Wisconsin Holiday Planning Guide
Wisconsin is known as "America's Dairyland" because of its status as the nation's most famous producer of milk and cheese. A growing favorite with foreign tourists, the state is a perfect holiday destination for nature lovers, offering year-round outdoor activities like fishing, boating, kayaking, and hiking. Dotted with thousands of inland lakes and waterways alongside apple and cherry orchards, Wisconsin also offers numerous urban tourist attractions, its cities hosting renowned beer and art festivals each year.
Places to Visit in WisconsinWisconsin Dells
: Named after a nearby gorge known for its steep sandstone formations, this holiday destination remains a major place to visit in Wisconsin, offering visitors more than 20 water parks, golf courses, go-kart tracks, and a casino.Milwaukee
: A well-preserved historical district, a rich European past, and a renowned beer-brewing tradition make Milwaukee one of America's most rewarding vacation spots. The city also features numerous green areas, diverse museums, and a vast array of outstanding dining options.Madison
: Wisconsin's capital city and home to a huge student population, Madison boasts over 250 parks and four lakes, along with a huge selection of cafes, bookstores, pubs, and restaurants.Door County
: A top Wisconsin vacation destination, this picturesque region encompasses nearly 500 km (300 mi) of Lake Michigan's coastline, along with five state parks and 11 lighthouses.Green Bay
: Home of the Green Bay Packers--and numerous Packers-related attractions--this city lives and breathes sports, though many tourists also come for its parks and casinos.Baraboo
: Just a short drive north of the state capital, this small town once served as the winter residence of the world-famous Ringling Brothers Circus. This is memorialized by the city's museum and live entertainment complex, which houses a big collection of old circus wagons and offers daily shows for kids and their parents.Appleton
: The childhood home of famed magician Harry Houdini, this quiet town serves as an ideal destination for a relaxing holiday in Wisconsin, offering plenty of comfortable accommodations and easy access to good dining options.Apostle Islands
: Floating serenely in Lake Superior, these 21 islands are among the state's major highlights, offering seasonal boat tours and lots of opportunities to hike and kayak.Bayfield
: An ideal base for exploring the Apostle Islands, this little town sits at Wisconsin's northern tip and features a network of hilly streets flanked by pretty Victorian buildings.
Things to Do in Wisconsin
Popular Wisconsin Tourist AttractionsMt. Olympus Water & Theme Park
: Established in the 1970s as a family-run operation, this Wisconsin attraction is now an expansive entertainment complex, offering visitors numerous roller coasters and water slides, as well as outstanding on-site accommodations.Noah's Ark Water Park
: Appealing to both grown-up adrenaline junkies and families with little kids, this water park features over 50 water slides and other attractions like lazy rivers, wave pools, and arcade games.Milwaukee Art Museum
: An architectural symbol of Milwaukee, this museum features 40 galleries filled with eclectic collections that include works by Pablo Picasso, German Renaissance clocks, Baroque furniture, and American decorative arts.Harley-Davidson Museum
: Founded to preserve and showcase the history of an iconic motorcycle brand, this museum ranks among the most popular places to visit in Wisconsin, notably housing the first Harley ever produced and the bike that Arnold Schwarzenegger rode in the movie "Terminator."House on the Rock
: Built on top of a rock column and famously featuring one room with over 3,000 windows, this unusual house contains a weird collection of folk art, dolls, and music machines.Milwaukee County Zoo
: This zoo shelters over 2,000 animals from around the world and offers visitors a chance to interact with various species through daily feedings, bath times, and safari tours.Wizard Quest
: This interactive computer adventure designed for players of all ages asks participants to search for clues and solve puzzles in order to free a group of mysterious and powerful wizards.Lakefront Brewery
: Visit this brewery--the first in the United States to produce certified organic beer--to take an informative tour of the facilities, taste brews that range from lagers to stouts, and purchase some limited-edition releases to take back home.Henry Vilas Zoo
: Small and friendly, this Wisconsin tourist attraction shelters species from around the globe and features a zoo train, kids' play areas, a discovery center, and a year-round exhibit of goats and alpacas.Peninsula State Park
: Favored by adventure seekers and nature lovers of all ages, this state park encompasses over 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of hiking and biking trails, golf courses, sandy beaches, tall bluffs, and tent and vehicle camping areas.
