Best things to do in Milwaukee to celebrate Christmas

Christmas is a magical time, and Milwaukeeans are lucky enough to have many cold weather activities to celebrate the season, along with some cozy options for those avoiding the chill in the air. Looking for the best things to do in Milwaukee for Christmas? Look no further than our list of favorite ways to celebrate Christmas in our favorite city.

BMO Harris Bank Window Display

Be sure to check out the annual holiday display, featuring 150 Steiff stuffed animals in the BMO Harris window displays in downtown Milwaukee. This free exhibit in 2018 celebrates is 46th annual event with a “Seussified” display that brings 16 Dr. Seuss books to life.

 A guest on a private Christmas Lights & Desserts tour enjoying time to explore the annual BMO Harris Holiday Display

A guest on a private Christmas Lights & Desserts tour enjoying time to explore the annual BMO Harris Holiday Display

Christmas at the Mansions

Decorated ornately always, the Pabst Mansion takes Christmas to another level when each room is adorned for the season and features a collection of more than 20 Christmas trees. Nearby, stop in the Schuster Mansion to schedule High Tea and learn about Victorian Christmas traditions. Or travel north approximately one hour to Oshkosh to see the beautifully decorated Nutcracker in the Castle display at Paine Art Center and Gardens.

Cookies, anyone?

Head to the Milwaukee Public Market in the Historic Third Ward to vote for your Gingerbread House display made by local culinary students. If you can’t resist stealing a nibble, instead pick up a copy of the WE Energies cookie book. A tradition 80 years in the making, you can pick a new favorite treat to bake this season.

Milwaukee Food & City Tours loves showing off Milwaukee year round, but at Christmas we really twinkle. Skip the kitchen mess and instead join us as we travel around the world and back on our Christmas Around Milwaukee Bakery Bus Tour! It’s an excellent opportunity to celebrate the season with friends while sampling (and if desired, purchasing additional) delicious cookies from a collection of our favorite bakeries in Milwaukee!  Or, head south of Milwaukee to Racine to delve into more bakery goodness on the Racine Kriss Kringle Bakery Bus Tour this Christmas season! 

 Attendees on the Christmas Around Milwaukee Bakery Bus visit 5 - 7 bakeries during a 3 hour tour of Milwaukee’s ethnic bakeries.

Attendees on the Christmas Around Milwaukee Bakery Bus visit 5 - 7 bakeries during a 3 hour tour of Milwaukee’s ethnic bakeries.

Take in a Christmas concert or show

Head to the spectacular Basilica of St. Josaphat to listen to a performance of Handel's Messiah by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Take in the Holiday Pops concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. See a Christmas themed theatre shows such as The Nutcracker by the Milwaukee Ballet, A Christmas Carol by The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, or see Black Nativity in Vogel Hall.

Play Reindeer Games

Have you ever been nose-to-nose with a reindeer? Here’s your chance at the Reindeer Adventures class sponsored by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Explore the tundra as your child or grandchild learns about antlers that shed and hooves that click. During class you’ll join the herd and migrate to the Zoo’s reindeer barn to meet these animals up close. And get ready to run into a jolly ‘ole man while on your walk. He and his wife might just have a Naughty & Nice list on hand to show your littles that is guaranteed to delight!

While at the Zoo, be sure to check out the Fantastic Forest where animal-themed ornaments decorate more than five dozen evergreen trees.

 Reindeer Adventure participant at the Milwaukee County Zoo getting his oh so bright nose on ready for the walk to the caribou enclosure.

Reindeer Adventure participant at the Milwaukee County Zoo getting his oh so bright nose on ready for the walk to the caribou enclosure.

Shop ‘til you drop

Shopping in one of many greater Milwaukee neighborhoods including Cedarburg, Greendale and the Historic Third Ward, all beautifully decorated for the season. Or tip your hat to our German traditions by shopping at one of Milwaukee’s traditional European-style outdoor markets such as the German Christmas Market in Oconomowoc, or the West Allis Christkindl Market, each featuring 50+ vendors selling handmade ornaments, products, food and drinks.

Spread Christmas Cheer

But if the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear - then the Christmas Lights & Desserts tour offered by Milwaukee Food & City Tours is for you. Not only does it highlight the Christmas happenings as well as great desserts all over Milwaukee but it also includes caroling on the bus from stop to stop.  This Santa approved tour is the perfect mix of history, Milwaukee Christmas traditions, tasty treats and a dash of light-hearted holiday spirit. Whether you feel like showing off your ugly Christmas sweater or not you are sure to have a good time on this tour.

 Guests on the Christmas Lights & Desserts tour offered by Milwaukee Food & City Tours enjoying the twinkling lights in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square

Guests on the Christmas Lights & Desserts tour offered by Milwaukee Food & City Tours enjoying the twinkling lights in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square

Let there be light!

Favorite drive-thru Christmas light displays include:

  • Country Christmas at the Ingleside Hotel in Pewaukee, WI

  • Candy Cane Lane - Candy Cane Lane is bound by Oklahoma Avenue on the south, Montana Avenue to the north, and 96th and 92nd Streets to the west and east, respectively. Donations benefit the MACC Fund-Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.

  • Jingle Bus - viewing downtown light displays in Cathedral Square Park, Pere Marquette Park and Zeidler Union Square

  • JellyStone Park Camp Resort - Caledonia, WI

  • "Holiday Lites" - Miller Valley

  • Enchantment in the Park - West Bend, WI

The Christmas season officially “turns on” with the annual City of Milwaukee Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick Off Extravaganza. Each community offers a different tree lighting ceremony, all offering unique activities, parades and Santa viewing opportunities.