Holy schnitzel! After hearing about a Bavarian-style village east of Seattle from several people over the past few months—and trying to visit earlier in October but getting interrupted by a wildfire—I finally made it there this past Sunday. I immediately felt like I stepped into a German fairytale. Willkommen in Leavenworth, Washington.
Leavenworth, located two hours east of Seattle, sits at the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It wasn’t always a Bavarian village. Originally settled as a trading post in the late 1800s, it became a thriving frontier town when the railroad came along. But only a few decades later the railroad relocated, bringing the lumber industry with it, and sending Leavenworth into an economic downturn.
In the 1960s, two Seattle businessmen had this crazy idea to revive Leavenworth as a tourist attraction. Because its pristine alpine setting reminded them of the European Alps, they suggested town leaders model it after the German towns of Leipzig and Munich. It wasn’t an easy sell, but they eventually got residents and leaders to agree to the idea.
Once the architecture, signs, and street names began to imitate the Bavarian style, the community started to revive, and visitors began to flood in.
Today Leavenworth—with a population of only 2,300—welcomes more than 2.5 million visitors every year. In fact, Leavenworth is now the 2nd most popular tourist destination in Washington, after Seattle. They host several annual festivals, including Maifest, Oktoberfest, and Village of Lights: Christmastown.
What impressed me most was how invested the entire town is in this look. Banks, gas stations, grocery stores, and even the McDonald’s and NAPA Auto Parts are given the Bavarian treatment.
I had an authentic Bavarian meal at the Andreas Keller Restaurant, located underground and resembling a traditional rathskeller—the German word for a bar or pub in the basement level of a building. I had Bavarian bratwurst, potato salad, and a Radler—a Helles beer mixed with Sprite, which I enjoyed many times during my trip to Munich and Austria back in 2018. (“Stiegl mit Fanta, bitte!”) I even kinda liked the weinkraut… and I thought I wasn’t a fan of sauerkraut!
After lunch, I stopped at The Gingerbread Factory, located above the restaurant, and bought a gingerbread cupcake and a package of freshly baked cookies to enjoy later. I spent a bit more time wandering the village streets and soaking it all in before heading out.
Crews in cherry pickers were plastering all the large pines throughout town with lights, and after looking at Google image results, I definitely want to come back at Christmastime.
I’ve created a photo gallery of favorites from my quick visit to Leavenworth, Washington. Prost!