A visit to Leavenworth in Washington state’s alpine mountains is like stepping into a European Christmas movie, year-round (except in winter you get the snow-globe feel too, with some 1-2 feet of snow to crunch through)! With its permanent Bavarian style, it is a mini-German heaven whenever you go, offering Bavarian restaurants, drinkeries, and numerous stores to discover. At Christmas, though, when the lights twinkle from every available surface, the magic truly kicks off, and what better time to take a sleigh ride, feed the reindeer or shop in the Christkindl market accompanied by the best of festive music?
Christmastown at the Gazebo:
- Live entertainment
- Sledding for kiddies
- Choirs, carolers, and bands
- Holiday characters
Christmastown at the Festhalle:
- Photos with Santa
- Crafts for kids, story corner, letters to Santa
- Santa costumes from around the world on display
- Family Photo Stations
- Free gift wrapping station, Christmastown merchandise, Gingerbread houses on display!
Lights on every day from Thanksgiving through February!
Leavenworth started out as a successful gold mining and lumber town, seeing its hey-day in the late 1800s when a rail line was installed. When the resources and hubbub wound down, though, Leavenworth became a ghost town. Later, seeing the success of Solvang in California, in the 1960s, Leavenworth began its transformation into an alpine Bavarian town. Now, every year, Leavenworth brings in over 2 million visitors- so the plan was clearly a success!
To learn more about Leavenworth’s history, head along to the History Museum at 735 Front St. (open 11 am – 4 pm daily. Tickets: $5).
Let’s join those 2 million, then, and find out all the Christmassy things you can do in Leavenworth to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones this year!
See The Lights
While Leavenworth has something on year-round, it’s the period starting November 24th to February when the magic really kicks off – with up to two feet of snow on the ground and coating the roofs of the Bavarian-style buildings, and practically every surface wrapped in multi-colored twinkling lights. Your eyes will be aglow as you wander the streets, accompanied by the sound of carols and the smell of gingerbread and warm gluhwein.
Ride In A Sleigh
Bring “Jingle Bells” to life and book a ride for six, 12 or 16 people on a horse-drawn open sleigh from Mountain Springs Lodge through scenic wintry meadows, and enjoy a stop at Beaver Creek Barn for a deliciously warming hot apple cider on the way.
Address: 19115 Chiwawa Loop Road. Open 8am – 5pm. Tickets: From $110 per row. Check online for details.
Drive A Snowmobile
If you prefer to get behind the reins, as such, a snowmobile might be more up your street! Mountain Springs Lodge offers one-, two- and three-hour snowmobile tours that take you along snowy trails with breathtaking mountain views. All gear provided. Drivers must be 16+, riders 5+.
Address: 19115 Chiwawa Loop Road. Open 8am – 5pm. From $99. See their site for more details.
Meet A Reindeer
Book a tour online for a magical experience at the family-run Leavenworth Reindeer Farm just outside of town. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about Santa’s special buddies, then get hands-on with their friendly reindeer and watch them chow-down on snacks from your own gloved hands!
Bonuses include a free hot chocolate and a shop selling locally made gifts.
Address: 10395 Chumstick Hwy, Leavenworth, WA. Ticket: From $25
Discover A World Of Nutcrackers
Founded in 1995 as a non-profit by Arlene Wagner and her husband George, Leavenworth’s Nutcracker Museum gives nutcracker fans the chance to geek out over the around 9,000 nutcrackers from more than 50 countries – some old, some less so, some themed, some the original deal. And after discovering everything “nutcracker” you can head to the shop to top up your own collection!
Address: 735 Front St, Leavenworth, WA. OPEN: 11am – 5pm. Tickets: $5
Taste Some Melt-In-The-Mouth Gingerbread Magic
A Leavenworth must-see any time of year, but most of all at Christmas, is the fairy tale Gingerbread Factory, promising a plethora of Instagrammable cookies, festive gingerbread houses and Christmas decorations. Try a delicious piece of old-fashioned gingerbread, treat yourself to ice cream with gingersnaps, or warm up with a festive gingerbread latte.
Address: 829 Front St, Leavenworth, WA. OPEN: 8am to 6pm Sunday – Thursday, 8am to 8 pm Friday & Saturday.
Other highly recommended local sweet treats to try in Leavenworth include homemade ice cream from Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co. (think pumpkin spice, eggnog, and peppermint for festive starters!), Belgian chocolate truffles and Christmas-themed chocolates from Schocolat, and the unique and more-ish fudge and truffle coffee drinks at Icicle Coffee & Chocolates.
Warm Up With A Winter Brew
As dusk arrives and the lights come on, you might be thinking of warming up with something a little stronger than coffee. Leavenworth has got you! Must-stops for those looking for some traditional German beer or cider are the Munchen Haus beer garden, the Icicle Brewing Company, and Stein – which offers pretzels with your beer (and with over 50 beers and ciders on tap, you have plenty of options to choose from!). Blue Spirits Distilling offers a wide selection of whiskeys, rums, tequilas, vodkas, gin and cocktails – both conventional and inventive, while Bushel and Bee Taproom and Goose Ridge Wine & Cider have a great selection of cider in a festive atmosphere. Wine-lovers can cozy up in the snow-globe atmosphere of the family-run Icicle Ridge Winery, or head along to Wine Girl Wines, a women-run winery with eager servers to advise you and bring some extra Christmas spirit to an already wonderful day.
Chow Down On Some Traditional German Food
For the most authentic Bavarian dining experience (think waiters in Lederhosen, wooden tables and German themes painted on the walls!), head to Andreas Keller Restaurant on Front Street. While naturally not the only German-themed restaurant in Leavenworth, it is one of the best. Sausages, schnitzel, pork hocks and plenty of beer to wash it down! What more could a hungry Christmas shopper need to recharge?
