Two years ago when we started contemplating a move to the PNW we stumbled upon some photos of basically the cutest, most European Christmas village, imaginable without being in Europe. We image searched, checked average weather and discovered that it was a bit too cold to live in for us but we vowed to visit as soon as possible!
Fast forward to a few months ago, as Christmas approached and we were searching for a way to really get in the Christmas spirit and the quaint little village of Leavenworth once again came up, with all its stunning photos. We quickly booked a hotel, which was no easy feat during town lighting days, and started to count down the days to our highly anticipated trip.
Now if you are coming from out of the country start by getting your ESTA and be sure to plan that early so everything is all set for visiting at Christmas time. If you are local like I am then it's just a simple drive through a mountain pass. For us it happened to be quite snow covered so we knew this was going to be a cold and wonderful weekend. Leavenworth did not disappoint. We arrived in just enough time to get settled in to the hotel (all 5 of us plus our beautiful new puppy Koa) and bundle up for the tree and town lighting ceremony where they turn everything off in town and then all at the same time light the whole village in Christmas lights. It is quite spectacular and worth dealing with the crowds in order to experience it first hand.
TIPS: I highly recommend booking your hotel far in advance as they fill up quickly during the tree lighting weekends. I also suggest you stay someplace very close to the town center. Walking is the best way to get around all the little shops and staying too far away would make for a lot of chilly trekking just to reach the sled hill.
We had a short chilly walk to the town center where there were hordes of people waiting to see the town lighting. They close off the street entirely to cars so you can enjoy without worries. (They only do this during tree lighting weekends) We looked around the store fronts, grabbed some hot cocoa and chatted with all the people clamoring to pet our little puppy. Then right on time the ceremony started. Lots of beautiful singing, a cute little parade and then the LIGHTS! It felt as if we were in a magical world. In fact in that very moment we were. The storefronts, the trees, even the sledding hill were all brightly and colorfully lit up. We took about a million pictures, or so my kids say, and walked a bit further into town for dinner.
Next day we woke to even more snow. Perfect for the horse drawn sleigh ride we were scheduled to do. We drove over as it is a bit too far to walk from town. There we were greeted by the staff and loaded onto the sleigh after greeting our drivers and horses. The guides were very knowledgeable about the area and regaled us with one funny story after another. They provide huge blankets to keep warm but I would still bundle up depending on the outside temp. It was a beautiful 40 minute ride through some fields and along the river, with stunning mountain views the entire way. If you have a spare morning it is definitely something I would suggest for the entire family. No dogs allowed though on this one.
There are loads of other things to do in and around town during the winter. In fact there are loads of things to do in the summer so we are already planning a trip back in the warm weather. But I digress, in the winter you can take advantage of some great sledding hills, one that is directly in the center of town. You can shop in town at some of the cutest little shops I've ever seen. You can do snowmobiling tours, dog sled races, skiing, ice climbing, visit the nutcracker museum and more. We only stayed 2 nights but you could easily spend a week or more getting into all sorts of winter activities.
Now no trip would be complete without some great food right?! Well have no fear we found one of the most amazing spots to eat, in fact it was so good we ended up eating there twice. Munchen Haus, located directly in the middle of town, has some of the yummiest cuisine we have had in quite a while. It is an outdoor eatery (don't worry they have loads of outdoor heaters so you are not too cold) with a great beer garden. They even do holiday movie showings at night which we loved. Nothing like watching elf in a small Christmas village! They don't have a large menu but what they do have is amazing. Sausages, hot dogs, pretzels, and a huge array of locally brewed beers. We are originally from the New York area so it goes a long way in saying these pretzels were the best I have ever had. Equally my boys and husband tell me that the sausages they had were also the best ever! I could not say a single bad thing about this place so if you get to Leavenworth be sure to eat at least one meal at Munchen Haus, although I seriously doubt that you can eat there just once.
We found Leavenworth to be every bit as charming as we hoped. The town is lovely, the shops endearing, the eateries downright delicious, and the whole town is every dog friendly which we always love. If you find yourself in Washington state any time of the year head to Leavenworth. If you are around in the winter, even better just be sure to book in advance! It really is that good!