Christian or otherwise, The Basilica of Saint Josaphat is a sight to behold. From the stained glass dome to stone guardian angels to artwork from Italian painter Gonippo Raggi, this 130-year-old church is at the heart of Milwaukee’s (and the U.S.’s) Catholic history. The visitor center is open for tours from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There’s also a tour after 10 a.m. mass every Sunday. A mini-museum near the entrance is also packed with history. Another Catholic landmark to visit would be the St. Joan of Arc Chapel on Marquette University’s campus, where free tours are available Monday-Saturday 10 a.m-4 p.m. and Noon-4 p.m. on Sundays.
On the house
A couple of Milwaukee’s favorite breweries offer looks inside hops-filled factories. Every Friday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Bavarian Bierhaus, 700 W. Lexington Blvd., in Glendale provides a behind-the-scenes look.
Every half hour, every day, MillerCoors lets you inside its hallowed halls at 4251 W. State St. — don’t miss the grotto-looking shrine to the history of the company.
Built in 1955, the iconic Milwaukee County War Memorial Center was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. But what really matters is inside, where those who gave all for the country are honored. There are free tours on the first Friday of every month, starting at 11 a.m. To schedule a private tour, contact the memorial by email or call 414-273-5533.
Milwaukee has a history long before any humans settled this land. Friends of Lakeshore State Park illuminate that pre-history with several free guided hikes: bird-watching, fossil-finding and more. Watch their Facebook page for upcoming events.
For a quick hit of free history, Harley-Davidson offers $0 looks inside its powertrain plant in Menomonee Falls every weekday from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
One of Cream City’s oldest establishments, Forest Home Cemetery, hosts tours almost every Saturday starting at 3:30 p.m. at the appropriately named Halls of History, 2405 W. Forest Home Ave. Previous tours include learning about how the Civil War impacted daily life here in Wisconsin. Remember to wear comfy shoes: all tours are on foot and last at least 90 minutes.
One of Milwaukee’s oldest buildings is the public library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. Constructed in 1878, the Central Library’s architecture was inspired by French and Italian Renaissance styles. It’s slowly grown over the years to occupy an entire city block, and has found its way onto the National Register of Historic Places and is a protected landmark by the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission. Tours are held weekly, starting at 11 a.m. every Saturday.
Every Sunday at noon, see the inner workings of the café that has brought us Siriusly Black, Boneshaker Colombia and Green Bike roasts at Stone Creek Coffee’s headquarters, 422 N. 5th St.
Bonus (almost free) tour
Calling itself “Milwaukee’s first and only cheese tour,” Clock Shadow Creamery, 138 W. Bruce St., offers tours for $3 to adults and $2 to kids every half hour on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. For alcohol-free tours, become a member of Historic Milwaukee, Inc. and its seven walking tours will become free of charge. (Don’t have time for a tour? You can learn more about Clock Shadow and its founder, Bob Wills, in the The Milwaukee Guide to Beer & Cheese, in the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.)