5 Charming Michigan Towns Perfect for a Holiday Season Getaway

Oh come all ye shoppers. Michigan celebrates the holidays Hallmark-style in some of its most charming downtowns. All combine to turn what might otherwise be a chore into a holiday-themed vacation.

horse and carriage during the holiday season at Frankenmuth
Photo Courtesy Pure Michigan

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Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market morphs into a new-this-year medieval European Christmas village (Christkindl Markt) during November and December. Shop for handmade gifts while sipping hot mulled Gluhwein, singing along with carolers, and wandering stalls of artisan craft and food vendors around cheery lights and colorful decor. Pre-book curling lessons or a rink for added festive fun.

Celebrate: Dutch-founded Holland, less than 30 miles to the west, throws a Parade of Lights and its own Kerstmarkt complete with Sinterklaas, the Dutch Saint Nicholas; their warmed cobblestone sidewalks make shopping into non-slippery fun. In Grand Rapids, meet friends to test the new “Flights of Flavor” passport that pairs drinks and eats at specially-selected locales.

Shop: Grand Rapids Market vendors offer wares from 36 glass-enclosed stalls; cookie cutters, toys, chocolates, spices, and more.

Stay: The Canopy by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown, minutes from the new market, features mid-century modern design, furniture by Amish artisans and free-to-borrow bikes. 


Historic gas lights cast a cheery glow in this one-time Hemingway hangout that was in the author's day a thriving shopping area, too. Today, find a blend of hip and historic as you explore art galleries, specialty food shops and indie bookstores. A new Downtown Social District encourages wandering with a hot toddy – and if you time it right, to the sound of carolers and the Petoskey High School Steel Drum band. 

Celebrate: Attend a tree lighting with Santa (December) and shop deals along streets closed to traffic, accented by bonfires and bean pots. Romantics will love the December weekends Aonach Mor dinners where sleigh rides take you to The Highlands at Harbor Springs mountaintop dining. 

Shop: Downtown, find one-of-a-kind gifts of clothing, toys, books, jams from foraged fruits at American Spoon Foods – and art at Northern Michigan Artists Market and Crooked Tree Art Center.

Stay: Downtown's historic Perry Hotel offers a seasonal holiday shopping package that throws in merchant money and dining dollars.


Lights strung through downtown and along the Portage Canal add cheer to historic streets that that are always plowed and shoveled in this outdoor winter paradise that knows how to both celebrate and handle snow.

Celebrate: Winter Wonderland (December) features a tree lighting with Santa, hot cider, wagon rides and the chance to pose, hopefully not at all “frozen” with Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf. Plan ahead for the Jingle Bell Pop concert with the Detroit Youth Choir. Any day, cozy up after winter shopping or outdoor adventure by the fireplace and heaters of Keweenaw Brewing Company and its logging-themed taproom.

Shop: The Home for the Holidays Gift Market (November) features handmade crafts and art. Wander Houghton's Shelden Avenue for special gifts from shops like Red Jacket Boutique, Chickadees and Surplus Outlet. For gifts of natural treasures, hit the gift shop at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum.

Stay: The Vault Hotel in the central shopping district is located in a former bank and has a speakeasy on site.

exterior view of the vault hotel on a snowy day
The Vault Hotel - courtesy Pure Michigan


Volunteers in mink-collared capes and hats with peacock feathers gift roasted chestnuts to all who pass, and keystone cops straight out of slapstick films of the '20s wander by. Add the chorus of a trombone band along a street of pretty brick facades filled with coffee shops, galleries and antique stores, and you'll see why many make Manistee's annual Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend.

Celebrate: Catch the Sleighbell Parade (first Saturday of December) to see massive draft horses skid a sleigh with a vertical pine on board. No motorized vehicles are allowed – just horses and carriages, caroling groups and bands and loggers and others dressed in a way authentic to the town's Victorian heritage.

Shop: Port City Emporium features vintage and repurposed items, local art, classic candy and more; find other local art at fun shops like Happy Hippie, Three Peas in a Pod and Ruddiblush Gallery. Northern Spice Co. also offers a number of hand-crafted spice blends perfect for any meal.

Stay/Eat: The circa-1891 Ramsdell Inn and TJ's Pub features stained glass and elaborate woodwork.


You have found holiday nirvana when a town greets you with a Christmas tree that stands 40 feet high, boasts 23,000 lights and plays seven minutes straight of Christmas songs to which you likely know all the words. Luminaries line the streets, there's a Christmas shuttle that transports to shops around town, horse-drawn carriages and the nation's largest Christmas store.

Celebrate: Since every day is a Christmas festival in this Bavarian town, celebrate the 12 days of sales (December).

Shop: Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland has your list covered with its 50,000 Christmas items and 6,000 styles of ornaments including those that say Merry Christmas in 70 languages. It even snows – indoors. But wander town, to find Charlin's Book Nook, the Covered Bridge Shop, the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and a clock and German gift store. Castle Shops at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant are gift-ready too with individual shops themed around baked goods, candy, dolls, toys and more. End with the Silent Night Memorial Chapel where the song was first performed in 1818.

Stay/Eat: Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge has both a family-favorite waterpark and decorated trees hanging upside down from skylights. Eat at Zehnder's, where its famous chicken dinners catapulted it to the list of the 15 most legendary restaurants in the world. 

Spend some time exploring and getting your holiday fix at these charming Michigan destinations this season.

About the Author: Kim Schneider is a long-time travel writer specializing in Michigan adventures, food and wine. She’s the author of 100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die.