Planning a Wisconsin Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Wisconsin with Kids
Wisconsin's relaxed Midwestern vibe makes it an ideal destination for leisurely vacations with kids, though the state remains largely off the radar when it comes to international visitors. The lack of tourist crowds makes this part of the United States particularly pleasant to visit, while the region's abundance of natural attractions makes it an exciting destination for year-round trips. Start your Wisconsin tour in Milwaukee
, the state's largest and most vibrant urban center. Filled with museums and restaurants catering to parents and kids, the city also offers a range of summertime festivals taking place on its scenic lakefront. A major university town, Madison
remains one of the U.S.'s friendliest cities, known for its parks and outstanding foodie scene. Nicknamed the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," Door County
offers adventurers of all ages a picturesque location for long weekend drives, family cycling trips, and boat tours. The 21 forested Apostle Islands
in the northern section of the state are a major destination for family-friendly activities, like sailing, hiking, and kayaking.
Things to Do in Wisconsin with Kids
Despite its abundance of indoor and outdoor attractions and activities, few foreign travelers think of Wisconsin as a major family-friendly vacation destination. Take advantage of the state's relaxed atmosphere and lack of tourist throngs to enjoy natural attractions like Big Bay State Park
and Peninsula State Park
, great places for an outdoorsy Wisconsin vacation. Let the kids travel around the world without ever leaving the state's boundaries at Timbavati Wildlife Park
, home to giraffes, zebras, leopards, and kangaroos. The original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, Circus World
offers daily shows with live animals, acrobats, contortionists, clowns, and magicians. For a change of pace and a bit of military history sure to interest young aviation enthusiasts and model airplane builders, head to EAA Aviation Museum
, displaying over 200 historical and experimental aircraft and 20,000 artifacts. This museum is also home to one of the world's largest air shows, taking place each year in July.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Wisconsin
Optimize your Wisconsin sightseeing experience by renting a car for the duration of your visit. A private vehicle allows you to travel at your own speed, stop where and when you want, and create a daily schedule suitable to your budget, interests, and time constraints. Keep the children amused by combining visits to indoor attractions with outdoor activities. Wisconsin is filled with state parks offering plenty of kid-friendly activities, from hiking and cycling to bird-watching and fishing. Also consider camping, a great way to let the kids experience the outdoors and learn a few survival skills. If urban experiences are more your thing, settle in a big city, where you can take advantage of good hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Wisconsin
Cuisine of Wisconsin
Largely thanks to the influx of German immigrants in the 19th century, Wisconsin's eating habits developed under the influence of European cooking traditions. Bratwurst remains a key part of local cuisine--Wisconsin natives like to boil it in beer prior to throwing it on the barbecue. Include the city of Sheboygan
on your tour of Wisconsin if you wish to discover a major center of German immigration, and an alleged birthplace of the bratwurst. Wisconsin is also the home of the modern hamburger. Locals claim they invented the burger when they realized the original meatball-like specialty fit the bun better if they flattened it out. Another local delicacy is frozen custard, a smooth and creamy dessert similar to ice cream. Other regional specialties include fried cheese curds, Polish bouja soup, fried perch, and boiled fish and potatoes. If you wish to find out which beers go well with any of these local delicacies, visit places like Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
and New Glarus Brewing Company
Shopping in Wisconsin
As the state's biggest and liveliest city, Milwaukee
contains a varied selection of retail outlets that make it the premier shopping destination in the state. Wisconsin tourism thrives largely thanks to the popularity of Wisconsin Dells
, a major tourist destination filled with family-oriented attractions and shopping opportunities suitable for every traveler's budget and interests. Spend part of your Door County
vacation exploring the region's noted wineries, where you can taste and purchase fine wines produced using only locally grown fruit. Good options include Door Peninsula Winery
and Harbor Ridge Winery
. If you wish to purchase beer and beer-related souvenirs for friends and family back home, visit Lakefront Brewery
and Wisconsin Brewing Company
. To embrace Wisconsin's cheese culture and celebrate the state's massive production of outstanding dairy products, sample and purchase a few edible souvenirs at Wisconsin Cheese Masters
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Wisconsin
History of Wisconsin
The area now known as Wisconsin provided a home for Native Americans thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. The region's earliest inhabitants lived there as long ago as 10,000 BCE, surviving by hunting long-extinct ice-age animals and gathering various wild plants. Civilizations dependent on agriculture emerged approximately 2,000 years ago. Learn about the area's early residents by adding places like Aztalan State Park
to your Wisconsin itinerary.
