There's nothing like a living history museum that will bring the past alive for kids (and adults!). Old World Wisconsin is southeast Wisconsin's largest open-air history museum, and it's definitely worth the scenic 45 minute drive from Milwaukee. The 19th century structures you'll find here are original buildings from throughout Wisconsin that were carefully dismantled and rebuilt on site. You'll get a sense of what life was like here for European immigrants over one hundred years ago.
You and your kids can walk through the buildings and property, interacting with costumed staff, taking part in hands-on activities like churning butter, and cheering on an old-fashioned baseball game.
Here are some highlights and tips to guide you on your next visit:
1. Start at Crossroads Village
After you drive through a majestic pine forest towards the entrance of Old World Wisconsin, you'll find plenty of free parking. Buy your tickets in the gift shop, and take a short walk to Crossroads Village. (You can also pick up the complimentary tram from behind the gift shop.)
In Crossroads Village, you'll roam past wild lavender and grazing sheep, and you'll find a General Store with old-fashioned items, a blacksmith shop with live demonstrations, historic St. Peters Church, a shoe shop, the Four Mile House Inn, and more.
-Buy Time Travel Tokens in the gift shop to shop in the General Store
-Try soda water in the Four Mile House.
-Don't miss the beautiful gazebo behind the home near the blacksmith shop.
-Catch a vintage baseball game on the fields here - no gloves allowed!
2. Visit the Blacksmith
The Blacksmith was one of the highlights of our tour both times we visited. There's usually a rugged man in costume explaining and demonstrating the blacksmith process to visitors with old-fashioned equipment and a hot fire blazing.
3. Use the complimentary tram
The two other main areas off of Crossroads Village ("Life on the Farms" & "Scandinavian Homestead") are each about a 15 minute walk, but the hills are quite steep uphill and downhill. We definitely recommend taking the complimentary tram, especially with young children. You'll find plenty of stops throughout the grounds, and the tram runs every 15-20 minutes.
We accidentally walked to the German area on a hot day, and got a taste of what it must have really been like for settlers in the summertime. Once we arrived at the farms, we were greeted by chickens grazing and horses roaming. We had the opportunity to try on real wooden farm shoes and gather eggs.
Visitors can also help with chores such as wood splitting, lawn mowing, making food, and washing clothes the old fashioned way.
4. Stop by the Schoolhouse
One of the most fun buildings for children to visit is the little red 1900's Raspberry School in the Norwegian area. (Again, take the complimentary tram! It's a hike.)
The building was once located in Bayfield, WI and was the designated schoolhouse for just five families. The chalkboard, desks, bookshelf, and welcome sign above the door are all original. Your kids can sit in the desks, write on the chalkboard, and receive a lesson from the schoolteacher in full costume.
They'll love sitting in the original desks, reading the old textbooks, and imagining themselves as students in the early 1900's.
5. Ride old-fashioned bicycles
Cycling grew very popular in the 1890's, and you can actually ride old-fashioned bikes and unicycles at the Catch Wheel Fever exhibit near the gift shop. There are two stationary bike stations where you can climb aboard a "penny farthing" high wheel (pictured above), as well as a circular sand track to do some actual riding.
6. Eat at the Clausing Barn Cafe
If you work up an appetite, the Clausing Barn Cafe is the perfect place to stop for lunch or a snack. It's located in the old milking parlor of the Barn located near the entrance. The cafe offers an affordable kids' menu and lots of healthy options for adults. You'll also find cold drinks and ice cream.
The atmosphere is casual so no need to worry if your children are tired and cranky. You can sit outside on the garden patio if it's a nice day, or enjoy the air conditioning inside.
You'll find restrooms in the gift shop, cafe, the Creamery in Crossroads Village, and in the picnic areas in the Norwegian and German areas.
Children (5-17, children under 5 are free):$10
Seniors (65 & older): $16
Wisconsin Historical Society Members: FREE
Parking is FREE. Admission include all-day unlimited access to the tram.