Image of outside of Milwaukee Public Market with a red sign

14 FREE Things to Do in Milwaukee

By: Melody

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Having lived in this vibrant city for over 15 years, we’ve fallen in love with it time and time again.

Milwaukee isn’t just where we live; it’s a part of who we are.

From the architectural marvels that dot our skyline to the green spaces that breathe life into our urban landscape, there’s so much to see, do, and explore without opening your wallet.

We’re excited to share our curated list of the top free activities in Milwaukee, a testament to our city’s generous spirit and rich culture.

Dive in with us as we uncover the hidden gems and local favorites that make Milwaukee uniquely ours—and yours.

Free things to do in Milwaukee

Explore the Milwaukee Public Museum on Free Days

The Milwaukee Public Museum, a treasure trove of natural and human history, opens its doors for free on the first Thursday of each month, inviting visitors to journey through time and space.

The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics, including anthropology, biology, and geology, making it a comprehensive resource for learning about the natural world and its diverse cultures. Highlights include the Streets of Old Milwaukee, a beloved exhibit that recreates the sights and sounds of a 19th-century American town, and the dinosaur exhibits, where visitors can come face-to-face with prehistoric creatures.

Local Tip: Plan your visit to include a stop at the museum’s planetarium, where you can embark on a cosmic journey through the stars and galaxies. While the planetarium shows usually require a separate ticket, planning your museum visit on a free day can help offset this cost, making it a more accessible experience for everyone.

Marvel at the Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, located in Milwaukee’s historic Lincoln Village, is a masterpiece of religious architecture and a beacon of spiritual heritage. Constructed in the early 20th century, this stunning basilica was built using materials salvaged from the demolished Chicago Post Office and Customs House, showcasing an innovative approach to construction and design. The interior is awe-inspiring, with its intricate frescoes, stained glass, and ornate altars offering a serene and contemplative environment for visitors of all faiths.

Free self-guided tours are available, providing insights into the basilica’s history, art, and architecture. These tours reveal the dedication and faith that shaped this Milwaukee landmark, making it a must-visit for those interested in history, architecture, and spirituality.

Local Tip: Check the basilica’s organ concerts and special events schedule. These occasions provide a unique opportunity to experience the building’s acoustics and ambiance, elevating the sense of awe inspired by this historic edifice.

Tour Milwaukee Public Library (Saturday at 11 am)

The Milwaukee Public Library is a repository of knowledge and a stunning example of architectural beauty. Free guided tours available every Saturday at 11 am offer a deep dive into the library’s history, architectural splendor, and the treasures it houses, including rare books and valuable local archives.

Tour Tips: Arriving early is advisable to secure a spot on the tour, as these popular sessions can quickly reach capacity. Additionally, allotting time before or after the tour to wander through the library’s various departments and special collections can enrich your visit, turning a simple tour into a day of discovery and learning.

Lynden Sculpture Garden

The Lynden Sculpture Garden is a tranquil escape that artfully blends art, nature, and history across its 40-acre park. With more than 50 monumental sculptures set against a backdrop of lush landscapes, serene water bodies, and diverse woodlands, it offers a contemplative environment for visitors of all ages. The garden’s commitment to integrating art into natural settings makes each visit a new discovery, inviting contemplation and conversation.

Local Tip: Wear suitable footwear for wandering around in nature. There are no “set” walking paths.

WMSE Local Live at Anodyne

WMSE 91.7FM and Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. have teamed up to offer a unique musical experience in Milwaukee: WMSE Local Live at Anodyne. This event series showcases an eclectic mix of local artists and bands, providing a platform for emerging talent and established acts alike. The intimate setting at Anodyne and the high-quality sound make each performance memorable for music lovers.

These free live music performances, typically the first Tuesday of the month, are a testament to Milwaukee’s vibrant local music scene, offering audiences the chance to discover new favorites while enjoying the cozy ambiance of one of the city’s beloved coffee roasters.

Event Tips: Keep an eye on WMSE’s website or follow them on social media to stay updated on upcoming shows.

Wander the Historic Third Ward

The Historic Third Ward, once the heart of Milwaukee’s maritime trade, has transformed into the city’s thriving arts and fashion district. Walking through its streets, visitors are treated to a blend of historic architecture and modern innovation. The area’s old warehouses, now converted into chic lofts, shops, and eateries, offer a glimpse into Milwaukee’s past and its forward-thinking present.

