MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Celebrating roots

No matter where you're from, there's a heritage festival for you.

Guitarists at Cinco de Mayo.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

In general, I like my heritage. It involves Vikings and trolls and populist politics. At festivals, tow-headed children dance around in cute outfits.

But the food . . . not so much. When it comes to herring and lutefisk, I'd rather be Polish. Plump pierogi with sour cream and sauteed onions — now, there's an ethnic food I can love.

Luckily, it's easy to piggyback on other cultures in the Upper Midwest. Yes, many of us came  from Germany, Ireland and Norway.

But we also came from Greece, Ghana, Switzerland, Iceland, Scotland, Ukraine — and there are festivals honoring those cultures and those of the Dakota, Ojibwe, Cree and Ho-Chunk, who already were here.

Some of these festivals are the biggest in the region — Decorah's Nordic Fest brings 75,000 people to a town of 8,000 — so it's a good idea to plan far in advance.

If you’d like to reconnect with your heritage, or explore someone else’s, here's a list of summer and fall festivals

And for stories about ethnic communities in the Upper Midwest — Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, German, Dutch, Swiss, Dakota and Ojibwe — see Heritage Travel.

For more on towns that celebrate their heritage, see our Ethnic towns stories.

For exploring the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, see Globe-trotting in Chicago.

Here are some of the best festivals in 2015.


June 19, Juneteenth Day Festival in Milwaukee. On Martin Luther King Drive.

June 20, Juneteenth Day in Minneapolis. At North Mississippi Regional Park.

Aug. 8, Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in Chicago. On the South Side, ending in Washington Park.

American Indian

All powwows and wacipi are celebrations of culture, and many are held on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. For a list, see Powwow primer or check Drumhop.

Irish dancers in a parade.

© Beth Gauper

Irish dancers step in a parade.

Sept. 4-6, Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

For more about Dakota and Ojibwe culture in the Upper Midwest, see Heritage travel: Dakota and Ojibwe.


May 23, CelebrAsian: The Annual Asian Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western  Gateway Park.


July 11-12, Belgian Days in Brussels, Wis., in Door County.


July 3-5, African-Caribbean International Festival of Life in Chicago. In Union Park.

Aug. 2, Belize Day in the Park in Cicero, Ill. At Hawthorne Race Course.


March 14, Celtic Festival in Moorhead, Minn., at the Hjemkomst Center, sponsored by Moorhead Parks.

For St. Patrick's Day festivals, see Toasting St. Pat.

Sept. 18-19, Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities at Centennial Park in downtown Davenport. 

Sept. 25-27, Cornish Festival in Mineral Point, Wis. At Pendarvis and around town. 


June 27, Chicago Dragon Boat Race on the Chicago River past Chinatown.

July 19, Chinatown Summer Fair in Chicago.


May 15-17, Houby Days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Czech Village.

June 13-14, Cesky Den in Hillsboro, Wis.

June 19-21, Czech-Slovak Festival in Phillips, Wis.

Sept. 19, Dozinky in New Prague, Minn. 

A Viking ship float in Spring Grove.

© Torsten Muller

A Viking ship is part of the Syttende Mai parade in Spring Grove, Minnesota's first Norwegian settlement.


May 23-24, Tivoli Fest in Elk Horn, Iowa, at the Danish Museum.

July 24-26, Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn.

Aug. 21-23, Danish Festival in Greenville, Mich.

For more about Danish culture in the Upper Midwest, see Heritage travel: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.


May 1-2, Dutch Days in Fulton, Ill.

May 2-9, Tulip Time in Holland, Mich.

May 7-9, Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa.

May 14-16, Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa.

July 10-11, Dutch Festival in Edgerton, Minn.

July 24-25, Holland Festival in Cedar Grove, Wis., near Lake Michigan just south of Sheboygan.


July 9-12, Bastille Days in Milwaukee. On Cathedral Square.


May 2-3, Maifest in Amana, Iowa.

May 28-31, Maifest in Chicago. In the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

June 19-21, GermanFest in St. Paul. At the Historic Schmidt Brewery.

July 17-19, Bavarian Blast in New Ulm, Minn..

July 24-26, German Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

Sept. 11-13, German-American Festival in Chicago. In Lincoln Square. 

For more, see Toasting Oktoberfest .

For more about German culture in the Upper Midwest, see Germans in the Upper Midwest.


June 19-21, Greek Fest in West Allis, Wis. At Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Aug. 22-23, Taste of Greece in Chicago. In Greektown.

Dragons in a Chinatown parade.

© Chicago Chinatown

Dragons parade through Chinatown in Chicago.


July 31-Aug. 3, the 126th Islendingadagurinn in Gimli, Manitoba, the largest Icelandic community outside Iceland.


July 21, Festival of India in Thunder Bay. In Marina Park.

Aug. 15, IndiaFest in Milwaukee. In Humboldt Park.

Aug. 15, IndiaFest in St. Paul. On the State Capitol grounds.


May 22-25, Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Festival in Oak Forest, Ill.

June 11-14, Irish Festival in Oshkosh, Wis. In Riverside Park on the Fox River.

July 10-12, Irish Fest in Chicago. At the Irish American Heritage Center.

July 31-Aug. 2, Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo. In Lincoln Park.

Aug. 7-9, Irish Fair in St. Paul. On Harriet Island.

Aug. 7-9, Irishfest in La Crosse, Wis. On the Southside Fest grounds.

Aug. 13-16, Irish Fest in Milwaukee. In Maier Festival Park.