Rhein Haus and Baren Haus are other German-nosh locales we can recommend, though their menus do expand beyond Bavaria too!
Mozart Steakhouse is the place to go for fondue and, of course, steak. We also recommend the schnitzel drowned in mushroom gravy!
Leavenworth Sausage Garten and München House are where you should book a table if bratwurst does it for you, and we especially recommend the bratwurst and potato salad for an authentic meal.
Treat Yourself To Some Sweet Treats
The Gingerbread Factory we wrote about above is not the only place to grab something sweet and German in Leavenworth. Pop along to the Bavarian Bakery for cookies and the famed Bee Sting Cake (think cream, honey and almonds – yum!)
Get Shopping Around Town
A German town such as Leavenworth would not be a Christmas town without the traditional European-style shops and seasonal market to go with it! Unfortunately, though, Leavenworth’s Christkindlmarkt has been canceled until further notice due to a conflict with the city administration. That said, there are plenty of year-round Christmas stores to satisfy festive shoppers whatever the season. Kris Kringl is a very popular, two-story, 6,000-square-foot Christmas store selling more toys and decorations than you can imagine or ever fit in your house! It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring store to head to even if you don’t intend to buy anything.
The Wood Shop offers both modern and old-fashioned toys for those nature-conscious and those looking for a nostalgic gift for a special someone.
Krampus Kave is the place to go for gifts for comic book- and board game-lovers, and for comic-themed stocking-fillers.
Leavenworth Boutique has five shops in one building selling clothes, books, household items, candles, and jewelry. Elsewhere in town you can find other unique and very special stores selling oil and vinegar, hats, cheese, teas, spices and more.
Head To A Christmas Show
Leavenworth’s Icicle Creek Center for the Arts usually has a number of Christmas shows on to help you celebrate the season – past offerings have included a handbell concert, a Celtic yuletide performance, and the showing of a ski documentary on women skiers.
December 5th is Krampusnacht, a holiday celebrated in Germany and Austria for a character (the Krampus) who is like Grinch, but more horrific, and who also balances out Santa’s sweets for the nice kids with some punishment for the naughty kids. Krampus is a half-demon, half-goat creature who is celebrated in Leavenworth the first weekend of December through a costumed, self-guided pub-crawl for adults. Each pub on the list offers a different specialty alcoholic drink for the occasion. No problem if you don’t want to wear a costume – there will be plenty of Krampus characters around to keep the atmosphere buzzing!
Say Hi To The Costumed Characters
While the event organizers in Leavenworth (The Chamber of Commerce) do order their own festive characters to wander the town posing for photos, everyone is welcome to get into the spirit of the holidays. Aside from Krampus, you’ll also see Buddy the Elf, Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, reindeer, the Snowman and elves taking a break from their toy-making.
Take A Walk Around The Park
Picturesque any time of year, Leavenworth’s park, running along the Wenatchee River, offers numerous trails to enjoy. Grab some snowshoes and get exploring!
Good To Know
Plan An Overnighter
While it’s just a two-hour drive from Seattle, snow can make getting to and from Leavenworth hazardous. And there is so much to see and do there – you will definitely need more than a few hours to do it justice! As such, we recommend you plan to make it an overnighter. During the holiday season, if you haven’t booked in advance, you’ll be hard pushed to find a place to stay in Leavenworth itself, though definitely try if you can. Wenatchee makes a more affordable alternative and is just a 30-minute drive away.
Avoiding Crowds? Avoid The Weekends!
Christmastime sees Leavenworth packed with cheery holiday-makers, more so at the weekends. Book in advance (ideally 4 – 6 months!) to grab the experiences on offer, and that includes your restaurant tables and accommodation too. Overall, though, it’s best to get there early (think 8am – 10am) on a weekday to be sure of a more peaceful experience as you shop and dine – then you can relax as the crowds flow in later in the day for the lights, knowing you’ve already parked, shopped and happily soaked up the best of the event.
Where To Park?
Hotels will have parking on-site, though be sure to check if it’s included in the price or comes at an extra charge. Day-parking can hit up to $30 around town, and the later in the day you get there, the more time you’ll likely spend looking for a spot.
There is a Link Bus which runs for free out of a park-and-ride location behind Safeway, from 11am-7pm daily.
Where To Pee?
There are three permanent public restroom facilities open daily around town: at the Leavenworth Festhalle, in Front Street Park near the Maypole, and at 8th & Commercial St. There are also extra porta-potties added in these locations during the holiday season, as well as on the corner of 10th & Front St, and in the Visitor Center parking lot at 940 US Highway 2.
Is Leavenworth Pet Friendly?
Yes! Most shops, and those restaurants with patios (nicely heated this time of year!), welcome fur babies. If you’re booking a hotel room, you’ll have to check their pet policy with management (and check in case there is a fee!).
Want More Washington Christmas Spirit?
Head along to Shelton in Mason County, whose 70-year-old Christmastown won the Guinness World Record for “Most Lit Christmas Trees in One Display” in 2019 – 797 trees that volunteers arranged in a free giant maze for the community.
In 2023, local Shelton volunteers plan to provide visitors annual indoor and outdoor festive activities, along with yet another Christmas tree maze.
If you’re all shopped out and need to recharge before the family reunion and New Year fun, why not book yourself in for a long, hot, mineral soak at a Washington hot springs? We’ve compiled a list of our favorite commercial hot springs, and can also recommend a soothing soak in one of Washington state’s free natural hot springs for a back-to-nature rejuvenation ahead of the New Year!
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the most up-to-date information, we always recommend you do your own research before you travel to a particular area or visit a specific destination, and check conditions with relevant official authorities. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your adventure!