Do you want to enjoy some world-class paintings, learn more about the USA’s history, or discover the natural history of the region? Maybe you just want to stroll next to a beautiful river and a mighty lake — both in the same city?
Perhaps catch the recent NBA champions in a lively arena? If you want to do all of those things at the same time, welcome to Milwaukee, the shiniest gem in the Midwest.
To learn more about the city and decide where to stay, we’re here to help out. Read on to see our top picks for the best areas, what to do when visiting each one, and more. Let us be your guide!
The 3 Best Parts of Milwaukee
Although Wisconsin’s largest and most vibrant town, Milwaukee is still not an immensely big city. Obviously, it has more areas and districts than the three presented in our guide, but most of the fun generally happens either downtown or in the Historic Third Ward south of the center.
Downtown — its eastern and western parts, divided by the Milwaukee River — are its most vibrant, full of beautiful architecture, plenty of museums, and numerous budget, mid-range, and luxurious accommodation options.
The three best areas include:
- Historic Third Ward: A former industrial district, today, after its renaissance, it boasts one of the most urbane, interesting, and hip neighborhoods in the city.
- Westown: The western part of downtown, it offers a beautiful Riverwalk, a lot of beautiful architecture, plenty of museums, and the Milwaukee Bucks home court.
- East Town: The east part of Milwaukee’s downtown offers both a Riverwalk and a lakefront, but it also boasts numerous museums, plenty of restaurants, and varied accommodation options.
Where to Stay in Milwaukee: Best Areas & Hotels
Milwaukee is not a major American tourist magnet, and that — without trying to downgrade the city — leaves a mark on the accommodation options.
Both the visitors that are looking for luxurious and budget options are going to be disappointed. Namely, there aren’t many super luxurious five-star hotels in the city. The same holds for the budget options.
There aren’t any one or two-star hotels in the Historic Third Ward, and the situation is not significantly different downtown.
The only real exception is probably the East Town (the eastern town of Milwaukee’s downtown), where you can probably find some real budget options. Generally speaking, both parts of downtown — Westown and East Town — are the most tourist-friendly districts in the city.
They offer plenty of hotels of all kinds, except for the super-luxurious five-star hotels that are usually found in larger cities in America. Nonetheless, they offer a decent amount of variety.
1. Historic Third Ward
If there’s one place where you can and should start your adventure in the largest city in Wisconsin, it’s definitely the Historic Third Ward. There are many reasons why, but as most first-timers in every city are natural strollers, the Third Ward is, without doubt, the best area.
Namely, the district as a whole is part of the National Register of Historic Places — it’s also quite old, having its beginnings in the middle of the 19th century.
Formerly a warehouse district, with a lot of deserted and forlorn buildings and spaces, the Historic Third Ward had its revitalization in the 21st century, and the renaissance was a complete success.
Where you could see warehouses in the past, today, you can visit galleries, restaurants, and shops. What was once an industrial space now boasts a unique artsy and cultural atmosphere.
Lovers of art can experience the lively and urbane art scene that’s mostly manifested through the numerous galleries and theaters in the area.
Lovers of music, on the other hand, should create their schedules and plan their trips according to the Summerfest — one of the most interesting and attractive music festivals in this part of America, held in the southern parts of the district.
Also, the Henry Maier Festival Park, located right next to Lake Michigan, is a popular space for music lovers. Finally, something for shopping lovers: as we mentioned earlier, all the industrial space in the area is now converted into beautiful shops and boutiques.
But one place stands out, and that’s the Milwaukee Public Market, designed in an industrial chic style.
Don’t expect any budget options in the Historic District, as there are practically none, but mid-range hotels can be cheaper than usual. In terms of eateries, there are plenty of brunch options to choose from.
Things to Do
- Lovers of the performing arts have come to the right place because Historic Third Ward offers a couple of great theaters that you can go to.
- Finally, there’s the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, which offers incredible performance (especially music) spectacles.