The Narren of New Ulm.

© Beth Gauper

The Narren of New Ulm, Minn., folk figures with wooden masks, appear at many German festivals.

Aug. 22, The Great Lakes Gathering in Saginaw, Mich. In First Merit Bank Event Park.

Sept. 17-20, Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon, Mich. At Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.


May 29-31, Festa Italia in Madison. At McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg, presented by the Italian Workmen's Club.

July 17-18, Festa Italiana in St. Paul, Minn. On Harriet Island.

July 17-19, Festa Italiana in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

July 24-25, Viva L'Italia in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park downtown.

July 31-Aug. 2, Festa Italiana in Rockford, Ill. On the grounds of Boylan High School.

Sept. 5, Festival Italiano in Hurley, Wis.


Aug. 7-9, Ginza Holiday Festival in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple near LIncoln Park.

Mexican/Latin American

Tulip Time in Pella.

© Beth Gauper

At Pella's Tulip Time, descendants of Dutch immigrants wear lace hats called poeffers.

May 2, Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul's District del Sol on the West Side.

June 12-14, Fiesta Waukesha in Waukesha, Wis. In Frame Park on the Fox River, just west of Milwaukee.

Aug. 14-16, Festival Cubano in Chicago. In Riis Park.

Aug. 21-23, Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

Sept. 26-27, Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Water Works Park.

Middle Eastern

July 17-19, Middle Eastern Festival in West St. Paul, Minn. At St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.


May 15-17, Syttende Mai in Stoughton, Wis.

May 15-17, Syttende Mai in Westby, Wis.

May 16-17, Syttende Mai in Spring Grove, Minn. For more, see In the land of Norwegians.

June 20-21, Midsummer Festival near Westby, Wis. At Norskedalen heritage museum. 

For more about Norwegian culture in the Upper Midwest, see Norwegians among us.


Polka Dancers in traditional outfits

© Beth Gauper

Polka dancing is a big part of Milwaukee's Polish Fest.

June 12-14, Polish Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park. For more, see Polish for a day.

Aug. 6-9, Polish Festival in Boyne Falls, Mich.

Aug. 7-9, Twin Cities Polish Festival in Minneapolis, on the Mississippi riverfront across from downtown.

Aug. 13-16, Taste of Pierogi in Bridgeview, Ill. At Toyota Park.

Sept. 4-7, Taste of Polonia in Chicago. At the Copernicus Center.


June 5-7, Scandinavian Days in Story City, Iowa.

June 12-13, Nisswa-Stãmman Scandinavian Folk Festival in Nisswa, Minn.

June 20, Midsommar Festival in South Elgin, Ill. In Vasa Park on the Fox River.

June 20-21, Midsummer Fest at Norskedalen Heritage Center in Coon Valley, Wis.

June 20, Fyr Bal Festival in Ephraim, Wis.

June 21, Scandinavian Midsommar in Eagle, Wis. On The Green at Old World Wisconsin; free.

June 26-27, Midwest Viking Festival and Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minn.

July 23-25, Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa. For more, see Nordic nirvana.

A dancer at a powwow.

© Beth Gauper

Powwows are the linchpin of American Indian culture.

Sept. 13, Scandinavian Day in South Elgin, Ill. In Vasa Park on the Fox River.


June 6, Scottish Fest & Highland Games in Milwaukee. At Hart Park in the suburb of Wauwatosa.

July 18, Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games in Eagan, Minn. At Faithful Shepherd Catholic School.

Sept. 4-6, Wisconsin Highland Games in Waukesha, Wis. At the Expo Center.


June 12-14, Midsommarfest in Chicago. At the Swedish American Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood.

June 21, Swedish Day in Geneva, Ill., held since 1911. In Good Templar Park.

June 23-28, Swedish Days in Geneva, Ill.

June 20, Midsommar Dag in Scandia, Minn. At Gammelgården Museum.

June 28, Svenskarnas Dag in Minneapolis. At Minnehaha Park.

Dancers in the Wilhelm Tell pageant.

© Beth Gauper

Residents of the Swiss town of New Glarus stage a Wilhelm Tell pageant over Labor Day weekend.

July 8-12, Karl Oskar Days in Lindstrom, Minn., in the Chisago Lakes area.

For more, see Swedes in the Upper Midwest and Sweden in Minnesota.


June 26-28, Heidi Festival in New Glarus, Wis.

Aug. 2, Swiss Volksfest in New Glarus.

Aug. 7-8, Swiss Heritage Days in Alma, Wis.

Sept. 4-6, Wilhelm Tell Festival in New Glarus.

For more about Swiss culture in the Upper Midwest, see Swiss at heart and Heritage travel: Switzerland.


Sept. 2-5, Turkish Festival in Chicago. At Pioneer Court on the Magnificent Mile.


July 31-Aug. 2, Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. 

September, Twin Cities Ukrainian Heritage Festival in Minneapolis. At the Ukrainian Event Center near Nicollet Island.

And everywhere else

Aug. 2-15, Winnipeg holds Folklorama, with 45 pavilions celebrating the nationalities who have come to this melting pot on the Manitoba prairie.

Pavilions are devoted to the countries listed above as well as to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Hungary, India, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines, Serbia, Croatia, Cuba, El Salvador, Indochina, Russia, Slovenia and the Tamil region on the Indian Ocean.

Venues are throughout the city. For more about Winnipeg, see Bazaar on the prairie.

Last updated on August 14, 2015

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