In Minnesota, heading to Duluth for the holiday season is a cherished annual tradition of many families. From Christmas parades through downtown to awe-inspiring holiday light displays and European-style winter markets, holiday cheer in Duluth awaits.
Christmas City of the North Parade
Duluth officially kicks off the season with the Christmas City of the North nighttime parade through downtown the Friday before Thanksgiving. The parade is followed by the warm glow of decked-out Victorian mansions, and the bustle of holiday events ranging from comedy reviews and ballet to fairs featuring locally made gifts.
This year's Christmas City of the North Parade is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 17. This longstanding holiday tradition has occurred annually for the past six decades, featuring marching bands, visiting royalty, 70 organizations and businesses and two dozen dance groups who join Santa on his march through downtown Duluth. Things are sure to be a bit different this year, but there's still plenty of Christmas cheer to go around.
Bentleyville Tour of Lights
In Minnesota, you know the holiday season has begun when Bentleyville Tour of Lights opens. Bundle up and go early to join the nightly countdowns, chanting, “Five…four…three…two…ONE!” before the lights go on with a whoosh and a cheer. Lighted tunnels and pathways lead visitors past themed displays depicting Split Rock Lighthouse, an ore ship, the Aerial Lift Bridge and everything from the Nativity to the Island of Misfit Toys lit up by more than 4 million lights in a carnival of color.
Christmas City Express
A vintage train wrapped in holiday lights rumbles and chugs into view in front of Fitger’s in Duluth from late November through December. Its lights brighten an inky night along Lake Superior as families eagerly climb up the steps and a conductor hollers, “All Aboard!”
The seasonal ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad’s Christmas City Express travels to Duluth’s 1892 Depot, which houses the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. Kids gather for a reading of the book, “The Christmas City Express,” watch Lionel model train sets whir around their tracks, explore full-sized trains and hear a full-sized steam engine chug to life, as it spews smoke and blows its whistle.
Christmas at Glensheen
Glensheen opens for self-guided candlelit tours through the former Congdon home, which is decorated with 25 Christmas trees and other glittering decor that add to its rich and historic surroundings. The Glensheen Estate was completed in 1908. The Congdon family's rich history and wealth date back to the influential iron mining industry in the north.
Many of Duluth’s grandest mansions were built during lumber boom years when the city claimed more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the United States. Visitors can savor the craftsmanship and architectural details of that period, along with seasonal decorations and hospitality, at one of five other historic mansions converted into bed-and-breakfasts.
Besides serving as a pickup spot for Bentleyville and Christmas City Express, the Fitger’s shopping complex in a former brewery brings in Santa and live reindeer on weekends in November and December. Families can get photos with Santa, check out the unique shops or enjoy a meal or overnight stays with views of Lake Superior. The popular Duluth Winter Village outdoor shopping event will be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Other popular spots for unique and regionally made products include Canal Park and downtown Duluth along Superior Street.
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website lisamcclintick.com. A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.
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