Free to explore, the Third Ward is particularly inviting during the evening when its galleries and studios open their doors to the public. The Milwaukee Public Market, a centerpiece of the district, provides an array of culinary delights. Though some items may be for purchase, the market’s vibrant atmosphere and array of local products from artisan cheese to fresh produce are a feast for the senses on their own.

Local Tip: For those interested in the arts, plan your visit to coincide with Gallery Night, a quarterly event that celebrates Milwaukee’s rich art scene. It’s a unique opportunity to meet local artists and explore their works in a festive atmosphere.

Connect with Nature at the Urban Ecology Center

Nestled within the city’s green spaces, the Urban Ecology Center is a testament to Milwaukee’s dedication to environmental education and conservation. With multiple branches located in key parks, the center offers free access to natural areas, providing a green respite from urban life. Each location serves as a gateway to exploring Milwaukee’s ecosystems, with programs and resources that encourage visitors to engage with the environment directly.

The center’s initiatives include community science projects, where citizens can contribute to real scientific research, and educational programs for all ages aimed at fostering a deeper connection with nature. The parks themselves offer hiking trails, bird-watching opportunities, and scenic views that showcase the diversity of Wisconsin’s natural beauty.

Local Tip: Participate in one of the center’s free guided walks. These walks offer insight into the local flora and fauna and provide a chance to meet fellow nature enthusiasts. It’s a great way to learn more about the environment while enjoying the beauty of Milwaukee’s parks.

Discover the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee

Nestled in a historic 1916 bridge station, the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee is a captivating hidden gem and the nation’s longest-standing model railroad club in a single location. Inside, visitors find a treasure trove of model railroads, some dating back to pre-WWII, set against a backdrop of original architectural features like subway tile and tin ceiling panels.

Open on the last Sunday of each month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (except holidays, four-day weekends, or severe winter weather), the club invites enthusiasts and curious visitors alike to explore its detailed ¼-inch scale models. It’s a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse yourself in the miniature world of railroading history.

Before visiting, it’s wise to call ahead and confirm hours, ensuring your journey to this unique Milwaukee attraction is on track.

A visit to the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee is not just a trip to see model trains; it’s an exploration of craftsmanship, history, and the enduring legacy of railroading in America.

Discover Art along the River Sculpture Walk

Milwaukee’s Riverwalk is not just a pathway along the water; it’s a linear gallery showcasing the city’s commitment to public art. The River Sculpture Walk features various artworks ranging from whimsical to thought-provoking, each adding character and beauty to the riverside. Highlights include the beloved “Bronze Fonz” statue, Gertie the Duck, and many other pieces that celebrate Milwaukee’s culture and history.

Taking a stroll along the Riverwalk offers a unique blend of art, nature, and urban exploration. The sculptures serve as landmarks, guiding visitors through Milwaukee’s diverse neighborhoods, each with its own story to tell.

Local Tip: For an enriched experience, download a guide or map of the River Sculpture Walk before your visit. This will help you locate all the artworks and provide background information and stories behind each piece, making for an educational and entertaining self-guided tour.

Soak Up the Sun at Bradford Beach

Bradford Beach, a jewel along Lake Michigan’s vast shoreline, offers a quintessential summer experience without the price tag. As Milwaukee’s most popular beach, it draws crowds with its golden sands, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant atmosphere. Whether you’re looking to dive into a game of beach volleyball, enjoy a refreshing swim, or bask in the sun, Bradford Beach provides the perfect setting.

The beach is more than just a summer destination; it’s a community gathering spot where locals and visitors alike come to relax and enjoy Milwaukee’s beautiful natural landscape. The accessible beachfront is equipped with amenities, including lifeguards during peak hours, making it a safe and enjoyable place for everyone.

Local Tip: For a serene experience, visit during the early mornings or late afternoons. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you’ll also be treated to the breathtaking beauty of Lake Michigan’s sunrises and sunsets—a must-see for photographers and nature lovers.

Unwind in Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park offers a unique urban oasis amidst Milwaukee’s bustling cityscape. This 22-acre park, nestled between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan, boasts panoramic views of the city skyline and the serene beauty of the lakefront. Its well-maintained trails invite visitors for leisurely walks, jogs, or bike rides, with plenty of spots to pause and take in the scenery.

The park is an excellent spot for bird watching, fishing, or simply enjoying a quiet moment by the water. Its accessibility and proximity to other attractions, like the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, make it a perfect addition to any day out in the city.

Local Tip: Plan a picnic at one of the park’s many green spaces. The lake and city backdrop make it an ideal setting for a relaxing meal outdoors. Don’t forget to explore the park’s small, man-made lagoon, a peaceful spot often missed by casual visitors.

