The city of Milwaukee in Wisconsin is a hidden gem for a city break within the United States. The city hosts over 2 million tourist visitors a year.
One of the reasons why so many people visit Milwaukee is that the city is a hub for arts and culture in the Midwest. Visitors can check out museums such as the Milwaukee Arts Museum or quirkier choices such as the Harley Davidson Museum.
To get a better insight into local culture, catch some delicacies at the Milwaukee Public Market, try some brews at Lakefront Brewery, or take a picture with Fonzie on the RiverWalk.
There is a lot to do in this storied city, which particularly excels with family-friendly attractions such as Discovery World. But while it’s a tourist’s dream, is Milwaukee safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Milwaukee Safe to Visit in 2024?
Yes. It’s true that the city has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, but because crime is so segregated in the city by neighborhood, tourists are not usually affected by crime in the city.
Still, it is a good idea to take basic precautions to keep yourself safe while you are in town. It is true that Milwaukee has a problem with crime.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the city has an overall crime rate of 697.1 incidents per 100,000 people, which is much higher than the national average. The violent crime rate in Milwaukee is also far above the national average.
Common crimes in Milwaukee include:
- Vehicle theft
- Armed robbery
Crime in 2022 and 2023 increased compared to pre-pandemic levels, leading many leaders to worry about the future of Milwaukee. While you should be aware of the risk of crime, and we will elaborate more about these problems, you, as a visitor, actually have a low to moderate risk of being the victim.
That’s because most crime occurs in certain parts of the city, far away from the downtown areas where most attractions are located. Tourists are well-insulated from the effect of Milwaukee’s crime rate.
Surviving the city’s cold weather may be harder than surviving its streets. Milwaukee’s winters are bitterly cold, some of the coldest in the continental United States.
Most guides don’t recommend visiting during the winter due to extremely cold temperatures, high volumes of snowfall, and the high risk of blizzards. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a guide for surviving the winter for out-of-town students that is also fairly useful for visitors.
The guide has valuable tips, including:
- Wear plenty of layers, including long underwear and a good winter coat.
- Make sure your feet stay warm. Wear one pair of woolen socks and good winter boots. Your boots should be waterproof.
- Make sure that you stay hydrated. Many people forget that they also need to drink water when it is cold, not just when it is hot and they are sweating.
- Your skin needs hydrating as well. Regularly apply lotion and Chapstick to prevent painful, dry skin.
Milwaukee has its charms in the winter, but visitors who are sensitive to the cold may want to avoid it during this time.
Crime in Milwaukee
Crime is one of the biggest problems affecting people in Milwaukee. The city has a very high crime rate. Most worrying is its high violent crime rate, which is actually the 3rd highest violent crime rate in the United States.
It also had the highest vehicle theft rate in the nation at the beginning of 2023. The FBI provides a breakdown of crime statistics. Violent crimes make up over 32% of total crimes committed in Milwaukee.
Violent interpersonal crimes, such as assault and homicide, make up most violent crimes committed in the city. In 2021, there were a whopping 222 homicides in the city. The single most common category of crime is larceny, which makes up nearly 34% of total crimes committed in the city.
Larceny is a broad category of crime encompassing various forms of theft, including theft from vehicles and shoplifting. Other types of property crime are also very common.
Of particular concern is vehicle theft, which in 2018 made up 7.5% of total crimes in the city reported to the FBI. Since then, the number has grown quickly. Like many other cities in the United States, Milwaukee has experienced a huge growth in vehicle theft rates over the past year or so.
There are a few reasons why Milwaukee’s crime rate is so high. Social factors play a very big role in the city’s high violent crime rate.
It’s a highly segregated city, and its neighborhoods with the highest crime rates also have extremely high poverty rates, very few resources compared to the rest of the city, and high rates of youth unemployment.
Some advocates also point to the role that potential lead poisoning in impoverished communities has on people. Of course, you don’t need to know all of this just to prepare for a trip to Milwaukee.
However, if you want to know more about the cities you visit, or you are thinking about a more permanent relocation, this is good context to know when you look at crime statistics in the city. It’s not just that people in Milwaukee are very violent, but there are reasons behind the high crime rate.
Those same reasons explain why tourists are rarely affected by crime, even though the city overall has a very high crime rate.
Since the crime rate is high in part due to social factors, it makes sense that most crimes would occur in neglected neighborhoods where those factors are more pronounced — in neighborhoods far away from where tourists should venture.
You should have some awareness while moving around Milwaukee, but you don’t have to cancel your trip due to the risk of crime. Most crime affects locals, not visitors.
