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Savor a slice of Old Bavaria in the heart of the Wolverine State

The steeples and timber homes of Frankenmuth rise with a dash of the surreal over the plains and rolling hills of central Michigan, some 94 miles north of Detroit. A quaint slice of Bavaria, Frankenmuth celebrates its rich cultural heritage with aplomb. The town draws millions of tourists each year to its collection of traditional German stores, bakeries and cafés housed within the town’s emblematic Franconian-style buildings embellished with square and X patterns.

Frankenmuth is home to the world’s largest Christmas store, two of the largest independently owned restaurants in the nation (famed for their fried chicken dinners) and a historic church. The city also plays host to two of the state’s most popular festivals: Oktoberfest and the Bavarian Festival.

Attracting shoppers from around the globe, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland is not only the world’s largest Christmas store, but it’s also a phenomenon. What began as a mission by beloved founder Wally Bronner to “decorate hearts with peace and love” has expanded to become a Christmas emporium the size of six football fields, illuminated by 100,000 lights.

The numbers are astounding. The store’s faux Alpine building houses more than 50,000 ornaments, 500 nativity scenes, a Christmas-cookie café, a replica of Austria’s Silent Night Chapel, 350 decorated Christmas trees, decorations and gifts from 70 nations and 150 styles of nutcrackers. If all the light sets sold in one year at Bronner’s were stretched out in a continuous line, they would span around 530 miles.


High Spirits

Intertwined with the history of the city, the stellar Gothic St. Lorenz Lutheran Church, built in 1880, is built with intricate stained glass that relates the town’s founding by the Bavarian pastor and missionary Wilhelm Loehe. In 1844, Loehe organized a mission society to give spiritual comfort to the German pioneers in the Midwest and to try and get across to the native Indians the message, “Wie gut und schön es ist Jesus zu sehen” (“How good and wonderful it is to see Jesus”).

Guided tours of the church include a replica of the mission’s original log cabin chapel, built in 1846, and two German-cast bells brought to Frankenmuth in 1845. At the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, tour guides lead visitors on an hour-long exploration of seven galleries, which feature an array of hands-on exhibits, displays, and audio and video presentations.

Beer and Bavaria

Brewing beer has been a cherished Frankenmuth tradition since the city’s founding. To learn how it all started, a stop by the Lager Mill Beer Store and Brewing Museum is in order. The museum’s store sells more than 450 craft beers from around the planet, including some highly coveted local brews. The museum houses all sorts of photos and other artifacts, including a gallery showcasing more than 2,500 pieces of authentic German brewery glassware.

Ready to raise a stein? Get your chance at Frankenmuth’s annual Bavarian Festival, which dates to 1959. A fun rollick through Bavarian cultural traditions, the event features music played by costumed German bands, parades, rides, games, face painting, a hands-on craft area, traditional German food, desserts and beer. Stick around for the smiles and waves from the newly crowned Bavarian Princess and her court.

Shopping and Dining

The Bavarian theme runs riot at Zehnder’s, a local institution since 1928. Waitstaff dressed in traditional dirndls and lederhosen serve hearty German staples in an old-school Bavarian dining room strewn with eclectic artifacts. Known nationally for its monumental family-style chicken dinners and all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry, Zehnder’s has expanded its famed brand to include a golf course and a Splash Village/Hotel.

At the Frankenmuth River Place Shops, you can immerse yourself in a prefab Bavarian village and graze on Bavarian delicacies at 40 specialty shops and restaurants. Particularly popular is Zak and Mac’s Chocolate Haus, located in a historic home decorated with lashings of lace. Visitors can indulge their appetites for peanut butter cups, fudge, truffles and unique candy iterations. There are cooking demonstrations and two constantly streaming chocolate fountains, which lends the place a whimsical Willy Wonka aura.

Just a few doors down, and tucked away inside a century-old former hotel, Rau’s Country Store entices children and nostalgic grown-ups tempted by old-school candy jars filled with classics such as Gobstoppers and Zotz candy. Shoppers will also find a traditional pickle barrel, classic lunch boxes and vintage metal advertising signs.


Rolling on the River

If you prefer to appreciate Frankenmuth’s Bavarian charms from the water, step aboard the Bavarian Belle Riverboat. The authentic stern-driven paddlewheel operates one-hour historic tours on the bucolic Cass River. Don’t miss a photo opportunity to snap pictures of the Holz-Brucke Covered Bridge, the longest covered bridge in Michigan and a prime example of Bavarian craftsmanship and design.

For families with young children, Grandpa Tiny’s Farm offers a wholesome array of interactive, hands-on farm activities and experiences. Guided tours relate the century-old farm’s traditional heritage and overtures to modernity. Visit a one-room schoolhouse and the farm’s petting zoo, where children coo over chicks, pet fluffy bunnies and lambs, and feed goats. Visitors can take a narrated wagon ride around the farm, get lost in the maze, pick lavender (in season) and watch a demonstration of a draft horse plowing a field.

For More Information

Michigan Economic Development Corporation