Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city. It began as a Native American settlement, growing into an outpost for French fur traders and missionaries. But its real boom took place in the 1800s, when waves of German immigrants settled in the city, bringing with them the art of beer brewing.
Milwaukee went on to become known as the beer capital of the world as well as a major commercial and manufacturing area. Although a few major breweries have relocated, Milwaukee's brewpub culture remains strong, as does its German heritage.
It is perhaps its immigrant background that makes Milwaukee feel like a small town of friendly neighbourhoods. Residents take an active part in their community and welcome visitors to experience their city.
Milwaukee is situated on Lake Michigan. One of the Great Lakes, it is so vast it appears no different from the ocean when walking along the shore. While surfing is not an option, almost all other water activities are, including sailing, powerboating, jet-skiing, dinner and cocktail cruises, as well as some of the best shipwreck diving in the area. If lounging in the sun sounds more appealing, visitors can head to Bradford Beach, a long strip along the lake packed with swimmers and sunbathers in the summer.
For adventures of the shopping and dining kind, the other waterfront is the place to be. The RiverWalk system of promenades and bridges meanders along the Milwaukee River, linking the central downtown area, including the financial and Westown districts, and the Historic Third Ward.
Westown is a hot spot for entertainment, with a variety of upscale restaurants, clubs, and hotels, as well as an upmarket shopping mall, convention centre, professional sports arena, and various performing arts venues.
The Historic Third Ward, a rehabilitated warehouse district with trendy lofts and stylish boutiques, is perfect for an afternoon stroll, as is the nearby Brady Street neighbourhood, which offers a more eclectic experience. Its tattoo parlours and alternative clothing shops, vestiges of the 1960s when the area was a counter-culture haven, are now mixed with galleries, diverse nightlife spots, cafés and fine restaurants.
After touring the city, visitors in need of a respite ought to try one of the three favourite local indulgences: beer, bratwurst, and frozen custard. Without these, a trip to Milwaukee would be incomplete.
Miller Park is the home of major league baseball's Milwaukee Brewers. Opened in 2001, the ballpark combines state-of-the-art features, including a unique fan-shaped convertible roof, with the 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' nostalgia of America's pastime.
Ballpark tours are available. But if visitors are able to get tickets, there is perhaps no better way to experience the best of American sport than by watching a ballgame with popcorn and a hot dog on a warm summer evening.
The Miller Brewery, established in 1855, is a landmark in Milwaukee. Visitors can participate in a free, entertaining, one hour guided tour of the brewery, packaging centre, and historic caves on the premises. Tours conclude with samples either at the old Miller Inn or in the beer garden, a seasonal option.
The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is commonly referred to as 'The Domes', due to its memorable architecture. Its three giant glass vault-like structures are bursting with diverse plant life. Visitors can explore a different habitat in each dome: arid, tropical or floral.
Home of the Green Bay Packers football team, Lambeau Field is a landmark among America's football stadiums. When it underwent extensive renovations a few years ago, fans pleaded for the preservation of its trademark features.
Today, its retro style and original seating bowl balance modern facilities and services, despite the disadvantages of an outdoor stadium in Wisconsin's notoriously cold winters. If visitors can get tickets and stand the cold, watching the Packers play at home is an amazing experience.
If not, a tour of the stadium, where some of the greatest legends in football have played, is the next best thing. When attending a football game at Lambeau Field, visitors should arrive early for a barbecue and join the tailgate party in the parking lot.
Sticking up out of nowhere in the flat Wisconsin landscape, the House on the Rock is a truly unique tourist attraction. Eccentric millionaire Alex Jordan Snr built the house, both in homage and retaliation to renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright who dismissed his architectural aspirations.
The Japanese-style house is rambling and dark, containing many collections of antiques and curiosities. It opened to visitors in 1959. From the late 1960s, the collections increased in eclectic directions, with additions built to house enormous displays of mechanical musical instruments, dolls, model ships, guns, and other items.
Although not available to ride, the world's largest carousel is housed inside and a full-scale replica of a Victorian-era Milwaukee street. Another strange attraction is a full-size recreation of the squid and the sea monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The House on the Rock's most famous feature is the Infinity Room, which juts out unsupported from the House 218 feet (66.5m) into the surrounding valley.
