Disclaimer: This What To Do In Milwaukee post was originally written in May 2021 and was updated during spring 2022 for relevancy.
Hello from the land of cheese! I recently visited Wisconsin during a Midwest road trip and was able to spend time in both Milwaukee and Madison. As most of you probably know by now, I’m on a journey to all 50 states! Wisconsin was my 31st state, and it did not disappoint. I’m thrilled to share that I worked with VISIT Milwaukee during my stay here and that they are the sponsor of today’s post. After spending the night in Milwaukee, I drove 1.5 hours to Madison to explore for a few hours before continuing on through Iowa to my final Midwestern destination of Minneapolis – St. Paul. This post is going to cover what to do in Milwaukee and Madison!
Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by VISIT Milwaukee. VISIT Milwaukee hosted me during my stay in the city in exchange for sponsored content. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with tourism boards and am thrilled to share more about the city of Milwaukee later on in this post. As always, all opinions written below are my own.
How To Get To Milwaukee And Madison
Before I jump into what to do in Milwaukee and Madison, I want to cover some basic information. Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and is located pretty centrally in the state. Madison, although the capital city, is essentially one big college town as it’s home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has over 30,000 students. Milwaukee is the other large, well-known city in Wisconsin, known for its breweries, sports team, and cheese. Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan on the eastern side of the state. It’s actually only 1.5 hours north of Chicago and can be easily accessed by both train or car. I opted to take the Hiawatha Amtrak (for $25) directly from Union Station in Chicago to the Intermodal Station in Milwaukee. From Milwaukee, Madison is an hour drive directly west. It’s super easy to access by car!
Where To Stay In Wisconsin
For this portion of the post, I feel like I can only provide a recommendation for Milwaukee since I didn’t spend the night in Madison. However, since there’s a university here, there are PLENTY of hotel options in the area. As for Milwaukee, I highly recommend staying at the Hotel Metro. This hotel has the most perfect location right downtown and is only one block away from a Hop station. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Hop, it’s Milwaukee’s brand new street car. It makes frequent stops throughout the city on a timely schedule and connects the neighborhoods in Milwaukee by making destinations just a quick ~hop~ away. The best part? It’s completely free!!! For everyone!
Back to Hotel Metro…
This place is a part of the Marriott Collection and is a luxury, boutique hotel. It has modern amenities for guests and on-site dining. I had the opportunity to stay in one of the executive suites here and was blown away! The decor is very chic and my bed was extremely comfortable. The hotel was kind enough to give me some local beer and cheese to sample as well! I couldn’t recommend this place to my readers more.
What To Do In Milwaukee
Visit A Brewery
The average person may not consider Milwaukee to be a tourist destination, but let me change your mind. First, Milwaukee is home to some of the best breweries in the world. There’s one on every corner here and you truly can’t go wrong. Most make their beer right in-house and allow you to taste multiple by trying a flight! Some of them make sour beers and ciders as well. Most of the breweries double as restaurants with industrial interiors or trendy rooftops. The one I went to, Good City Brewing, offered everything from burgers to flights to cheese curds – a Wisconsin classic!
Pro-tip: In the East Side neighborhood and still hungry? Try Ian’s pizza! It may not be Chicago deep dish, but it’s a Wisconsin classic.
Check Out The Milwaukee Art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum is the most visited attraction in the city. It’s located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee and is home to over 25,000 works of art, making it one of the largest museums in the world. The exterior of the museum is just as impressive as the art inside – it’s known as an architectural landmark. It consists of three buildings, designed by architects Eero Saarinen, David Kahler, and Santiago Calatrava.
The Quadracci Pavilion has a moveable sunscreen with wings that fold and unfold twice a day. There’s also a pedestrian bridge here that connects the museum to the city.
Pro-tip: Entry tickets cost $19 for adults and are timed. They must be purchased ahead of time.
Eat At The Crossroads Collective Food Hall
Known as Milwaukee’s “foodiest food hall”, the Crossroads Collective is a food hall in Milwaukee consisting of eight, locally-owned operators who make from-scratch meals. Each vendor is a local, chef-owned business and most ingredients are sourced from Wisconsin farms!
Visit The Historic Third Ward & Milwaukee Public Market
The Historic Third Ward neighborhood in Milwaukee can’t be missed! It’s where you’ll find Milwaukee’s oldest warehouses and factory buildings, most of which have been converted into shops, restaurants, art studios, and loft-style apartments. There’s also cobblestone streets, street lamps, and a Hop stop – making this charming, artsy area convenient to explore.
The crown jewel of Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market, another food hall consisting of dozens of local vendors selling everything from açaí bowls to wine to cheese. Definitely stop in here for breakfast or lunch while exploring the area. They open at 10 am daily.
What To Do In Madison
Explore State Street
State Street is the main street in the city of Madison and is where you’ll find most of the city’s shops, restaurants, and bars. As mentioned above, Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison which is apparent by the hundreds of students walking around. State Street is awesome because it connects the Capitol building, which sits on a hill in the center of Madison, to the university which sits on the opposite end. I recommend walking up and down the entire street – it’s only one mile one way.
Visit The Wisconsin Capitol
I didn’t go inside of the Wisconsin Capitol, but it’s a super pretty building! There’s several garden beds out front to see. If you climb up the stairs to the building, you’ll get a great view of downtown since the Capitol sits up on a hill.
Walk Around The University Of Wisconsin-Madison Campus
The last thing I did in Madison was walk around the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Here you’ll find several grassy quads to hang out on, a school store to shop in, plus great views of Lake Mendota and Monona – the two lakes that intersect the city of Madison.
I only spent an hour or two here, but felt like I got a good taste of the city. I hope you visit from Milwaukee if you have the chance, since they’re only an hour from each other. Hopefully this post gives you some tips about what to do in Milwaukee! Thank you again to VISIT Milwaukee for hosting me during my stay!
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