Navigating Milwaukee Irish Fest – The World’s Largest Irish Festival

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The Milwaukee Irish Fest proclaims itself to be the largest Irish Festival in the world.

After a weekend spent walking back and forth across the 75 acre Henry Maier Festival Park where Irish Fest is held annually, I can attest to that fact.

The title of largest doesn't just speak to the size of the grounds, but also to the sheer amount of music and activities you will find at Irish Fest. If you're not prepared – and even if you are – it can be overwhelming.

Milwaukee Irish Fest Mascots
A warm Irish welcome to Milwaukee Irish Fest

Tips for Navigating Milwaukee Irish Fest

Milwaukee Irish Fest actually covers more than the 75 acres of Festival Park if you include the curragh races on “Lough Foyle” and the hurling matches in Urban Park just outside the gated grounds. With so very much to see and do, a full weekend is barely enough time to experience it all!

Choosing Music at Milwaukee Irish Fest

The first thing you want to do is find where your favorite bands are playing and plan your time around that.

This can be tricky- especially if bands you like are playing at the same time! If you will be attending the festival for multiple days you'll likely be able to see most of the shows you want to, but if you've only got a day you may have to make touch choices. That said, the final bands of the evening play the longest and you can fit in a decent amount of time with 2-3 bands if you really try.

As the schedule is arranged you'll find it on the Irish Fest website or the official app (available in Google Play or the App Store)

MKE Irish Fest 3 bands
Saturday night can often be a tough call for music lovers. The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Gaelic Storm, and We Banjo 3 were all playing at the same time. We worked our way through the festival and caught a bit of all three shows.

Temple Bar TradFest at Milwaukee Irish Fest

Temple Bar TradFest, held annually in January in Dublin, showcases some of the best trad music at the festival. Their stage is usually near the cultural village.

Read: All the Tips You Need to Know to Plan Your Visit to Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin

Cultural Activities at Milwaukee Irish Fest

Beyond the bands, Milwaukee Irish Fest is full of history and culture – along with some pretty amazing shops!

You'll stumble upon most of these if you wander the grounds, but a little preparation will make sure you don't miss a fabulous play in the Theatre Pavilion, dance lessons in the Dance Pavilion, historical lectures at the Hedge School, or culture in the Gaeltacht.

MKE Irish Fest Culture
Irish culture and heritage are found across the grounds at Milwaukee Irish Fest.

Saturday is the day for Irish sports. Be sure to make time for the Hurling matches and Curragh races – they take place most of the afternoon.

Irish games at Milwaukee Irish fest
Warming up for Curragh races. We were lucky to catch Tug-o-War one year. Sadly it is no longer an event at the festival.

Kids Activities at Milwaukee Irish Fest

The most shaded spot of the festival grounds lies near the water. Coincidentally, that is also where you will find a large Children's Area, filled with fun, free activities as well as playground equipment. It's a great place to relax while the kids run off some of their never-ending energy.

Kids and adults alike will be enchanted by the leprechaun village, where you may also meet Liam the “extra large” Laprechaun.

Kids area at Milwaukee Irish Fest
Liam the “Extra Large” Leprechaun presides over the leprechaun village and has the power to transform your kids into leprechauns, too! Mini golf takes kids around Ireland.

Eating at Milwaukee Irish Fest

I really can't end this without mentioning the food. There are offering scattered across the park, some a bit more traditional than others.

If you're watching your budget be sure to eat before you arrive or plan to return to your car for snacks or sandwiches when you get hungry. While to food is plentiful, it is also not cheap; the average seemed to be $6 per item. With a family of 4, that can add up.

Drinks will also add to your dining budget, with the average draft beer or cider coming in around $6.

There are water fountains on the grounds – and you'll want to drink a lot of water (especially if it's hot), so bring an empty water bottle or reuse your purchased water bottles.

Milwaukee Irish Fest Food
Some of the best fair food I've had, but it comes at a price. The fish & chips, bread pudding, Scotch eggs and bangers & mash cost $27. Irish nachos (which were oh-so-good) were $7, and the gelatos (Guinness chocolate with Rose and Guinness chocolate with mint) were $6 each.

Where to Stay for Milwaukee Irish Fest

Milwaukee Irish Fest partners with local hotels to create package deals and also provides a full list of nearby hotels (along with map) on its website.

We usually rent an apartment via AirBnB for festival days (last year we rented a boat in the nearby marina!). Sometimes this means we have to deal with parking, but we save money on dining and accommodation.

New to AirBnB? Sign up with this link to save up to $40 on your first rental!

Handy Facts for Milwaukee Irish Fest

Milwaukee Irish Fest is always held the 3rd week of August. The festival officially opens on Thursday evening and runs through Sunday night.

Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School takes place in the week leading up to the festival. Classes include music, culture, dancing, and more.

Listen: Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School podcast

Parking in nearby lots can be up to $20 per day, though free parking can be found if you don't mind a bit of a hike. Shuttles are also available from downtown and select Park & Ride locations. (More about this can be found on the festival website)

Kids 12 & under are free, which makes this a great family day out!

Have you been to the Milwaukee Irish Fest? If you could offer one tip, what would it be?

 

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