Looking for somewhere fun and festive to explore this holiday season? A Leavenworth Christmas might be the place for you.
The author of this blog, Julie, loves Leavenworth and would rent an Airbnb with her family to explore the area.
Her favorite activity was the Leavenworth Reindoor farm and her kid loved visiting the reindeer and learning more about reindeer.
It’s a magical Christmas town with all of the Bavarian inspired architecture, lights, and just general vibe.
It’s the perfect commute from Seattle but worth it to travel to Washington just to go to Leavenworth.
What is Leavenworth?
Leavenworth is a small town 117 miles east of Seattle that is modeled on a Bavarian village. With its adorable architecture and location nested within the Northern Cascade Mountains it’s easy to believe you’ve been transported to Bavarian Germany.
However, Leavenworth wasn’t always the Bavarian tourist haven it is today. This central Washington village was once a thriving logging town until the main railroad to the village was re-routed and the once bustling community began to dwindle.
In order to help revive the town and bring tourists to the area, leaders of the town were inspired by the gorgeous mountain setting that provides the beautiful backdrop to the town and realized that it resembles Bavarian Germany and decided to make Leavenworth a Bavarian inspired destination.
The architecture downtown along with shop signs and street names were changed to mimic the German style and then Leavenworth’s many festivals were born. In addition to being a tourist destination, Leavenworth is also the home of a vibrant community of outdoor lovers and artists.
How to Get to Leavenworth from Seattle
Leavenworth is located 117 miles from Seattle and 311 miles north of Portland. It is accessible by car, bus and train. To reach the town by car from the west, take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. From the south take Highway 97 straight to Leavenworth.
The drive is one of the most scenic ones in the United States and is well maintained and includes frequent rest stops where you can enjoy the scenery or grab a bite to eat. Be sure to pack car chains if you don’t have four wheel drive and check road and pass conditions before starting your journey.
Reaching Leavenworth by train is simple with the town now being a stop along Amtrak’s Empire Builder route. To reach the town by bus, there are several tour, shuttle and public transit options including a route offered by Greyhound and a Route 22 public transit bus from Wenatchee.
If you do pass by Index, Washington on your way to Leavenworth from Seattle, check out this tiny coffee shop on the side of the road called Espresso Chalet. You will see a giant Harry and the Henderson’s Yeti statue on the side of the road and the stop comes up quick.
This stop is SO worth it because there is an amazing view of the mountains behind the coffee shop. The owner of this blog almost missed the stop the first time and she was so glad she made it because the views when having your coffee are gorgeous.
A Leavenworth Winter
Leavenworth is the best place to be to enjoy the wonder of nature during the winter season. Featuring lots of sunny winter days and deep snow, there is always a winter adventure around the corner with many winter trails and a scenic background to explore. Ski hills, snow tubing and sledding opportunities abound. With three cross country skiing areas, an alpine ski hill, and many winter trail networks, there are countless adventures for all ages.
Every winter the town hosts a “Village of Lights” during the Holidays that creates a unique winter experience. The city lights up every night from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s weekend and Leavenworth hosts four Holiday festivals each year.
The festivities kick off November 29 with Christkindlmarkt, which is an Annual Bavarian Style Christmas Market. This celebration features authentic Bavarian food and handmade crafts as well as family friendly, Bavarian and Christmas-themed entertainment.
Related Post: 13 Best Christmas Gifts for Kids for Outdoor Play 2019
Christkindlmarkt is followed by Leavenworth’s Christmas Lighting Festival December 6-8, 13-15, and 20-22. During this lighting festival, the quaint Bavarian village is completely transformed with over 500,000 Christmas lights.
The festive fun continues in January. From January 18-19 2020, Leavenworth is host to the Bavarian Ice Festival, which is a celebration of winter that features sled rides, snow sculptures, live ice carving and the only annual fireworks show in Leavenworth. The last winter festival is the Timbrrr! Music Festival from January 25-26 2020.
How to Make the Most of Christmas in Leavenworth
- Book accommodations in advance
The word is out about Leavenworth. The city of lights has become very popular in recent years with over two million visitors annually. Given that the town is only home to about 2,000 residents, lodging for the influx of tourists is limited.
Save yourself a headache and an additional dent in your wallet by planning your trip in advance to ensure your holiday visit is as stress-free as possible.
Related Post: 11 Free Christmas Traditions for Families in 2019
Where to stay depends on what you’re looking for, but luckily Leavenworth has many options depending on your preferences. Locals claim the accommodation with the best location is the Bavarian Lodge downtown, which is the closest to the action and allows you to watch the Christmas Lighting Ceremony from your room.
If you’re looking for something family friendly, the Icicle Village Resort is less than a 5 minute walk to downtown, is slightly away from the village noise and offers a spa, a swimming pool and free breakfast. For a more unique experience check out the Sleeping Lady Resort, which is located a little out of town nestled in a gorgeous valley with amenities that include a hot tub, restaurants and trails for snowshoeing.
- Sample local food and drink
Despite being a relatively small town, Leavenworth is not lacking in food and drink options and is able to fill every winter activity fueled whim you can think of with options from German schnitzel to mulled wine to European chocolate, there is an abundance of options for your taste buds to explore.