The most common crime affecting people in Milwaukee is vehicle theft. As in many places across the nation, the rate of vehicle theft has skyrocketed in 2022 and 2023.
Police officials note that most thefts have targeted cars from certain manufacturers, namely Kia and Hyundai, and the thefts were inspired by news spreading online of a manufacturer’s defect that made the cars easy to steal.
Thefts were often committed by young people, who dubbed themselves “Kiaboyz” and stole cars for joyriding. This overall rise in vehicle theft has affected owners of other vehicles, not just Kia and Hyundai cars, in part because police resources are so strapped now that it is difficult for them to solve cases.
If you can, you should try to leave your car at home. You don’t need it for a short trip to Milwaukee anyway because the main attractions are close together (and you don’t want to drive in Milwaukee during the winter).
If you must take your car with you, take precautions to keep it safe from theft, including:
- Parking it in a secure place such as a paid parking garage overnight.
- Never keeping your title or registration in your car, as that will make it difficult to get your car back.
- Not leaving valuables or any possessions in the car that may make your vehicle more of a target.
- Always locking doors and closing windows and sunroofs when you step away from the car.
The crime most visitors are worried about when visiting Milwaukee is robbery. Although assault is the most common violent crime in the city, most cases of assault occur where people at least know each other somewhat.
However, robberies usually target strangers, including tourists. Most robberies in Milwaukee occur at night, like in most other places. You should exercise additional caution when moving around town after dark.
Stick to neighborhoods that you know and parts of town that are well-lit and have plenty of other people around. After dark is not the right time to go walking home alone to save money on a taxi or explore a new part of town. Avoid behavior that makes you a target for robberies.
Many people get robbed after using a phone excessively. Not only are you showing off your expensive smartphone, but you are also showing that you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings. It’s alright to check your phone to look up directions quickly, but you don’t want to be so immersed that you don’t notice what’s going on around you.
If you are the victim of a robbery, it is better to comply. Many robbers in Milwaukee are armed, and there have been cases when victims were assaulted and even killed in robberies gone wrong. It’s better not to fight back and risk getting hurt.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Since crime in Milwaukee is so stratified by neighborhood, the best thing that you can do for your safety is to know which neighborhoods are best to avoid. Generally, the area west of the river is more dangerous than the east side. Northern Milwaukee also has a very high crime rate and high violent crime rate.
Some dangerous neighborhoods are:
- North Division
- Franklin Heights
- Metcalfe Park
- Borchert Field
Trust your instincts — if you don’t feel safe in a neighborhood, leave, then figure out if you were right later.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips to help you prepare for a visit to Milwaukee:
- Petty street crime tends to increase when there are a lot of people on the street. Popular summer festivals such as Summerfest are often hotspots for attracting pickpockets. Make sure that your phone, wallet, and ID are in a safe place, and don’t leave your purse unattended.
- Opt for a taxi when traveling after dark. Ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Lyft are the best option because you can check that the car picking you up is really the car that you hailed. Wherever you are, taking a taxi instead of walking late at night is a safer choice.
- Explore all that Milwaukee has to offer. The city is a vibrant metropolis with an underrated arts and culture scene. Explore some neighborhoods, such as The Third Ward, for your dose of coffee shops, art, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions people have asked before visiting Milwaukee that you may want the answers to as well:
Is it safe to walk in Milwaukee at night?
Walking around at night in Milwaukee is only safe if you are with a group and stick to well-lit areas with plenty of other people around. Otherwise, opt for a taxi to get back home late at night.
Is downtown Milwaukee safe for tourists?
Downtown Milwaukee is one of the safest places for tourists in the whole city. It has some of the lowest crime rates in the city. However, parts of downtown can get desolate at night, so be careful as you move around.
Is it worth visiting Milwaukee?
If you want an interesting city break in the United States with a lively cultural scene and one of the best microbrewery cultures in the country, Milwaukee is worth visiting. It has something for everyone.
Are there safe areas in Milwaukee?
Of course, there are safe areas in Milwaukee. The downtown area of the city is safe. Eastern Milwaukee is the safest part of the city, with a low crime rate.
Is Milwaukee a walkable city?
Downtown Milwaukee is very walkable, but the rest of the city is a bit harder to walk in. During the winter, no parts of the city are walkable due to the bitter cold!
So, Is Milwaukee Safe to Visit?
Milwaukee is a city that has its challenges, such as a high crime rate. This crime rate doesn’t usually affect tourists, but you should still take some precautions while visiting, such as not wandering in unfamiliar parts of town all alone at night. Other than that, you should be fine!