I remember the first time I saw New Glarus, Wisconsin.
It was well after dark and I think it was spring or early summer. Due to a family business, instead of a week-long vacation, all we could usually do was a short weekend drive. After we had been driving down dark roads for a couple hours, the lights of New Glarus were something that totally contrasted. My first impression on arriving in New Glarus was we had been transported to Switzerland in space and to Christmas in time. To me, even in summer, New Glarus seems like Christmas all year long.
New Glarus calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland.”
A title which is well deserved. The Swiss Chalet styled buildings with Christmas lights (some of these lights are used year round) really give New Glarus the character of a Swiss village (at least what many Americans would think resembles a Swiss village).
New Glarus is, in fact, originally a Swiss settlement.
Settlers from the Canton of Glarus in Switzerland chose the New Glarus area of Wisconsin due to a similar geography. While New Glarus is not mountainous, it is very hilly. Many of the buildings are built on steep slopes just like they would have in Switzerland. Of course, Wisconsin winters usually provide plenty of snow too. If you have any interest at all in history, the Swiss Historical Village Museum is a must see. Not just for the Swiss heritage of New Glarus, but a great look at life in Wisconsin in the mid 1800’s.
Shopping in New Glarus.
New Glarus has a unique offering in shopping with some shops featuring Swiss imports like Esther’s European Imports. Other places in New Glarus offer locally made specialties that reflect the Swiss heritage New Glarus is so proud of like the New Glarus Bakery or the New Glarus Brewing Company. There are several gift shops and antique shops and plenty of restaurants to visit. The New Glarus Hotel is a prime example of New Glarus’s offerings in architecture and food. For great foods to take home, the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus is right across the street. You can expect to spend a few hours visiting all the shops in New Glarus.
Some shops in New Glarus are seasonal and close for the winter while many are open all year long.
Things to do in New Glarus, Wisconsin.
After shopping and eating, there is still more to do in New Glarus. Visit the Swiss Historical Village Museum or take the New Glarus Brewing Company tour.
To burn off all those calories from the wonderful Swiss meals, you can do some hiking or biking. New Glarus is on two Wisconsin State Trails. The Sugar River State Trail starts in New Glarus and extends 23 miles to the south-east to Brodhead, Wisconsin. It passes through Monticello, WI, and Albany, WI on the way. You can take the Sugar River State Trail to the Badger State Trail near Monticllo. The Badger State Trail is nearly 40 miles long and features a 1200 tunnel in the section east of New Glarus. The Badger State Trail runs from north in Madison to the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Some sections of both trails allow ATV’s or snowmobiles. Cross-country skiing is also possible during the winter (trails are not groomed for skiing though).
Both trails have admission fees. Fees can be paid at Trail Headquarters or some of the local businesses listed on the trail bulletin boards. You can also use self registration boxes located on the trails. There is a daily fee or you can get the annual pass good on all state trails for the year. New Glarus is a great place to start. An historic railroad station serves as a tourist information center and a place to begin your quest down the trail.
New Glarus is a bit over 2 hours driving from Milwaukee. It’s about 45 minutes south of Madison, WI and about two and a half hours from the I-94 Illinois-Wisconsin border. It’s a short trip to America’s Little Switzerland!
Also, New Glarus has a number of festivals. The New Glarus Chamber of Commerce has a visitor’s guide you can download at the website below. It has a listing of festivals and lots of other things to do in or near New Glarus.
Google Map to New Glarus, WI :
New Glarus Chamber of Commerce website: