If someone showed you a photo of Leavenworth, Washington, there’s a good chance you’d mistake it for a small town in Germany. Alpine-style storefronts, twinkling lights, and signs touting sausages, soft pretzels, and hefty beer steins create a magical, European-inspired atmosphere, one that was first brought to Leavenworth in the 1960s. Following the rerouting of the railroad in the 1920s — and the ensuing hardships created by a lack of tourism — the town switched gears. Several decades later, local leaders proposed turning Leavenworth into a complete Bavarian experience to inspire travelers to visit the area.
Today, the nearly 2,400-person town continues to draw millions of tourists each year, most of whom are looking for a dose of Leavenworth’s mountain charm. “While downtown is, without a doubt, a highlight for visitors, what really draws locals and tourists alike to this Bavarian-themed destination in the Cascade Mountains is its natural surroundings and limitless recreation opportunities,” says Shila Reeves, a Leavenworth resident and the box office manager at Icicle Creek Center for the Arts. During the warmer months, hiking, biking, and rafting on the Wenatchee River are all excellent ways to spend your time; come winter, it’s all about snow sports and the holidays — but more on that later.
“Leavenworth is a great getaway for families and couples alike,” says Robin John, the manager at Posthotel Leavenworth. Its “year-round attractions, festivals, and special events [can be] enjoyed by guests of all ages,” whether they’re hoping to take part in the Oktoberfest festivities in the fall, see the Christmas lights in December, or stroll through the town’s picturesque streets in the summertime.
Top 5 Can’t Miss
- PostHotel Leavenworth is the place to stay for a relaxing, wellness-focused getaway.
- Andreas Keller Restaurant offers classic German fare like schnitzel and sausages.
- Admire the town’s famous Bavarian-inspired architecture with an easy stroll or an e-bike tour.
- Visit during the holidays to see Leavenworth decked out in twinkling lights, and stop by the reindeer farm for a festive photo op.
- Or plan an autumn trip to take advantage of colorful foliage and Oktoberfest celebrations.
Scroll on to find out the best ways to explore Leavenworth — including where to stay, what to do, and when to visit.
Related: 20 Best Mountain Towns to Visit in the U.S.
Best Hotels and Resorts
If you have a more “romantic, relaxing, and luxurious plan in mind” for your time in Leavenworth, “Posthotel will easily tick all those boxes — and then some,” says Reeves. After a day of hiking or mountain biking, retreat to the hotel’s saltwater hydrotherapy pools, saunas, steam baths, and cool plunge pools. You’ll be sure to leave well-rested and rejuvenated, the ultimate goal of a wellness-focused vacation.
For many, embracing the Bavarian atmosphere of Leavenworth is paramount. If that’s the case, book a room at the Bavarian Lodge, which has views of both downtown Leavenworth as well as the mountains. Guests can access the heated pool and the hot tubs year-round, and many of the lodge-style accommodations feature fireplaces, private balconies, and patios.
Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort
Travelers who prefer to lean into Leavenworth’s mountain town identity will appreciate the “high-end rustic and very comfortable,” according to Reeves, accommodations at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. Made up of a cluster of treehouse-style cabins, the property boasts an ideal location by Icicle Creek and incredible views of the Cascade Range. Bookend one of your days exploring Leavenworth with a massage at the spa or hot chocolate by the firepit.
Best Things to Do
Explore downtown Leavenworth.
“My favorite thing to do downtown is to walk through the streets during a [quieter] hour, either in the early morning or evening,” says Reeves. Her ideal itinerary involves grabbing a coffee, tea, or cocoa from a cafe — try J5 Coffee or Argonaut Coffee & Biscuits — doing some window shopping, and “just enjoying the lights and magic that is downtown Leavenworth.”
Embark on a guided e-bike tour.
You’ll cover more ground on two wheels versus on foot, so a bike tour is one of the best ways to see as much of Leavenworth as possible. Bavarian E-Bike Tours takes visitors on a 16-mile ride through downtown Leavenworth and by Icicle Creek and the historic Leavenworth Ski Hill.
Go on a hike.
“There are so many stunning views of our valley, and getting out in the fresh mountain air is wonderful any time of the year,” says John. If you’re in Leavenworth in the summer, she recommends “hiking to one of the alpine lakes,” like Colchuck Lake or Icicle Lake. Reeves also notes Leavenworth’s access to nature and the beauty of the river trails at Blackbird Island and Enchantment Park: “These trails are easily accessible from downtown… It’s a very family-friendly stroll through nature and open year-round.”
Float (or paddle) the Wenatchee River.
In the summer, Leavenworth serves as a jumping-off point for all types of water-based adventures. “There are a handful of companies that rent out tubes, kayaks, or stand-up paddleboards for you to get out on the [Wenatchee] River,” says Reeves. She shares that the river is relatively gentle closer to town, but visitors should “still use caution.”
“If you seek a bit more adrenaline, there are also whitewater guide companies that will take you on rafting trips a little further downstream,” she adds.
Spend a day tasting Leavenworth’s wine, beer, and cider.