The French explorer Jean Nicolet was probably the first European to reach Wisconsin. Nicolet arrived in 1634, canoeing west across the Great Lakes and landing near modern-day Green Bay. Other French explorers soon followed in Nicolet's footsteps, developing strong links with the indigenous population through the increasingly profitable fur trade. Despite this, the French never established any permanent settlements and lost control of the area to Great Britain by the 1760s. Expand your understanding of Wisconsin's history by exploring the permanent exhibits displayed at Milwaukee Public Museum
Though it became a U.S. territorial possession after the American Revolution, Wisconsin remained under British control until the end of the War of 1812. American control of Wisconsin brought a major economic shift, with lead mining quickly replacing the fur trade. The lead-mining boom attracted immigrants from across the U.S. and other parts of the world, which caused increasing tensions with the native population. Discover the state's rich German and Scandinavian heritage at Wisconsin Historical Museum
Wisconsin became the 30th U.S. state in 1848. A major center of northern abolitionism before and during the Civil War, Wisconsin contributed over 90,000 troops to the Union cause. Stop by Kenosha's Civil War Museum
during your Wisconsin vacation to learn more about this dramatic period in U.S. history.
By the end of the 19th century, dairy production became a major source of income for Wisconsin's farmers. Brought by immigrants, European cheese-making traditions helped establish the state's reputation as "America's Dairyland." At the same time, Wisconsin also established itself as a major manufacturing power, its big industries including beer brewing and food processing.
In the 20th century the state became a popular destination for recreational tourism. Discover why so many Americans spend their holidays in Wisconsin by visiting places like Wisconsin Dells Water Parks at Chula Vista Resort
and Devil's Lake State Park
Landscape of Wisconsin
Wisconsin is located between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that water is a major geographical feature in this region. Lake Superior affects the state's climate, economy, and culture. Over a thousand other glacial lakes offer visitors endless chances to swim, fish, sail, or relax in the great outdoors. The middle of the state encompasses a vast area of rich farmland known as the Central Plain. Elsewhere, coniferous and hardwood forests cover huge tracts of land. Protected areas like Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
contain old-growth forests, noted for their biological diversity. Enrich your Wisconsin trip with an exploration of other protected areas, like Ice Age National Scenic Trail
and St Croix National Scenic Riverway
Holidays & Festivals in WisconsinSheboygan
hosts several summer festivals, but its biggest event is Brat Days, taking place each year in August. Celebrated in honor of the bratwurst, a major Wisconsin delicacy, this festival offers free live entertainment and a chance to sample brat pizza, brat tacos, brat jambalaya, and brat corndogs. Another hugely popular summertime event is the EAA AirVenture Air Show, hosted by the city of Oshkosh
and its biggest tourist attraction, EAA Aviation Museum
. One of the largest events of its kind in the world, this annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts draws thousands of visitors from around the world. Wisconsin's festival city, Milwaukee
holds Summerfest, the world's largest music festival. The city also offers a range of smaller events, held in honor of Wisconsin's many ethnic groups. If you miss these fun summertime events, consider another popular thing to do in Wisconsin--donning a cheese-wedge hat and attending a Packers game in Green Bay
Wisconsin Travel Tips
Climate of Wisconsin
Though a significant difference in climate exists between the warmer southern and colder northern sections of the state, the majority of Wisconsin experiences a humid continental climate, characterized by hot summers and severe winters. Wisconsin Dells boasts the highest temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin--in July of 1936, local thermometers indicated temperatures as high as 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit). Wisconsin regularly receives a large amount of precipitation, with the region along Lake Superior often getting the heaviest snowfall in the entire state. Consider timing your Wisconsin vacation for late summer or early fall, when you can enjoy mild weather characterized by dry and sunny days, ideal for camping, fishing, hiking, cycling, and driving.
Transportation in Wisconsin
Served by eight commercial airports, Wisconsin is one of the easiest regions to reach in the United States, both from within the country and from overseas destinations. Seven interstate highways intersect the state, allowing tourists to quickly and easily travel between big cities and visit the more remote rural areas. Daily passenger trains link Milwaukee and Chicago--Chicago can make a great day trip for Wisconsin visitors interested in exploring beyond the state's boundaries. You can also visit both Chicago and Minneapolis by bus. Consider enhancing your Wisconsin holiday with a trip aboard Lake Express
, sailing from downtown Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan. The only high-speed service of its kind in the continental United States, this ferry connects Wisconsin's biggest city with the popular beaches of Michigan's Gold Coast.