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Top 15 Best Museums in Milwaukee

Top 15 Best Museums in Milwaukee

One of the best ways to explore a new city is to immerse yourself in its history. One of the best ways to do that in Brew City is to visit some of the best museums in Milwaukee, especially those that educate visitors on regional history.

With Milwaukee’s rich and diverse history, whether it be art, nature, science, or human history, this fascinating city isn’t short of museums—and there’s something for everybody, regardless of your age or interests.

From botany and aquariums to the world’s most iconic motorcycles and more, here are 15 of the best museums in Milwaukee to satisfy your need to explore and learn.

White winged Milwaukee Art Museum MAM - Calatrava - bridge with sunset behind museum - Places to visit in Milwaukee

1. Milwaukee Art Museum

The building itself is a reason to visit for most. The sleek and modern building is more of a moving sculpture designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. The Milwaukee Art Museum has become an icon of the city and an impressive addition to the skyline. 

Inside you’ll find more than 30,000 singular works of art and artifacts. The Milwaukee Art Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in art of any kind. The museum today has evolved from the city’s first art gallery over 130 years ago. Today the museum works hard to both collect and preserve long-surviving pieces, as well as cast a spotlight on rising contemporary artists.

The museum is best enjoyed by adults and isn’t geared for young kids, but teens will enjoy it as well.

You can expect to find not just historical American and European paintings, but ancient Mediterranean artifacts, photography from a range of time periods, and modern sculptures, among other pieces.

Harley Davidson Museum HD - Drone Photo - Top attractions in Milwaukee Wisconsin

2. Harley Davidson Museum

Harley Davidson is a household name, but there’s more to the story than just top-quality motorcycles. The Harley Davidson Museum is the place to learn about it all, in the city where the brand was founded over 100 years ago. 

Their permanent exhibits include the history of the iconic name, a closer look at the pieces that make up their word-class engines, and a gallery dedicated to the art and brotherhood of classic motorcycle clubs throughout history.

And of course, you can’t miss the Experience Gallery, where you can touch and even sit on some of these iconic motorcycles!

Some of the kid-friendly exhibits are temporarily closed, something to keep in mind if planning a trip here with little ones. 

Related: 25 Best things to do in Milwaukee

Woman and boy standing in the walkthrough aquarium tunnel at the Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee wisconsin

3. Discovery World Museum

Every city needs a fun science museum, and for Milwaukee, that’s definitely the Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee on the lakefront. Their exhibits mostly revolve around technology and freshwater science. Most are geared towards young inquisitive minds and inspiring the next generation of STEM learners. So, families should definitely make a note of this museum!

Some of their coolest exhibits include a scale model of the entire Great Lakes watershed, an aquarium with underwater worlds from all over the planet, a physics lab, and an automation exhibit that teaches kids the inner workings and gears of how machinery works. There’s even a scale railroading exhibit!

Exterior view of the Milwaukee Public Museum

4. Milwaukee Public Museum

Covering 150,000 square feet across three floors, and featuring fascinating exhibits covering geology, zoology, botany, and anthropology. There’s no better museum in Milwaukee to keep history buffs busy for hours. The Milwaukee Public Museum is widely regarded to be the best natural history museum in Wisconsin and it’s perfect for visitors of all ages.

Permanent exhibits include the world’s largest dinosaur skull, life-sized replicas of ancient medieval villages, and a wing where you can wander among free-flying butterflies. Growing up in the city this is the museum in Milwaukee we visited the most!

Interior view of the Betty Brinn Children's Museum in Milwaukee

5. Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

Calling all kids — this is the perfect spot for families looking for something to keep their little ones entertained! The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was specially designed for ages 10 and under and has plenty of interactive exhibits to keep them stimulated while having fun.

Their exhibits combine sounds and colors with problem-solving skills to encourage kids to think while they play. For example, the Home Town exhibit demonstrates how communities work, with pretend grocery stores, post offices, and even banks. There’s also a real railway that uses basic math to teach kids to solve problems and make trains move. 

This is a must-visit Milwaukee Museum if you have kids!

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6. Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

Villa Terrace was originally a private residence, built in a classic Italian Renaissance style inspired by a villa in Lombardy, northern Italy, overlooking Lake Michigan. Today, the house itself is the museum — its unique Italian architecture, antique furnishings, and classic art dating back as far as the 15th century.

While the villa is beautiful and provides a fascinating insight into the people who lived here, kids will probably be bored. It’s best suited to adults.

Aside from the interiors and art collection, Villa Terrace has a beautiful Renaissance garden that extends down the sloping grounds. There’s an orchard, a beautiful fountain pool, and beautiful pathways and hidden alcoves just begging to be explored.

7. Haggerty Museum of Art

The Haggerty Museum of Art is located on the Marquette University campus. It was established in 1984 thanks to donor contributions and houses an astonishing collection of over 4,500 works of art. It’s very student-friendly and is intended for adults.

Alongside its dazzling permanent collection, the Haggerty does 8-9 exhibitions every year. Coming up this August is an exhibition about JRR Tolkien, the legendary author behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings book series.

