Wooden Windmill in Holland Michigan

 7 Places in North America That Feel Like Europe

Europe is undeniably alluring, with its history, culture, food, and more. It also requires a plane ride to visit and—as this summer’s prices indicate—can be expensive to reach. 

If you can’t muster getting your family to another continent for vacation, you don’t have to miss out on the European experience entirely. Throughout North America there are towns that feature traditional European architecture, festivals, food, and music. That means you may not even need a passport to walk around a Bavarian village, enjoy traditional French pastries or attend a German folk festival. 

Some of these destinations are campy and fun; others seriously sophisticated. Some are internationally known, others local favorites. They all offer families some Continental flair—and in many cases, don’t require you to exchange your dollars. Here are seven of our favorites. 

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, scenic city lookout near Pipila

There are many reasons to visit Mexico—including incredible food, beaches and culture. For a taste of Europe, head to Guanajuato, in the mountains of central Mexico. The UNSECO World Heritage site was founded by the Spanish in the early 16th Century as a silver mining town. Spanish-style mansions and cathedrals built to serve the town’s wealthy silver barons can still be seen today. The old city has miles of winding, cobblestone streets—including the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss) named because it’s narrow enough for a couple to kiss across balconies. It’s common for wandering musicians to entertain visitors at the town’s sidewalk cafes adding to the European vibe. visitmexico.com

Holland, Michigan

Tulips and Springtime in Holland Michigan

This town in Western Michigan was founded by Dutch settlers in the mid-19th century, and within a few decades had become a tourist destination. At that time, visitors came to see the beaches and sand dunes (Holland is very close to Lake Michigan). Today, they’re more interested in the Dutch Village theme park, the annual Tulip Time festival, and downtown’s charming architecture. holland.org

Leavenworth, Washington

downtown leavenworth washington

The mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington greets visitors with warm “Willkommen!” In 1860, German settlers arrived in search of fortune, but the town soon fell into economic decline. A hundred years later, the town decided to embrace its past and revitalize the city based on the German towns of Bemalte Fassaden, Leipzig, and Munich. Leavenworth now resembles a picturesque Alpine town and hosts festivals including Oktoberfest and Holy Schnitzel! In the summer, enjoy authentic German beers at the town’s biergarten while listening to traditional Bavarian folk music. During winter, experience a traditional German Christmas everyday in December.  leavenworth.org

New Glarus, Wisconsin

new glarus wisconsin

Also known as “Little Switzerland,” this town in southern Wisconsin was founded by Swiss immigrants from the canton of—what else—Glarus. It features chalet-style architecture, festivals that celebrate Swiss heritage and specialty shops that sell a variety of Swiss products. It’s one of the few places to get the highly coveted New Glarus beer, which visitors can try at the town’s very own Oktoberfest. It’s also a great place to try traditional Swiss dishes including raclette, fondue and muesli. swisstown.com

New Orleans, Louisiana 

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

New Orleans was settled by the French, taken over by the Spanish, and then returned to the French again. The vibrant city still reflects its deep European roots. Spanish and French influences can be seen all over town—in architecture, food, festivals, and more. Take a history tour, explore the French Quarter, binge on beignets or catch some beads at Mardi Gras for a European vacation in the heart of Louisiana. neworleans.com

Québec City, Canada   

Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec City streets in Canada

Quebec City’s old town looks and feels just like a European city—and not just because French is the official language. The 400-year-old city is surrounded by a fortified wall, and there are endless cafes and cobblestone streets. Visit  Notre-Dame-de-Québec Cathedral, which dates back to the 1600s, the 19th-century stone Parliament building and the Chateau Frontenac, an imposing hotel that resembles a medieval chateau in France’s Loire Valley. UNESCO has recognized Old Québec, naming it a World Heritage Site. quebec-cite.com

Solvang, California

Danish European town of Solvang

Southern California’s climate is very different from Scandinavia’s. Nonetheless, there is a Danish town in the Santa Ynez valley, about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. Founded in 1911, today it is home to traditional architecture, six iconic windmills, and a horse-drawn trolley—in addition to boutiques, inns, and restaurants. In September Solvang hosts the Danish Days festival, with ax throwing, concerts, folk dancing, and more. solvangusa.com

Jamie Davis Smith is an attorney, disability advocate, and mother of four who lives in Washington, DC.

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