- The Historic Third Ward is one of the best districts in this part of America in terms of the visual arts. That’s due to a few things:
- First, you’ll find the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, which usually holds interesting art exhibitions.
- Second, there are numerous galleries scattered all around the area. Here are some of the most notable ones: Artasia Gallery, Katie Gingrass Gallery, Tory Folliard Gallery, Portrait Society Gallery, and San Remy Gallery.
- As we mentioned in the beginning, we chose The Historic Third Ward as the best option for first-time visitors because it’s the best for strolling and relaxed walking. Check out the beautiful converted warehouse, the shores of Lake Michigan, the interesting shops, etc.
- Make sure you visit one of the most important landmarks of the city, namely, the Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse, located in the southeast of the district.
- Finally, there are plenty of nice coffee places, pubs, breweries, nightclubs, and clubs that give witness to the fact that this is not only a historically and culturally important neighborhood but also a fun one.
Where to Eat
- Café Benelux is an interesting bar and restaurant, an unusual combination of American and Belgian styles that was selected as the 2022 Travelers’ Choice. It’s suitable for all meals of the day, but especially for a late-night dinner or a mid-day brunch. The burgers and the eggs benedict are particularly famous.
- Wicked Hop is an American pub that’s a great option if you’re looking for both a bite and a drink. The atmosphere is laid-back and relaxed, and the service is very professional and fast. In their fifteen years of working, they’re mostly famous for their brunches.
- Onesto is a classical and traditional Italian restaurant located in the heart of the historic Third Ward district. Here you can savor all the classical Italian dishes: the varieties of pizzas, pasta, and traditional desserts. You should also know that they offer plenty of vegan and vegetarian options as well.
Historic Third Ward Mid-Range Hotels
- Home2 Suites By Hilton Milwaukee Downtown is a three-star accommodation part of the famous Hilton chain of hotels, which actually comes at a really decent price. Particularly suitable for couples, it also offers free Wi-Fi, private parking, a fitness center, a sun terrace, and American breakfast.
- Homewood Suites By Hilton Milwaukee Downtown is another three-star hotel, which is part of the well-known Hilton chain of accommodations. The rooms are equipped with free air conditioning, flat-screen TVs with cable channels, and tea and coffee machines. There’s a fitness center on the premises too, and American breakfast in the morning.
Historic Third Ward Luxury Hotels
- Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, an IHG Hotel is a great four-star hotel that’s especially suitable for couples. Its pet-friendly premises also offer a bar and a restaurant, free Wi-Fi and private parking, non-smoking family rooms with flat-screen TVs, facilities for disabled people, and a nice breakfast.
- The Iron Horse Hotel is basically a renovated hundred-year-old warehouse, located just a couple of blocks from the center of the city. This four-star hotel offers a restaurant, a bar, and a fitness center on the premises. There’s also free Wi-Fi and free parking, room service, facilities for disabled people, and a great breakfast in the morning.
Located to the north of the Historic Third Ward, the western part of Milwaukee’s Downtown (the Milwaukee River divides the two parts) is one of the best parts of the town if your main goal is to do as much sightseeing as you can.
It’s packed with beautiful architecture, vibrant restaurants, and cafes, as well as pretty parks and a lot of interesting museums. Passionate strollers and museum lovers are going to have the time of their life in Westown.
But before you start checking out the museums, the parks, and all of the important landmarks of this district, you have to experience its prime attraction — the beautiful Milwaukee River itself.
There’s only one way to do that, and that’s by checking out the Riverwalk that covers no less than three areas: the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B.
Now, let’s bring the big guns. You should definitely start by visiting the Milwaukee Public Museum, offering three packed floors of anthropology and natural history exhibits that’ll blow your mind as well as your senses.
While you’re there, make sure you visit two other places that are located in close proximity: the unusual and charming Streets of Old Milwaukee and the more “serious” Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.
A little out of your way but still fairly close is the small Milwaukee County Historical Society, located in a former bank building. If you’re a hardcore (or casual!) sports fan, there’s no better place to be than in Westown.
