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Can’t Get to Europe? These U.S. Destinations Will Make You Feel Like You’re There

By Michele Herrmann
January 11, 2021
Solvang 2 Credit To Central Coast Pictures
Central Coast Pictures
Here are locations across the U.S. that make you feel like you’ve set foot in a European destination with no passport required.

With much of Europe off limits amid the current pandemic, Americans will have to wait longer to travel to and throughout the continent. However, they can find resemblances to some European countries a little closer to home. Here are locations across the U.S. that make you feel like you’ve set foot in a European destination with no passport required.

Greece 

Tarpon Springs, Florida 

More than one in 10 residents in this Gulf Coast city claim Greek ancestry, with Greek immigrants arriving in the late 19th century. They also gave Tarpon Springs the moniker, “The Sponge Capital of the World,” in that divers would apply the Greek Islands tradition of diving for sponges to Floridian waters. Nowadays, Greek heritage can be seen with locals in coffee shops along Athens Street. Along Dodecanese Boulevard, shop at Getaguru Handmade Soap Company and dine at Mykonos and Hellas Greek Restaurant.  


Pella, Iowa.

The Netherlands

Holland, Michigan 

Founded in the mid-19th century, this city on the shores of Lake Michigan makes you feel like you’ve set foot in the Netherlands. Experience a Dutch wonderland at the Windmill Island Gardens, with a windmill that grinds West Michigan sourced wheat into flour, while Nelis' Dutch Village shows the traditional making of wooden shoes. Every May, take in its Tulip Time Festival; later on in the year, do your holiday shopping at Kerstmarkt. 

Pella, Iowa

Another Dutch destination, this Iowa location is all heritage museums, Dutch architecture, and the Vermeer Windmill, the tallest working grain windmill in the U.S. Then there’s Klokkenspel, a carillon clock going off on odd hours and with historic figurines coming in and out. And cuisine options are plenty, from Dutch bakeries’ Jaarsma Bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery to Dutch Fix, serving up Dutch street food. 


Denmark

Solvang, California

Referred to as the “Danish capital of America,” this village in Santa Ynez Valley gets quite festive with its Solvang Julefest, a holiday event; Solvang Grape Stomp, a wine harvesting celebration; and Solvang Danish Days, a full-blown heritage festival. Regularly, you can see a copy of Denmark’s famous Little Mermaid sculpture and Elverhøj Museum of History & Art, whose exterior resembles an 18th-century Danish farmhouse. But be sure to try Danish pastries at bakeries including Aebleskiver Café and Birkholm's Bakery & Cafe.


St. Augustine, Florida. ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Spain

St. Augustine, Florida 

As the nation’s oldest city, this former Spanish settlement is still noted through Colonial-style architecture and historic venues. Avile Street is the oldest street in the U.S. and is now an arts district with galleries and restaurants and historic venues. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, an old Spanish fortification built to protect their claim on the Atlantic trade route, is now overseen by the National Park Service. 


Poland

New Britain, Connecticut 

Nicknamed “Little Poland,” this Hartford County city’s section of Broad Street continues the legacy built by Polish immigrants coming to work in factories over two centuries ago. It’s known for its annual Little Poland Festival, which holds cultural and family-friendly activities. Do some shopping in Polmart, a store with all things Polish, or for pierogis and stuffed cabbage at Roly Poly Bakery. Or order a meal at the highly recommended Staropolska Restaurant. 


Basque Region

Boise, Idaho 

With the most concentrated population of Basques living in the U.S., the “Basque Block” is a downtown section along Grove Street reflecting this legacy dating back two centuries. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center tells the history behind these emigrants from this northern Spain. The Basque Market carries Txakoli, Basque and Spanish wines and is known for weekly preparing giant paellas on the street. Go pintxo hopping at Txikiteo and Bar Gernika Basque Pub and Eatery.


