MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

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Favorites for winter

Milwaukee at Christmas
During the holidays, this city shimmers like Cinderella.
A jolly holiday in Minneapolis
Christmas draws tourists and locals alike into the lively heart of the city.
Bayfield in winter
When snow covers this scenic Wisconsin peninsula, everyone heads for the hills.
Quiet time on the North Shore
Late fall is marked by stark beauty, cheaper stays and the gales of November.
Eating in the Amana Colonies
In eastern Iowa, a historic village has a long tradition of feeding people well.
Nights at the museum
Sleep with the fishes, wolves and dinosaurs at family slumber parties.
Great holiday festivals
In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.

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FastPlans/Christmas in Chicago

Gingerbread hearts at Christkindlmarket.

During the holidays, this glittering city pulses with excitement. The Christkindlmarket turns Daley Plaza into a Old World town square, skaters pirouette at Millennium Park and shoppers cruise the Magnificent Mile.

What to do: Visit the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Ice skate at Millennium Park. Go to a holiday show (check HotTix for half-price tickets). Shop on the Magnificent Mile. See "Christmas Around the World'' at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Details: For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Past fast plans: Milwaukee holidays, Merry in Minneapolis, Shopping in Madison, Gales of November, Late fall in Red Wing

This weekend

Meet Father Christmas and the Christkind.

Father Christmas at Old World Wisconsin.

European Christmas Market in St. Paul. This market at Union Depot features choirs, dancers, warm mulled wine, European-inspired food and artisan goods. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train arrives at 7:15 p.m. Dec. 9. Dec. 8–11.

Christkindlmarket in Naperville, Ill. The Chicago Christkindlmarket has a satellite at the historic Naperville Settlement, featuring visits from the Christkind, dance concerts and a children's lantern parade on Kinder Tag, Dec. 11. Dec. 8–11.

An Old World Christmas in Eagle, Wis. At this complex of pioneer homesteads, meet Father Christmas, stroll from historic houses to shops, sample ethnic foods and make old-fashioned crafts. Dec. 10–11.

Folkways of the Holidays in Shakopee, Minn. This living-history museum offers  horse-drawn trolley rides, tours of 19th-century homes given by costumed interpreters and concerts by folk musicians and ethnic dancers. Dec. 10–11.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

Old World Christmas markets

Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.

Drinking Gluehwein at a Christkindlmarkt.

For 500 years, Germans have done their holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.

Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.

It's a tradition worth importing, and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.

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The coolest days of winter

Ditch the indoors for one of these great festivals.

A festival ice sculpture.

There's no use hiding from winter — it lasts too long, and eventually that living room will get old.

Many of the tourist spots we love to visit in summer work hard to lure us back when it's cold, offering festivals with lots of fun in the snow, plus bonfires and chili feeds to warm us up afterward.

For an exciting spectator event, watch the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth or the Crashed Ice extreme skating in St. Paul.

If you've always wanted to see the Winter Olympics, see the next best thing at ski-jumping competitions in Westby, Wis., or Iron Mountain, Mich.

For your own fun in the snow, go to Winter Festival in Madison or the Winter Festival at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, in the coulees to the west.

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Winter adventure on a budget

At non-profit lodges, you can go to the dogs, or wolves, at bargain prices.

High ropes course at Wolf Ridge.

In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.

Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, wood-fired saunas and home-cooked meals aren't cheap.

But if you'd like to try those things — and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward — you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

These non-profit centers are the low-cost Club Meds of the north woods, offering all-inclusive weekend packages that include lodgings, meals and winter fun — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, even wolf-tracking and sled-dog mushing.

Women get an especially good shake at Becoming an Outdoorswomen weekends in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Here are some great budget adventures in 2017

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20 great shopping towns

Few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.

Shops on High Street in Mineral Point.

Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.

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Cheap winter getaways

Here are 20 places where a fun weekend away is easy on the wallet.

Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.

Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.

The easiest way to save is to round up a group of friends and rent a guesthouse in a state park. You'll find more overnight deals at environmental centers and hostels. And most of the fun — skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, festival-attending — is free.

You also can snowshoe from a yurt in the Upper Peninsula, hit the museums in Chicago and track wolves in Wisconsin.

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Homes for the holidays

For Christmas tours, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.

Mayowood decorated for the holidays.

Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking.

Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

It all turned into money when ambitious men arrived, gathering up the goodies like kids on Halloween. They logged, they mined, they traded and they shipped.

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