The district holds the multifunctional Fiserv Forum, which provides the home court for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the NCAA’s Marquette Golden Eagles. The arena is a true paradise for every basketball lover.
There are plenty of accommodation options in the area, but most of them aren’t cheap — Westown is still the western part of Milwaukee’s downtown.
Budget travelers should definitely look for another option. The anthropology and natural history-oriented Milwaukee Public Museum is definitely the most popular, with a lot of new programs and exciting shops.
Things to Do
- Westown doesn’t offer much in terms of nature and green spaces (like we already said, it’s the downtown, after all), but it has some decent parks. Pere Marquette Park, located right on the Milwaukee Riverwalk, is one such example. A small green space bordering the river, it offers some great strolling paths that give you a chance to relax and take some phenomenal pictures. Also, the already mentioned Milwaukee County Historical Society is located next to the park and isn’t easy to miss.
- If you’re up for some casual walking and non-institutional sightseeing, make sure you check the architectural beauties of Westown and the neighboring areas. The Riverwalk is a great way to start since the path crosses no less than three neighborhoods. But, if you turn your attention to the west, we recommend that you visit some of the following beautiful historical places:
- Charles Abresch House,
- The Gilded Age Pabst Mansion (also known as The Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion).
They give witness to the important historical layers of the city.
- Talking about the museums of Westown is a no-brainer since the area is mostly famous for them — both because of their number and their quality.
- Streets of Old Milwaukee gives you the picture of Milwaukee as it once was, mostly around the turn of the 20th century.
- Wisconsin Marine Historical Society is here to give you knowledge about the rich maritime history of the United States of America.
- Finally, the humble Milwaukee County Historical Society (founded in 1935) is all about the history of this charming Wisconsin city.
- If you’re a foodie, and you appreciate a good drink, we have some places to recommend.
- 3rd St. Market Hall is something that offers everything concentrated into one place — a chance to try the local food, a place to get some great drinks (especially cocktails), and a place to play some games.
- If you’re more into something more specific, like brewers, we recommend the Historic Pabst Brewery, which is legendary both as a historic place and for its fantastic brews.
Where to Eat
- Calderone Club is a perfect choice if you’re up for some pizza, pasta, or some other Italian specialty. Suitable for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, located in the heart of Westown, it also has some great meatballs, mozzarella sticks, and chicken — all of them cooked to perfection.
- The King & I Thai Restaurant is a Thai restaurant that’s mostly suitable for lunch and dinner. Located on the southeast side of Westown, it offers all the classical Thai dishes at really decent prices, as well as a lot of vegetarian and vegan options.
- Benihana is a Japanese and Asian restaurant that especially excels in serving sushi. It boasts some very skilled and highly trained sheds that’ll prepare your lunch or dinner — no matter if it’s sushi, steak, fresh vegetables, or sushi. There’s a wide variety of cocktails and alcoholic drinks too.
Westown Budget Hotels
- FRONTDESK 735 West Apts Westown Milwaukee is a great and very cheap three-star accommodation right in the center of Westown, Milwaukee. Particularly suitable for couples, it offers free air-conditioning and Wi-Fi in every room, as well as a small kitchen, flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom.
- The Village Inn Hotel is a very cheap one-star hotel and a perfect option for any budget traveler who still wants to spend his trip in the center of Milwaukee. The hotel offers free WI-Fi, private parking, facilities for disabled guests, and family rooms equipped with private bathrooms and cable flat-screen TVs.
Westown Mid-Range Hotels
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Milwaukee Downtown is a more than decent three-star hotel that’s especially suitable for couples who are visiting the city. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi and private parking and also has a fitness center on the premises.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Milwaukee Downtown is a great three-star hotel with a great location, close to most of the famous landmarks located in Westown, Milwaukee. The hotel boasts a restaurant and a bar on the premises, facilities for disabled people, nicely furnished family rooms, and a great breakfast in the morning.
