Bavaria is a special place with gorgeous scenery, delicious cuisine, and a festive atmosphere. But did you know that there are some places that keep the Bavarian spirit alive right in the United States? Whether you feel like a little oompah music, soft pretzels and beer, or just the feeling of a lively German village without having to get out your passport, these are some fun places a lot closer to home.
For a quick break or lingering visit, a Bavarian-style getaway is easier to obtain than you might think. Each of these U.S. Bavarian-style villages offers its own unique charms, but they’ll all make you feel like you’re in Germany.
1. Frankenmuth, Michigan
Michigan’s "Little Bavaria" is brimming with German heritage. Founded by a group of determined German pioneers in the 1800s, Frankenmuth has become a vibrant community with much to see and do. It’s well known for fun festivals like the Bavarian Festival and Oktoberfest. Its German Christmas market features horse-drawn carriage rides and a huge holiday display, and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, is a pleasure all its own.
Several area restaurants and biergartens offer German specialties and entertainment. If you want to learn some Bavarian secrets, try a pretzel-rolling workshop or strudel-making class or do a bit of German wine tasting or German beer sampling while you’re there. Frankenmuth also happens to be famous for its fried chicken dinners. Zehnder’s has been dishing up all-you-can-eat family-style meals since 1856. Feeding nearly a million diners a year, the restaurant has attracted food lovers from far and wide.
Plenty of shopping spots such as the Castle Shops and River Place Shops make it fun and easy to explore several unique stores at a time. We also love the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, boasting more than 120 kinds of cheese. Check out the more than 150 cuckoo clocks at the Frankenmuth Clock Company, and then wind down with a craft beer at Frankenmuth Brewery or a glass of wine from the tap at Prost! Wine Bar & Charcuterie.
You’ll find the Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge to be the perfect base from which to dive into the local scene. The lodge offers a comfy place to sleep.
2. Leavenworth, Washington
“Everything Bavarian” is the proud motto of Leavenworth, Washington. And it seems pretty accurate considering the wealth of German dining, activities, and attractions available in this charming town nestled in the scenic Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. Leavenworth’s Bavarian transformation came from a desire to attract visitors after the railroad rerouted, leaving this former logging town in the dust. It seems to have worked, since Leavenworth now welcomes more than a million visitors each year.
Try the authentic German schweinshaxe at Ludwig’s Gasthaus. Other fantastic restaurants include the Bavarian Bistro and Bar, Rhein Haus, Andreas Keller Restaurant, and Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill and Beer Garden.
Shoppers will enjoy exploring the plentiful German imports and gifts, including the wonderful, large collection of nutcrackers at the Nussknacker Haus. The Gingerbread Factory is another fun and tasty stop. Finish your trip off with a drink at Stein Beer Hall & Bottle Shop -- they’ve got a whopping 55 taps!
3. Helen, Georgia
You might not expect to find a Bavarian village in the state of Georgia, but the alpine town of Helen defies expectations. Set amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen is a great place to enjoy both indoor and outdoor pursuits. Nearby parks boast beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails with some seriously breathtaking scenery. For some indoor action and to feel like a kid again, check out Charlemagne’s Kingdom Alpine Model Railroad or play a round of mini golf at one of several alpine-themed courses.
There are many unique stores in Helen, so shopping is another great way to spend your time there. The Alpine Village Shoppes feature clothing, food, decor, and more, while several import shops offer special gifts from Germany and around the world.
Unsurprisingly, there are lots of places where you can enjoy hearty German cuisine, including the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant and The Old Bavaria Inn. And you can give your sweet tooth a special treat by making time for Hofer’s of Helen, an authentic Bavarian bakery.
Accommodations vary from quiet mountain cabins and charming bed and breakfasts to comfy hotels right in the middle of everything.
4. Hermann, Missouri
The first word you’re likely to hear when you arrive in Hermann, Missouri, is “Willkommen!” And it isn’t a charade. This region was settled by German immigrants who took advantage of the rocky hillsides to plant vineyards when they discovered that the land they purchased was too steep for much else. The land reminded them of their home in the Rhine Valley. Today, this thriving homage to Bavaria boasts 150 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places as well as several wineries.
