I don’t prescribe to the travel theory that a destination or experience can be “done”. I always want to revisit places I’ve been to and enjoyed. There’s always more to discover, more to love.
So while I experienced Leavenworth’s Christmas Lights Festival in 2015, I just knew I would find myself back there in 2016. When we realised that Tom’s parents were visiting in December, Leavenworth shot to the top of the list of places we would take them – given they are even bigger Christmas nuts than me!
For those unfamiliar with Leavenworth, it’s a small alpine town located in Washington’s North Cascades. The mountains are the perfect setting for this German style enclave, where every building seems as though it’s been pulled straight from Disney’s Snow White. And – just like in Germany – Christmas spirit reigns in December when the markets, gluhwein and festive lights take over the town.
Eager to introduce our Aussie cohort to this slice of Bavarian paradise, we booked a cute Airbnb cabin and eagerly awaited our trip. The only difference was this year we decided to visit mid-week: Saturday was incredibly busy last year, and as Tom’s parents are not partial to huge crowds we decided they would be more appreciative of a quieter introduction. (I’ve since been told Sunday is a lot more crowd-free too).
So off we set to Leavenworth, with Christmas sweaters on and extra layers in hand!
The drive from Anacortes to Leavenworth was rather harrowing this time around. There had been heavy snowfall in the days prior and the icy highway was not enjoyable in our 2WD (our much more snow worthy Wrangler would not fit our three extra passengers).
The one saving grace was our pit stop at the beautiful Deception Falls – spectacular under a blanket of snow.
By the time we reached Leavenworth – alive but exhausted and white knuckled – it was definitely beer o’clock. So we made tracks directly toward Icicle Brewing Company. Going full German, I ordered a pretzel to accompany my Bootjack IPA.
I also basked in the brilliance of our midweek visit when there were plenty of tables available, with views peeping out onto the snowy street below.
After refuelling our bellies we took to the streets! Leavenworth has such a compact and easily walkable downtown so we wandered for several hours, popping into Christmas shops, gift stores and boutiques that caught our eye.
The Bavarian architecture against the snowy mountain backdrop is undeniably stunning, and if it wasn’t for all the American accents it would be easy to believe I was in Europe!
Whenever the cold -12C temperatures became too much we’d duck into a wine cellar or café to warm up. Gluhwein is served in many of the underground cellars and winery tasting rooms that can be found across town (the Front St Park area has the highest concentration). J5 is the best stop for hot coffee made with small batch roasted beans, and Schocolat is perfect for those who warm up with the power of gourmet handmade chocolates.
We also revisited one of my favourite places in Leavenworth: Blue Spirits Distilling. The plan was to buy a new bottle of whiskey (because last year’s haul never made it past January), but I couldn’t resist another tasting session. For $12 I got a generous tasting of any three spirits from their menu of whiskey, tequila, rum, gin and flavoured vodkas. My picks? Ghost #6 Gin, Espresso Vodka and Peirates Rhum – the latter mostly so I could sip the Buttered Rhum cocktail again!
Away from the lederhosen and German town centre lies the natural beauty of Waterfront Park and its views of the icy Wenatchee River. It’s just a few minutes’ walk away and absolutely worth the short detour. We were gifted with beautiful snowy vistas and mountain tops reflected perfectly in the water.
Tom and I rarely get photos together as we’re usually travelling just the two of us (and my selfie game has never been strong). But this photo below is one of the best of our 10 years together – which is saying something – but I’m definitely going to frame it once I track down the high res version!
On this winter escape to Leavenworth we were more than happy to meander, enjoying the views and the snow. But those looking to inject a little more adventure into their stay will be happy to know that there are plenty of activities close to town: a tube park, small ski area, plus lots of cross country skiing or snowshoeing options.
Leavenworth’s dining scene shines as bright as its lights do. There’s a great mix of fine dining and casual fare, some favourites being Latin flavoured South, wood fired delights at Sulla Vita and farm-to-table newcomer Mana.
This year we went for a traditional German feast at Andreas Keller. The Sampler with smoked pork chop, sausages, fried potato, weinkraut and red cabbage – and a side of spatzle – was the perfect heavy and belly-warming meal to combat the cold. Complete with nightly live music and steins of imported German beer, it’s definitely a classic option for a winter escape to Leavenworth.
All that food gave me the strength to wander the freezing streets and take in the spectacle as the lights turned on!
And what a beautiful sight it is!
My return trip to Leavenworth proved this Bavarian town is winter holiday magic. It’s a destination that should be experienced at least once – but I want to visit again and again and again.
Just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean the lights are! Many of the town’s twinkle lights are still on display and with snow still falling in the Cascades there is ample opportunity for a magical winter escape to Leavenworth this year!
Visit Leavenworth’s tourism website for more information about upcoming events – or ask me a question below!
There are many great accommodation options in town, however this year we booked a cabin on Airbnb. Full details about that are coming up next!
Want more winter getaway ideas in Washington State? Check out this post!
Pin the graphic below to share this article!