Top 12 Museums in Milwaukee

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is well-known for its breweries, festivals, and sports teams. But what many visitors don’t realize is that this Midwestern city also has a thriving arts and culture scene, with world-class museums that cover interests ranging from art and history to music and motorcycles.

MuseumDescription
Milwaukee Art MuseumExplore diverse art collections and exhibitions.
Harley-Davidson MuseumLearn about the history and culture of Harley-Davidson.
Milwaukee Public MuseumDiscover natural and cultural history exhibits.
Discovery WorldInteractive science and technology exhibits for all ages.
Pabst MansionTour a historic mansion and learn about Milwaukee’s brewing history.
Milwaukee County Historical SocietyExplore exhibits highlighting Milwaukee’s history.
Betty Brinn Children’s MuseumHands-on activities and exhibits for children.
Jewish Museum MilwaukeeLearn about Jewish culture and history in Milwaukee.
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts MuseumExplore decorative arts and architecture in a historic mansion.
Grohmann MuseumCollection of art depicting the evolution of human work.
Haggerty Museum of ArtContemporary art exhibitions and collections.
Charles Allis Art MuseumEuropean and American art in a historic mansion.

Milwaukee’s lakefront setting, architectural legacy, and immigrant influences have all contributed to a diverse collection of over 20 museums for visitors to explore. From the largest museum in the state located on the shore of Lake Michigan to small specialized museums focused unique topics and hands-on experiences, there are engaging and educational experiences waiting around every corner.

Whether you want to admire European masterworks, learn more about indigenous cultures and pioneer life in Wisconsin, see exquisite dollhouses, or even view a showcase of exotic butterflies, Milwaukee has a museum to satisfy almost any curiosity. Read on for our picks of the top 12 museums to add to your Milwaukee sightseeing adventures.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Name and Location: Milwaukee Art Museum located on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 30,000 works spanning antiquity to present day. Renowned collections of American and European art, modern art, folk art, Haitian art. Featured artists including Warhol, O’Keeffe, Monet.

What to Expect: Admire stunning architecture and scenic views of Lake Michigan. Interactive exhibits invite visitors to explore a wide range of artistic styles and periods through paintings, sculptures, photography, textiles, and more.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am–5pm, closed major holidays. Admission $19 adults, discounted rates for seniors, students, youth.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is considered perhaps the crown jewel among the city’s museums, housing over 30,000 works spanning antiquity to the present. Located on Lake Michigan, the museum building itself, with its wing-like white arches designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, has become an iconic symbol of Milwaukee.

The collection includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró as well as artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. The museum also focuses on folk art from a variety of cultures and holds the world’s foremost collection of Haitian art. Special exhibitions also come through periodically focusing on various artists and themes.

Whether you explore on your own or join a guided tour, make sure to also spend time outdoors on the lakefront grounds and Quadracci Pavilion with stunning views of Milwaukee’s skyline to fully appreciate this world-class art destination. Admission is free to Wisconsin residents on select days.

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

Name and Location: Betty Brinn Children’s Museum downtown Milwaukee near lakefront.

Collections and Exhibits: Interactive hands-on permanent and visiting exhibits focused on science, world cultures, creativity, and early childhood development. Activity zone and exploration stations for young children.

What to Expect: Creative, educational play spaces for children 10 and under to role play, conduct science experiments, explore imaginative environments, and engage in hands-on learning. Family friendly atmosphere.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-4pm. Admission $9, free under age 1.

For families traveling with kids ages 10 and under, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is widely regarded as the best museum destination in Milwaukee for little ones. Spread across three floors with dozens of hands-on exhibits, children can touch, build, play pretend, conduct science experiments, and engage their natural curiosity in a vibrant, colorful and welcoming environment.

Popular spaces at Betty Brinn include the Big Backyard, where kids can drive toy tractors and bulldozers, Milk Mooooloooo, where they ‘work’ on a model farm, and Kitchen Chemistry where they’re challenged to follow playful recipes. The museum also hosts regular art activities, story times and performances for kids. Conveniently located downtown, Betty Brinn is a go-to place for families looking for indoor fun and entertainment.

