A Dozen US Cities That Feel Like Europe

St. Augustine Architecture courtesy: Historic Coast Culture

I’m longing to take my passport out of the drawer and dust it off but it’s not time yet. We still have a few more months until things settle down and the world starts spinning again. In this year without international travel, we can explore our own backyard with twelve distinctive cities that will make you feel like you’ve gone abroad.

Leavenworth WA courtesy unsplash

Leavenworth, Washington 

Are you missing the Alps, the Romantic Road and other charms of Bavaria? Although you can’t visit Germany now, you can enjoy a Bavarian experience in the charming town of Leavenworth, Washington. In the early 1960s, the town was transformed into a Bavarian-themed village, taking full advantage of its Cascades Mountains location in a bid to attract tourism. Architecture, shops and galleries call to mind 18th-century Bavaria with attractions like the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum with displays of more than 6000 nutcrackers and The Gingerbread Factory where Nuremberg lebkuchen and other gingerbread treats await. The town has a full complement of German restaurants and breweries to sate your thirst for beer and brats. Grab some Bavarian potato soup from München Haus or sauerbraten from King Ludwig’s to chase away the winter chill.

Fredericksburg, Texas Main Street (c) Trish Rawls

Fredericksburg, Texas

Founded 175 years ago by the Adelsverein, better known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants, Fredericksburg, Texas blends German heritage with Texas Hill Country hospitality. The town’s deep German roots are evident in its many shops, restaurants, biergartens and art. To get a sense of the original settlers and a timeline of Fredericksburg’s German history, visit the octagonal Vereins Kirche in the center of Marktplatz. The Pioneer Museum will give you another look at the town’s culture including the distinctive Sunday house, a small “city house” used by settlers when visiting from the countryside to buy provisions or attend church on weekends. Refuel with duck schnitzel at Otto’s German Bistro where the wurst platte makes a shareable starter with house-made wild boar wurst served traditionally with rotkhol (red cabbage,) senfgurken (pickles) and mustard. You can wash everything down with a variety of German-styled beers at the Old World-fashioned Alstadt Brewery. A must-visit is Opa’s Smoked Meats. Ask the butchers to put together a picnic of sausages made from traditional German recipes.

Vail Arrabelle courtesy Exclusive Resorts

Vail, Colorado

Skiers at North America’s largest and most popular ski resort will notice Vail, Colorado’s resemblance to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and Zermatt, Switzerland. Buildings stenciled in the same fashion as the homes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen create a colorful wash against the snow of the Colorado Rockies. Farmhouse-style hotels, bars, shops and restaurants seem to have been transported from Bavaria with their classic Bavarian architecture. As much a clone of a Swiss town as of a German village, Vail was actually inspired by Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. Resort designer Peter Sibert planned the town to replicate a Swiss ski village with cobblestones, a glorious mountain setting, and characteristic Swiss balconies and decorative woodwork on buildings. Alpine cultures meet up in the portfolio of Vail cuisine. You can stay warm with a hot Bavarian Gluehwein accompanied by Swiss fondue at the beautiful Almresi restaurant. Be sure to leave room for German apfelstrudel or a very Austrian kaiserschmarrn for dessert.

New Glarus, Wisconsin

There’s a reason why New Glarus is known as “America’s Little Switzerland.” With its Alpine-style architecture and colorful, flower-filled window boxes, the town oozes Old World at every turn. Settled in 1845 by Swiss immigrants, the town adheres to Swiss traditions at places like the Emmi Roth Käse Cheese Factory, a Swiss-owned cheesemaker where you can observe the cheesemaking process firsthand. Architecture, customs and cuisine are very much Swiss here, with obvious ties to the motherland. As you stroll around admiring the chalet-style buildings, you might just hear yodeling and alphorns. Are you in Switzerland? If it’s cold out, and you’ve just had a piece of Swiss cheese, you might be. But, then again, Wisconsin is the state of Cheeseheads.

New Orleans (c) Meryl Pearlstein

New Orleans, Louisiana 

Colonized by French settlers in the early 1700s and ceded to Spain in the 1762 Treaty of Paris, The Big Easy is an exciting mash-up of Spanish and French cultures.  The architecture, culture and cuisine are unique to the city, but you’ll certainly note New Orleans’ many wrought iron balconies and winding streets reminiscent of those you’d find in Europe. Once known as “Spanish Louisiana,” the French Quarter feels like a trip through Spain and the vibrantly colored houses in Faubourg Treme add a seaside flair. Restaurant choices can take you abroad in a flash. Park yourself at the ever-popular Café du Monde near the French Market for a must-have beignet and chicory coffee.  Nearby Antoine’s and Arnaud’s offer time-tested menus of French and local dishes. 

Aviles Street, St. Augustine courtesy Florida’s Historic Coast

St. Augustine, Florida 

The oldest city in the United States, founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine, Florida has a definitively Spanish feel. At every turn, you’ll see buildings, streets, parks and monuments which would all be perfectly comfortable in a setting in Spain. 

