Frankenmuth is one of the state’s most beloved getaways. Kids and adults alike love visits here. Known as “Little Bavaria,” its downtown architecture features the classic German fairytale styling you’ll see in places like Munich and Nuremberg. While a stroll through downtown is lovely, don’t miss the other fun things to do in Frankenmuth, Michigan while you’re there.
History of Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth was founded in the 1840s by German Lutherans who wanted to support other Germans in the Midwest – there were large French and English presences in the area, but few Germans – and spread their Lutheran religion to Native Americans. In the mid-1840s, a party of settlers traveled from Bavaria to nearby Saginaw and used that as a base for choosing a location for the permanent town. Eventually, Frankenmuth’s current location was chosen due to its rolling hills that reminded the settlers of their homeland. The name Frankenmuth was chosen to honor the province of Franconia (the Franken part) combined with “muth” meaning ‘courage’ in German. The city continues to celebrate its German heritage with architecture, food, and festivals throughout the year.
Things to do in Frankenmuth
I spent many childhood weekends visiting and there are so many fun things to do in Frankenmuth. I even chose it as the location for my wedding. It’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway, and is a popular spot to visit year-round, though its most popular times are in the fall and early winter.
Have a famous Frankenmuth chicken dinner
Two rival restaurants – Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s – in downtown serve up Frankenmuth chicken dinners that are famous throughout Michigan. Served family-style with endless refills, prepare to leave stuffed to the brim. The main course is – of course – fried chicken supplemented by plenty of side dishes. I’m somewhat picky about eating chicken off the bone, but I love the batter they use here and the quality of the meat is better than most places. Meals start off with a bread basket that includes German stollen bread (made with dried fruits similar to fruitcake, but with more of a bread consistency and no rum soaking) and chicken noodle soup. Sides include seasonal vegetables, buttered noodles that are better than plain noodles and butter have any right to be, coleslaw, pasta salad, stuffing, cranberry relish, and mashed potatoes. For dessert, vanilla, orange, or swirl ice cream is served. And, if you choose the Bavarian Inn option, try to catch the glockenspiel performance outside, which plays four times daily with music and moving figurines that tell the Pied Piper of Hamlin story.
Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland
If you like the holidays at all, you’ll love Bronner’s, which claims to be the world’s largest Christmas store and is a tourist attraction in its own right. The outside is full of fun decorations you can take pictures with, and the inside is packed wall to wall with every possible kind of Christmas decor you could imagine. Rooms are filled with Christmas trees, outdoor decorations, string lights, tree toppers, stockings, knickknacks, and more. There are thousands of ornaments to pick from with every theme imaginable and tons of them can be personalized with names and dates. There’s also a counter service food court on site if you need a snack while you’re shopping. It’s fun to explore even if you leave without buying anything (but you probably won’t). The store is open year round, but peak season is between Thanksgiving and Christmas when weekends draw big crowds.
Just outside the store, check out the Silent Night Memorial Chapel. It’s a replica of a chapel in Salzburg, Austria, where the song “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve. There is no charge for admission, either for visitation or prayer, and it’s open during store hours.
It wouldn’t be Little Bavaria without its own version of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. Frankenmuth’s annual celebration was the first to be officially sanctioned by the original Oktoberfest, and is sponsored by the Hofbräuhaus – Munich’s famous historic beer hall. Running from a Thursday-Sunday in September each year, this festival is one of the highlights of Frankenmuth. With plenty of beer to go around, German food, music, dancing and more, you’ll feel like you’re at the real deal without the trans-Atlantic plane ticket. Shuttles run from most of the local hotels and admission tickets can be purchased at the door.
Frankenmuth Aerial Park
This high ropes course located just a few minutes from downtown Frankenmuth offers ropes courses and zip lining. The park has multiple courses with different levels of difficulty making it a great activity for kids and adults. They also have special glow nights throughout the summer, with the course lit up with LED lighting and lasers and participants decked out in special glowing attire and glow paint. The operating season runs from May-October, weather permitting, with late season openings offered only on weekends. Prices vary by date and time of entry, and booking in advance is recommended.
Bavarian Belle River Boat
Hop aboard this paddlewheel boat for a narrated one-hour tour up the Cass River. The docks are right in the heart of downtown, near the famous covered bridge in the River Place Shops. Snacks, drinks, and souvenirs are available onboard. The operating season runs from mid-May through mid-October, weather permitting.
Frankenmuth FunShips Tastings
For a different river experience, try a Wine & Chocolate River Tour aboard the smaller, electric boats from Frankenmuth FunShips. This one-hour tour includes five wine samples paired with handmade chocolates, two additional wine samples, plus a full glass of your favorite and a souvenir glass to take home. If wine and/or chocolate aren’t your thing, you can opt for a 30-minute or one-hour guided tour with the option to purchase drinks on board. The operating season runs from May through October, weather permitting.
Cross the Holz Brücke
Crossing the Cass River between the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Lodge, this charming covered bridge looks like it’s something out of the distant past, but it actually only opened in 1980. Nevertheless, it’s beautiful, and crossing it was always a highlight of my childhood visits to Frankenmuth. Whether you drive or walk across, or just view it from along the river, it’s definitely worth a stop while you’re in town.
Michigan Heroes Museum
The Michigan Heroes Museum is dedicated to men and women from the state of Michigan who have served in foreign wars. With galleries of artifacts, photos, and personal documents, it honors their service and sacrifices and seeks to educate visitors and students. Special focus is paid to 31 Medal of Honor recipients from Michigan.
Frankenmuth Historical Museum
This small museum features seven galleries full of artifacts and information about Frankenmuth’s history. If you’re interested in how Frankenmuth came to be, it’s well worth the $2 admission to pay a visit. The museum also operates Fischer Hall, which dates back to the 1890s, and hosts events and concerts throughout the year.
Frankenmuth Carriage Rides
A couple different vendors offer horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown Frankenmuth, depending on the weather. You’ll typically find them boarding for rides near the Bavarian Inn Restaurant or Zehnder’s downtown. Rides start at 15 minutes on the short end, but can extend all the way to an hour and a half depending on availability.
Fortress Golf Course
This 18-hole, par 72 golf course in Frankenmuth is located within walking distance of downtown. It’s been voted as one of Michigan’s top golf courses. In addition to the course itself, it offers a putting green, practice bunker, and driving range. Find out more about the Fortress here.
Fun hotels in Frankenmuth
You’ll find your standard chains and smaller hotels, but two large ones stand out as family favorites. Coincidentally, they’re associated with the famous restaurants already mentioned.
Bavarian Inn Lodge
The Bavarian Inn Lodge was my dream as a kid – tons of pools and an arcade that seemed to stretch for miles. In the years since, they’ve added an indoor mini golf course and some really cool waterslides. The hotel is also home to restaurants, bars, and – of course – plenty of guest rooms. I love the Bavarian details on the building, and it’s just a short walk across the wooden bridge to downtown.
Zehnder’s Splash Village
This large hotel near Bronner’s has its own indoor water park. You’ll find water slides, a lazy river, and water play areas, among other things. Day passes and half day passes are available for non-hotel guests, which can be reserved (highly recommended) ahead of time on their website.
Where is Frankenmuth?
Frankenmuth is located in southeastern Michigan between Flint and Saginaw. It’s accessed via I-75 coming from the north or south. If you’re heading up from Detroit, the drive is approximately an hour and a half without traffic.