8. National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

The title says it all — this is a museum in Milwaukee exclusively dedicated to bobbleheads of every kind. It has over 10,000 individual bobbleheads from all over the world, and it’s the only museum of its kind in the world!

Although it’s not your typical history or art museum, there is still plenty to see and even kids will enjoy the Where’s Waldo scavenger hunt.

You’d think it might be all show, no tell, but the museum has permanent exhibits on the history of the bobblehead and why they became so popular, as well as one exploring how bobbleheads are made. There is also a Hall of Fame area reserved for their best pieces, and every year museum members will vote on which one will be inducted into the hall of fame.

9. Jewish Museum Milwaukee

The Jewish Museum of Milwaukee takes a deep dive into the history of Jewish communities in the state of Wisconsin. 

The Jewish Museum explores the Jewish-American identity and how European Jews arrived in Wisconsin and made communities there. Immigration, poverty, and persecution are just some of the topics explored at this museum.

There are also exhibitions about the Holocaust, a very historically important Jewish historical event, which examine letters from real people who lived during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

While the museum’s exhibits are fascinating, they can be on the somber side, so this museum is recommended for adults or older teens.

10. Milwaukee County Historical Society

A museum inside an old bank — how cool does that sound? The Milwaukee County Historical Society is a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Milwaukee County, and the greater area around the city.

This is a fascinating look at the life and times of people who lived in Milwaukee as far back as the 1800s. It collects manuscripts, private letters, photographs, furniture, clothing, and other personal artifacts and displays them in a series of exhibits.

Past exhibits have looked at the history of Prohibition and immigration into Milwaukee from overseas. Their current exhibit looks closely at Lake Michigan and how Milwaukee, then and now, has been shaped by its relationship to the largest of the Great Lakes.

The building, formerly a bank, was built in 1903 and is worth a visit in itself. You can even step into their giant, room-sized vaults and see how people used to keep their valuables safe!

11. Mitchell Gallery of Flight

The perfect museum for history buffs and anyone interested in aviation: the Mitchell Gallery of Flight. It’s located right inside the Milwaukee Airport, so it’s the perfect place to start your exploration of the city. This Milwaukee Museum is open to the public for free.

The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is a small museum packed full of memorabilia and artifacts. It covers the history of aviation in Wisconsin and beyond. There are beautifully-preserved pilot uniforms, model replicas of German WWII airships, and original aircraft from as early as 1911, restored and on display near the museum.

There are also exhibits on famous pilots and military aviation officers, from Charles Lindbergh to Richard Bong, who himself was from Wisconsin. This is one of the best little museums in Milwaukee for aviation enthusiasts visiting the city. 

12. The Warehouse

The Warehouse is a gallery of modern and contemporary art, located inside a former factory that now contains over 4,000 square feet of sculpture, fiber art, paintings, illustrations, and photography. Modern art can be an acquired taste and definitely involves analyzing symbolism, so this is best suited for inquisitive and curious adults.

There are frequent rotating exhibits at this Milwaukee Museum. Some of their past ones have included artists’ self-portraits, the natural environment of Wisconsin as seen by artists, and art focusing on perceptions of different countries like China, India, and Japan.

Their most recent exhibition, entitled The Secret Garden, combines color and fantasy with the deepest dreamings of artists’ imaginations. Walking through the bright and invigorating pieces feels like wandering through a secret, imaginary garden.

13. Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum

The Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum is a museum dedicated to making a hopeful future out of a traumatic past and focuses on the experiences of African-descended communities in Wisconsin. 

Their exhibits address issues like systemic racism and immigration to a new country from homelands in Africa. Their current exhibits explore the concept of America as the “promised land”, full of possibility, and laborers throughout history, all the way back to Ancient Egypt, including how work opportunities led to spikes in immigration throughout history.

Fascinating, humbling, and at times somber, this museum is ideal for adult history buffs or mature teens. There’s a lot to learn and unlearn to better understand the experiences of people of color, and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum is a wonderful place to start.

14. Milwaukee Fire Museum

Explore a restored historical fire station and learn about the history and traditions of the city’s Fire Department! The Milwaukee Fire Museum opened in 1995 inside a 100-year-old firehouse. If you have kids who love fire trucks or cars, this is a hidden gem you won’t want to miss.

Check out the classic firefighter’s bunk room and vintage-style rooms that look like they’ve jumped out of the pages of a history book. You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time, especially when you see the vintage fire trucks, built in the 1920s, and the city’s first ambulance (a 1947 Cadillac).

Admission is free, but donations are welcome. You can explore on your own with the help of a guide sheet, or choose a guided tour with museum staff. Either way, this is a fascinating look at what fire departments looked like almost 100 years ago.

15. Grohmann Museum

Located on the grounds of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the Grohmann Museum exhibits art that showcases the evolution of human work. 

The museum contains over 1500 unique works of art from Europe and America. Most pieces either depict their subjects literally at work or explore the shift in art mediums (bronze, papyrus, canvas) over time. A lot of the art depicts trade skills like blacksmiths, cobblers, taxidermists, and similar laborers. 

With three floors of exhibits to explore, it’s easy to lose yourself in the history of it all. When you’re done, visit the rooftop sculpture garden and then grab a hot coffee from the café.