10 Milwaukee Holiday Activities That are Completely Free

Christmas, for the most part, ain’t cheap, so here are some fun ways to keep your costs a little bit lower.

Light Displays

1) Candy Cane Lane

A chunk of West Allis neighborhood has been decorating its houses and trees to the nines since 1984 to raise money for the MACC Fund fighting childhood cancers. Anyone can cruise through, although donations are strongly encouraged. Visit the website to find the streets participating.

2) Miller Valley Holiday Lites

Because this is Milwaukee, Miller is putting on a free indoor/outdoor walking tour that winds through the Miller Caves and an outdoor display on Friday and Saturday nights, including a beer keg tree. 

3) Glen Cove

Similar to Candy Lane, a neighborhood in Muskego gussies itself up for the season and collects non-perishable food and money for the Muskego Food Pantry. Somehow, using technical wizardry, about 35,000 lights have been synchronized to music broadcast on 87.9 FM.

4) Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the festival has erected dramatic displays at Pere Marquette Park, Cathedral Park and Zeidler Union Square that run until Jan. 1. There’s also a mailbox for Santa at Cathedral Park that promises a reply.

Other Fun

5) Christmas Family Feast

The Salvation Army is serving a free banquet to all starting at 10:30 a.m. on Christmas Day at the Wisconsin Center. About 1,400 volunteers are expected to serve about 8,000 people in this annual tradition, the largest Christmas-day Salvation Army event in the country. Expect turkey, ham, yams and all the good stuff.

6) Santa’s Wonderland at Cabela’s

If you can make the drive to Richfield by Christmas Eve, this is a deluxe holiday experience: kids get a free (professional) 4×6 photo with Santa (larger sizes cost money), and there will be other free games and activities for the kinder. Passes to see Santa are technically limited, so going earlier in the day might be wise.

7) Visit Cedarburg

The idyllic town lights up for the season, and while Cedarburg is known for its shopping, quite a few of the Christmastime activities are free and supported by grants.

8) Ice Skating

Red Arrow Park’s “Slice of Ice,” 920 N. Water St. rink Downtown is charming, although skate rentals cost money. More experienced skaters might want to try the “land rink” at Scout Lake 5902 W. Loomis Rd., Greendale, a lovely little wooded spot.

9) Sledding in County Parks

Milwaukee County maintains some proper free sledding hills, including a couple that are lit after dark: Currie Park, 3535 N Mayfair Rd., and Whitnall Park, 5879 S. 92nd St. For daytime outings, the steep hill behind the Wilson Ice Arena, 4001 S. 20th St., on the South Side is good fun.

10) Watching for Santa at Reservoir Park

The dome-shaped park in Riverwest is the highest point in town with panoramic views of both the city and the nighttime sky. Maybe combine the outing with a smart phone tuned to NORAD’s official Santa tracker.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.