Switzerland

New Glarus, Wisconsin 

Referred to as “America’s Little Switzerland,” this Wisconsin village showcases its Alpine-style architecture and a Cow Parade of statues depicting these dairy-producing animals. Established in 1845 by Swiss immigrants, New Glarus holds a Harvest Fest in October, where daily routines and responsibilities of the past – cheese making, blacksmithing, yarn spinning, you name it – are re-created. And at Emmi Roth Käse Cheese Factory, a Swiss-owned cheesemaker, take a self-guided tour.


Helen, Georgia. ©SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Germany

New Braunfels, Texas

Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels arrived in what’s now the Texas Hill Country to motivate the founding of this 19th-century German colony. His royal presence lives on in murals depicting him and other key figures in The New Braunfels Historic Outdoor Art Museum. Head to Krause’s Cafe for its Biergarten and German fare, and the Gruene Historic District is where German farmers lived but now has a hopping’ dance hall, general store, and restaurant. Every November, Wurstfest serves up a German food-focused celebration.

Leavenworth, Washington 

In the 1960s, officials decided to make this Deadwood-looking town into a Bavarian village to attract visitors. Today, its architecture is full of beamed houses with other German features ranging from restaurants (try the Bavarian Bistro and Bar) to German named gift shops (with European ornaments at Kris Kringl). 

Helen, Georgia

This Georgia town is tucked into the Blue Ridge mountains, and has been designed to look and feel like an Alpine village in Bavaria. You'll spend the day visiting charming shops and walking on cobblestone streets. Roadtrippers will enjoy having access to the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway that highlights the beauty of the Blue Ridge and starts in Helen. 


Sweden

Lindsborg, Kansas 

Known as “Little Sweden, USA,” this city in Kansas’s Smoky Valley was settled by Swedish immigrants in the 1860s and Lindsborg still celebrates its Scandinavian roots through Swedish traditions year-round. Their event calendar includes St. Lucia Festival in December; Våffeldagen, which celebrates Swedish waffles in March; and Svensk Hyllningsfest, a biennial celebration. Spot sculptures of the Swedish Dala Horse around town and purchase a hand painted one from Hemslöjd.


Napa Valley. ©Michael Warwick/Shutterstock

Italy

Napa Valley, California 

Giving a Tuscan landscape vibe, this wine-producing destination boasts wineries whose architectural features make you feel like you’re in Italy or another similar European countryside. To start, the Castello di Amorosa gives off the feeling of exploring a hill town in Tuscany or Umbria, with its 13th-century-style winery. Napa Valley is also noted for producing another associated Italian export -- oil olive -- and sample the bounty produced at Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company.


New Orleans French Quarter
New Orleans French Quarter. ©mixmotive/Getty Images

France

New Orleans

While bounced between the Spanish and influenced by indigenous peoples and African Americans, New Orleans was first founded and settled by the French. Their imprint lingers within nearby Cajun country, with those speaking “Louisiana French,” and in NOLA’s French Quarter, the city’s most famous neighborhood. Here, dine on fine French and Creole cuisine at Arnaud’s, Galatoire's, and Antoine’s Restaurant.


England

Alexandria, Virginia

Founded by Scottish merchants in 1749, this city outside of Washington, D.C. gives off a Colonial English vibe within its Old Town District. Captain’s Row is a cobblestone streetscape, while the brick-lined King Street has many shopping ops. The Old Town Farmers’ Market has been in existence since before the American Revolution; George Washington sent produce grown at nearby Mount Vernon to be sold there. 

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Pinterest predicts trends for 2021

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Stargazers look up tonight for the Great Conjunction

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Inspiration

Cruise Along These Holiday Lights Drive-Throughs Across The U.S.

