Written by Meagan Drillinger
Nov 26, 2022
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Before you think that you've stumbled into a village in the Black Forest of Bavaria, think again. You've actually just crossed into Frankenmuth, one of the best places to visit in Michigan and a delightful little slice of culture in America's heartland.
Frankenmuth, Michigan is a city known for its Bavarian-style architecture and its deep German roots. Packed with things to do, the destination is a popular weekend getaway in Michigan, particularly for shoppers around Christmas.
Today Frankenmuth is known for its delightful charm and character, from the German-themed buildings and architecture, to the world-famous lavish chicken dinners, and the largest Christmas emporium in the world. It's tough not to feel all kinds of cozy, family-friendly feelings when you're exploring the town's historic streets.
Read on to discover the top things to do in Frankenmuth, Michigan.
1. Shop at the River Place Shops
The delightful and charming River Place Shops in Frankenmuth is a great place to get a lay of the land and a sense of the vibe of Frankenmuth. The town feels like a village plucked from the valleys of Bavaria, and nowhere does that seem more true than within the River Place Shops.
Designed to look like a traditional Bavarian village, with Alpine-inspired architecture, pitched roofs and overhangs, and even a small "village square," this wonderful shopping center is a great place for families to spend the day exploring the more than 40 shops within.
The architecture may look historic, but the shops themselves are thoroughly modern, from food trucks and a spa, to pet stores, bakeries, and beyond. You can even sample some of the best Michigan-made products like honey, beef jerky, and hot sauces.
The outdoor shopping center is open year-round, and if you're worried about those frigid Michigan winters, worry not. The River Place Shops have heated sidewalks to keep you cozy even on the coldest winter day.
Address: 925 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
2. Pay Respect at the Michigan Heroes Museum
One of the points of pride in Frankenmuth is the Michigan Heroes Museum. This unique museum pays tribute to the war experiences of the men and women from Michigan who contributed to the military and space programs in the United States.
The museum has more than 140 displays, featuring more than 850 individual exhibits, including one of the nation's largest Medal of Honor collections. Sixteen astronauts and 31 individual Medal of Honor Recipients hailed from the state of Michigan and are honored at the museum.
In addition to a museum, the Michigan Heroes Museum also has a Heroes Next Door program. This educational program teaches people about how veterans and astronauts have sacrificed to serve the country.
Address: 1250 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
3. Step Back in Time at the St. Lorenz Lutheran Church
It's tough to ignore the German heritage of Frankenmuth. First there is the name of the town, named after Franconia, and second is the undeniable Bavarian design of the town. But Frankenmuth is also home to the historic St. Lorenz Lutheran Church, which is yet another tie to Frankenmuth's German roots.
In 1845, the original European settlers of Frankenmuth founded the church, based on their original church in the Bavarian village of Neuendettelsau. Frankenmuth was founded as a missionary colony and more and more people from the Old Country began to follow the original settlers.
Like the early days, St. Lorenz still uses the German language in its services. The church has a monthly worship service that is almost entirely in German. It's a fascinating service to take part in, whether you are religious or not, because it will truly take you on a time warp back to the days of the city's founding.
Address: 1030 W Tuscola Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
4. Hum along at the Silent Night Chapel at Bronner's
You are not imagining things – yes, that is the sound of Silent Night lilting out over the highway as you drive into Frankenmuth. It's coming from the Silent Night Chapel just outside of the world-famous Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, and it has a story to tell.
The 56-foot-tall Silent Night Chapel is recognized not only by the consistent playing of Silent Night, but also by the manger scene out front. This landmark is a replica of the original chapel in Oberndorf/Salzburg, Austria, where the very first performance of Silent Night was held on Christmas Eve in 1818.
The chapel is open every day and is free to enter. It is a popular place to visit for people who are stopping by Bronner's, and will put you in the most wonderful Christmas spirit no matter the time of year.
Address: 25 Christmas Ln, Frankenmuth, Michigan
5. Celebrate Christmas Year-Round at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
Speaking of Christmas spirit, simply wander across the parking lot from the chapel, and you'll find buckets upon buckets of holiday cheer at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. Dubbed the largest Christmas store on Earth, this sprawling tinsel-covered cavern is a mega store devoted to all things Christmas.
Opened since 1945, Bronner's is a treasure trove of ornaments, trims, trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, Christmas cards . . . the list goes on and on. It's easy to get lost among the glimmering aisles of twinkling lights, glass ornaments, and towering trees that seem to stretch endlessly in every direction.
Bronner's stretches the length of 1.5 football fields, with more than 50,000 trims and gifts that stock its shelves all the way up to the ceiling. The shop is opened 361 days a year (it's closed on Christmas, go figure), which means you can get a daily dose of Christmas cheer almost anytime you breeze through town.
Address: 25 Christmas Ln, Frankenmuth, Michigan
6. Go Back in Time at Grandpa Tiny's Farm
Opened in 1938, Grandpa Tiny's farm brings a slice of the country to the streets of Frankenmuth. The big blue Bavarian-style barn towers up over the main road into town, directly across from the Silent Night chapel. Past the entrance is an entire bucolic world that will transport you to the hills of Bavaria.
