MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

20 great shopping towns
Few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.
Ski or snowshoe by candlelight
On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.
Fun in the fast lane
Need speed? Here's where to ski or snowboard in the Upper Midwest.
20 perfect cabins
They're in the woods, with views, vintage charm and modern luxuries (but maybe not all together).
Where eagles land
Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.
Staying warm in winter
If you know what to wear, dealing with cold weather is a breeze.
Bayfield in winter
When snow covers this scenic Wisconsin peninsula, everyone heads for the hills.
The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.

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FastPlans/Christmas in Chicago

The Christkind at Chicago's 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: A merry holiday in Milwaukee, Sampling in Iowa's Amanas, Shopping in Madison, The Gales of November, Exploring Northfield

This weekend

Admire bright lights and fireworks.

Dinosaurland at Bentleyville.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth. Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations and enjoy popcorn, roasted marshmallows, cookies and hot chocolate. Everything is free, but bring one or more non-perishable food items (and/or cash) to donate. Through Dec. 26.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis. The free entertainment includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts. There are fireworks at 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Dec. 13–16.

An Old World Christmas in Eagle, Wis. At this fun event at Old World Wisconsin, you'll meet Father Christmas, stroll from historic houses to shops, sample ethnic foods and make old-fashioned crafts. Dec. 15–16.

Christkindlmarket in Naperville, Ill. The Chicago Christkindlmarket has a satellite market at the historic Naperville Settlement, with visits from the Christkind, dance performances and a children's lantern parade on Kinder Tag. Dec. 13–24.

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.

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Best of winter

Here are 25 great ways to savor the chilly season.

A ski jumper in Westby.

There's a reason why winter is the favorite season of many photographers — it's gorgeous. 

You've seen this region's icicle-draped sea caves, volcanic Great Lakes waves and dancing northern lights on social media. Now get out there and enjoy the scenery yourselves.

Snowshoe up frozen river canyons, barrel through the woods behind a team of huskies and go to bock festivals at breweries. Learn to ice fish, track wolves and look for bald eagles.

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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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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.

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