For those who have never been to or even heard of Leavenworth, Washington, the thought of traveling over two hours to see a Christmas tree light up may seem a little odd. For those who have been there, you know that Leavenworth's annual Tree Lighting Festival is so much more than that. Located in Chelan County, the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth celebrates the holiday season to such an extreme that it has to been seen to be believed.
I had the chance to see the spectacle with my own eyes recently with my fiance, Nic, and our two friends, Mike and Britney. As someone who had never been anywhere close to Leavenworth, I wasn't sure what to expect when we booked our stay and began our planning. 'You've never been to Leavenworth!? You're going to have so much fun!' seemed to be the response I got from everyone when I told them about our upcoming trip. With so many positive reviews, I knew there had to be something pretty special about this festival to warrant so much excitement.
2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the festival and the biggest celebration to date. Hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights covered every tree and building in sight, horse drawn-carriages pulled friends and family from one spot to the next, and groups of carolers sang holiday classics you couldn't help but sing along to.
Thinking of making the trip yourself? Here are my tips for making the most of your time in this tinsel town.
If you're thinking about making the trip this year, it may be too late to book exactly what you want. While planning our trip in September, Britney and I were shocked to discover many of the Leavenworth hotels were already booked! This festival brings in people from around the world, so don't make the mistake of waiting to save your spot.
If You Can't Book Early, Get Creative
With all of the hotels filled, we had to search for a plan B. Luckily, we discovered a great cabin just outside of town on Airbnb. The Hansel Getaway Chalet had everything we needed; multiple bedrooms, a fire place and they welcomed furry friends. In retrospect, I'm glad we ended up staying a little outside of town because it provided us with a very peaceful and relaxing weekend getaway from the city! Not to mention the crazy beautiful view we got to wake up to every morning.
Dress For The Occasion
While we decided to stay for the weekend, many people visit Leavenworth for a quick day trip on tour buses. This means that as soon as the buses arrive (between Noon and 1 pm on Saturday and Sunday) everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, has a line. From the restaurants, to the bathrooms, even the shops require waiting to get in. But don't let this discourage you! Leavenworth knows these lines are coming and businesses do all they can to get you inside and warmed up as quickly as possible. This means that you'll want to wear thick layers, a warm coat and comfortable shoes in order to stick around until it's time to light the tree, which usually happens around 4:30, once the sun has set. To stay warm, I wore this FABULOUS dark green faux fur coat I scored at a thrift store. Who wouldn't be happy in this beauty!?
Visit Every Shop Leavenworth Has to Offer
Leavenworth's famous Front Street is PACKED with spots to stop in. Whether you're looking for a beer, a brat or an insanely ridiculous hat, Front and the surrounding streets provide plenty of opportunities to shop and take advantage of the heat. We started our Saturday with beers and sausages at the Visconti's Sausage Garten and grabbed some dessert at the nearby Das Sweet Shop. Because, what's vacation without ice cream?
Most likely you'll have some time to kill before the lighting ceremony, so get in early to grab a spot near the fireplace at Iceicle Brewing Company and call Andreas Keller, Leavenworth's most popular restaurant, a few hours early (I'm not kidding. We called to get our name on the list and waiting 3 HOURS before we could get in) to reserve your spot at this must-try German spot.
I'm so happy to have made this trip with great friends. While the sheer number of people shocked me, I can see why thousands of people make the trip to Leavenworth each year to celebrate the holiday season.