- Toast with gluhwein
Gluhwein is German for spiced mulled wine and this tasty beverage is normally available at every Christmas market in Germany during the holiday season and Leavenworth is no different. You can find gluhwein at basically any bar or restaurant in the town. It’s a delicious way to keep your hands and body warm in the chilly winter weather.
- Enjoy wine tastings
In addition to mulled wine, Leavenworth is also home to some delicious wine varieties. It’s a little known fact that Washington is the state with the second most vineyards in the country after California.
If you would like to explore this state’s great wines, downtown Leavenworth is a great place to do so with over 20 wine tasting rooms and tastings that usually costing about $10, which is much cheaper than the Napa Valley equivalent.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Bavarian town without a sampling of beer (or bier as it’s spelled in Germany). Leavenworth is also home to 2 local breweries: the Doghaus Brewery and Icicle Brewing. Swing by either to get your Germany beer fix.
- Arrange a shuttle and revel in the Christmas Lighting Festival
The main event! The Christmas Festival is the main attraction that brings visitors from around the world to this small Bavarian town. It occurs every weekend in December until Christmas with additional winter festivals taking place in January.
To enjoy the weekend lighting festival to the fullest be sure to arrange for a shuttle to transport you to the downtown area instead of driving yourself and be sure to arrive in the mid-afternoon instead of right before the festival. The fame of these lighting festivals bring with it large crowds and traffic that can make the journey to downtown in a car take up to two hours.
- Enjoy a sleigh ride
What a festive and fun way to enjoy this winter wonderland! There are several sleigh ride operators in downtown Leavenworth to choose from though be warned that if there is not snow on the ground they understandably might not be running.
- Explore downtown Leavenworth at night
While most small cities become empty after the sun sets, this Bavarian town comes to life. Simply wandering downtown at night is a lovely treat. After the Christmas lighting ceremony all the lights stay up around the town and make for a beautiful backdrop for a stroll through the snow.
- Go sledding
Whether you have children or are just a kid at heart, the hill next to the Leavenworth gazebo is a popular spot to sled. In case you didn’t bring your own gear there is an Outdoor Sports store just around the corner. Dress warm and prepare for some free (or cheap) fun!
- Enjoy Winter Hiking
Leavenworth is surrounded by gorgeous nature trails, many of which are open during the winter. Get the best possible view of the wonder of nature by exploring these winter hiking locations. When it’s clear you will be able to see lovely mountain peaks, such as the Sleeping Lady mountain over the horizon.
Bundle up and be prepared to enjoy another aspect of Leavenworth’s beauty. Though do note that at times given the amount of snow on the ground snowshoes might be necessary for some trails.
- Visit the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
This reindeer farm is open year round and is home to some adorable reindeer. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance to make sure you will be able to enjoy this wonderful experience. The tour consists of learning about the reindeer and then being allowed to go feed and pet them. Tours begin right on time so make sure to get there a little early and enjoy a free hot chocolate while you wait.
The tours start the day after Halloween so you can get the Christmas spirit going in November! Also check out the gift shop. The books and little sweatshirts for kids are adorable.
- Check out the Nutcracker Museum
This museum is home to over 7,000 nutcrackers and is believed to be the world’s largest collection. Tickets are only $5 for adults and the museum is available year-round, but only open from 1-5pm each day so plan ahead if you’re a nutcracker fan.
- Soak in the hot springs
While not in Leavenworth proper, these hot springs are a must visit – though be prepared to work for it. Located a bit outside of town and requiring a 1.5-2 hour snowshoe hike into the mountains after a fresh snow, this is an adventure you won’t forget.
Ease into the hot springs with views of snow capped trees and the Cascade mountains peeking out in the distance. If this idyllic setting interests you be sure to make a reservation in advance and be prepared to pay a fee of $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends and holidays. This fee goes towards the maintenance of the hot springs. If possible, visit on a weekday when it is less likely to be busy. Also note that clothing in the hot springs is optional, so be prepared for that in case you decide to go.
- Explore Blackbird Island
Just steps outside of downtown Leavenworth is Blackbird Island. It’s connected to town by a small walking bridge and there are miles of trails around the island to enjoy with snowshoes or cross-country skis.
- Ski at Stevens Pass Resort
Located 45 minutes west of Leavenworth on Highway 2 is Stevens Pass Resort, which is a lovely stopping point to or from Leavenworth if you’re coming from Seattle and features 52 runs that vary in difficulty. Perfect for beginners or experts, Stevens Pass also offers instructors if you would like to take your skiing or snowboarding to the next level.
The ideal time to visit is during a weekday to avoid weekend mountain crowds. However, if the weekend is your only option try to arrive by 8am for more available parking and shorter lines. To avoid ticket lines altogether be sure to purchase your tickets in advance online.
Enjoy a Magical Christmas
If you’re looking to revel in the wonder of winter and all things Christmas then Leavenworth is a worthy destination. This Bavarian gem is truly magical with its gorgeous lights, abundance of winter activities and delicious selection of food and drinks.