Willkommen! Get a taste of Bavaria without crossing an ocean. The scenery and shops along with the beer and food will make you feel like you’ve traveled thousands of miles to Germany. Year round, Frankenmuth, Michigan is a great place to go for a week or a long weekend. You can have a couple’s getaway or a family vacation here, and with so many shopping and dining options there’s something for everyone.
1.) Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland and Silent Night Chapel
It’s Christmas all year long at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Enjoy a stroll through the world’s largest Christmas store that takes up more space than a football field. Just to put that into perspective, the showroom includes 50,000 ornaments, 500 nativity scenes, 350 uniquely decorated trees, 150 different nutcrackers, and a partridge in a pear tree. Completing the wonderland, at night over 100,000 lights are lit outside of the store, and just across the parking lot is the quaint Silent Night Chapel. It was modeled after the chapel in Oberndorf, Austria where the song Silent Night was first sung in 1818. As you walk up to the serene chapel you will hear silent night playing and be comforted by the simple beauty of it all. Visiting this place in the evening will make a perfect ending to your day.
2.) Bavarian Inn
Even if you’re not staying at the Bavarian Inn Lodge, there are plenty of things to do at the Bavarian Inn. Outside, look up fifty feet to the Glockenspiel that was imported from Germany. At noon, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm each day figurines dance to the music of 35 bells. Inside, visit a wide variety of unique shops where you can buy toys, German souvenirs, beer and wine, confections, German baked goods, or even make your own German pretzel (reservations required for pretzel making). Enjoy a famous fried chicken dinner in the restaurant, or go for some other authentic German fare. The restaurant is one of the largest in the country, but don’t make the same mistake I did and assume that meant there would be plenty of seating. Plan ahead and make reservations or you could wind up standing in line for over an hour!
3.) Exploring the Strip
Discover many interesting shops as you stroll down Main Street and enjoy the Bavarian architecture. A few of my favorites were Kern’s Sausages, Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, and Those Nature People Herb House. Kern’s Sausages offers over 32 kinds of homemade Bavarian sausage for purchase along with many other German wines, beer and foods. Sample a few of the 140 varieties of cheese from Frankenmuth Cheese Haus. Those Nature People Herb House sells organic herbs, loose tea, spices, essential oils and many other products to promote well-being.
4.) Frankenmuth River Place Shops
This shopping center looks like a postcard-perfect village right out of Germany. With over 40 shops, at least a few will probably interest you, and even if your wallet is a little light from the first few stops on your trip, it’s still worth walking around. Some of my favorites were Humor-Us – which sells fun and some slightly off-color gifts, Hello Cats and Dogs – specializing in accessories for humans and pets, the Jerky Joint – with awesomely manly gifts in addition to jerky, the Bead Haven – Michigan’s largest bead store, and La Crepe du Jour – which sells dozens of yummy sweet and savory crepes.
5.) Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth Restaurant and Marketplace
Enjoy a lunch or dinner at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, the country’s largest family-owned restaurant. With 9 dining rooms and 1,500 seats, they serve an average of 9,000 customers on the weekends. They specialize in fried chicken and other German fare. If you can’t chose from their menu, go for the best of both worlds with their buffet. Just like at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, don’t assume that being one of the largest restaurants in the country means there will be plenty of seating. Plan ahead and make reservations. After your meal, head downstairs to the marketplace to shop for some homemade food, wine, cheese, preserves, and unique accessories.
6.) Zehnder’s Splash Village
Located between Bronner’s and the Main Street shopping strip, Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark can take up most of the day if you have a family with children or if you are a child at heart. They provide passes to the waterpark if you book your lodging with them, or day passes can be purchased. In this 50,000 square feet water-extravaganza, there are four and six-story tube and body slides that shoot you nearly the full length of the park in just a few seconds. There’s a splash park with a dumping bucket, and aquatic basketball and volleyball as well. For those who want to relax, they even have a lazy river and hot tubs.
7.) Wine and Spirit Tasting
Depending if your wife likes shopping and can spend hours looking at beads or other trinkets, you might want to bump this activity up on your list. Visit Grand Traverse Distillery in the River Place Shops to sample wine or award winning vodka and whisky, made with Michigan grown grain. The Bavarian Inn Wine and Beer Shop has a large selection of beer and wine from around the world, and you can sample several different types of wine.
Wait…two spots on this list have been allocated to alcohol?! No, I’m not drunk. The selection is just that good. Lager Mill offers over 400 craft beers from all over the world and even has supplies for you to brew your own beer at home. Frankenmuth Brewery is the oldest brewery in Michigan and offers free tours. It’s been open since 1862 and sells award winning German-inspired lagers and ales. If you’re into craft beer you should really check these places out.
9.) Frankenmuth Clock Company
This shop could have been grouped in with the “Exploring the Strip” category, but it’s so enjoyable that it deserves its own spot on the list. At first step in the door your mouth might drop open – mine definitely did because I immediately saw at least 50 to 100 intricately carved cuckoo clocks all ticking away. Once inside, I realized they had hundreds of other clocks lining the halls, including small musical clocks and grandfather clocks. Unfortunately, they don’t have them set to all go off at the same time, so no grand commotion every hour and quarter hour, but they will demonstrate any clock you wish to see.
10.) Rides – Carriage Ride/Bavarian Belle Riverboat
Slow down and take a carriage or paddle boat ride through Frankenmuth. The narrated ride on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat takes about an hour and begins near the cascading waterfall at the River Place Shops. It operates from May through mid-October, so if your trip lies outside of those months you can opt for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Spend 20 or 40 minutes riding down Main Street and through the covered bridge. For an especially festive experience, take a carriage ride in the evening around Christmastime to see the town lit up – all to a soundtrack of jingle bells ringing around your horse’s neck.
I spent a weekend in Frankenmuth and easily got to see everything on this list. It might take longer to experience it all if you have a family or really love to shop. I enjoyed the architecture of the buildings and appreciated the variety of beer, wine, cheese, sausage, and unique gifts to purchase. The locals and visitors were friendly and it was a great place to enjoy the more simple things in life and get away from the “daily grind.” If you do plan on doing some shopping, I would encourage you to visit the visitor center on Main Street and ask for their coupons. They offer discounts to many of the shops that can’t be found anywhere else. In all, I visited close to Christmastime and it was the perfect place to enjoy the season, but it would be a great getaway any time of the year.
Is there something different on your list of top things to do in Little Bavaria? Please comment and let me know what you would add. Danke!
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