Bike or Hike the Hank Aaron State Trail

The Hank Aaron State Trail, named in honor of the baseball legend and Milwaukee Braves star, offers a scenic and accessible route for cyclists, runners, and walkers. Stretching through the heart of Milwaukee, this trail connects the vibrant urban landscape with the tranquility of nature, passing through parks, along rivers, and several of Milwaukee’s landmarks.

The trail serves as a green artery, inviting locals and visitors to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods and natural beauty on two wheels or on foot. Along the way, informational signs provide context about the area’s history and environment, making each journey a physical and educational experience.

Local Tip: For a more leisurely experience, consider exploring sections of the trail that run through the Menomonee River Valley. This area offers a mix of urban and natural landscapes, and you’re likely to encounter less traffic than on the busier downtown segments.

Enjoy Music in the Summer

Milwaukee’s summer is alive with the sound of music, thanks to a variety of free concert series that cater to every taste. From jazz and classical to rock and hip-hop, the city’s parks and public spaces become stages for live performances that bring the community together.

  • Chill on the Hill: Hosted at Humboldt Park, this event showcases local bands in a picnic-like atmosphere, encouraging families and friends to gather and enjoy the music amidst the greenery.
  • Jazz in the Park: Held in Cathedral Square Park, this series is a favorite among jazz enthusiasts, offering sultry sounds and a lively social scene in the heart of downtown.
  • Skyline Music: This concert series, hosted by COA Youth & Family Centers in Kadish Park, features a range of musical genres focusing on local talent against the backdrop of Milwaukee’s skyline.
  • Live at the Lakefront: Taking place at the Rotary Amphitheater at Discovery World, this series offers waterfront concerts that combine stunning views with eclectic music, making for unforgettable summer evenings.

Local Tip: While these events are free, bringing your own chairs or blankets is recommended for comfort. Arriving early can help secure a prime spot, especially for popular performances. Don’t forget to explore the food and drink options, often provided by local vendors, to complete your summer concert experience.

Fun for Free at 3rd Street Market Hall

Milwaukee’s 3rd Street Market Hall is a vibrant destination where visitors can experience the city’s culinary and cultural diversity without spending a dime. Nestled in the heart of downtown, this modern food hall isn’t just about the food; it’s a bustling hub of activity and entertainment, offering a variety of free things to do.

Engage in friendly competition with free games available throughout the hall, including a gaming lounge, bags, and shuffleboard. These games provide a playful break from the urban hustle and a chance to connect with friends and family in a lively, communal setting.

Whether you’re a Milwaukee native or just passing through, 3rd Street Market Hall presents a perfect opportunity to experience the city’s lively spirit. So, grab a friend, join in on the fun, and discover the joys of downtown Milwaukee—all without opening your wallet.

Art and History Unlocked: Villa Terrace and Charles Allis Museums

Milwaukee offers a unique cultural treat on the first Wednesday of each month: free admission to the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and the Charles Allis Art Museum. These historic homes, once the private estates of Milwaukee’s elite, now welcome the public to explore their rich collections and exquisite architecture.

The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, with its stunning views of Lake Michigan and Renaissance-inspired design, features a broad array of decorative arts that transport visitors back in time. The museum’s terraced garden, a masterpiece in its own right, offers a peaceful retreat within the city.

A short distance away, the Charles Allis Art Museum showcases a diverse collection ranging from classic to modern art pieces, reflecting the worldly tastes of its former residents, Charles and Sarah Allis. This museum offers a look into the lavish lifestyles of Milwaukee’s past aristocracy and serves as a vibrant center for the arts, hosting various exhibitions throughout the year.

Free admission days, on the first Wednesday of the month, provide an open invitation to dive into Milwaukee’s artistic and historical heritage, making art and history accessible to everyone. It’s an ideal opportunity for families, art lovers, and history enthusiasts to experience the elegance and culture of Milwaukee’s golden era.

Local Tip: Extend your cultural exploration with a stroll through the surrounding neighborhoods, where historic homes and scenic streetscapes offer a glimpse into Milwaukee’s architectural beauty.

Budget-friendly Milwaukee Tips

Budget-Friendly Restaurants in Milwaukee

Milwaukee is a large city with diverse options for food. Here are some of our favorite cheap eats in the city:

Budget-Friendly Activities in Milwaukee

While not free, these budget-friendly activities will help you explore the city without breaking the bank. There are so many options for cheap things to do in Milwaukee, here are a few of our favorites: