyota Corolla or similar.
Guide to Milwaukee
The largest city in the midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is situated along the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan (one of the Great Lakes). Milwaukee is also where the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee rivers meet.
Due to its location in the Great Lakes Region, it has a climate that often meets extreme temperatures. For instance, summers are swelteringly hot and humid while winters tend to be bitterly cold and snowy. The warmest month of the year is July, while the coldest is January. The best time to visit would be during summer as that’s when the weather is balmy and temperatures hover between the mid-70s and upper-80s. This is also when the famous Summerfest festival, one of the largest music festivals in the world, takes place.
Culture in Milaukee
Milwaukee’s name is derived from the Algonquin term ‘millioke,’ which means ‘good,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘pleasant land,’ or ‘the gathering place by the water.’
Today, Milwaukee is an ethically and culturally diverse city with immigrants from all over the world. In the last few years, Milwaukee has undergone a construction boom that has, in many ways, transformed the identity of the city. Some of these significant new additions include the Milwaukee Riverwalk, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Bradley Symphony Center, Discovery World, as well as expansions or renovations of the Milwaukee Art Museum and the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
Things to do in Milwaukee
Explore iconic, history-making bikes
One of Milwaukee’s biggest claims to fame, the Harley Davidson is the first stop for most tourists passing by the city. Whether you’re a road warrior, diehard biker, or just curious about magnificent pieces of engineering, you will love this museum. Spread across 20 acres in the heart of Milwaukee, the Harley Davidson Museum has 11 permanent exhibits and several rotating exhibits, where you might even be able to spot Elvis Presley’s personal mount!. The permanent exhibits include a gallery that takes you through the evolution of the iconic Harley bike since its inception. If you’re into the mechanics of how Harley Davidson produces some of the highest quality bikes in the industry, we recommend getting an audio guide for $4. It will provide you with an in-depth description of everything in the museum. Once you’ve seen all the exhibits and you’re completely exhausted, grab a snack at the MOTOR Bar and Restaurant or pick up a souvenir at the gift shop.
Discover world-class art
Since the Milwaukee Art Museum first opened its doors in 1888, it has been slowly gaining prominence in the art world by getting its hands on rare and valuable pieces from across the world. Today, it has a reputation for being an absolutely fantastic art institution in the United States and is a must-visit for art lovers. Located in downtown Milwaukee and perched on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Art Museum doesn’t just house incredible pieces of artwork but is arguably one itself. The futuristic-looking museum has a brilliant white suspension bridge with 90-foot vaulted ceilings and cantilevered wings. These wings, known as Quadracci Pavilion’s wings, only open on sunny days and that’s an experience in and of itself so we recommend checking the weather app ahead of your trip. Inside the 341,000-square-feet premises of the museum, there are over 30,000 works of art for you to peruse. One of the most famous collections the Milwaukee Art Museum holds is that of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who was a Wisconsin native herself.
Awe at brilliant and unique geodesic domes
Fondly known as ‘The Domes,’ the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory boasts unique cone-shaped geodesic domes that each contain a unique biosphere. There are three domes in total and are all worth a visit. Start with the Desert Dome (also known as Arid Dome), which houses a spectacular collection of succulents, shrubs, and cacti. Then head towards the Tropical Dome, which contains 1000+ species from the rainforests of five continents. Do not miss seeing the 60-year cacao tree, African mahoganies, and the rare curare vine. The Floral Show Dome is one of the most popular ones, featuring gorgeous seasonal displays of some of the world’s best fauna. Their award-winning orchids are a hit with visitors. The Show Dome really comes alive during the holiday season and usually hosts theme shows based on cultural, literary, or historical interests. Some of its most memorable themes so far include the Japanese, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Colonial Williamsburg. These Domes are practically a living museum, and unsurprisingly, named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and partnered with the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance.
Visit a wonderful public market
The Milwaukee Public Market is a downtown food destination that attracts visitors and locals alike. Boasting an incredible selection of artisanal and hand-made products, fresh produce, free-range poultry, rich cheeses, ethnic spices, craft beers, indulgent sweets and decadent pastries, and a vast offering of delicious street foods from all over the world. You can start with a cup of lavender-infused hot chocolate, lunch on a vegan sandwich or Thai sushi rolls, follow up with a chocolate-smothered éclair, and wash it all down with Belgian beer. Almost all the shops at Milwaukee Public Market are independent merchants and so you would be supporting local, home-grown businesses. Many of them also offer public demonstrations of their unique crafts and often have free tasters. If you’re traveling with kids, you can sign them up for fun activities like a pasta-making or cupcake-icing course.
Eating out in Milwaukee
As a rapidly burgeoning Midwestern city, Milwaukee’s food scene gets better and better every year. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Kopp’s Frozen Custard is so good it gets people to make the trip to the suburbs to enjoy not only the sundaes but their absolutely drool-worthy, buttery, charred-edged jumbo burgers. The James Beard-awarded Ardent consistently tops the list of best restaurants in the city and has featured in Food & Wine. Try the bone marrow, kohlrabi, and olive oil sorbet at this epicurean destination. Well known for its ‘rustic Italian soul,’ Ristorante Bartolotta dishes out soul-tugging fried artichokes and handmade gnocchi with rabbit ragu. Take a trip to the Andes via Triciclo, which makes unbelieve pisco cocktails, ceviche, and Peruvian entrees like arroz con mariscos. A long-time favorite among Milwaukeeans, San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana is the go-to place for “True Neapolitan Pizza,” complete with stretchy wet mozzarella and the slurpalicious tang that screams San Marzano.
Milwaukee is served by Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE), which is situated 5 nautical miles south of the city center.
Getting around Milwaukee
The Milwaukee County Transit System operates buses that reach almost all parts of the city. They also run special shuttles during festival season. You can get route information, real-time bus tracking, and even buy tickets on the Ride MCTS App. If you’re visiting only for a short while and want to visit just the main attractions, we recommend using The Hop streetcar, which runs through the city’s most popular neighborhoods and places of interest. The best part is, it’s free! Milwaukee is also a very bike-friendly city and runs a bike share program called Bublr Bikes. Take advantage of these to explore the city leisurely on two wheels. All city buses are also equipped with bike racks, making multi-mode transportation a breeze.
However, for maximum convenience and flexibility to see the city and its surroundings in your own time, we recommend renting a car instead.
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