Some places bring a whole new meaning to the word “Christmas.” Take historic St. Charles, Missouri, for instance. This town reminds visitors of Christmases gone by with booths selling chestnuts roasted on an open fire and costumed volunteers who make you feel like you just stepped into A Christmas Carol. Other towns, like downtown Chicago, are perfect if you want to see an incredible light display and feel the season’s jolly hustle and bustle.
But if you’re interested in starting a new tradition for your family where you can see awe-inspiring Christmas lights and decoration displays, eat incredible food, and experience the Christmas rush with other shoppers, then you should check out Frankenmuth, Michigan.
Reason #1: A Variety of Boutiques
Frankenmuth may as well have a corner on the market in boutiques. Dozens of these locally owned shops line Main Street and sell items such as clothing, figurines, kilts, leatherwork, specialty cheeses, and Frankenmuth souvenirs.
When you’re done visiting Main Street, check out River Place Shops, which contain over 40 shops and attractions. Take a stroll along a cobblestone sidewalk and enjoy the Bavarian architecture and landscaping while popping in-and-out of incredible shops, drinking hot chocolate, or eating fudge and other locally produced delectables.
Reason #2: Fantastic Family Restaurants
If you like incredible meal experiences, then Frankenmuth is the place to visit—take The Bavarian Inn, for instance. They specialize in beautiful, family-style dinners served by a wait staff dressed in lederhosen and dirndl. And right across the street is Zehnder’s Restaurant, which opened over 150 years ago and is as classy as it is old. They also have multiple venues, so if you don’t want to eat in the classic restaurant, you could eat at Z Chef’s Café or the Elf Hollow Café.
Or perhaps you want to travel further from the beaten track and try The Old Christmas Station, which serves some of Europe’s finest traditional Christmas dishes all year long. While you’re waiting for your food, you can browse the antique Christmas ornaments museum located inside the restaurant. But these aren’t the only places to eat in town. Check out the other unique eateries just waiting to tempt your taste buds.
Reason #3: A Town Rich in History
Frankenmuth was originally established by German immigrants who were escaping persecution and poor living conditions. Their story, beginning with their escape and ending with an established life in the American wilderness, is one fraught with danger and excitement. But why read an article about it when you could walk through the Frankenmuth Historical Museum that brings that history to life? Don’t stop there—places like Grandpa’s Tiny Farm and Zeilinger Wool Company, which sells handcrafted wool products and offers hands-on tours of their wool processing plant, has a unique view of the city and its heritage from more personal perspectives. A quick glance through Frankenmuth’s museums and history web page will reveal enough to keep your family busy for quite some time.
Reason #4: The Best Fudge Shops
Have you ever watched the fudge making process? Not many have. In Frankenmuth, fudge is made right in front of the customers. And trust me, such a mesmerizing sight is not easily forgotten! Even children are enthralled by the show, to the point that it can be difficult to pull them away. The experience is more than visual: nothing is quite like the smell of warm chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter wafting through the air in a fudge shop. Oh, and did I mention that almost all of these shops offer free samples? Seriously, you haven’t experienced Frankenmuth until you’ve had a piece (or two or three) of their delicious fudge!
Reason #5: Breweries and Wineries
Exclusively for older audiences, Frankenmuth has a few generations-old wineries and breweries that offer tours and wine tastings for reasonable prices. Whether you’re interested in the award winning Solera Cream Sherry or you’re more interested in regionally-grown drinks, Frankenmuth breweries have something for you. However, if you’re just interested in a more in-depth history of brewing, check out the historic Lager Mill, where Frankenmuth’s social drinking heritage is discussed.
Reason #6: Local Carriage Companies
The Frankenmuth Carriage Company offers tourists a 15 or 30-minute drive around downtown Frankenmuth. From the carriage window, you’ll see sights like the covered bridge and the best of Frankenmuth’s shops and beautiful Bavarian-styled buildings. You don’t even have to schedule the ride ahead of time! Head over to the Bavarian Inn Restaurant Glockenspiel Clock Tower, where the carriages congregate. Just walk up to one and tell them you want a ride, and they’ll take you from there.
Another company is the Fantasy Carriage Company. This carriage ride, which starts from just south of Zehnder’s Restaurant, will take you through the most nostalgic parts of town, including the historic district and Main Street attractions. If you schedule ahead of time, you won’t have to worry about a long wait. Don’t mind being patient? That’s fine. They take spontaneous customers as well.
Reason #7: The largest Christmas store in the world
Frankenmuth has earned every letter of the title “Christmas Capital of the World.” A large part of that is due to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which supplies Christmas decorations to stores and towns all over the world and can definitely be classified as a “Christmas village under one roof.” Open 361 days a year and hosting a year-long outdoors light display, this store is a must-see. They don’t just cater to towns and malls; they have Christmas decorations for your home, too. They feature all sorts of incredible Christmas decorations: Christmas trees, ornaments, lights, wrapping, nativity sets, Santa Clauses in all shapes and sizes, garland, lawn ornaments – you name it, they’ve got it. And if you don’t find the exact tree ornament you’re looking for, Bronner’s employs artists who will hand-decorate an ornament for you.
Reason #8: Family Resorts
Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark boasts 50,000 square feet of indoor water fun. Their attractions include two slides, one of which is four stories high and the other is six! But if you’re not exactly a heights type of person, try out one of their other fantastic ground features, like water basketball and volleyball, Splash Landing play area, a dumping bucket, hot tub, and a lazy river. Although the water park is this hotel’s most impressive feature, it’s not the only one. The hotel also has a 2,000 square foot arcade, a fitness center, and an in-house café!
Although the Bavarian Inn is smaller, guests automatically receive a pass to the water park, which has four indoor pools, three whirlpools, and two slides. This hotel also has an 18-hole miniature golf course, tennis courts, exercise room, a two-story children’s play area, and numerous in-house restaurants, lounges, and gift shops. This hotel, located right next to the ever active Heritage Park, offers fun events such as biweekly family karaoke nights.
Reason #9: The Frankenmuth Guided Tour
Not sure what to check out first? Well, go on a guided tour of the town. Two are available: Frankenmuth FunShips and the Bavarian Belle Riverboat. FunShips offers several trip options, ranging from 35 minutes to an hour. Or, you can take their daily Wine and Chocolate Tasting Cruise and get a view of the town from your taste buds’ perspective.
Bavarian Belle Riverboat, on the other hand, offers an hour-long family-oriented tour that tells the town’s history while you sit an authentic paddlewheel riverboat. However, the Bavarian Belle only runs from May through October.
Reason #10: A Busy Town…All Year Long!
Can’t make it up this month? No worries! Frankenmuth has attractions year-round. This town celebrates multiple festivals every year, like the Launch to the Summer Festival, Auto Fest, and the oldest Oktoberfest in the nation. And since Frankenmuth is the “Christmas Capital of the World,” there will always be Christmas displays in town (especially in places like Bronner’s) – this makes Frankenmuth the perfect spot for celebrating the most festive holiday of the year – even in July!
This post originally appeared on Daring Penguin Travel Blog, published December, 2015.