Frankenmuth, Michigan, is home to numerous and diverse family activities
By Hannah Gwynne
Frankenmuth, Michigan, might just be the coziest Bavarian city this side of the Atlantic. Clocking in at roughly a five-hour drive for Cincinnatians, and only 90 minutes from Detroit, Frankenmuth draws visitors away from bustling metropoles into a German-inspired wonderland.
Founded in 1845 by religious, German-Lutheran emigrants, the small city still retains its original heritage 176 years later with classic Bavarian architecture, “world-famous” chicken dinners, and—let’s not forget what Germany is really known for—the beer.
But perhaps Frankenmuth’s best quality is its versatility. No matter the time of year, there is always something happening.
In summer, visitors pile into horse-drawn carriages and pedal trolleys. Kayaking has also become popular in the summer months on the Cass River, which runs right through the small city. Visitors especially love boat tours, with the wine and chocolate tasting tours being the obvious crowd favorites.
September brings Auto Fest to Frankenmuth’s Main Street when classic cars can be found lined up along the strip. Zehnder’s Snowfest in January—with that classic Michigan snow, ice sculpting competitions and a fireworks show—also attracts brave crowds ready to face the freezing cold for the festivities.
The shopping in Frankenmuth carries on the celebration of German culture in the town with streets and buildings that mimic a simpler time in Bavaria—Southern Germany—where the original settlers hailed from. Visitors can pick up all their charcuterie needs at the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, find hand-made grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks at Frankenmuth Clock & German Gift Company and satisfy their sweet tooth with some fudge at Frankenmuth Fudge Kitchen, where the classic treat is made right in front of customers.
Frankenmuth may have many diverse options for tourists, but Christie Bierlein, sales and marketing director at the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, says they are still working toward getting the whole “versatility” message out there.
“We’re trying to expand people’s horizons,” she says. “Some [people] will just come for the chicken and Christmas, but there’s lots of other things to see and do.”
Yes, chicken and Christmas have traditionally been what most people think of when they hear “Frankenmuth.”
The town is “world-famous” for the chicken dinners that are sold at only two spots in the city: Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth and the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, owned by cousins with multi-generational ties to Germany. The Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge has stuck to a German themed menu while Zehnder’s menu has incorporated classic, American sides to go along with its chicken dinners. However, both places serve the well-known dish.
“There’s debate among visitors. ‘Which one’s better?’ But they’re essentially the same,” Bierlein says. But a visit to Frankenmuth is not complete without trying this chicken dish, if only so you can return home and say you did.
However, one experience in the town stands out among the rest. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which claims to be the world’s largest Christmas store, attracts over two million guests a year. Choose from a selection of thousands of ornaments, lights, Christmas trees, stockings and more at the 320,000-square-foot store—the equivalent of roughly 5.5 football fields.