Favorites for Winter

10 great ways to celebrate New Year's
You can put on a party hat or be festive in the forest.

Shopping in Madison
In this colorful college town, materialism and muckraking co-exist.

Downhill on the Iron Range
In northern Minnesota, Giants Ridge resort offers first-class skiing.

Power shopping in southwest Wisconsin
On a late-fall foray, six bargain hunters find treasure amid scenery.

Galena getaway
In northwest Illinois, this historic village is a favorite destination.

Milwaukee at Christmas
During the holidays, this city shimmers like Cinderella.

Bayfield in winter
When snow covers this scenic Wisconsin peninsula, everyone heads for the hills.

20 great shopping towns

In the Upper Midwest, few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.

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.

Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.

As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.

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Homes for the holidays

For Christmas, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.

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.

The men who made the biggest fortunes did it all, plowing their first round of profits into railroads, land and banking.

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Chicago at Christmas

During the holidays, this glittering, festive town becomes the City of Broad Smiles.

Visiting Chicago during the holidays, I'm always bowled over by how merry everyone is.

Can it be . . . Chicago Nice? It's either that or pixie dust.

Chicago is an exciting place to be any time, but at Christmas, it pulls out the stops. The Magnificent Mile sparkles. Ice skaters do pirouettes in Millennium Park. There are free concerts everywhere.

The first year I went, I headed for the Museum of Science and Industry and its "Christmas Around the World" exhibit of 50 trees, each decorated by a different Chicago cultural group.

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Where eagles land

Winter is anything but slow at the big birds' favorite gathering spots in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak — eagles are just plain cool.

Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.

To watch an eagle wheeling and dipping through the air is treat enough. It's even more of a thrill to see an airborne food fight or the tandem plummet of mating eagles.

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Old World Christmas markets

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

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.

It's become more popular every year, and now many other towns-from the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to the downtowns of both Twin Cities and many towns along Lake Michigan-have adopted the tradition and started markets of their own.

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Cheap winter getaways

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

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. After that, most of the fun — skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, festival-attending — is free.

You also can snowshoe from a yurt or lodge in the Upper Peninsula, have a museum sleepover in Chicago, track wolves in Wisconsin and go on a snowshoe-archery biathlon in Minnesota.

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Best of winter

Here are dozens of ways to savor the chilly season.

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.

Or be like the Finns, Danes and Norwegians, who regularly land on top of the World Happiness Report. In winter, they enjoy hygge — the cozy well-being felt by lighting candles, sitting in front of crackling fires and having warm drinks with friends. Try that yourselves, or go to the Hygge Festival in Grand Marais in February.

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In search of Christmas past

At Old World Wisconsin near Milwaukee, pioneers party like it's 1899.

Once, every child in America celebrated Christmas without battery-operated toys.

Instead, they played flap jacks and dominos. They made paper ornaments for the tree. They got an orange brought all the way from Florida.

That's still what kids do during Christmas time at Old World Wisconsin, where it's always the 19th century. Danish, Norwegian, German, Polish, Finnish and Yankee families toil there, trying to get ahead on the American frontier.

The buildings, brought in from homesteads all over Wisconsin and reconstructed here, at America's largest outdoor museum of rural life, would be familiar to the real pioneers.

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