Travel Europe without leaving the Midwest

Experience Europe in your own backyard


By Alena Murguia


If a grand tour of Europe is not in your budget this year, you can still get the feel of those great capital cities without leaving the Midwest.

New Glarus, Wis., calls itself "America's Little Switzerland" for good reason. A trip to the Swiss Historical Village Museum allows families to explore more than 14 buildings, including a school house, general store and the town's first log church. For a real taste of Switzerland, sample the offerings at New Glarus Bakery. They've been making Stollen, morning buns and apple cake for more than 100 years. Complete the weekend with a stay at Chalet Landhaus Inn, where kids will appreciate the indoor pool and Swissland, an 18-hole miniature golf course.

The Swiss Historical Village Museum (May-October)

New Glarus Bakery

Chalet Landhaus Inn

New Glarus Chamber of Commerce

Housed in Minneapolis' castle-like Turnblad Mansion, the American Swedish Institute is a great place to learn about Nordic culture. If you head farther north, you can get an authentic taste of Sweden at Lindstom Bakery or the Swedish Inn Restaurant in Lindstrom, "America's Little Sweden." In June, take part in the annual Midsommar Celebrations, a traditional Swedish festival complete with costumes, fiddling, folk dancing and family activities.

If you can't make it to Minnesota, try Geneva. Illinois' six-day Swedish Days Festival, June 23-28, may not be a trip to Sweden, but families will find music, games, carnival rides and even rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting.)

American Swedish Institute

Lindstrom, Minn.

Swedish Days Festival

The Milwaukee area has great Germanic food, museums and even entire villages. Germantown has a name that says it all. Just outside of Milwaukee, the Dheinsville Settlement includes original half-timbered buildings. Visit Bast Bell Museum in a restored barn to see Wisconsin's largest publicly displayed bell collection and artifacts of the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company. Eat a hearty German meal at Mader's, on Old World Third Street in Milwaukee. The city's German Fest, held on the lakefront in July, is the largest German celebration in North America. Old World Wisconsin is the nation's largest outdoor museum of rural life, with three German homesteads from around Wisconsin. The site's curators and interpreters give visitors an authentic experience. Families can try their hand at flax processing or experience old-fashioned baking at a wood-burning oven in the bakehouse on the Schottler farmstead.

Old World Wisconsin


Mader's Restaurant

Located in the heart of the Midwest, Holland retains a great deal of Dutch architecture and ambiance. Watch Dutch artists hard at work on authentic blue and white delftware at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory. Visit 10 acres of Dutch architecture, canals and gardens at Nelis' Dutch Village. Kids can slide down a giant wooden shoe, or take a ride on the popular Zweefmolen (swing ride). Spend a couple hours on Windmill Island, home to DeZwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. A painted Dutch carousel, costumed guides and an Amsterdam street organ complete the picture.

Holland, Mich.

DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory

Nelis' Dutch Village (open April 28)

Norwegian history and architecture make up Little Norway just west of Madison, Wis. During the 45-minute guided tour, you'll visit eight homesteads, including the fascinating Norway Building modeled on a 12th century Norwegian church (stavkirke). The structure was originally built in Trondheim, Norway, and transported to America for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It houses Little Norway's collection of museum-quality artifacts. Families can also wander the settlement on their own for great pictures.

The nearby town on Mt. Horeb, also known as "Troll City," is a great place for lunch and photos. Stop in at the Visitors Center for a "Troll Way" map and then hunt down a variety of troll statues.

Little Norway (May-October)

Village of Mount Horeb


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