Was your European getaway canceled this year? Well turn that frown upside down because as luck would have it, experiencing Europe no longer requires a plane or boat ride across the proverbial pond. You won’t even need your passport to visit these spectacular European-style cities.
From Danish Settlements, French Riviera-style seaside escapes, to Spanish towns, these cities and towns in the US will totally make you feel like you’re walking around in Europe.
1. VISIT LEAVENWORTH, WASHINGTON, AND HELEN, GEORGIA FOR A BAVARIAN EXPERIENCE
Deep in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, you’ll find the quaint Bavarian town of Leavenworth, right on American soil. This enchanting little mountain town was established during the 1960s and is full of Alpine-style architecture.
Head to Rhein Haus, Ludwig’s, and München Haus for some authentic German dishes like bratwurst, sauerkraut, kartoffelpuffer, (aka potato pancake), and of course, German brew. Visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, or Icicle Creek, an impressive mountainous stream.
If you live on the east coast, then head on over to Helen, Georgia, which offers a Bavarian haven for all German-enthusiasts. The mountain town is overflowing with Bavarian charm and open-air experiences such as golfing, biking, and hiking. And tourists can walk around town looking for bars that serve authentic German brew and eatery. And best of all, Helen is close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, so you can do a little mountain climbing to work up an appetite for bratwursts.
2. FORGET THE NETHERLANDS AND VISIT HOLLAND, MICHIGAN INSTEAD
From picturesque windmills to endless fields of blossoming tulips, Holland, Michigan is pretty much a carbon copy of the Netherlands. In the mid-1800s, the first Dutch pilgrims arrived in this region, which explains why the buildings and the overall vibe feels so authentic.
When you work up an appetite, try some krakelingen, (a sugar cookie shaped like a pretzel,) authentic Dutch beef croquettes, blueberry, and almond scones, or tijgerbrood, a somewhat sweet bread with a crunchy, popped covering.
Other tourist hotspots include the Nelis’ Dutch Village, a recreational park where they showcase what life was like in the early 1900s. You and the kids will get to watch craftsmen carve wooden shoes or learn how to clog dance like the Dutch.
Don’t forget to climb the stairway to the post deck of De Zwaan, a real Dutch windmill from Krommenie, Netherlands, that was relocated to the US in 1964.
3. ENJOY SOME DANISH CULTURE IN SOLVANG, CALIFORNIA
This modest community in the Santa Ynez Valley is a charming spot to submerge yourself in Danish culture, history, food, and architecture.
When your stomach starts rumbling, head to the Solvang Restaurant, which offers guests Copenhagen-inspired cuisine like Smørrebrød, an open-face sandwich with meat, veggies, and sauce on top. If you have a sweet tooth, try Danish waffles or Aebleskiver, a sort of sweet pastry puff that is to die for.
And to really soak in the Danish culture, make sure to plan your trip around the month of September to celebrate Solvang Danish Days from California, to celebrate the heritage and culture with parades, Viking encampment, traditional Aebleskiver breakfasts, and renaissance dancers during this three-day festival. Admission is free.
4. INSTEAD OF SWITZERLAND, HEAD ON TO VAIL, COLORADO
Deep within the White Mountain National Forest, you’ll find the beautiful town of Vail, an ideal retreat for ski enthusiasts and travelers looking to get away from it all.
Colorado offers dazzling mountainous views, in addition to A-list skiing, hiking, and climbing activities. But Vail is also known for its European Mountain charm, with Swiss chalet-style homes, snowy mountains, open meadows covered in wildflowers, and a large selection of trails to explore.
Vail was originally inspired by the Swiss ski town of Zermatt. From the traditional Swiss chalets to high-end boutiques that sell everything from skiing gear, art, to contemporary fashion, everything about Vail will make you feel like you’ve traveled across the pond.
When you’re hungry, make sure to try some authentic fondue at the Swiss Chalet eatery, which serves cheese and chocolate dishes. For a traditional Swiss breakfast, visit Alpenrose. And if you’re craving dessert, make sure to order traditional Alpine desserts such as apple strudel, Dampfnudeln, or Marillenknödel.
5. INSTEAD OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA, HEAD TO SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
Outdoor eating, seaside waterfront views, and an authentic Mediterranean-style atmosphere are just some of the reasons why Santa Barbara has been dubbed the American Riviera.
After exploring everything Santa Barbara has to offer, head to Blackbird restaurant for some delicious Mediterranean-style food. But there are tons of California-style Mediterranean food to try. Visit Wine Cask Restaurant to taste a slice of homemade blood orange tart, or some house-made ricotta “gnudi”. If you’re craving something sweet, try the scrumptious Sea Salt Caramel Cake, Belgian waffles, French toast, or have a Quiche du Jour at Lilac Pâtisserie. With so many delicious dishes to choose from plus the amazing California weather, you truly get the best of both worlds.
6. WANT MADRID? ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA HAS EVERYTHING YOU NEED
Nicknamed America’s Oldest City, St. Augustine is loaded with Spanish influence from the architecture, to the food, and the buzzing city life.
If you’re in the mood to explore by foot, go on a scenic boat ride and cruise St. Augustine with a local tour guide.
Make sure to stop by the spectacular Casa Monica Resort and Spa that is decked out with the Spanish Baroque Revival design and comes with ornate chandeliers and even extraordinary art galleries and it’s within walking distance to popular destinations like San Sebastian Winery and Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, one of the oldest masonry forts in the US.
If you’re sightseeing across town, stop by the Villa Zorayda Museum, a house built in 1883 which was inspired by the 12th century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.