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the continental United States. Plan to visit the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest masonry fort, which was built to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World. Nearby, The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a 15-acre site said to be where Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León completed his search for the healing waters. A walk through the fascinating Historic District along Aviles and St. George streets is as much a pleasant stroll as a cultural foray into four centuries of St. Augustine history. After remarking on the Spanish Renaissance architecture of beautiful Flagler College, enjoy the richness of Spanish cuisine at Sangrias set in a historic coquina building with an outdoor patio. Mix in a dash of Cuba at Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant chain and a tradition in St. Augustine since 1905. Note the beautiful tiles lining the dining room as well as the many Spanish fountains as you tuck into the restaurant’s acclaimed “1905” salad. 

St. Augustine Carriage courtesy Florida’s Historic Coast

Santa Barbara, California 

Beautiful Santa Barbara, California began its life with distinctive architecture from Spanish colonists. Adding more and more over the years, the white-washed adobe and hacienda-style buildings with red tile roofs give the city a characteristic Spanish flair. Santa Barbara’s coastline location has earned it the moniker of “The American Riviera,” but it might be more accurate to call it “St. Augustine of the West” thanks to both cities’ similar architecture. Remaining faithful to Spain’s’ fascination with colors, the city celebrates its heritage through vivid art installations at every turn. As you stroll the open-air Paseo Nuevo shopping and entertainment area, close your eyes for a moment — you might just think you’ve landed in Europe.

Cottage of Sweets courtesy Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

It’s not very big, but this one-square-mile town is the epitome of a European village. A visit here will make you forget that you can’t go to Europe now. The fairytale architecture of Carmel-by-the-Sea, like something from the British Isles, is the base of one of the most famous artist colonies in the world. Whether your reference point is the Cotswolds or the Emerald Isle, you’ll be charmed by the stone-paved alleyways and curlicue-roofed houses which are home to many art galleries and shops. Forty-one secret passageways, courtyards and gardens pass by 21 original fairytale cottages built in 1924 by Hugh Comstock in a style now synonymous with Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Solvang, California

Solvang, California 

Along California’s Central Coast, Solvang is more Danish than American with gingerbread and half-timber architecture, quaint shops and windmills. Originally part of an area settled first by Spanish colonists, Solvang was founded in 1911 by Danish-Americans as a place to keep Danish culture alive in the US. To learn more about this “Danish Capital of America,” visit the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art where you can also buy Danish PlusPlus blocks, Ekelund fine linens and scarves from Kronborg Castle. An immediate cultural immersion, Solvang’s streets are lined with Danish bakeries, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and boutiques that feel very Scandinavian. Stop at Olsen’s for butter cookies and Copenhagen Sausage Garden for a sausage sampler. 

Dala Horse courtesy Visit Lindsborg

Lindsborg, Kansas

For all things Swedish, plan a trip to Lindsborg, Kansas founded in 1869 by a group of Swedish immigrants with a vision of creating a Swedish community rich in culture, learning, religion, business and farming. Affectionately known as “Little Sweden USA,” Lindsborg honors its heritage with the autumn Svensk Hyllningsfest celebration and the St. Lucia Festival in December. A symbol of colorful Swedish handicraft and one of Sweden’s most popular souvenirs, wild tail-free Dala horses are found throughout the city. You can buy your own handcarved, painted version at Hemslöjd, “the Dala Horse factory,” where a visit to the workshop is a trip to Sweden in miniature. To prepare for next December’s St. Lucia Festival make an appointment at The Ivory Thimble for a custom-tailored Swedish costume. You can stay overnight at the charmingly named Dröm Sött (Sweet Dreams Inn) and enjoy a breakfast smörgåsbord or book an apartment at downtown’s Vetehuset, an unusual BnB in a wheat house from the 1880s. For a taste of Sweden, be sure to try Svensk köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) and ärtsoppa (yellow pea soup) at Crown & Rye and ostakaka (Swedish cheesecake) from the bakery at White’s Foodliner.

Lindsborg Swedish dancers courtesy Visit Lindsborg

Holland, Michigan

Founded by Dutch settlers seeking religious freedom in 1847, Holland, Michigan visually conveys its roots with the 25-year-old DeZwaan Windmill, the only authentic working Dutch windmill in the United States, and a de rigueur stop for Instagrammers. If you’re visiting in the winter, there’s plenty of Dutch-inspired architecture and design to keep you amused. But you’ll probably want to return in the spring to enjoy Holland’s Tulip Time festival modeled after the acclaimed Keukehofen in Amsterdam.

Pella, Iowa

Pella, Iowa

A second Dutch city founded in 1847, Pella, Iowa  was named after a biblical city of refuge. Dutch design is visible throughout in structures like Vermeer Mill, the tallest working grain windmill in the US, and Molengracht Plaza with a canal-like waterway and working drawbridge surrounded by beautiful, Dutch-style buildings. For a more in-depth look at Dutch culture, Pella Historical Village encompasses 21 buildings including a blacksmith shop, wood shoemaker, puppet theater, church and bakery. A focal point with a carillon clock, The Klokkenspel rings at random times with moving figurines that portray important pieces of Pella’s history. Want more Dutch whimsy? Sunken Gardens Park features a decorative windmill and a pond shaped like a wooden shoe. If you’re hungry, Jaarsma Bakery sells Dutch Letters, an S-shaped treat filled with almond paste and dusted with sugar. Popular Dutch street foods like poffertjes (tiny pancakes), frites and sauce, in’t Veld’s bologna on a stick, and oliebollen (cinnamon-raisin dumplings) can be had at Dutch Fix.

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