8 Midwest Destinations That Feel Like Europe—No Passport Required
Many travelers journey to far-flung destinations like Europe to be immersed in culture and history. And while saving your pennies for that once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list trip is totally worth it, there are many ways to broaden your horizons without even boarding a plane. Whether you're dreaming of spectacular flower displays, storybook architecture or authentic cuisine, you can live the tourist life a little closer to home when you visit these eight Midwest destinations with European flair.
Even if you don't have Dutch roots, this joyful Lake Michigan town will make you want to celebrate them. Spring signals the arrival of Holland's annual Tulip Time Festival, when millions of tulips overtake the town's public spaces and encircle the famous DeZwaan Windmill. While you're in town, celebrate Dutch heritage at the Holland Museum and Nelis' Dutch Village, a mecca of cultural experiences, family-friendly activities and, of course, wooden shoes.
New Ulm, Minnesota
If you can't make it to Germany this year for its famed Oktoberfest celebrations, book a trip to this Minnesota hamlet instead. Named by German settlers from Ulm, New Ulm's annual Oktoberfest rivals ones across the pond. Festivities and live performances are held all over town, with plenty of opportunities to sip local brews from hefty glass steins. Your deutsche getaway won't be complete without a stop at the 45-foot-tall Glockenspiel downtown or an authentic German meal at Veigel's Kaiserhoff.
Sweden has made its way into the heart of the Midwest through the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. The echoes of its Swedish founders are alive and well, displayed through the vibrant Dala horses that can be spotted throughout the city (download a copy of the map ahead of your visit), shops like Hemslöjd filled with handcrafted gifts and the Old Mill Museum, where you can learn more about the colorful Swedish heritage of this region. In mid-November, holiday traditions get a Swedish twist too. Julotta kicks off a season of celebrations, and downtown shops (and the Välkommen Bridge) turn on their holiday lights for the Holiday Open House.
Pella is a haven of Dutch heritage and Midwest hospitality. This small Iowa town settled by immigrants from the Netherlands is big on charm, particularly each spring when it transforms into a patchwork of color during Tulip Time. But no matter when you visit, the iconic Vermeer Windmill, the tallest working windmill in North America, commands attention, as do the town's brick-covered period buildings, Historical Museums and Molengracht Canal in Pella's central business district. When it's time for a pick-me-up, refuel with a Dutch letter and from-scratch pastries at Jaarsma Bakery.
Related: The Top Things to Do in Pella
New Glarus, Wisconsin
An irresistibly cute First Street lined with chalet-style shops, bakeries and restaurants makes this small town feel like a world away—but it's less than 40 minutes from Madison. America's Little Switzerland beckons with European eats and coveted brews you can only find in Wisconsin. Take a self-guided tour of New Glarus Brewing that wraps with a flagship pint in its beer garden (Spotted Cow and Moon Man are favorites). Travel back in time at Swiss Historical Village & Museum, sample mouthwatering fudge at Maple Leaf Cheese & Chocolate Haus or practice your swing at Swissland Miniature Golf, open late May through early October. Keep an eye out for its resident goats.
If you've ever wanted to experience the magic of Germany's Christkindlmarket right here in the Midwest, Frankenmuth makes that possible. It's home to holiday festivities that feel both grand and European in spirit; German-inspired architecture adorned with twinkle lights, gluewein tastings and a spectacular shopping market are guaranteed to put you in a merry mood. To celebrate Christmas in July in Frankenmuth, head to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the world's largest Christmas store. The city is a magnet for visitors in other seasons as well—a cruise on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat provides views of the town and the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus will satisfy your käse (that's German for cheese) cravings.
Related: The Top Things to Do in Frankenmuth
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
Called the "Troll Capital of the World," Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, is dotted with mischievous-looking wooden trolls that watch over "the Trollway," otherwise known as Main Street. (Relax, you won't need to outfox them to pass through.) Stop by Skål Public House or The Grumpy Troll for a brew and a bite, or satisfy your sweet tooth with Scandinavian desserts from Sjölinds Chocolate House. Norske souvenirs await at Open House Imports.
If you're looking for a Midwest-meets-Europe destination that includes a smattering of several countries, travel to Galena, Illinois. Lead mines first attracted European pioneers to this river town near the Iowa border (about three hours from Chicago), and today's visitors can still find traces of Europe along its cobblestone Main Street surrounded by old-world brick buildings. Load up on Alsatian favorites at Fritz and Frites, enjoy a taste of Italy at Vinny Vanucchi's or sip award-winning local wines at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. Beyond downtown, Galena's scenic hills offer even more attractions and accommodations, including the Goldmoor Inn, a romantic bed and breakfast that resembles a French castle.