Winter Fun in Frankenmuth
The top five can't-miss cold-weather places and festivals your entire family will love – provided by a mom who lives in the 'Little Bavaria' of Michigan
There's never a bad time for families to visit Frankenmuth, it seems – and the winter months are no exception. This charming town sparkles and enchants travelers with its holiday magic. Even a simple drive can be enjoyable, and many visitors do just that each year.
When you and the kids have time to linger, though, Michigan's Little Bavaria doesn't disappoint. For the insider must-see skinny, we turned to Lynn Marie Ittner-Klammer, a mom of young kids, licensed clinical psychologist, Frankenmuth resident – and author of new travel guide A Guide to Michigan's Little Bavaria, part of the Tourist Town Guides series. Here, Klammer provides honest, local advice for those looking to get the most out of their Frankenmuth getaway.
The scoop: It's the world's largest, year-round Christmas store – and the main reason Frankenmuth is sometimes called "Christmas town." With 27 landscaped acres (seven of those being the actual shopping space), to call it a "store" is a vast understatement. Over 100,000 lights illuminate the property any time of year, and the 96,000 square feet of 50,000 Christmas gifts and trims is truly a joy to see. There are 800-plus animated displays, free daily presentations in the program center and a snack area if you need to sit and take a break. Bronner's is open 361 days a year.
Visit: 713 S. Main St., Frankenmuth
The scoop: No matter what time of the year you're visiting Frankenmuth, this is an essential stop. Best known for "family style" chicken dinners and authentic German fare, it's also worth a see – even if you don't eat there. From the unique architecture and hand-carved wooden points-of-in interest in the interior to the glockenspiel on the south side of the building, Bavarian Inn is a place to spend some time walking around and just looking at all the unique features. The "Inn" also has a number of specialty shops in its lower level for those in the shopping spirit, and lovely grounds and decorations.
Visit: 730 S. Main St., Frankenmuth
The scoop: The January 2011 dates are Jan. 26-31, and the wintry fun unfurls as always on the grounds of Zehnders Restaurant. During its five days, it's estimated 150,000 visitors stop by to enjoy the event. In fact, it's become one of the most popular events in town, with the highlight ice and snow sculpture competitions drawing the big crowds. Teams come from around the world to demonstrate their sculpture skill and artistry, and it's a true wonder to walk amid the giant blocks of snow and see the talented crews bring them to life. It's free to look around – but, of course, you'll also find kids' activities, a petting zoo, great food and entertainment in the warming tent.
Visit: By Bavarian Inn Restaurant, 713 S. Main St., Frankenmuth
The scoop: Their handmade carriages seat up to seven in crushed-velvet interiors, providing an unforgettable family trek. Rides leave from the Bavarian Inn, and the ride/tour length varies depending upon what you have in mind. Now, I'm not going to kid you: It can be quite cold on these carriage rides in the winter! However, there are few experiences more magical than a ride through "Christmas town" in December. Be sure to stop at the Castle Shops inside the Bavarian Inn for some hot chocolate before you leave to help keep warm. If you tell them it's for your carriage ride, they'll put a cap on it for you. Give them a ring at 989-652-3101 for more info.
Visit: Various locales
The scoop: The outdoors always has a great deal to offer. Prime for wintry family fun? Try ice skating at Heritage Park, ice fishing on the Cass River, and cross-country skiing in the parks – to name just a few of the opportunities available.
Whether you plan to toast to the health and happiness over a chicken dinner or purchase a new ornament for your tree at Bronner's, your family is sure to enjoy all Michigan's Little Bavaria has in store. Just be sure to bring your camera. There are always a variety of photo opportunities along the way!