There are towns and neighborhoods across the U.S. offering a European experience without the long flight or the passports.
Thanks to European settlers and their generations after, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy are not too far away.
Explore this list of great places where you and your family can discover Europe in your own backyard.
A TASTE OF GERMANY
Frankenmuth, known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” was formed by Bavarian settlers in the mid-1800s. The city’s name is a combination of “Franken,” referring to the Franconian province where the original settlers came from, and “mut,” meaning “courage” in German. So “courage of the Franconians.”
You’ll be transported to Bavaria, just 2 hours north of Detroit, through the architecture, restaurants, shops, and festivals.
Just like in Germany, the Christmas season is charming. TIME Magazine named Frankenmuth one of the “9 Most Christmassy Towns in America.” Their annual ChristKindlMarkt is a 5 weeklong Christmas shopping village created in the tradition of European Christmas markets.
Get the Christmas feeling year-round at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, founded in 1954 by local Wally Bronner, who grew up in a German family with old-world Christmas customs. In 1992 the Silent Night Chapel was added. It’s modeled after the original chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, where “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve 1818.
The Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge has European-themed guest rooms and lots of fun for the kids. The restaurant has been serving authentic German dishes such as schnitzel and sauerbraten since 1888. The kids can learn to roll a pretzel at the restaurant, and they’ll love the inn’s Glockenspiel Tower with an authentic 35-bell carillon imported from Germany.
A TASTE OF DENMARK
Solvang, California is the Danish Capital of America and California’s “Little Denmark.”
Solvang means “sunny field” in Danish and was founded in 1911 by three Danish-American educators in California’s Central 45 minutes from Santa Barbara.
Danish town of Solvang in California
The old-world Danish-style buildings include a scaled reproduction of Copenhagen’s Rundetårn, or Round Tower, and 150 retail shops throughout the village. There are also five authentic bakeries so you can try delicious aebleskiver, the tiny spherical Danish pancakes.
The whole family can learn about Solvang’s heritage at the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art. The kids will enjoy the scavenger hunt. And there’s even a Hans Christian Andersen Museum, the only one in the U.S., celebrating the Danish author of The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling.
Danish Days festival every September and Julefest every December are popular times to visit.
A TASTE OF NETHERLANDS
Settled in the mid-1800s by Dutch immigrants, Holland, Michigan feels like the Netherlands on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Tiptoe through the tulips fields in spring with over 100,000 tulips blooming during May’s annual Tulip Time Festival, a 90-year tradition.
In Windmill Island Gardens, discover the only authentic Dutch windmill in the U.S., DeZwaan Windmill (meaning graceful bird in Dutch). The kids will enjoy climbing the stairs to look out over the gardens, the Dutch Carousel, and the miniature Little Netherlands Village display.
Immerse yourselves in Dutch culture at Nelis’ Dutch Village, a living history attraction set in the early 1900s where you can watch artisans carve wooden shoes, and Holland Museum’s Dutch Galleries full of art and artifacts from the Netherlands.
A TASTE OF SWITZERLAND
New Glarus, Wisconsin, a small town in the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, is “America’s Little Switzerland.” Founded in 1845 by a group of Swiss pioneers who left Glarus, Switzerland, generations since have kept the Swiss-German language, folk traditions, music, and heritage alive.
The family can enjoy chalet-style architecture, the Swiss Historical Village Museum (14 buildings telling the story of New Glarus), festivals throughout the year, and specialty shops and restaurants serving Swiss food, like New Glarus Bakery, making Swiss and American pastries since 1910.
Chalet Launhaus Inn and Restaurant offers a traditional Swiss-style inn with old-world Swiss décor and authentic Swiss food.
MORE BAVARIA, GERMANY
Leavenworth, Washington, about 2 hours east of Seattle, gives you the feeling of being in Bavaria year-round, thanks to the scenic surroundings and architecture lining the streets. The town received a facelift in the early 1960s to attract more visitors. Now there are Bavarian-themed restaurants, breweries and beer gardens, a Nutcracker Museum, and Bavarian-styled accommodations.
Like Bavaria, you’ll find lots of outdoor activities like hiking and skiing. The Village of Lights Christmastown in December is a festive time to visit.
Vail, Colorado, the famous ski destination, was inspired by Germany’s Allgäu region in southern Bavaria. The chalet-style Sonnenalp Vail hotel is owned and operated by the same family as the Sonnenalp hotel in Allgäu Alps.
And in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 90 minutes from Atlanta, sits Helen, Georgia. The city was transformed into an Alpine village in the 1960s to attract more visitors.
A TASTE OF ITALY
In many big cities across the country, especially on the East Coast, you can experience Little Italy thanks to the settling of Italian immigrants. Get a taste of la dolce vita, the sweet life, in Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Cleveland, New Haven, Connecticut, Little Italy’s.
Finally, your family can immerse themselves in the European feeling at the World Showcase at Epcot Theme Park, complete with the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany pavilions.
There’s plenty of European Culture to explore right here in the U.S.
Image Sources: City Websites and Paris Pavilion, Epcot Theme Park, FL © Disney