Evening skies and river light reflections create photo-worthy views — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Milwaukee’s wealth of diverse attractions and distinct neighborhoods may surprise some visitors. The city’s history is rooted in blue collar manufacturing, not to mention beer and sausage, which is how many people still think of it. There’s pride in those roots, but Milwaukee also has stunning contemporary architecture (the evocative Milwaukee Art Museum, for one), a vibrant gallery and street arts scene and excellent restaurants (book a table at Odd Duck). That's all in addition to a rich culture that reflects a broad spectrum, from early German, Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants to newer international transplants and young professionals arriving today in search of a livable city with assets and opportunities.
One asset: walkability. Explore the city on foot for an intimate view and discovery of sights you might otherwise miss. (Save the car rental splurge for a drive 55 miles north to the exquisite design center of Kohler, Wisconsin’s renowned kitchen & bath company.)
Milwaukee hotels are as diverse as the city. Here are three favorites, each excellent in its own way, and each within walking distance of notable Milwaukee attractions.
County Clare Irish Inn & Pub
County Clare Irish Inn's comfy Queen Standard room — Photo courtesy of County Clare Irish Inn & Pub
Welcoming, unpretentious County Clare is located on a leafy street on the Lake Michigan side of the East Town neighborhood. It brings a definitively Irish vibe to Milwaukee with its 29 charmingly old-fashioned guest rooms and lively pub where everyone seems to know everyone's names. One visit to the pub and they knew mine, too.
Much of the artwork comes from Ireland, and Irish sayings crowd the pub walls – fitting for a place where Guinness and Irish whiskey flow and the kitchen turns out shepherd’s pie (this being 2022, yes, there’s a vegetarian version). Although the feel is Old World, rooms have modern amenities including double whirlpool tubs.
The inn won’t break the budget and you won’t be dinged with countless add-on fees, either; Wi-Fi, parking and continental breakfast are free. If a stay here makes you long for the old country, sign up for the company’s tours to the original County Clare on Ireland’s west coast. Or just hang out here soaking in all the authentic Irishness that the inn and pub exude.
Evocative Milwaukee Art Museum adds architectural cool to the city skyline — Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee
Nearby sights that you can walk to:
- David Barnett Gallery - Collection spotlights local and emerging artists, among others. Walk time: 4 minutes.
- Jewish Museum Milwaukee - Jewish culture through the lens of Greater Milwaukee. Walk time: 6 minutes.
- Brady Street - Eclectic district of ethnic eateries and lively bars. Walk time: 10 minutes.
- Milwaukee Art Museum - A glorious architectural ode to art soaring above Lake Michigan, and it houses stellar collections. Walk time: 14 minutes.
- Water Street - Prime stretch of nightlife, bars and entertainment. Walk time: 14 minutes.
- “Dos Pueden Ganar” mural - Local artist-muralist Mauricio Ramirez brings compelling art to Milwaukee’s streets. Walk time: 14 minutes.
The Iron Horse Hotel
Iron Horse Hotel's industrial-chic lobby is an homage to local history — Photo courtesy of Mike Miller, courtesy The Iron Horse Hotel
Industrial-chic to the core, the Iron Horse is housed in a refurbished mattress factory in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee’s historic neighborhood of factories and manufacturing. Today, Walker Point’s past is still evident in preserved factory buildings and Queen Anne residences, but the neighborhood is known now for its galleries, restaurants and bars – and as the heart of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community.
Melding refinement with a rough-around-the-edges ethos, The Iron Horse is succinctly described on its website: “Independent and unapologetic.” Cream City brick (yellow brick used in early Milwaukee buildings), exposed beams and pipes, wood and leather define the hotel's look. Added elements in my spacious room included massive wood doors and weighty iron hinges reimagined as art.
The hotel has 100 guest rooms and its proximity to the Harley-Davidson Museum makes it a favorite with Harley riders. Best spot for a beverage: the vintage-rustic bar or the patio with cozy seating among the greenery.
Nearby sights that you can walk to:
- MobCraft Beer Brewery & Taproom - Crowdsourced beer here. For real. Fans submit ideas and vote on future brews. Walk time: 3 minutes.
- Movida at Hotel Madrid - Enjoy Spanish cuisine and make your own sangria in a "Sangria Lab." Walk time: 4 minutes.
- Great Lakes Distillery & Tasting Room - Tours include a sampling of spirits. Walk time: 4 minutes.
- Harley-Davidson Museum - No need to love motorcycles to be fascinated here. Walk time: 9 minutes.
- Milwaukee Kayak Company - Learn city history while paddling the Milwaukee River. Walk time: 11 minutes.
- Historic Third Ward - Hip area chock-full of go-to sites, including Milwaukee Public Market, Marshall Building art galleries and eclectic shopping (check out Retique, Goodwill’s “upscale boutique” crammed with fun finds like designer items at bargain prices). Walk time: 17 minutes.
- The Iron Horse Hotel
Saint Kate - The Arts Hotel
One of five one-of-a-kind Canvas guest rooms at Saint Kate — Photo courtesy of Saint Kate-The Arts Hotel
Saint Kate is nothing if not cool. On the west side of East Town and near the river, it draws a sophisticated crowd, especially to the trendy lobby bar where cocktails are sipped to the sounds of live jazz. Art is everywhere, including in a well-curated lobby-level gallery. It informs the hotel’s aesthetic but isn’t highbrow, with pieces ranging from serious to humorously quirky. You don’t need an art degree to enjoy it, but do take the Champagne Art tour for interesting insights.
The 219 guest rooms are art-centric, too. Bathrooms are elevated by elegant Kohler design elements and playful room amenities add pizazz, like the turntable, old-school vinyl records and a bright red ukulele that I didn’t play but loved looking at.
Some art is functional. A lamp in my room was visually intriguing but how to turn it on remained a puzzlement (perhaps the guest was the dim one). Saint Kate is a dazzling collision of immersive art experience and upscale hotel – a treat for art lovers, sure, but for everyone else, too.
Local artist Mauricio Ramirez has seven vibrant murals in Milwaukee and more around the country. (Learn more at mauriciopaints.com) — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Nearby sights that you can walk to:
- Pabst Theater - Opened in 1895, it’s still the place to catch a performance. Walk time: 2 minutes.
- SafeHouse - This spy-themed cocktail joint requires a password. Don’t ask locals to tell you; they won’t. Walk time: 3 minutes.
- Milwaukee RiverWalk - Stroll along the river; find the Bronze Fonz statue. Walk time: 4 minutes.
- Old World Third Street - Hip hub of Milwaukee nightlife with concert venues, sports arenas and trending bars. Walk time: 5 minutes.
- Deer District - A happening sports and entertainment area that includes Fiserv Forum, home to the Milwaukee Bucks. Walk time: 10 minutes.
- "Heart & Sol" mural - Another Mauricio Ramirez work making Milwaukee more colorful. Walk time: 14 minutes.
- Saint Kate - The Arts Hotel