8 Midwest Cities You'll Love at Christmas
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Chicago: The Walnut Room
Heads tip back, eyes widen and mouths stretch into smiles as guests gaze upon the Great Tree in Macy's State Street Walnut Room restaurant. The 45-foot-tall tree -- swathed in 10,000 twinkling lights -- has lifted Chicagoans' holiday spirits for 103 years.
Despite New York-based Macy's takeover of Chicago's iconic Marshall Field's, Chicagoans have kept the storied Walnut Room holiday tradition alive. Crystal chandeliers, tuxedoed waiters, fairy princesses and a menu with longtime favorites, such as Mrs. Hering's chicken potpie, captivate visitors. The restaurant does not accept reservations during holidays; get a pager so you can shop while you wait. (312) 781-3139; visitmacyschicago.com
Dearborn, Michigan: Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village
At this outdoor living-history museum 20 minutes west of Detroit, holiday celebrations showcase decorations, traditions and tastes of holidays past. Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, held selected nights in December, features carolers and other entertainers, period-clothed costumed presenters, ice-skating, Santa and live reindeer, and carriage and Model T rides. Make reservations well in advance if you also want a candlelight dinner at Eagle Tavern, an 1850s stagecoach stop. (313) 982-6001; thehenryford.org
Omaha: Poinsettia Show at Lauritzen Gardens
A 20-foot-tall poinsettia tree towers over thousands of red, pink, white and speckled poinsettias at the Lauritzen Gardens' annual Poinsettia Show, held from late November through early January. Visitors wander paths between trees lit with twinkle lights and evergreens draped in ribbon and ornaments; model trains round more than 300 feet of track, past mini Omaha landmarks. An early-December Holiday Happening weekend offers kids' crafts, Santa visits and decorating workshops. (402) 346-4002; lauritzengardens.org
Milwaukee: Christmas in the Ward
Spend a Christmastime Friday night among the repurposed warehouses in the downtown Historic Third Ward, and you'll appreciate Milwaukee's knack for nurturing past and present. The annual Christmas in the Ward weekend in early December packs in the kind of activities you can find in towns across the Midwest this time of year: a tree lighting, reindeer, dancers, Santa, horse-drawn carriages. But wait -- there's fireworks! And elegant places to shop. And sophisticated places to dine. (414) 273-1173; historicthirdward.org/events/christmas.php
Cincinnati: Duke Energy Holiday Trains
Generations of families have seen Duke Energy's magical holiday train display, which features 300 model train cars and 50 locomotives on 1,000 feet of track. The display, which had been in the lobby of the Duke Energy building since 1946, moved in 2011 to the Cincinnati Museum Center and is now part of Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains. The display runs from early November to early January. The museum's Holiday Junction also includes rides for kids on a miniature train, visits with Santa, and an area to play with Brio trains. (800) 733-2077 cincymuseum.org
Cleveland: Glow Winter Show at Cleveland Botanical Garden
The Sugar Plum Fairy meets Frank Lloyd Wright at Cleveland Botanical Garden's annual holiday event Glow, where enchanting displays of handmade gingerbread houses draw crowds of admirers. The show -- which also features twinkling trees, festive holiday flowers, shopping and other holiday traditions -- runs from late November through early January. (888) 853-7091; cbgarden.org/glow.aspx
Duluth: Bentleyville Tour of Lights
It flourished at Nathan Bentley's house in nearby Cloquet, but then Bentleyville Tour of Lights grew bigger than one guy's house and moved to the 20-acre Bayfront Festival Park along Lake Superior. The stunning show features Duluth scenes in lights (Aerial Lift Bridge! ore boats!), plus traditional Christmas lights and Nativity displays. The display runs late November to late December. (218) 740-3535; bentleyvilleusa.org
Madison: Fair Trade Holiday Festival and more
There's nothing quite like combining the thrill of shopping with the warmth of goodwill, and that's what happens at the annual Fair Trade Holiday Festival at the Monona Terrace in early December. More than 50 vendors sell artwork, jewelry, scarves, purses, yarn, clothing, lotions, chocolate, pottery, housewares, books, food gifts and more. Sellers eagerly share stories about causes close to their hearts; some of the proceeds benefit people in developing countries as well as rural Wisconsin (fairtrademadison.org).
Other holiday traditions in Madison include the Wisconsin State Capitol Holiday Tree (left) (State Capitol tours), decorated with ornaments sent from schools across the state and on view throughout December, and Olbrich's Holiday Express: Flower and Model Train Show, also throughout December, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (olbrich.org).