Part of America’s Great Lakes region, the midwestern state of Wisconsin – aka the Badger State – has tons to offer, perhaps most notably cheese, with more than 2 billion pounds of the pongy stuff produced here every year. There’s no shortage of scenic attractions either, from craggy cliffs and lighthouses to enticing sea caves that can be explored by kayak. Meanwhile the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, has a cultural buzz that makes it a natural base for those exploring the midwest.
Wisconsin plays host to a huge number of festivals and fairs every year, many of which celebrate some aspect of the state’s rich heritage. If you’re coming to Wisconsin over the next year and like the idea of attending one of these events, check out our list below which runs through 20 of the best festivals and fairs taking place here in 2021.
St Patrick’s Day Parade
Irish roots run deep in Wisconsin, and so it will come as no surprise to anyone that St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal here. Each year celebrations to mark the event take place across the state and among the biggest are in Milwaukee. Typically held the weekend before the big day, giving revellers a chance to celebrate twice, proceedings begins with mass at St. Patrick’s Church and culminate with one of Wisconsin’s grandest and most colourful parades.
LOCATION Downtown Milwaukee DATES 17 March 2021
Said to be the world’s largest Brat Fest Festival, Brat Fest has been attracting hordes of hungry revellers to the Wisconsin capital of Madison for almost four decades. Each year more than 150,000 Johnsonville Brats are consumed over the course of the three-day festival, while live music, carnival rides and many other attractions and family events add to the sense of occasion. The volunteer-run event also has a strong community-focus, with over $2 million raised for local charities since 1983.
LOCATION Willow Island, Alliant Energy Center, Madison DATES 28-30 May 2021
Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival
In Europe we tend to be a little sniffy about American cheese, but when it comes to sheer volume even us continentals are required to tip our hats (or berets?) in the direction of Wisconsin. This festival celebrates the state’s voracious capacity for cheese-making, featuring a wide range of cheese-themed events and activities, including cheese carving demos and cheese tasting, as well as live music, amusement rides, and a petting zoo.
LOCATION Doyle Park Little Chute DATES 4-6 June 2021
One of America’s biggest and most prestigious music festivals, Summerfest takes over Milwaukee’s scenic lakeside environs of Henry Maier Festival Park for 11 full days every summer, with hundreds of acts playing across multiple stages. A wide range of genres are represented, from alternative, rock and country to R&B, pop, reggae, and more, with both national headliners and lesser known indie bands showcasing their talents. A variety of local restaurants are on-site offering tasty treats to keep revellers fuelled up and ready to rock.
LOCATION Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee DATES 24-26 June, 1-3 July & 8-10 July 2021
First held back in 1981, German Fest is a family-friendly celebration of German culture and traditions. The event takes place on the shoreline of Lake Michigan on the last weekend of July each year and features authentic German food, cultural activities, and live entertainment. Highlights include fireworks, parades, carousel organs, German candies in the Marktplatz, a playground, a Battle of the Mascots, a Dachshund Derby, German dance performances and plenty more.
LOCATION Henry W. Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee DATES 23-25 July 2021
Lumberjack World Championships
Lumberjacking is notoriously arduous and the efforts of its hardy exponents are given a well-deserved platform at these annual championships. Over three days each year more than 100 competitors from around the globe saw, chop, climb and roll their way to the title of World Champion. As well as the fierce competition on show, there are also vendors, food trucks, a beer garden, and live music to keep spectators well satiated and entertained.
LOCATION Lake Hayward, Hayward DATES Through 29-31 July 2021
Wisconsin State Fair
Dating back to the mid-19th century, this long-standing State Fair welcomes over one million visitors every year who descend on the Wisconsin State Fair Park for 11 days of action-packed agricultural-themed entertainment for all the family. Among the annual highlights are pig racing, a milking parlor, adrenaline-pumping rides, live music, and enough food and drink to shake a stick at.
LOCATION Wisconsin State Fair Park, West Allis DATES 5-15 August 2021
There are few more quintessentially American culinary treats than a hamburger and each year the city of Seymour plays host to a raucous bash in honour of the humble, but oh-so-delicious pattie-based sandwich. There’s a burger eating competition, a ketchup-themed slide, and even a giant 200-pound cheeseburger to salivate over. Events culminate with an after-dark hot air balloon ascension featuring a kaleidoscope of balloons.
LOCATION Rock Ledge Park, Seymour DATES 14 August 2021
Hosted within the picturesque setting of Chandler Park in the village of Pardeeville, this festival is an ode to the sweet and juicy melon variety that’s loved by kids and adults alike.. The one-day event features an eclectic mix of watermelon-themed fun, including a watermelon carving competition, a Largest Watermelon contest, speed-eating challenges, children’s games hosted by local groups, DJ’d music and live shows.
LOCATION Chandler Park, Pardeeville DATES 11 September 2021
Thirsty Troll Brewfest
For approaching two decades the Thirsty Troll Brew Fest has been attracting tens of thousands of thirsty beer enthusiasts who come in their droves to the charming, small-town community of Mount Horeb for a 1-day fun fest. Here the beer flows freely and delectable pretzels tantalise those keen to line their stomachs with something tasty. on’t miss the the Masskrugstemmen, where participants compete to see who can hold a one-litre stein of beer the longest with their arm extended.
