4 Whimsical Midwest destinations That You Should Visit

 I love whimsical places places that pretend to be somewhere else. It’s part of what got me into following the theme park industry as a hobby. Whether it is a festival celebrating a time and place that never technically existed, or cute little immigrant towns imitating the architecture of their homeland, I love a little whimsy! Here are some of my top picks for destinations you should consider if you live in the Midwest and are craving a little bit of extra whimsy in your life.

A crowd and a whimsical building

The Minnesota Renaissance Festival  

The most whimsical time to go: Any time its open!

Minnesota loves big fairs and festivals. Minnesota is home to the most attended state fair, many impressive county fairs, but most importantly, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. It is one of the largest in the country, and well loved by locals and guests alike. It's a place I love visiting because it perfectly transports me to this semi historical, semi-fairy tail dimension. If that's not whimsical, I don't know what is! There are beautiful permanent structures and a loving attention to detail in the temporary decorations. You almost start to suspend your disbelief in a way similar to Disneyworld or Universal theme parks - although it is less self-consistent and more chaotic. Here you can be entertained by jugglers and acrobats, meet a mermaid or fairy, and shop for artisan costumes and souvenirs . There are also a variety of classic ren fair foods like turkey legs, mead and kettle corn. I highly recommend you attend the fair in costume; There are even themed costume contests for every day of the event. If you haven’t been to a renaissance fair before, this would be an excellent place to start. 

a miniature windmill in a park

Pella, Iowa

The most whimsical time to go: Tulip Time, at the beginning of May

Pella is a charming town in Iowa built to look like a fairy tale Dutch city, complete with colorful buildings, a windmill and an artificial canal running through the downtown. There are restaurants where you can order traditional Dutch food and pastries, like dutch letters and bitterballen. There are also Dutch heritage communities that show off dutch folk dress. Like the Netherlands themself, Pella honors the tradition of celebrating Tulip time in May with enormous displays of tulips. If you have never been to Pella, Tulip Time is the best time of the year to visit, and whimsy will be in peak supply! In addition to the flowers, Dutch letter stands, and general pomp, there is a massive parade. The parade floats are the most elaborate I have seen in an Iowan parade. Bring bag chairs, and claim a spot early. if you are looking for affordable places to overnight, there is a state park nearby that would make a perfect spot for camping for the first time.

a whimsical Christmas carriage in front of a Christmas shop

Frankenmuth, Michigan’s little Bavaria

The most whimsical time to go: Winter, and Christmas

I only recently discovered Frankenmuth while researching European cultural cities in the United States, and it instantly made my whimsical bucket list! Frankenmuth, Michigan has all the cuteness of Disneyworld in a little midwestern city. It was settled by German immigrants and made to imitate that European style of architecture. It also has two annual festivals - including an Oktoberfest with Dachshund races! There is a plethora of shops including a cheese shop and Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, one of the most famous Christmas shops in the USA. I haven’t been there yet, so I can’t dish out more detail than that in good faith. Hopefully I will have more to report soon!

Whismical shopfronts made to look like cabins

The Amana Colonies

The most whimsical time to go: Winter and Christmas, also Oktoberfest

The Amana Colonies in Iowa were settled by a German religious sect, and was one of the first Iowan settlements. The original settlers had a culture centered in community, self sufficiency, and as a side effect, handcraft. Thus the modern version of the colonies are the perfect mix of cutesy buildings, rich history, and artsy-fartsy shopping - with great eats too! I personally enjoy stopping at the wineries, which offer a great selection of locally made beverages. There are festivals throughout the year in the Amana Colonies, but I recommend going in November when the Christmas shops are in full swing and the Tennenbaum forest is open, creating a whimsical scene. If you haven’t gone before, keep in mind that the word “colonies” is plural for a reason. There are seven settlements, each with unique shops and historical monuments, so be prepared for a little bit of extra driving to get between locations.


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