Discovery World Science & Technology Museum

Name and Location: Discovery World on Milwaukee’s lakefront downtown.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 150 interactive exhibits exploring science, technology, innovation across focus areas like renewable energy, transportation, water technology, virtual reality, and the Great Lakes ecosystem.

What to Expect: Experience interactive learning through hands-on science labs, simulation rides, innovation workshops, model villages, virtual reality, and more. Marvel at oceans, trains, energy, flight. Fun, engaging STEM-based exploration for all ages.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-5pm, closed select holidays. Admission $24 adults, $19 youth 4-17. Discounts for seniors, military families, and members.

Right along the Milwaukee lakefront lies Discovery World, the city’s public science and technology museum geared to visitors of all ages. Discovery World has interactive exhibits covering topics like simple machines, green technology and structures. A highlight for many is the Reiman Aquarium which displays nearly 2,000 aquatic animals in replicas of their natural habitats, including tidal pools, coral reefs and a Pacific Northwest coast habitat.

Discovery World also has special environments like the Pilot House where kids can work the controls of a virtual ship heading into the storm of the century. And they regularly update exhibits and experiences like City of Freshwater with Great Lakes-themed simulations. Whether you want to conduct genetics experiments, touch an actual iceberg, or ride a gyroscope, Discovery World makes for a full day of exploration and surprises.

Grohmann Museum

Name and Location: Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering campus downtown.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 1000 works depicting visual evolution of human work across civilizations. One of world’s most comprehensive art collections around theme of labor, industry, construction and more spanning from antiquity to today.

What to Expect: Study and appreciate a wide range of paintings, prints, sculptures showing people working in agriculture, trade, sciences, manufacturing, exploration, and everyday jobs that have advanced human progress.

Visitor Information: Open Tues-Sun 10am-4pm. Admission $7 adults, $5 students/seniors, free under 6. Guided group tours available.

For art enthusiasts interested more in artistic process than famous names, a visit to the Grant and Carol Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering is a rare treat. This unsung Milwaukee museum displays the world’s most comprehensive art collection dedicated solely to the evolution of industrial work. The collection begun in the 1960s focuses on paid manual work across numerous trades from mining to construction, manufacturing and more.

Spanning three floors of galleries, visitors experience oil and acrylic paintings, fabric art, photographs and textiles, the majority created during the 20th century. Artists featured include Demetre Chiparus, Ralf Henricksen and Guttorm Guttormsgaard among over 1000 creators represented. The museum also has roof access and a sculpture garden with inspiring city views.

Through beautifully executed works in diverse media, the Grohmann Museum gives viewers insight into the critical roles workers have played across history in advancing human civilization.


Haggerty Museum of Art

Name and Location: Haggerty Museum of Art located on Marquette University campus near downtown Milwaukee.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 6,000 pieces focused primarily on contemporary art with growing collections by emerging and internationally renowned artists across paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, drawings and new media.

What to Expect: Changing exhibits feature modern artists exploring meaningful cultural and social issues. Visitors can appreciate diverse artistic representations and forms focused on the present moment and contemporary human experience.

Visitor Information: Free admission. Open Tues-Sat 10am-4:30pm. Tours available by appointment. Programs, classes and special events scheduled regularly.

Part of Marquette University’s campus near downtown, the Haggerty Museum of Art holds quality rotating exhibits focused primarily on modern and contemporary art with connections to education and social justice causes. Their permanent collection includes photographs, paintings, sculptures and new media from Latin America plus well-known artists including John Sloan, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.

As an academic museum, Haggerty places emphasis on utilizing exhibits as teaching tools with interdisciplinary themes related to other studies across humanities. Recent Haggerty exhibits over the past year covered Mexican masks and revelry, global pop art, climate change depicted through photography, and portraits from refugee youth. Many exhibits have accompanying lectures, films and student performances for enriching visitors’ experiences. Access is always free which removes barriers for groups and community members.