LOCATION Grundahl Park, Mount Horeb DATES 11 September 2021
Wo-Zha-Wa Days Fall Festival
A festive celebration of autumn and all of its sensory delights, this three-day event – named after the phrase “Wo-Zha-Wa”, which means “fun time” in the traditional language of the Ho-Chunk nation of Native Americans – is jam-packed full of family activities, including an arts and crafts fair, an antique flea market, live entertainment, oodles of seasonal culinary treats, and a 100-unit parade. Visitors can also take part in a vibrant street carnival with refreshment concessions and a Fun Run.
LOCATION Downtown Wisconsin Dells DATES 17-19 September 2021
Another of Wisconsin’s Germanic-inspired festivals, Wauktoberfest comes to the village of Waunakee each year, never failing to deliver a whole host of amusement. There’s authentic, top notch German food, live music, and several quirky German-themed competitions including Sauerkraut eating, the Dachshund Dash, and the Frau Carry. Despite the presence of Teutonic booze, kids are at the heart of the action too, with inflatables, pumpkin decorating, a vendor fair, and more for them to enjoy. Admission to the festival is free of charge.
LOCATION Endres Manufacturing Grounds, Waunakee DATES 17-19 September 2021
Wine & Harvest Festival
For pushing half-a-century the Annual Wine & Harvest Festival in historic downtown Cedarburg marks the transition from summer to autumn with a fun-filled weekend. Visitors can sample nature’s bounty in the shape of home grown produce and artisanal food, as well as locally produced wines, all serving as testament to the power of the seasons. As well as the culinary treats on offer, there’s live music, along with a host of eccentric games and events including the hotly contested Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off and a Giant Pumpkin Charity Regatta, which sees huge, hollowed-out pumpkins helmed by paddlers as they race across the nearby Cedar Creek.
LOCATION Downtown Cedarburg DATES 18-19 September 2021
Warrens Cranberry Festival
The small village of Warrens in Monroe County, Wisconsin, plays host to the annual World’s Largest Cranberry Festival and 2021 will mark the event’s 48th edition. The Festival is perhaps best known for its shopping, boasting over 800 arts & crafts booths, 300 flea & antique booths, 100 farm market booths, and 100 food vendors that make for a three-mile shopping extravaganza. Other highlights include the chance to ride a guided tour bus on a Cranberry Marsh Tour and the largest annual band parade in Wisconsin.
LOCATION Venues across Warrens DATES 24-26 September
The legendary Oktoberfest has several variations across America, and several in Wisconsin itself, but few are as raucous as the one that takes place in Milwaukee. For over six decades the city has played host to great beer and equally good food and music in the green environs of Heidelberg Park. A number of independent German breweries attend the event to showcase their craft beer-producing talent, while regular foodie favourites include Spanferkel and Rotisserie Chicken. A number of notable bands have performed here down the years, too.
LOCATION Old World Third Street, Milwaukee DATES Through October 2021
Sister Bay Fall Fest
Family japes, kids’ games, great music, local food and a huge arts & crafts fair are the name of the game at this popular annual festival in the charming village of Sister Bay. Almost 100 different artisanal creations and high-quality handmade crafts feature at the fair, with everything from mixed media, fine photography, wood carvers, furniture, jewellery, customised signs, and fine milled soaps & lotions available to peruse and purchase. Other festival highlights include a flamboyant Fall Fest Parade.
LOCATION Sister Bay, Door County DATES 15-17 October 2021
Jack O’ Lantern Days
If you’re seeking an atmospheric Halloween jamboree in Wisconsin, then look no further than Jack O’ Lantern Days, which serves up seriously big frights in the small town of Fish Creek. A festive costume contest challenges visitors to get creative with their ghoulish attire, while town hall games, trick-or-treating, and mask making activities add to the excitement.
LOCATION Fish Creek DATES 29-31 October 2021
Created to awaken the creative potential of the St. Croix Valley and explore self-sufficient and sustainable models of community development, this riverside festival is a family oriented celebration of the changing season. There’s a classic car show, live music, vendors, food, beer, wine, an arts & crafts fair, a farmers’ market, free self-guided trail hikes, and kids’ activities, all imbued with the beauty, creativity and diversity of the valley region.
LOCATION Severson Memorial Overlook Park, St. Croix Falls DATES October 2021
Bayfield Apple Festival
Widely considered one of the best fall harvest festivals in the country, Bayfield AppleFest celebrates the bounty of apple orchards and apple-related goods, attracting over 60,000 attendees every year. Taking place just in time for the onset of Wisconsin’s fall season, orchards from across the county take part, showcasing their produce and locally-made products. The event also features live entertainment, arts and crafts, orchard tours, book sales, and carnival rides throughout the city.
LOCATION Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau, Bayfield DATES October 2021
Pumpkin Patch Festival
Pumpkins and October go hand in hand, and this weekend-long festival sees plenty of pumpkin-themed events and activities, including pumpkin and scarecrow displays and pumpkin carving demonstrations. There’s also live music, carnival rides, arts and crafts vendors, face painting, great food, magic shows, kids games, a Chinese raffle and plenty more to keep the crowds happy.
LOCATION Harbor View Park, Egg Harbor DATES October 2021