Written by Ashley Zlatopolsky
Known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth is located just an hour north of Detroit. Here, travelers can explore an authentic German city modeled after the country’s famous Bavarian state—without a plane ride or a passport. Frankenmuth has all the old-world charm of Germany, with classic architecture, dining, culture, and a world-renowned Christmas market.
While there are activities to enjoy year-round, Frankenmuth’s biggest charm rests in its beloved seasonal attractions. In the summer, it’s home to Frankenmuth Summer Music Fest (currently postponed until 2022 due to COVID-19), which offers a variety of German, Polish, and Eastern European musical acts. In the fall, the city is revered for its annual Oktoberfest, where visitors can experience German dances and wiener dog races. As an added bonus, Michigan’s fall foliage is at its peak throughout the month of October.
Closer to the December holidays, Frankenmuth comes to life with a yearly Christmas market. Designed after the traditional Christmas markets in Germany, which draw millions from around the world, Frankenmuth’s version is just as extravagant. The entire city is decked out in greens and garlands, with lights shimmering from every corner. There’s arguably no better way to see Frankenmuth than by strolling through the market, hot chocolate in hand.
With Alpine-style lodging, souvenir shops, and picturesque biergartens, Frankenmuth feels as if it’s been frozen in time—and is packed with plenty of activities for adults and kids alike. An easy drive from anywhere in the Midwest, it’s no surprise that the city attracts 3 million people each year. Here are the best places to eat, play, shop, and stay in Michigan’s “Little Bavaria.”
Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth is one of the city’s best-known German restaurants situated on the main thoroughfare. With a folksy atmosphere and family-style chicken dinners, the expansive menu also boasts creamy cabbage salad, buttered egg noodles, and a signature vidalia onion soup.
For a little sweet something after a hearty German meal, Frankenmuth Fudge Kitchen serves up quarter-pound helpings of fudge in every flavor imaginable—from chocolate raspberry to traditional German black forest. The dessert shop also rotates seasonal flavors monthly and offers a vast selection of vegan and sugar-free options.
Looking to wash down dinner and dessert? Those craving a large boot of German beer (or just a regular pint) can head on over to the 150-year-old Frankenmuth Brewery, where there are more than a dozen beers on tap. For a traditional German biergarten experience in the summer, pop in to Fischer Platz to enjoy live music and a nice cold brew.
There’s no better way to see Frankenmuth than to take a ride on an authentic horse-drawn carriage, which can accommodate up to six people. Or, larger crowds of drinking age can pedal across town sipping ale while stopping at a variety of the city’s attractions with PedAle Trolley, which can seat up to 16 people.
Frankenmuth’s Christmas spirit, while at its peak during the annual Christmas market, continues year-round at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. The “World’s Largest Christmas Store” is housed in a classic Alpine structure that transports guests wandering its expansive aisles back to old-world Germany. The 7.35-acre emporium is surrounded by 27 beautifully-landscaped acres, making it easy to spend an entire day at Bronner’s.
Frankenmuth River Place Shops features more than 40 German-themed vendors and attractions in a setting modeled after a traditional Bavarian village. From quaint shops selling all-cherry products to a self-proclaimed “Pepper Palace,” to women’s boutiques and a used book store, it’s the perfect place to buy unique souvenirs.
For an authentic German stay, consider Bavarian Inn Lodge. This German-themed resort topped with a classic Bavarian red roof, has a whopping 360 rooms, four indoor pools, two water slides, and 18 holes of indoor mini-golf. The resort’s famous Lorelei Lounge also features free nightly entertainment. Don’t forget to stop for a picture at the iconic Bavarian Inn Glockenspiel—the 35-bell carillon imported from Germany chimes four times per day.
To rent your own apartment right in the heart of Frankenmuth, the Historic Downtown Chocolate Haus Apartment is a modern getaway with an atmosphere steeped in the past. It’s located just steps from the city’s top attractions, restaurants, and bars. With two bedrooms that can sleep up to six guests, this famous lodging option rents quickly, so it’s best to make your reservations several months in advance.