You can learn more about the town’s interesting backstory at the Historic Hermann Museum and see how those early German immigrants lived at the Deutschheim State Historic Site. The White House Hotel Living History Museum is another place in town where Hermann’s history comes to life.
In addition to award-winning wines, Hermann offers lots of great craft beer and local distilleries. The Concert Hall and Barrel Tavern, open since 1878, is the oldest continually operated tavern west of the Mississippi. The Hermann Wurst Haus and the Hermannhof Tasting Room and Deli offer great tastes of Germany, too.
5. Amana Colonies, Iowa
German roots run deep in the seven interconnected villages of the Amana Colonies in Iowa. The founding immigrants came seeking refuge from economic depression and religious persecution in Germany. You can learn more about the history of this unique communal setting at the Amana Heritage Society Museum. Historic homes, the High Amana General Store, and the many fine arts and crafts shops embody the spirit of those earlier times. The Amana Furniture & Clock Shop offers incredible goods as well as a chance to watch the craftsmen at work.
Many of today’s restaurants are extensions of the communal kitchens that once provided sustenance to the entire community. Enjoy a traditional meal like sauerbraten or schnitzel at Ronneburg Restaurant. Experience gemutlichkeit, or German hospitality, at the Millstream Brau Haus, which serves hearty German bites along with German-style beers. Hahn's Hearth Oven Bakery, the only original colony bakery that survives today, offers bread, cookies, and cakes that will transport you back to earlier times.
The Amana Colonies also host various themed weekends and festivals, including Maifest, the Wurst Festival, and Oktoberfest.
6. New Ulm, Minnesota
Like its Bavarian namesake of Neu-Ulm, New Ulm treasures its German heritage. The Glockenspiel is a 45-foot-tall clock tower with 37 bells and rotating figurines that provide programmed entertainment three times a day. The August Schell Brewing Company has been crafting German-style lagers for more than 150 years, making it the oldest brewery in Minnesota. You can further quench your thirst for all things Bavarian by dining at Veigel’s Kaiserhoff, with its delicious German specialities and scenes of Germany painted on the walls. Shop at the Guten Tag Haus and Domeier’s German Store for German imports, decor, cuckoo clocks, ornaments, music, and more.
Check out the incredible Turner Hall; its murals were painted in 1873 and were covered up for more than 80 years before being restored. You can learn about the town’s early settlers at the Kiesling House, the oldest surviving wood-frame home in the area.
While New Ulm is perhaps more subtly Bavarian, the town proudly proclaims that “Germans Have More Fun” and really knows how to party. Bock Fest, Mai Fest, Bacchus Fest, Bavarian Blast, HermannFest, Oktoberfest, and others are sure to spark the Bavarian spirit.
7. Germantown, Wisconsin
With approximately 44 percent of Wisconsinites claiming German ancestry in the 2000 census, it’s not hard to find great German food, shops, and goods just about anywhere in the state. But if you’re looking for a place where you can really sink into a Bavarian state of mind, Germantown, Wisconsin offers a tiny but mighty Bavarian experience.
Germantown, which started out as a single square mile, now comprises more than 35 square miles, some of which are gloriously rural. The benefit of this diverse environment is that it’s home to everything from the pick-your-own experience at Lannon Sunflower Farm to the Sila Lydia Bast Bell Museum, where you can see bells from around the world, including a giant bell weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll want to visit the heart of Germantown, Von Rothenburg Bier Stube & Garten. This wonderful place will lift your spirits and have you singing “Ein Prosit” before you know what’s hit you. In addition to the indoor restaurant, there’s an outdoor beer garden, great for the days when cold beer and warm sun go perfectly together. You’ll see plenty of dirndls and lederhosen and a live band outside. The menu features Bavarian favorites and an excellent selection of German beer as well. It’s easy to sit, eat, sing, and smile in this super-friendly Bavarian oasis.
We love being able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of Bavaria. When you crave a bit of Southern German ambience, cuisine, and hospitality, it’s good to know you don’t have to book a flight to find it. These seven U.S. Bavarian-style villages are just the thing you need to make you feel like you’re in Germany.