Westown Luxury Hotels
- Hilton Milwaukee City Center is a four-star, pet-friendly, luxurious hotel that offers a fantastic view of the city. Particularly suitable for couples, you can visit the on-site restaurant and bar, which also offers fabulous breakfast in the morning. There’s free Wi-Fi, parking on site, and a fitness center on the premises.
- Cambria Hotel Milwaukee Downtown is a very luxurious and quite expensive (but worth it) four-star hotel with an indoor swimming pool. It also has a great bar and a nice restaurant on the premises, free Wi-Fi and private parking, facilities for disabled guests, and a tasty breakfast in the morning.
3. East Town
Squeezed between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan is East Town, the eastern part of Milwaukee’s downtown, and it’s definitely the district with the coolest location in the city.
If the Historic Third Ward was famous for the rejuvenated industrial buildings, Eastown is much like Westown — an administrative center and a lively area, full of museums, art institutions, and striking buildings.
It boasts the same Riverwalk, just located on the opposite side of the river. It’s no exaggeration to say that some of the most important and most interesting attractions and landmarks in Milwaukee are located here.
The already mentioned two-mile-long Riverwalk is full of restaurants and a lot of public art pieces — like the Bronze Fonz by Gerald P. Sawyer, the popular character from Happy Days.
In close proximity to the statue, you’ll find The Pabst Theater, which is quite family-friendly. A couple minutes to the north is the Marcus Performing Arts Center, with four theaters and a huge 2300-seat performance hall.
Both of them are perfect if you want to check out fun, new performances.
East Town is no less interesting in terms of beautiful architecture than the previous two districts: take a stroll and check out the Milwaukee City Hall and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist — located right next to the Cathedral Square Park, a large green space.
The banks of Lake Michigan are a distinct story, deserving of a separate article, but to cut things short, here’s a list of the places worth visiting:
- Discovery World
- Rotary Amphitheater
- Milwaukee Art Museum
- Milwaukee County War Memorial Center
- Jewish Museum Milwaukee
- Southeast Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In terms of accommodations and restaurants, that situation is great. You can even find — if you look hard enough — some budget options, and there are plenty of three and four-star luxurious hotels. The same holds for the restaurants: some of the best in the city are located in East Town.
Things to Do
- Probably the strongest side of East Town is the number and the variety of museums that are located in the eastern part of Milwaukee’s downtown.
- Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is one of the largest art museums in America, boasting an immense collection of artworks, starting from Gustave Caillebotte to Andy Warhol.
- Finally, the Grohmann Museum is one of the most interesting museums in the whole country, covering a very interesting and unique topic: the evolution of human work.
- If you’re into the performing arts, drama, and music, East Town presents a number of venues and theaters.
- Rotary Amphitheater is located on the lakefront, with a perfect view and atmosphere of Lake Michigan. The 2023 LIVE @ the Lakefront free summer concert series boasts numerous performances from artists around the area.
- Pabst Theater is a gilded performance venue with beautiful chandeliers that mainly offers musical concerts.
- In the end, don’t forget the immense Marcus Performing Arts Center that offers everything under the sun in its multiple menus and halls.
- East Town — like most of Milwaukee — is great for strolling, mainly because of the lake and the river, but also because of the beautiful architecture that’s scattered around the district. You should visit:
- The two-mile Riverwalk, and check the restaurants and the buildings near it.
- The Milwaukee City Hall (the administrative center of the city).
- The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (the religious center of the city).
- The Lakefront and walk by the banks of Lake Michigan, and take a look at the General Douglas MacArthur Statue.
Where to Eat
- East Town Kitchen & Bar is a classical American restaurant with a great location in the utmost center of the city. Suitable for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it offers a varied menu. We mostly recommend the chicken sandwich and the pretzels. The bar in the restaurant has a pretty extensive drink menu as well.
- SafeHouse is a great American restaurant, bar, and grill that’s especially suitable for families and larger groups, mostly because of its quality food, rich menu, and reasonable prices. It’s built with a spy and scavenger hunt theme in mind that can be pretty fun for everybody, especially the younger ones.
