MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Celebrating roots

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

Polka Dancers in traditional outfits

© Beth Gauper

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

In general, I like my heritage. It involves Vikings and trolls and progressive 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 when the immigrants arrived.

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 2018.


June 16, Juneteenth Day in Minneapolis. At North Mississippi Regional Park.

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

Aug. 11, Bud Billiken Parade 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.

A dancer at a powwow.

© Beth Gauper

Powwows are the linchpin of American Indian culture.

Sept. 7-9, 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 25-26, CelebrAsian: The Annual Asian Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western  Gateway Park.


July 14-15, Belgian Days in Brussels, Wis., in Door County. 


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

Sept. 14-15, Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities at Centennial Park in downtown Davenport. 

Throwing weights at Highland Games.


Highland Games feature feats of strength.

Sept. 28-30, Cornish Festival in Mineral Point, Wis. At Pendarvis and around town. 


June 23, Chicago Dragon Boat Race on the Chicago River past Chinatown.

July 15, Chinatown Summer Fair in Chicago.


May 18-20, Houby Days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Czech Village.

June 9, Cesky Den in Hillsboro, Wis.

June 15-17, Czech-Slovak Festival in Phillips, Wis.

Sept. 22, Dozinky in New Prague, Minn. 

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.


May 26-27, Tivoli Fest in Elk Horn, Iowa, at the Danish Museum.

July 28-29, Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn.

Aug. 16-19, Danish Festival in Greenville, Mich.

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


May 3-5, Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa.

May 5-13, Tulip Time in Holland, Mich.

May 17-19, Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa.

July 12-14, Dutch Festival in Edgerton, Minn.

July 27-28, Holland Festival in Cedar Grove, Wis., near Lake Michigan just south of Sheboygan.

Tulip Time in Pella.

© Beth Gauper

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


July 12-15, Bastille Days in Milwaukee. On Cathedral Square.


May 5-6, Maifest in Amana, Iowa.

May 31-June 3, Maifest in Chicago. In the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

June 9-10, Deutsche Tage in St. Paul. At the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue.

July 19-22, Bavarian Blast in New Ulm, Minn..

July 27-29, German Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

For more, see Toasting Oktoberfest.

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


Aug. 3-6, the 129th Islendingadagurinn in Gimli, Manitoba, the largest Icelandic community outside Iceland.


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

Aug. 18, IndiaFest in Milwaukee. In Humboldt Park.

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


May 25-28, Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Festival in Oak Forest, Ill.

The Narren of New Ulm.

© Beth Gauper

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

June 15-17, Irish Festival in Oshkosh, Wis. In Riverside Park on the Fox River.

July 6-8, Irish Fest in Chicago. At the Irish American Heritage Center.

Aug. 3-5, Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo. In Lincoln Park.

Aug. 10-12, Irish Fair in St. Paul. On Harriet Island.

Aug. 10-12, Irishfest in La Crosse, Wis. On the Southside Fest grounds.

Aug. 16-19, Irish Fest in Milwaukee. In Maier Festival Park. 

Sept. 13-16, Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon, Mich. At Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.

Carrying cannoli at Festa Italiana.

© Festa Italiana

Roman warriors carry trays of cannoli at Festa Italiana in Milwaukee.


June 1-3, Festa Italia in Madison. At McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg, presented by the Italian Workmen's Club.

July 20-22, Festa Italiana in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

July 27-28, Italian American Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park downtown.

Aug. 3-5, Festa Italiana in Rockford, Ill. On the grounds of Boylan High School.

Sept. 1, Festivale Italiano in Hurley, Wis.


Aug. 10-12, Ginza Holiday Festival in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple near LIncoln Park.


Aug. 11-12, Luxembourg Fest in Belgium, Wis.

Guitarists at Cinco de Mayo.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

Mexican/Latin American

May 5, Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul's District del Sol on the West Side.

May 12, Cinco de Mayo in Darlington, Wis. On Main Street.

June 9-10, Fiesta Waukesha in Waukesha, Wis. In Frame Park on the Fox River, just west of Milwaukee.

Aug. 10-12, Festival Cubano in Chicago. In Riis Park.

Aug. 24-26, Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

Sept. 22-23, Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park.

Middle Eastern

July 20-22, Middle Eastern Festival in West St. Paul, Minn. At St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.


May 18-20, Syttende Mai in Stoughton, Wis.

May 19-20, Syttende Mai in Westby, Wis.

May 18-20, Syttende Mai in Spring Grove, Minn. For more, see In the land of Norwegians.

June 16, Midsummer Festival near Westby, Wis. At Norskedalen heritage museum. 

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


June 15-17, Polish Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park. For more, see Polish for a day.

Irish dancers in a parade.

© Beth Gauper

Irish dancers step in a parade.

Aug. 2-5, Polish Festival in Boyne Falls, Mich.

Aug. 10-12, Twin Cities Polish Festival in Minneapolis, on the Mississippi riverfront across from downtown.

Aug. 31-Sept. 3, Taste of Polonia in Chicago. At the Copernicus Center.


June 8-9, Nisswa-Stãmman Scandinavian Folk Festival in Nisswa, Minn.

June 16, Fyr Bal Festival in Ephraim, Wis.

June 22-23, Midwest Viking Festival and Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minn.

June 24, Scandinavian Summer Festival in Minneapolis. In Minnehaha Falls Park.

July 26-28, Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa. For more, see Nordic nirvana.

Sept. 9, Scandinavian Day in South Elgin, Ill. In Vasa Park on the Fox River.

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.


June 2, Scottish Fest & Highland Games in Milwaukee. At Hart Park in the suburb of Wauwatosa.

July 20-21, Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games in Eagan, Minn. In Central Park.

Aug. 31-Sept. 2, Wisconsin Highland Games in Waukesha, Wis. At the Expo Center.


June 8-10, Midsommarfest in Chicago. At the Swedish American Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood.

June 17, Viking Midsummer Festival in Geneva, Ill., held since 1911 as Swedish Day. In Good Templar Park.

June 19-24, Swedish Days in Geneva, Ill.

June 23, Midsommar Dag in Scandia, Minn. At Gammelgården Museum.

July 11-15, Karl Oskar Days in Lindstrom, Minn., in the Chisago Lakes area.

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

Dragons in a Chinatown parade.

© Chicago Chinatown

Dragons parade through Chinatown in Chicago.


June 22-23, Heidi Festival in New Glarus, Wis.

Aug. 5, Swiss Volksfest in New Glarus.

Aug. 27-28, Swiss Heritage Days in Alma, Wis.

Aug. 31-Sept. 2, Wilhelm Tell Festival in New Glarus.

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


Aug. 3-5, Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. 

And everywhere else

Aug. 5-18, 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 May 28, 2018