Europe is often lauded for its beautiful, historic towns with cobblestone streets and traditional architecture—and with good reason. But Americans don’t exactly need to splurge on a trip across the pond in order to experience a taste of that postcard-perfect ambiance. In the 19th century, the influx of immigrants to America meant that towns across the country began sporting the traditions of their settlers in terms of architecture, language, and celebrations. And in some instances, towns simply took on a European aesthetic for the charm (and tourism dollars). Here we name seven American towns and cities that bring European flair to the States.
In 1847, a group of Dutch immigrants settled the town of Pella, Iowa. Nicknamed “America’s Dutch Treasure,” Pella is home to the charming Molengracht plaza, a bustling district complete with a traditional Dutch-style canal; the tallest working grain windmill (at 124 feet) in the country; and an annual spring festival that celebrates tulips and Dutch culture.
Known as “Little Bavaria,” the city of Frankenmuth, Michigan, derives its name from the Bavarian province of Franconia, where its original settlers were from. Over the last 173 years, the town’s proud German heritage has been well maintained, evidenced not only by its architecture but also the number of German-speaking locals. The town is also home to what’s billed as the world’s largest Christmas store.
Escaping their country’s cold winters, a group of Danish immigrants headed for sunny California, establishing in Solvang in 1911. The town was designed to mimic their homeland, however, as noted in the Danish-style buildings. Solvang is also home to a copy of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue and its Rundetaarn, or Round Tower.
At the turn of the century, this small timber town in Washington boomed as the headquarters of the Great Northern Railway. But when the company relocated in the 1920s, Leavenworth fell on hard times. In the 1960s the town began a revitalization project that would turn its center into a replica of a Bavarian village, which was based on the touristic success of Solvang.
The name might give it away, but Holland, Michigan, was settled by Dutch Calvinist immigrants seeking opportunity and religious freedom. Though a great fire destroyed many of the original buildings in 1871, the city still maintains a strong Dutch heritage—see the De Zwaan windmill and the annual Tulip Time Festival.
New Glarus, Wisconsin
A group of Swiss immigrants from the province of Glarus founded New Glarus in 1845, with the population growing to over 1,000 Swiss by 1870. Today you’ll find a number of Swiss-style chalets, the Swiss Historical Village Museum, and a brewery in town. Each August, the town celebrates the Swiss Independence Day with the Swiss Volksfest, complete with yodeling and alphorn playing.
Like Leavenworth, the town of Helen in Georgia suffered a decline from its glory days as a logging town, and in the 1960s it took on a Bavarian theme. In fact, according to building codes established in 1969, every structure in the town must use Germanic design. Helen’s transformation into a little Bavaria isn’t limited to architecture—the town is known for its Oktoberfest, Alpenfest, and Volksmarch celebrations.