Harley Davidson Museum

Name and Location: Harley Davidson Museum located downtown Milwaukee.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 450 Harley Davidson motorcycles and cultural archives spanning first prototype built 1903 to modern bikes representing iconic brand’s styling and product evolution. Engaging exhibits use sights, sounds riding experiences.

What to Expect: Explore galleries focused on bike design chronology and national archives. Sit on bikes, view customized choppers. Experience simulator rides and steel sculpture wall showcasing family legacy interwoven across American landscape.

Visitor Information: Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm. Admission $22 adults, $14 youth 5-17 years, under 5 free. Guided tours available.

No trip to Milwaukee is complete without a pilgrimage to the Harley Davidson Museum, a must-see tribute to the iconic American motorcycle brand founded right in Milwaukee in 1903. Harley Davidson has built a gorgeous museum located just south of downtown on 20 acres along the Menomonee River dedicated to the history, culture, lifestyle and spirit behind the world’s most famous motorcycle company.

Inside the brick building, visitors are immersed in engaging exhibits following Harley’s evolution decade-by-decade with historic motorcycles, cultural artifacts, photos, films and more artifacts. You’ll see many classic models like Knuckleheads, Hydra Glides and Sportsters while learning little-known company history from early racing to proudly equipping US military divisions. One favorite zone, titled Build your Custom Bike provides expert guidance to construct your dream motorcycle digitally from millions of combinations.

Before you leave, enjoy views of Milwaukee from the museum’s rooftop deck and have a photo snapped in the Experience Gallery wearing customized leathers and posed by a motorcycle. With metal rock playing overhead, this is one museum bringing history alive for visitors of all ages.

Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Name and Location: Jewish Museum of Milwaukee located downtown.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 25,000 artifacts, fine arts, archives related to Jewish history and culture in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Midwest region spanning 19th century to today. Holidays exhibits, oral histories.

What to Expect: Explore the Jewish experience locally and in America through paintings, photos, ceremonial objects, textiles, documents and HolocaustRemembered exhibit conveying identity. Genealogy assistance available for ancestral research.

Visitor Information: Open Mon-Thurs 10am-4pm. Admission $6 adults, $4 seniors/students, free under 6 years. Membership options.

Jewish Museum Milwaukee located downtown in a former synagogue houses engaging exhibits about Jewish culture, faith and history focused primarily on the Midwest Jewish experience. Galleries use fine arts along with historic artifacts, photos and personal histories to illustrate topics like immigration, discrimination and social change movements while highlighting major contributions of Wisconsin Jewish leaders.

Popular spaces include their magnificent Moorish Revival sanctuary capturing the architectural beauty of historic synagogues no longer standing. And their current Speak Up exhibition utilizes 200 years of Jewish pages related to free speech controversies including Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman. The museum also has a resource center with local records for family history research. From religious traditions to funny cat videos examining Jewish stereotypes, a visit here provides Juan definitive destination for Jewish culture.

Mitchell Gallery of Flight

Name and Location: Mitchell Gallery of Flight located within Milwaukee County airport grounds.

Collections and Exhibits: Display aircraft and exhibits detailing pioneers who advanced aviation plus commercial transportation evolution in Milwaukee County and Wisconsin from early wood and cloth contraptions through modern jet travel.

What to Expect: View a replica Wright brothers workshop, 1940’s Link Trainer, artifacts chronicling Milwaukee aviation history from industry leaders like Mitchell, Allen, Miller, Rockwell and more who shaped both wartime and peacetime technological innovations.

Visitor Information: Open 9am-3pm Mon-Sat, 1pm-4pm Sun. Free admission. Located inside Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport main terminal.

For aviation buffs, head just south of downtown to the Mitchell Gallery of Flight situated conveniently at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Named to honor Milwaukee native and air pioneer General Billy Mitchell, this niche museum houses aviation artifacts in a series of airy galleries.

Outside be sure to view the “Flyer II”, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ original 1905 airplane, before heading inside for historic models, engines, artillery and exhibits on Wisconsin’s aviation manufacturers. Kids enjoy the hands-on preflight cockpit exhibit while aviation historians admire the 1936 Hamilton Metalplane, the last intact craft made fully of metal with no internal wood supports.

