MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Chicago at Christmas
During the holidays, this glittering, festive town becomes the City of Broad Smiles.
A jolly holiday in Minneapolis
Christmas draws tourists and locals alike into the lively heart of the city.
In search of Christmas past
Power shopping in southwest Wisconsin
On a late-fall foray, six bargain hunters find treasure amid scenery.
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/Milwaukee holidays

Cathedral Square at Christmas.

During the holidays, Milwaukee's downtown lights up like a child's face on Christmas morning.

What to do: Tour the decorated Pabst Mansion. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum (and its shop). Ice skate at Red Arrow Park. Shop in the Historic Third Ward or on Old World Third Street.

See the holiday lights in Cathedral Square and Pere Marquette Park. Catch "A Christmas Carol'' at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Events to catch: Dec. 2-3, Christmas in the Ward.

Details: For more, see Milwaukee at Christmas.

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

This weekend

Follow reindeer and strolling carolers.

Christmas in Milwaukee's Third Ward.

Christmas in the Ward in Milwaukee. Festivities in the rejuvenated Third Ward near downtown start with tree lighting and a performance by Trinity Irish Dancers, followed by fireworks, carriage rides, carolers, reindeer, street entertainers and a cookie sale. Dec. 2–3.

Grand Meander in St. Paul. On Grand Avenue,there will be carolers, reindeer, free fire-truck rides for kids, soup tasting, free samples, a juried art fair  and a trolley to get around. Dec. 3.

Christmas Walk in Geneva, Ill. There's a cookie walk, 6 p.m. Friday parade, tree lighting with Santa Lucia and Santa Claus, strolling carolers and marshmallow toasting. Dec. 2–3.

Julebyen in Knife River, Minn. This Norwegian Christmas market between Duluth and Two Harbors features indoor and outdoor markets, music, children's activities, skating, Norwegian food and visits from Santa and elves. On Saturday, take the train from Duluth. Dec. 3–4.

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.

Read story and trip tips

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.

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.

Here are more than 20 towns where you'll find great shopping and sightseeing, ranked from good to greatest.

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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, hostels and even museums. And most of the fun — skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, festival-attending — is free.

Here are 20 inexpensive weekend trips you can take in 2017, most for $100 or less per person.

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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.

Read story and trip tips

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