William "Tiny" Zehnder opened his farm in the late 1930s, and it has been a working farm ever since. In fact, Grandpa Tiny is often credited with designing the town in its Bavarian theme that we see today. His other family business is the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, which is one of the most beloved restaurants in town.
No matter the season, the farm always has something going on. From baby chicks in the spring, to the Frankenmuth Flower Festival in the summer, pumpkin patches and cider in the fall, and Santa's Reindeer Farm in the winter, Grandpa Tiny's Farm is never without something to do.
If you're traveling with children, the Petting Barn and Coop is a top seller, particularly for the reindeer and Mr. Nibbles, the rabbit.
Other attractions on the farm include the Farming Museum and the Herb Ill Granary.
Address: 7775 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
7. Frankenmuth Historical Museum
Looking for the lowdown on the history of Frankenmuth? Look no further than the Frankenmuth Historical Association. Opened in 1973 in the Kern Commercial House Hotel, which dates to 1905, the seven-gallery museum is dedicated to the history and evolution of Frankenmuth.
Within the historic brick building are several exhibits that are home to thousands of artifacts and documents that tell the story of the settling and development of Frankenmuth. The museum has 10 permanent galleries that are dedicated to the history of the very first 15 settlers that came out of Germany to settle Frankenmuth.
In addition to the museum, the historical society also runs programs out of Fischer Hall, which was built in the 1890s. This event space is known for its concerts, parties, and local events.
Address: 613 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
8. Cross the Bavarian Inn Holz Brucke Covered Bridge
The gorgeous Holz Brucke Covered Bridge is an icon of Frankenmuth. Though the bridge itself is not as historic as the village (it was completed in 1980), its aesthetic was planned in keeping with the overall traditional Bavarian vibe of the town.
The covered bridge stretches for nearly 240 feet over the Cass River, built of nearly 164,000 board feet of wood. It is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, and just happens to be the largest covered wooden bridge in Michigan.
The original idea for the bridge came from brothers Eddie Zehnder and William "Tiny" Zehnder Jr. (of Grandpa Tiny's Farm). Both brothers owned property across the Cass River and decided to take the initiative to construct a bridge to cross it. The entire project cost $1.1 million to complete and was unveiled in 1980.
Address: Main Street &, Covered Bridge Ln, Frankenmuth, Michigan
9. Stay at The Bavarian Inn
Speaking of the bridge, where does it lead, exactly? The bridge leads over the Cass River to the Bavarian Inn Lodge, a pride and joy of Frankenmuth. The Bavarian-style lodge is yet another example of Grandpa Tiny and his family's influence on the overall German atmosphere of Frankenmuth.
Across the river is the lodge, which has lovely rooms overlooking the river. In addition to the cozy rooms, the resort has free nightly entertainment, an indoor pool and whirlpool, walking and running trails, and a family-friendly waterpark.
On the village side of the river is the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, one of the best spots to eat in Frankenmuth, particularly for its lavish chicken dinners. The chicken dinners are world-famous and have brought in millions (yes, millions) of diners over the decades. They come for the hot and delicious chicken, along with all the fixings, from mashed potatoes and hot buttered egg noodles to vegetables, stuffing, and gravy. The rib-sticking meals are a true part of experiencing the Frankenmuth culture.
Address: 1 Covered Bridge Ln, Frankenmuth, Michigan
10. Dine at Zehnder's of Frankenmuth Restaurant
In case you thought The Bavarian Inn was the only place to get a lavish chicken dinner in town, think again. Directly across the street is the famous Zehnder's of Frankenmuth, the original chicken dinner restaurant in town. The two have had a friendly competition over who makes it better for decades. Funnily enough, Zehnder's and The Bavarian Inn are owned by the same family, so it really is a friendly rivalry.
In any event, the charming, welcoming, folksy restaurant serves just what you'd expect – hot chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, and plenty of options for dessert.
After you've finished dining at Zehnder's you can head to the Z Bakery, which has gifts and souvenirs, in addition to breads and treats.
Zehnder's opened in 1928, when the Zehnder family purchased what was then the Exchange Hotel, which dates back to 1856. The iconic neon sign out front dates back to 1936 and is believed to be one of the longest continually used neon signs around.
Address: 730 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan
11. Get Lost in the Mirror Maze
Located in the River Place Shops, the Ultimate Mirror Maze Challenge is a fun way to spend an afternoon in Frankenmuth.
The maze of mirrors will have you tripped up and challenged as you try to work your way through the space. Infinite reflections of you and your family or friends in every direction will make the maze that much more of a challenge.
The family-friendly experience is one of the favorites in Frankenmuth, and a great way to bond with your travel companions. The space even has a "Funny Mirrors" section, which can be a lot of fun, as they can stretch you out super long or squash you down to be super short.
Address: 925 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, Michigan