5 Iowa cities full of European charm
Iowa is my home state and you can experience European charm without needing a passport. Several cities offer a European atmosphere through their festivals, shops and parades. If you’ve been wanting to travel overseas and aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy the long trip, come check out these Iowa cities. They all have something they are very proud of: their heritage. The people of these European-charm towns in Iowa will roll out the red carpet when you walk into town. The saying “Iowa nice” applies to each of these cities and their people. Embrace the food, culture, and people for an epic, affordable, mid-America experience.
1. Elk horn
Elk Horn is where the Danish community comes to life, as more than half of the city of over 650 people claim to be of Danish descent. The charm of the city will immerse you in Danish life as soon as you arrive in the city. Elk Horn is a short drive from I-80 in southwestern Iowa. Once you get off I-80, you’ll reach the Danish Windmill Museum in a matter of minutes. the Danish windmill is also home to one of the Iowa Visitor Centers. You will find all types of Danish souvenirs, as well as sweets, including Kringle of The Kringle Man. This delicious Danish layered with butter Kringle is guaranteed to awaken your taste buds. If you arrive after the Danish Windmill closes for the day, take some time to walk around the grounds. Several buildings surrounding the Danish windmill offer a glimpse into the life of a Dane.
the Danish American Museum is handicapped accessible and located on 30 acres at Elk Horn. It is a national center that recognizes the life of the Danish American community. This attraction shows how life has evolved with technology in Danish households in the Elk Horn region. The Genealogy Center is located on Main Street and is one of the best places to learn more about your Danish ancestry. The genealogy center staff went above and beyond when I stopped for a visit. Plan to visit these two museums and walk along Main Street to have the opportunity to feel like a Dane for the day. This charming town will draw you in when you come to town. Spend a half or full day to experience all that Elk Horn has to offer.
Pella, Iowa, is often referred to as America’s Dutch Treasure. Dutch heritage museums, stunning flower gardens (including thousands of tulips), amazing shops and bakeries make this an affordable Dutch getaway in the United States. the Museums of the Historical Society of Pella and Vermeer Windmill are the strengths of Pella. The Vermeer Windmill is the tallest windmill in the United States. The 21 buildings that make up the historic village include a blacksmith’s workshop, wooden shoemaker’s shop, church, bakery, puppet theater, and Wyatt Earp’s childhood home.
When you spend time in Pella, you will see the Klokkenspel. This chime clock strikes odd hours and can be heard throughout the city center. The murals, flowers and fountains in this area are relaxing and will take you to the land of the Dutch. Molengracht Plaza has a functional drawbridge surrounded by stunning Dutch-inspired architecture. Taste Dutch pastries from Jaarsma bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery. Famous Dutch letters are fan favorites. Plan to eat one during your stay in Pella and take a box home to enjoy later. Each May, the city comes to life with the annual Tulip Festival. The festival features dancing, a parade and tulips galore.
Decorah, Iowa, is located in northeast Iowa and offers experiences that showcase Norway. Nordic party is an annual festival that celebrates the Scandinavian countries, with a focus on Norway. Each year, thousands of people invade the city to attend the Nordic festival on the last weekend of July. The festivities include the living traditions of Scandinavian culture at the Vesterheim Museum and an incredible arts and crafts complex. With over 30 artisans showcasing their work, it will be easy for you to take a little bit of Norway home with you. The Grand Parade is a fan favorite that many return year after year to experience.
Plan to visit the Vesterheim Museum while you are at Decorah. This museum showcases the lives of people of Scandinavian descent and the art exhibits are out of this world. I am of Norwegian descent and have always enjoyed rosemaling. The rosemaling which is on display in Vesterheim is in itself worth a visit to the museum. Stroll through the park and admire the construction of the simple buildings that stand on site. You will quickly see that the Norwegians were simple people and used everything they had. The only thing I think everyone needs to do when visiting Decorah is to enjoy some lefse. This delicious Norwegian treat will make you want more.
4. Amana Colonies
You can explore Germany by visiting the Amana Settlements, between Cedar Rapids and the Iowa City area. For more than 90 years, this German culture has been anchored in Germany and has continued to develop in the United States. As you visit the Seven Colonies, you will see how this communal area flourished and how it came to be. The people of these settlements take pride in their heritage and continue to work hard to share their stories with all visitors to this area of Iowa.
A highlight for many people visiting the Amana settlements is a visit to Middle Amana, the only intact communal kitchen that remains in this settlement. Imagine having dinner with others at a different time and what the meal was like. It’s not everyday that you will spend time in a shared kitchen, as our kitchens today are very different. Another popular stop where you can see artisans at work is AJ’s Copper Garden. Metal has been used in artistic creations for many years and continues to be a part of Amana culture. When visiting the Amana settlements, a highlight for me is enjoying a meal in the famous Ox Yoke Inn. Enjoy a German meal, including schnitzel cutlets, Amana brats, and rhubarb cream.
5. Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is home to thousands of Bohemian, Moravian, and Slovak immigrants. Many descendants have lived in and around Cedar Rapids since the turn of the century. Today visitors can learn about Czech history through a museum and an area of the city dedicated to this culture: the Czech and Slovak National Museum and Library. Enter the 1800s Sleger Immigrant House at the Museum. Five generations of the Sleger family lived here from the 1890s to 1984. This family emigrated to Cedar Rapids from Bohemia to make a living in the United States. See the effects of war on this culture and how these people overcame some of their hardships. Wheelchairs are available free of charge at the museum on a first come, first served basis. The covered car park offers free parking and the museum is accessible to disabled people.
The Czech Village / New Bohemia District is a region that prides itself on how it has carried on the legacy of the Czech community. There is a mix of small business, arts, culture, entertainment, and dining in this area of Main Street. Several events take place throughout the year, including Food Truck Tuesday and the opportunity to take an art class or two. Spend a day exploring the Czech region of Cedar Rapids so you have the option of traveling without the need for a passport.
Each of these communities is proud of its heritage and where it comes from. They are also proud of annual events where people have returned year after year. Each year, the events seem more significant and more memorable, as more and more people tell others about them. You may also find yourself immersed in the culture, including the language.
The people of each of these cities are more than willing to share their love of their community with you. If you want to know where the locals eat, ask a local. The people of each of these charming European cities in Iowa are full of pride and will make you have a great time.
The best advice I can offer is to visit all year round. Seasons change and events change with the calendar. What are you waiting for? Plan your visit to one or all of these charming European cities in Iowa.