There’s no need to cross the pond to Europe to experience an authentic taste of European culture. Across the Midwest, there are many towns and cities that have preserved the cultural roots from their founders’ homelands, making for a rich, international travel experience for generations to come. Groups can learn about the United States’ history of immigration; share in cultural experiences from Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, and more; and connect with their roots at these lively destinations.
Several Midwest destinations honor and celebrate European culture and heritage year-round. New Ulm, Minnesota, which is about 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis, was founded in 1854 and named for Neu-Ulm in Bavaria, Germany. There, groups will find August Schell Brewing Co., the U.S.’s second-oldest, family-owned brewery, founded in 1860.On a visit to New Ulm, groups can see one of the world’s few remaining freestanding carillon clock towers (the 45-foot glockenspiel’s bells chime the time of day) and tour the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. In late July, the city hosts Bavarian Blast, a festival with live music, polka dancing, and a parade.
Meanwhile, Frankenmuth, Michigan, which was settled in 1845, is a popular destination for those who want to experience German culture. After all, it’s dubbed “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” Groups enjoy family-style chicken dinners at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth and Bavarian Inn Restaurant, and walk it off while viewing Bavarian-style architecture, plus new murals, around town. Frankenmuth is a four-season destination—groups visit during November and December for holiday-themed activities, including shopping at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, attending Frankenmuth Oktoberfest in mid-September, or Bavarian Festival in early June.
Known as “America’s Little Switzerland,” the Wisconsin village of New Glarus is located about 25 miles south of Madison. The downtown area make groups feel transported to Europe with its chalet-style architecture and craft brew scene. Groups can pop into New Glarus Bakery (in business since 1910) to try birnbrot (Swiss pear bread) and gipfel (Swiss croissant). Annual festivals include Polkafest (early June), Swiss Volksfest (early August), and Oktoberfest (late September).
Founded by Norwegian and Scandinavian immigrants, communities along Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula host fish boils, where locally caught whitefish is boiled with red potatoes. There, groups can also visit two 12th-century stave-style churches on Washington Island and in Baileys Harbor. There’s typically a line for Swedish-style pancakes topped with lingonberries at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay, where goats roam the sod roof and Scandinavian-imported items are sold in the gift shop.
For a taste of Dutch culture, visit Pella, Iowa, where tulips bloom in early May during the town’s Tulip Time festival. Groups see locals donning Dutch attire and marvel at Dutch-style architecture (including the Vermeer Windmill). Dutch eats (including poffertjes, Dutch cheese, bologna, and bakery items) are, of course, available year-round in restaurants and cafes.
Written by Kristine Hansen
Main Image: Bavarian Inn; Credit: Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau