Bordered by Lakes Michigan and Superior, Wisconsin offers diverse landscapes, which are a delight to explore. To the north and west are large expanses of hills that are perfect for hiking and mountain biking, and areas of lowlands to the south and east have proven excellent for dairy farming. While many of Wisconsin’s top cultural attractions are in its two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee, smaller communities such as Spring Green, home to architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Taliesin, are worth exploring. The state also offers many exceptional cultural activities and events, too, from the huge Oshkosh Airshow to Milwaukee’s popular Summer fest. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose from great fishing and boating, as well as some of the best hiking and biking trails to be found anywhere in the country. Learn about these and other interesting things to do with our list of the top attractions in Wisconsin.
1. Editor’s Pick Oshkosh
The small town of Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago, northwest of Milwaukee, is famous for two things: the popular line of kids’ clothing and its place on the world’s airshow circuit. The world’s largest meeting of aviators, EAA Air Venture Oshkosh has been held here every summer since 1970. During the week long event, the Oshkosh control tower becomes the busiest on the planet as up to 15,000 aircraft of all shapes and sizes descend upon the airport, along with an estimated half a million visitors, all here to catch thrilling aerobatic displays, as well as flybys from vintage and contemporary military aircraft. Also fun to experience are the nighttime flying displays; evening movie shows and theatrical performances; educational workshops; and, for those with the budget, a variety of aircraft rides, including a huge B-17 bomber. Also of note is the superb EAA Air Venture Museum with its collection of 200-plus aircraft.
2. Taliesin East: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Perfect Country Home
One of the most influential individuals to have called Wisconsin home was Frank Lloyd Wright. Numerous examples of the great architect’s designs can still be seen across the state in which he was born and where he lived for much of his life, including the spectacular Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Madison’s lake shore (it was actually built long after his death but was based on his original plans), and Milwaukee’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. But it’s to Taliesin East in Spring Green that most people flock. Set amid 600 acres of beautiful rolling countryside, this spectacular home was started in 1911 and was a work in progress right up to Wright’s death in 1959. Wright spent his summers here and then packed up and headed to Taliesin West, one of the top attractions in Scottsdale, Arizona in winter. Students at The School of Architecture at Taliesin still do this each year. Guided tours are available taking in the home, theater, studio, gallery, and school. Other highlights include an informative visitor center with a restaurant.
3. Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison
Wisconsin State Capitol
Madison has numerous great reasons to visit, with many of its top points of interest to be found in the downtown core. One of the most attractive is the Wisconsin State Capitol, completed in 1917 and decorated with a 284-foot-high dome that’s just three feet shy of Washington’s Capitol building. Free hour-long tours are available daily and take in many of the building’s best interior features, including its large murals, exquisite marble work, and elegant rotunda with its states and monuments. There’s also an interesting museum about the building’s history located on the sixth floor, which is well worth a look. One of the best views of the capitol is from the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center — it’s simply stunning.
4. The Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee
Nothing says “freedom” quite like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a fact that is not lost on visitors to Milwaukee, the birthplace of the famous “Hog.” The best place to find out more about this iconic machine is the city’s Harley-Davidson Museum, home to more than 450 classic motorcycles. This fun family attraction also has excellent displays of the brand’s famous teardrop tanks, as well as exhibits telling the story of the people and places behind the machines. There’s also a fun Harley-themed restaurant. If you can, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the museum’s busy “bike nights,” when fans and owners arrive in their drives to show off and admire these classic machines.
5. Circus World Museum
Located in the small town of Barabbas, Circus World Museum is an excellent attraction for kids of all ages to learn about the day-to-day activities of a working circus. With its focus on the country’s rich circus history — it was once upon a time one of the nation’s leading entertainment industries — the museum features numerous fascinating displays, including displays and exhibits, and is reputedly home to the world’s largest collection of circus-related artifacts, from posters to parade wagons. In summer, there’s a Big Top with regular shows including traditional circus acts (check their website for scheduled performances). Barabbas is well qualified to host this museum given its former role as the headquarters of the huge Ringling Brothers Circus.
