Claudia Capos, a contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, explores Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Little Bavaria along the banks of the Cass River. Settled by German immigrants in 1845, Frankenmuth holds on to some of the most appealing features of its heritage, including Bavarian-themed shops, inns, restaurants, breweries, as well as a few newcomers.
It’s only midmorning in Frankenmuth, but this Bavarian-theme town (86 miles northwest of Detroit) already reverberates with music and merriment. A spirited band cranks out polkas in the Fischer Platz by the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, and every hour, the 35-bell carillon inside the Inn’s glockenspiel tower plays upbeat German melodies. I try to convince my husband to join in, as a few couples clap and swing their partners to the music.
Whether you’re seasoned visitors like us or a newcomer, you’ll always experience warm hospitality, an authentic meal, and traditional festivities and entertainment. Even those who have no German heritage can become “German for a day,” preparing flaky apple strudel, stuffing spicy sausage and rolling pretzels. After our pretzel class at the Bavarian Inn, we pick up our creations, which are warm and delicious even if they don’t look like traditional pretzels.
Seasoned shoppers know to nibble their way up and down Main Street, stopping for free samples at the Cheese Haus, Frankenmuth Fudge and Taffy Kitchen, and Willi’s Sausage Company. (Newcomers will want to start at the Frankenmuth Visitor and Welcome Center for a free guidebook and walking-tour map with event schedules.) Willi’s will prepare a carry-out lunch of bratwurst-in-a-bun, topped with their special sauce and sauerkraut, for a picnic along the Cass River. Or dine at an umbrella-shaded table on Tiffany’s patio, where waiters serve immense steins of German beer and sizzling pizza. This vantage point is a great place to people-watch, too.
Another prime spot for whiling away an afternoon chowing on hearty pub grub and sampling craft beers, is the riverside patios at the reopened Frankenmuth Brewing Co. It not only symbolizes the town’s long tradition of German beer brewing but also occupies a prime location overlooking the river. To finish the day on a sweet note, visitors can book a wine and chocolate tasting cruise at Frankenmuth FunShips, which shares shop space with Chocolates & More and Wolcott Winery, a recent addition.
All-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinners made Frankenmuth famous and continue to draw hungry throngs. Diners choose either the German-themed Bavarian Inn or the early-American setting at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth across the street. We avoid long waits by making reservations or timing our seating for the off hours between lunch and dinner. Of course, we opt for the inn to complete our day as true Germans.
A short drive south of Frankenmuth leads to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, where the endless displays of ornaments, collectibles and artificial trees makes the world’s largest Christmas store a worthwhile stop all year round.
Claudia Capos is an award-winning journalist based in Brighton, Michigan. Her stories of travel, adventure, and exploration have appeared in countless newspapers, magazines and books. During her career, she has visited more than 60 countries; closer to home she enjoys swimming, boating and cycling.