Often referred to as one of the most underrated cities in the Midwest, Milwaukee is filled with farmers markets, festivals, beer gardens, and more than 150 sprawling parks. The best part? Many of these activities are free to do.
Here’s our guide to the best free things to do in Milwaukee.
Black Cat Alley
Black Cat Alley is one of the few curated outdoor street art galleries in the city, and visitors can see works by creatives and wall painters from Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Berlin, and more. Black Cat Alley is a great photo stop and you can take a selfie with one of the many beautiful backgrounds. The art is spinning, so check the website to see which artists are featured and when you can see the art counters in action.
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Alice’s Garden Urban Farm
Alice’s Garden Urban Farm is a locally run community space for people to connect and connect in the open air. This two-acre farm on the north side of Milwaukee hosts events such as contemporary dance with the local dance company Danceworks, guided and self-guided meditative walks in a herb maze, art activities for children, and live music during a fish roast night.
Free pre-planned tours or a self-guided tour are available if you want to learn more about the garden’s black history and its role as a metro stop. Although most events at Alice’s Garden are free, some special events do have a small fee. From June to September, you can also visit the craft market on Tuesdays and Thursdays to buy products from local vendors such as jewelry and herbal body products.
Hank Aaron State Trail
The 14-mile Hank Aaron State Trail, named after the Milwaukee baseball legend, doubles as a walking tour of the city. Stroll through the greenery and shoreline of Lake Michigan as you pass Lakeshore State Park. On the trails in the greater Milwaukee area, visitors to the Urban Ecology Center can make pit stops for more wildlife and nature activities, peek at the white wings of the Santiago Calatrava-designed pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and relax on Bradford Beach. The Hank Aaron Trail also connects to other trails in the city, including the Beerline and Oak Leaf.
As you drive from downtown to the lakefront, you’ll notice vast expanses of grass in Veterans Park with a lagoon full of swan pedalos. Bring snacks and stand at one of the picnic tables overlooking the lake. On a busy summer day, you’ll see people ride rental bikes and fly kites as tall as the surrounding trees. In spring and summer, the park hosts outdoor events like the free, kid-friendly films from the Gift of Wings Kite Store in the park. The park also hosts an annual free kite festival where hobbyists showcase their best and biggest kites of whales, yellow butterflies, orange jellyfish, red bears, and other designs.
Milwaukee has many parks for visitors to explore, but Swing Park is one of the most delightful – and the most under the radar. It’s the only park in Milwaukee with swings for adults, but kids enjoy it too. To track it down, look for the Marsupial Bridge Media Garden and the Holton Street Bridge. Below is a mix of swing styles for when you need a break from the busy, restaurant-filled Brady Street nearby.
Pack snacks and a beach towel and head to the lakefront to soak in the sun on Bradford Beach. Watch a free local league sand volleyball game, take part in a frisbee game, hop in the freshwater lake, or just lie in the sand all day. You will also see people rollerblading and biking on the inland sidewalk around the beach.
Bradford Beach is the most popular summer spot to see Milwaukee in action, especially on a hot day. Be prepared to listen to music, smell delicious food, and see people of all ages running and playing around Lake Michigan and on the beach.
Milwaukee Farmers Markets
Farmers’ market season coincides with the warmest months of the year and the Milwaukee tourist season, and it’s free to walk through and browse all of the local goodies. Many of the farmers markets also have live performances with music and contemporary and Irish dance. Shorewood Farmers Market has a mix of fresh local produce and food trucks serving goodies from empanadas and waffles to spring rolls and homemade donuts. Located near Lake Michigan, the South Shore Farmers’ Market features farmer’s stalls as well as pop-ups from local coffee roasters, ice cream makers, and grill restaurants. Most markets run from June to October.
St. Josaphat Basilica
Everyone is welcome to stop by the St. Josaphat Basilica. This grand granite building with Italian-style domes and decorative plaster was built for the Polish immigrant community that thrived on Milwaukee’s South Side. The red, blue, yellow, and orange stained glass windows from Austria and the European-style murals inside helped ensure that St. Josaphat was named the third basilica in the United States in 1929 -guided tour. Both options include a free exhibition on the history of the basilica.
Milwaukee Public Library
Founded in 1878, the Milwaukee Public Library System is the largest public library system in Wisconsin, and the downtown branch is the most extravagant. Visitors can admire the mosaic floors, marble columns, and grand staircases that are reminiscent of the French and Italian Renaissance. The downtown branch also offers free activities and stories for families.
Jazz in the park
For lovers of jazz, blues and funk, Jazz in the Park is a must-see free event. Jazz in the Park has been a staple for nearly 30 years and takes place in Cathedral Square Park. It is the largest weekly music series in Milwaukee, with more than 5000 participants per week. Every Thursday from May to September families, couples and friends come to hang out and enjoy the music.
The Sculpture Milwaukee open-air exhibition lights up downtown skyscrapers and parking garages. More than 20 sculptures are scattered over two miles, from Sixth Street to O’Donnell Park. Along the way, you’ll discover abstract sculptures, including larger-than-life blue pickup sticks, a bronze statue of a black athlete, and a colorful blob monster. Each piece shows the style and identity of local artists and artists from around the world. The installations change every year and the exhibition is only open in summer.
North Point Lighthouse
The restored North Point Lighthouse was originally built in 1891 and is a scenic landmark in Lake Park. The lighthouse is freely visible from the outside and is reminiscent of an old postcard, but costs $ 8 for adults and $ 5 for students to enter the museum and climb to the top for a panoramic view of the Downtown Milwaukee and the lake.
The three mile long Milwaukee RiverWalk runs through the heart of downtown and has multiple access points. Stroll through the artsy Historic Third Ward and European-style Old Third World Street, which pays homage to Milwaukee’s German roots. If you need a break there are breweries along the way too. Make sure to find the art from the RiverSculpture outdoor art gallery and stop to learn more about the artists.
South Shore Beach
A visit to Milwaukee’s South Side should include a lazy day on South Shore Beach. Relax in the countryside and enjoy the view of Lake Michigan away from the hustle and bustle of downtown and Bradford Beach. South Shore also has an area where you can play in the sand or take part in a game of volleyball. Climb the rocks along the water for beautiful photos of the lake as the sun sets.