6. The Dells of the Wisconsin River
Sometimes called the Wisconsin Dells — though this is often confused with the touristy town of the same name — the Dells of the Wisconsin River is a spectacular five-mile gorge on the state’s largest river. This area of outstanding natural beauty, much of it located in the state park of the same name, boasts many unique sandstone rock formations, canyons, and cliffs, some as high as 100 feet. The Dells area is also home to an abundance of unique flora and fauna, such as cliff cud weed, found in only one other location on the planet, and six species of dragonfly. Given its fragile ecological state, it’s not the easiest place to access, and those wanting to experience its beauty must do so by boat. A variety of regular boat tours and excursions are available, taking in both the upper and lower areas of this spectacularly beautiful region.
7. The Great Outdoors: Door County
Lighthouse at Sturgeon Bay
One of the prettiest corners of Wisconsin is Door County. Located some 46 miles northeast of Green Bay, this area of outstanding natural beauty lies on a peninsula overlooking Lake Michigan and has become a popular vacation spot for its many charming hotels, as well as its plentiful campsites. This pleasant rural countryside draws numerous visitors each year for its many outdoor activities, including fun things to do such as trout fishing, sailing, diving, and swimming, as well as hiking and biking. Small towns of note include picturesque Sturgeon Bay, with its lovely old lighthouse (one of numerous such buildings sprinkled across the state), and Ephraim, with is old harbor and historic buildings. Washington Island is also worth visiting and has the country’s oldest Icelandic settlement.
8. The Green Bay Packers: Lam beau Field and the Walk of Legends
The story of the Green Bay Packers is a remarkable tale of a small town’s ability to host a major league professional sports team. Take the team’s stadium: nearly large enough to house the city’s entire population of 72,000, Lam beau Field was opened in 1957 and is the longest continuously occupied stadium in the league. Formed in 1919, the team is the third oldest in the NFL, and the league’s only non-profit team (it’s owned by the city of Green Bay). Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you’ll enjoy a tour of the stadium with its behind-the-scenes look at how a major league team operates. Two superb self-guided tours of Packers-related landmarks are also worth checking out: the Walk of Legends is an art walkway of 24 statues celebrating the history of football in Green Bay between 1895 and the present (and fun to explore at night), and the Packers Heritage Trail is a walking tour taking in city landmarks associated with the team.
9. Exploring the Land O’ Lakes
The lovely Land o’ Lakes region is tucked away between Boulder Junction, Eagle River, and Rhine lander in the northern part of Wisconsin. Hugely popular with water sports enthusiasts, it boasts more than 200 unspoiled lakes of various sizes. Campers and backpackers are particularly fond of the region, which is wonderful to explore by canoe or kayak. Highlights are its abundant flora and fauna, with good fishing and bird-watching, including an opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the few remaining white-tailed eagles in the area. The town of Eagle River is a good place to begin exploring the region and offers a variety of things to do, from fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and swimming in summer, to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
10. All Steamed Up at the National Railroad Museum
There’s no better family outing than the excellent National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. Home to more than 20 steam and diesel engines, plus numerous items of rolling stock, the museum houses a variety of railroad artifacts and memorabilia. A highlight is the Eisenhower collection, which includes the Dwight D. Eisenhower, a streamlined vintage British engine used to pull the leader’s military train across Europe during WWII. Fun events include excursions aboard a train decked out like the famous Thomas the Tank Engine, and haunted train rides at Halloween. An 80-foot-tall observation tower offers great views of the museum’s collection and the surrounding area.
11. Take a Hike: Wisconsin’s Wonderful Trails
One of the best ways to explore wonderful Wisconsin is to hike or bike across the state’s extensive trail networks, an activity that’s becoming increasingly popular with backpackers looking for an exciting outdoor adventure. Many of the trails that cross the state provide a look at how landscapes have been shaped by glaciation, including the Ice Age Trail, an epic 1,000-mile-long National Scenic Trail stretching from Pottawatomie State Park to St. Delacroix Dalles. Then there’s the North Country National Scenic Trail encompassing states from North Dakota to New York, 117 miles of it passing right through the heart of Wisconsin. A gentler and extremely pleasant hike is the Geneva Lake Shore Path, a 21-mile walking trail that crosses many of the state’s classiest country estates (allow at least a full day if you’re planning to walk the entire route).
12. The House on the Rock
The curious House on the Rock is one of Wisconsin’s most unusual tourist attractions. High atop Deer Shelter Rock in Spring Green, it’s a fascinating mix of oddities and antiques housed in a sprawling complex of structures built to mimic the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose famous Taliesin East home is nearby. A highlight of a visit is the 218-foot-long Infinity Room, which seems to disappear into the distance when you stand in it. This fun attraction is also part of a larger complex that includes a resort and an inn.