With plenty of artefactual planes and engines not typically found in large aeronautics museums, the Mitchell Gallery of Flight deserves a spot on any aviation enthusiasts’ must-see itinerary.

Milwaukee County Historical Society

Name and Location: Milwaukee County Historical Society in downtown Milwaukee

Collections and Exhibits: Archives over 4 million items documenting Milwaukee history and popular culture – photographs, artifacts, architectural records, manuscripts, film reels and oral histories dating early exploration through today.

What to Expect: Researchers can schedule appointments accessing library resources focused on southeast Wisconsin history through interlibrary loan services managed by professional archivists and librarians assisting genealogists while public enjoys rotating exhibits inside campus buildings.

Visitor Information: Research archives access by appointment only. Museum building exhibits open Thurs-Sat Free admission, donations encouraged.

For a comprehensive look at the people, places and events shaping Milwaukee history, reserve some time for the Milwaukee County Historical Society. This local history museum housed in a striking Victorian-style building uses artifacts, photos and dioramas to immerse visitors in significant Milwaukee stories from Native American settlements through today.

Popular exhibits cover pioneering heroes increase increase fire insurance maps documenting city neighborhood changes. Milwaukee sports fans appreciate the Brewers and Green Bay Packers tributes including Stadium light displays while history buffs pore over the antique toys, clothing and vinyl records harkening back generations.

Be sure to also spend time admiring Prairie School architecture details throughout this 1905 building constructed during Milwaukee’s heyday era. With both revolving exhibits and beloved permanent installations, the Milwaukee County Historical Society offers a treasure trove for history lovers to uncover Milwaukee’s past firsthand.

Milwaukee Public Museum

Name and Location: Milwaukee Public Museum located downtown.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 4 million artifacts and specimens interpreting global culture, anthropology and natural sciences including native civilizations, European village life, dinosaurs, wildlife dioramas, gemstones, live insects, high-touch science discovery.

What to Expect: Engaging, educational indoor walk through immersive environments bringing cultural stories, earth origins and biodiversity spanning continents to life alongside special traveling exhibits focused on enrichment. Fun for all ages.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm, closed major holidays. Admission $19 adults; discounted rates for students, seniors 60+, children 4-12.

Families with kids and tourists looking to quickly immerse themselves in Milwaukee’s natural landscapes and cultural heritage often begin their visit at the Milwaukee Public Museum located just west of downtown. For over a century, this expansive museum has captivated visitors with creative life-size dioramas and interactive areas spotlighting regional weather impacts, native wildlife, early settlements, Victorian life and much more.

Be sure to explore their European Village streetscape while kids love the hands-on science discovery area and planetarium shows. And you can come face to face with Siberia the famous 42 foot glacial wooly mammoth skeleton excavated nearby. From meteorites to mummies to the iconic Streets of Old Milwaukee walkthrough experience, the Milwaukee Public Museum provides interactive fun and exploration for all.

Pabst Mansion

Name and Location: Pabst Mansion in downtown Milwaukee, WI

Collections and Exhibits: Grand architectural estate of early 1900s beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst featuring original furnishings, tiled hearths, painted ceilings, intricate woodwork across 37 rooms based on Italian Renaissance palazzo style.

What to Expect: Guided tours allow visitors to explore mansion’s living spaces adorned with lavish decor while learning about the prominent family’s lifestyle and philanthropy impacting Milwaukee plus the immigrant entrepreneur’s influence on major industries.

Visitor Information: Open 10am-4pm Mon-Sat; Noon-4pm Sun. Tour fees $14 adults, $12 seniors/teens, $8 ages 6-12. Tour reservations recommended.

History and architecture buffs will love touring the meticulously restored former home of early Milwaukee brewing tycoon Captain Frederick Pabst. Built in 1892 during a dynamic growth spurt thanks to thriving breweries like Pabst, Schlitz and Miller, this Flemish Renaissance Revival Mansion was the height of luxury in its era.