- Buckley’s Restaurant and Bar is a perfect choice for a more upscale and refined food and experience. Elegantly furnished and boasting a calm and dignified atmosphere, the restaurant is mostly famous for serving American comfort food in an elegant way. We recommend the truffle-fried artichoke and the fig tart.
East Town Budget Hotels
- Tru By Hilton Milwaukee Downtown, WI is a great two-star hotel in the southern parts of East Town, and it’s probably the cheapest accommodation in the whole area. The hotel is completely pet-friendly, and it offers free Wi-Fi, private parking, and a fitness center on the premises. There are also facilities for disabled guests.
- The Plaza Hotel – Milwaukee is a decent three-star hotel located very close to the huge Juneau Park and the beautiful Lake Michigan. It offers free Wi-Fi, private parking, an on-site restaurant, and a spa. The non-smoking rooms are equipped with kitchens, private bathrooms, and flat-screen cable TVs.
East Town Mid-Range Hotels
- Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Downtown is a great three-star hotel located in the utmost center of the city, and it’s part of the famous Hilton chain of hotels. It boasts the usual things for a hotel of its class: a bar and a restaurant on the premises, room service, a fitness center, and great breakfast in the morning.
- Drury Plaza Hotel Milwaukee Downtown is a relatively cheap three-star hotel, but it does lean toward the luxurious category. It has an outdoor swimming pool (a relatively rare thing in Milwaukee’s downtown), a restaurant and a bar on the premises, and rooms furnished with all the amenities.
East Town Luxury Hotels
- The Westin Milwaukee is a very luxurious four-star hotel and definitely one of the best hotels in the city. It offers all the amenities you can imagine for a hotel of its stature: an on-site restaurant, bar, and fitness center, free Wi-Fi and private parking, facilities for disabled guests, and a nice breakfast. They also rent bikes to guests.
- Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel is a luxurious four-star hotel located in the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown, offering a magnificent view of the city. Particularly suitable for couples, it has a restaurant, a bar, and a fitness center on the premises, serves a great breakfast in the morning, and has facilities for disabled guests.
So, Where Should You Stay in Milwaukee?
That’s what, in a few thousand words, Milwaukee has to offer. It may not be much in terms of quantity in comparison to other major American cities, but the quality is really fascinating.
The largest city in Wisconsin is really an exciting place if you know what you are looking for. Probably the biggest surprise about the city is the excellent art institutions and museums.
|😎 The Trendiest Part of Town||Historic Third Ward|
|🏛️ Home to the Most Museums||Westown|
|🍽️ Best for Shopping & Dining||East Town|
Now, as we’ve reached the end of our journey, let’s do a quick recap of the major districts of Milwaukee:
The Historic Third Ward is a lively neighborhood to the south of the city center that’s usually considered as probably the most suitable area for first-time visitors in Milwaukee.
A former industrial zone full of warehouses and marked with a distinctive working-class atmosphere, today, it’s a truly unique sight to see. The number of galleries and theaters is truly surprising, and the neighborhood also hosts one of the most vibrant cultural festivals in the country.
Westown, or the western part of downtown — divided by the beautiful Milwaukee River from its eastern counterpart — is another charming and artsy neighborhood.
The most important area in the district is the fascinating two-mile Riverwalk, which’s perfect for strolling, visiting restaurants, and taking pictures.
Aside from that, the district boasts a large number of fascinating museums that’ll boost your knowledge of history and a few shopping centers that offer plenty of options for some quality money spending.
Finally, the eastern part of the city center, called — quite accordingly — East Town, is another special place. Squeezed between the Milwaukee River to the west and the mighty Lake Michigan to the east, it offers an unreal number of museums, considering the size of the city.
Art lovers and lovers of beautiful architecture will have a blast walking the corridors of the museums and strolling East Town’s streets. Just remember that Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is one of the largest and richest art museums in the whole country.
So, with so much to see and do, and a great place to stay for all budgets and travel styles, what are you waiting for — book your trip today to experience for yourself all that Milwaukee has to offer!