The House on the Rock has continued to expand and now encompasses a resort area with hotels, conference facilities, a spa, golf course, and Japanese gardens, covering 200 acres in total. It remains one of Wisconsin's most unusual and unique attractions, with tens of thousands of people visiting annually.
About two hours' drive from Milwaukee is Wisconsin Dells, which takes its name from the distinctive sandstone formations in the glacial gorges of the Wisconsin River. The city bills itself as the 'Waterpark Capital of the World', and with more than 20 indoor and outdoor parks it has a good claim to the title.
Three of its parks claim the titles of the biggest water parks in the US: Noah's Ark is the largest outdoor water park, with over 80 rides and attractions; Wilderness Territory is the biggest indoor park; and Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park is the largest resort and water park complex.
Aside from the water parks, there are boat tours of the dells and water sports. There are plenty of things to do in the Winsconsin Dells if you'd like to stay dry, however: golf and miniature golf, go karts, horseback riding, Timber Falls Amusement Park, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, live theatre and entertainment, and plenty of restaurants and shopping.
The Ho-Chunk Casino is also a great place for adults to enjoy themselves. The Wisconsin Dells are open in the winter, and in addition to the indoor water parks and amusements, there is snowboarding, skiing, ice fishing, and other winter activities.
Milwaukee has a humid continental climate, characterised by precipitation throughout the year, hot summers and cold, snowy winters. Summers (June to mid-September) are warm and pleasant, with temperatures averaging between 52°F (11°C) and 81°F (27°C). Summer receives frequent rain with an increased chance of thunderstorms, resulting in muggy conditions.
Winters (December to early March) are quite cold, and snow is common and plentiful throughout the season. Average temperatures drop to between 16°F (-9°C) and 30°F (-1°C) in January. Due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, Milwaukee experiences lake-effect conditions, which increase snowfall. In the summer, areas along the lakeshore are often comparatively cooler than inland, and in the winter, they are slightly warmer.
Many tourist attractions in downtown Milwaukee can be explored on foot and the skywalk network in the city centre conveniently protects pedestrians from the elements. However, if visitors wish to travel a bit farther, the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) operates buses on more than 50 routes in the city and surrounding region.
Single tickets can be bought on board but exact change is required. Multiple-ride tickets and weekly or monthly passes can be bought at outlets such as supermarkets throughout the city. The Milwaukee Trolley Loop in the city centre is aimed at tourists and stops at major attractions.
The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is the city's transport hub, with Amtrak trains connecting to Chicago as well as long distance buses. Cycle rickshaws also operate in the city and a ferry service runs across Lake Michigan to Muskegon.
Taxis often queue at hotels and other attractions, though visitors should not assume it will be easy to hail one on the street. In recent years, Milwaukee has worked hard to make the city bicycle-friendly.
Wisconsin may not have a reputation for glamour, but there's plenty to see and do in Milwaukee for visitors to this friendly city. Highlights include the enormous Lake Michigan and the RiverWalk system along the Milwaukee River, which jointly ensure that fresh air, pretty views, and water sports opportunities are in abundance.
Apart from beaches, lakes, and rivers, Milwaukee is home to a lot of architectural landmarks, ranging from the imposing St Josaphat Basilica and City Hall to the sleek and modern Milwaukee Art Museum. The Domes, huge glass structures in Mitchell Park, are just as stunning outside as they are inside, housing habitats from different ecosystems.
There are a number of interesting museums in Milwaukee, including the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and the Harley-Davidson Museum. Kids will love interactive attractions at the Public Museum, containing an IMAX theatre and planetarium, as well as the Discovery World Museum at Pier Wisconsin, the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, and the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Milwaukee is also known as 'Brew City', and is home to both large-scale producers and local microbreweries in abundance. Miller-Coors Brewing Company and the Pabst Brewery are perhaps the most recognisable and offer tours. Smaller operations also offer tours and tastings on weekends, including the Sprecher Brewery, Lakefront Brewery, and the Great Lakes Distillery.
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