Henri Sullivan, a famous architect pioneer promoting Midwestern style, designed the elegant building which stands today as a rare surviving Gilded Age estate. Inside, the mansion’s parlors, dining room, kitchens and sleeping quarters have been refinished and filled with authentic furnishings from old English antiques to intricate 19th century bath fixtures allowing you to imagine life as a wealthy brewer at the turn of the century.

Costumed guides provide insightful stories during tours about the Captain’s interests from early electric chandeliers to amusing tales of the Pabst family’s prize grand champion Holstein cattle. The Pabst Mansion transports you back in time to Milwaukee’s vibrant early history.

Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

Name and Location: Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum located along Milwaukee’s lakefront.

Collections and Exhibits: Palladian-style Italian Renaissance revival villa estate built 1923 featuring decorative antiques from 15th–18th century housed within formal rooms alongside changing fine arts displays spanning Asian, European and American glass, ceramics, textiles and furniture.

What to Expect: Take guided tour or self-explore 22 elegant rooms of both permanent Renaissance collections and temporary artists often showing modern adaptations within grand architectural mansion and terraced gardens open-aired overlooking Lake Michigan.

Visitor Information: Open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm. Admission $9 adults, $7 seniors/students, $6 youth 6-17, Free on Sundays.

Another magnificent Milwaukee mansion museum lies just north of downtown in Milwaukee’s Lake Park. Here the Italian Renaissance Revival Villa Terrace home built in 1923 for local family the Uihleins overlooks Lake Michigan and the surrounding park grounds serving today as the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.

This smaller niche museum centers around fine and decorative antique arts spanning 1550 to 1920. Displayed across 15 elegantly furnished rooms, the collections include ornate glass, ceramics, silver pieces and furniture from Europe and Asia. Be sure to admire the home’s Terra Cotta frieze and brick courtyard along with strolling the adjacent terraced gardens after your mansion visit. For arts lovers interested more in craftsmanship and technique than artist names, an afternoon at Villa Terrace offers satisfying rewards.

Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum

Name and Location: Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum located in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville District.

Collections and Exhibits: Over 12,000 original artifacts documenting the state’s early 20th century African American communities including photographs, manuscripts, costume collections, documents and various historical relics pertinent toward understanding experiences.

What to Expect: Rotating micro exhibits interpret contributions and cultural heritage through profiles on individuals, organizations and institutions prominent advancing societal progress across Milwaukee within education, sports, music, military, sciences and more fields.

Visitor Information: Open Tues-Fri from 10am-4pm. Guided tours available. Admission $7 adults, $5 ages 4-12 and seniors 65+. Memberships offered.

To learn more about Wisconsin’s early black settlers and civil rights movement, don’t miss visiting the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum just northwest of downtown. This modest museum packs in powerful exhibits across three galleries covering early black pioneers, entrepreneurs and community leaders as well as resident life and acclaimed neighborhood institutions like Columbia hospital.

Don’t miss their Joshua Glover exhibit telling the little known story of the escaped slave who found his way to Racine, Wisconsin stirring up abolitionist outrage leading to the 1854 Wisconsin Supreme Court case ruling the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. Touching and triumphant exhibits like this one demonstrate how racism impacted black families striving to find freedom and work while celebrating the critical organizing and community support leading to impactful milestones in Wisconsin’s ongoing quest for equality.

Conclusion

Milwaukee dazzles visitors with an array of museums suited to appeal to all sorts of interests from art to history to unusual collections and hands-on fun. Alongside Required stops like the lakefront Milwaukee Art Museum and Harley Davidson headquarters, make time if you can to also explore some lesser visited museums like the Grohmann Museum of labor art history or Wisconsin Black Historical Society to round out your Milwaukee trip with one-of-a-kind experiences.

From world-famous beer barons to pioneering aviation engineers, creative dairy artisans and activists pushing for equal rights, Milwaukee’s diverse culture shines through across its vibrant museum scene. So take time to uncover some unexpected stories and treasures waiting among Milwaukee’s unique museums to fully appreciate this multi-faceted Midwestern hub.

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