Along with Bavarian architecture, German-inspired food, and stunning mountain scenery, Leavenworth is known for its variety of wineries and tasting rooms. If you prefer beer, stop by Doghaus Brewery; for wine, there’s Silvara Cellars, Icicle Ridge Winery, or Usurious Wines. Another particularly unique tasting experience can be found at Bushel & Bee Taproom, which has a rotating selection of 12 craft ciders and meads on tap.
Holiday Season in Leavenworth
As Thanksgiving comes to an end, the town of Leavenworth transitions into the holiday season. While many festive shops and activities can be enjoyed all year round — including the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, The Gingerbread Factory, and Kris Kringl, a Christmas store filled with gifts and home decor — there are several seasonal happenings that only occur in the winter months.
Village of Lights Christmastown
Twinkling lights are the star of the show in Leavenworth during the colder months. “Seeing kids’ faces as the town is lit up with Christmas lights — and feeling the excitement and holiday spirit of everyone in town — makes winter in Leavenworth so special,” says John. This year, from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24, visitors can take part in all things Christmastown — carolers, photo opportunities, gift-wrapping stations, gingerbread houses, and more. Additional details on the 2023 Christmastown are expected to be posted here.
Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
The Leavenworth Reindeer Farm is open most of the year, but its special “Celebrate the Season” Reindeer Farm Experience is only offered in November and December. Meet and feed the herd, take some photos — with the reindeer and with Santa — then fill up with Norwegian potato lefse washed down with seasonal drinks.
Icicle Creek Center for the Arts Holiday Shows
The Icicle Creek Center for the Arts calendar is filled with shows and performances during the holiday season. In 2023, the lineup includes llluminate the Night: a Winter-Themed Guided Concert and Magical Strings Presents: Celtic Yuletide. “Come out to the beautiful Snowy Owl Theater — cradled in the valley right below some of our most magnificent mountain peaks — sip on a cup of cocoa… and let Leavenworth’s finest entertain you and put you in the mood to enjoy the holidays,” says Reeves.
Sleigh Rides with Leavenworth Sleigh Rides or Icicle Outfitters
Make sure you dress warmly for a sleigh ride with either Icicle Outfitters or Leavenworth Sleigh Rides. “The sleighs and horses are beautiful, the guides are friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the valley, and there is a nice little stop by a campfire where guests partake in a cup of cider or cocoa and visit with other passengers,” says Reeves. “Plus, there’s just something undeniably magical about gliding across the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh,” she adds.
Leavenworth’s cozy and charming festivities don’t end with the arrival of the new year. In fact, Winter Karneval extends the season by honoring the German tradition of “Fasching,” the period before Lent. Ice carving, fireworks, and live entertainment are expected each weekend in January, but be sure to check the official website for more details on the 2024 Winter Karneval.
Related: 25 Best Christmas Towns in the U.S.
Yodelin Broth Company
“Yodelin Broth Company is, hands down, the local’s favorite place to dine and meet friends. They have delicious food, friendly staff, [and] a nice atmosphere with indoor and outdoor dining options… overlooking the river, Blackbird Island, and surrounding mountains options,” says Reeves. As far as entrees go, expect dishes like a wild salmon rice bowl, a sweet potato báhn mì, and a variety of made-from-scratch bone broth soups.
Andreas Keller Restaurant
If you’re “seeking out a traditional German experience,” John recommends Andreas Keller for “their Wiener schnitzel and spaetzle.” The family-owned restaurant has been open since 1989, and most nights are accented by live German music.
Both John and Reeves named Larch as one of the best restaurants in Leavenworth. “Their handmade pastas, arancini, seasonally themed menu, and creative drinks — both alcoholic and non — will leave you feeling full and very satisfied,” says Reeves, who also says visitors should “make reservations well in advance as they often fill up.”
“No visit can be complete without enjoying a brat, sausage, or warm pretzel from the München Haus,” says Reeves. “Sit and soak up their outdoor atmosphere and enjoy a locally brewed beer from their sister company, Icicle Brewing Co., or take it to go and have a casual lunch while walking around town.”
Best Time to Visit
Winter is the best time to visit Leavenworth, particularly if you want to see the Bavarian-themed town in all its glittering glory — but, according to Reeves, you don’t have to brave the peak holiday season crowds in order to get the full experience. “To avoid the crowds, but still enjoy the holiday lights of Leavenworth, come anytime from Thanksgiving through the last day of February,” she says. Autumn in Leavenworth also has its own draw. Cider tasting, foliage peeping, and Oktoberfest celebrations fill the calendar in late September and October.
How to Get There
For most travelers, flying into Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the easiest way to reach Leavenworth. From there, you’ll need to rent a car to drive the two hours — or, there’s the option to fly from SEA to Pangborn Memorial Airport (EAT) in Wenatchee. Alaska Airlines operates a once-a-day flight to and from the smaller airport, which is about 30 minutes away from Leavenworth. Shuttles and taxis are available upon arrival. Those who prefer to travel by train can also book a ticket from Seattle to Leavenworth via Amtrak.
How to Get Around
A car will be helpful to get to Leavenworth and explore the surrounding area, but it’s not necessary while in town. “Downtown Leavenworth is best experienced by foot,” says John.
“Front Street is a walking street, lined with shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms.”