As the current pandemic is changing how we celebrate the 2020 holiday season, the tradition of seeing public holiday lights displays at night can now be done from the safety of your car. From readapted walking tours to first-time happenings or continuing events, here are holiday lights drive-throughs around the U.S. to take a ride-along. Check their websites for tickets and health and safety protocols before attending. New England Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay has reimagined its annual Gardens Aglow as a drive-through event happening now through Jan. 2. The gardens will still dazzle with over 650,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights depicting trees, animals, flowers, and other delights. Plus, they’ve all been designed by the gardens’ staff. Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I. is hosting its first Drive-Through Holiday Lights Spectacular now through Jan. 10. 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Located down the road from Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, ”Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile” is happening now through Jan. 3 and consists of two miles of fields and wooded trails decorated with nearly 600 illuminated, animated displays created from about two million LED lights. Through Jan. 3, “Bayport Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach” is Virginia Beach Boardwalk’s festive nautical holiday lights display featuring festive fish, musical crabs, and elves join a surfing Santa and a new 40-foot dancing Christmas tree. Southeast At Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., “Speedway Christmas” is happening now through Jan. 17 and has more than four million LED lights in displays along a 3.75-mile stretch. This event also has holiday movies shown on a large HDTV screen Thursdays through Sundays. For an additional fee, attendees can skate on a 5,400-square-foot ice rink; mask-wearing is required. In Columbia, S.C., the South Carolina State Fair is putting on “Carolina Lights” at Lexington Medical Center Fair Park at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds now through Dec. 27. More than 100 individual LED light displays along a mile-plus stretch including a nativity scene and a 25-foot-tall Frosty the Snowman. In Savannah, the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens’ “December Nights & Holiday Lights” has been turned into a drive-through event, on now through Christmas Eve. Now through Jan. 2, “Jax Illuminations” will feature two mega trees, a 300-foot tunnel of lights and custom Christmas scenes at the Morocco Shrine Center in Jacksonville, Fla. Through Jan. 2, the Pinnacle Speedway in Lights at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee spread across a four-mile route illuminated by more than 2 million lights among 250 displays. In Nashville, at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, the Jingle Beat is designed by the same artists and local creatives that behind some of the music industries biggest tours. This light show is helping to support the local music industry that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southern Lights Holiday Festival at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is a three-mile driving tour full of a lot of twinkling lights, happening now through New Year’s Eve. “Santa Claus Land of Lights” at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Photo by Eric Scire. Mid-West Billed as Central Ohio’s largest drive-through Christmas light show, Wonderlight's Christmas at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron is now through Jan. 3. It has over one million LED lights synchronized to traditional and contemporary Christmas music played through your own car stereo. “Santa Claus Land of Lights” at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort in the (fittingly called) Santa Claus, Ind. happens now through Dec. 27. The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is depicted through lighted displays and storyboards. Now through Jan. 3, “Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum” in Lisle, Ill. has guests remaining in their cars and tuning to a synced musical soundtrack while driving nearly two miles among the Arboretum’s trees. The Wisconsin Christmas of Carnival Lights in Caledonia, 20 minutes south of Milwaukee at Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort, features over two million twinkling lights on an over 1.6-mile path. Now through New Year’s Eve, the show allows attendees to experience lights on all sides, with displays ranging from forest friends and reindeer to Santa and his elves. South-West “Lights of Joy” in Branson, Mo. is located off of the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and contains more than 300 displays with over one million twinkling LED lights throughout this 1.2-mile drive. The Automobile Alley Art Light Display in Oklahoma City has colorful LED lights covering buildings on eight blocks of North Broadway and district side streets. Various shops and restaurants will also feature window displays. The event is part of Downtown in December and runs now through Jan. 31. “Gift of Lights” at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway now through Jan. 3 is made up of over one million twinkling lights that people can see from their own cars. Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo by Gabe Ginsberg West “Christmas in Color” at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. is having drivers cruising along more than 1.5 million lights perfectly synchronized to holiday music heard through your car radio. Drive by giant candy canes, snowmen and more now through January 3. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s “Glittering Lights” features more than five million LED lights intertwining throughout a 2.5-mile course through the speedway, through Jan. 10. The Phoenix Zoo’s Cruise ZooLights can be seen from your car now through Jan. 31, with millions of twinkling lights and dazzling animal sculptures from the comfort of your vehicle. Now through Jan. 2, “Holidays in Your Car” is taking place both at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego and Ventura County Fairgrounds, with more than 1 million LED lights and some fixtures standing at 40 feet tall.

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