Can’t Make it to Europe? Try Michigan, Instead.

Fine art, windmills, lavender fields, cheese — the Upper Midwest can be your Europe fix until international travel is mainstream again.

Raina Kadavil
5 min readDec 7, 2020

Like many of you, I was forced to cancel plane tickets this year and put all my international travel plans away in a folder labeled “Future.” By the time June came around, I was aching to scratch my travel bug, but struggled to think of a trip that was a) drivable b) social distance friendly and c) as unique and adventurous as the four country road trip through Europe that I had to cancel due to Covid.

Then, I stumbled across Michigan: to me, land of a distant uncle and a best friend’s ex, cool enough to be namesake to a Great Lake, but not much more. But as it turned out, the Upper Midwest would become the perfect 9-day, socially distanced adventure and the closest replacement an American can find for a summer soiree through Europe in the age of Covid-19:

Replacing France: lavender fields, unique cheese, fine art

Lavender Hill Farm, Boyne City

If you’re missing out on the breezy, rolling lavender fields of Provence, Michigan will be perfect for you: beautiful lavender farms are peppered across Michigan’s west coast. From Lavender Hill Farm in the south to Cherry Point Farm near the Silver Lake Dunes to Lavender Hill Farm in Boyne City, there are at least a dozen different lavender farms of all sizes to choose from. Congrats: you can have your perfect lavender fields photoshoot without leaving the country! On your way out, make sure to stop at the gift shop for some lavender scented goodies like soaps and essential oils, or try lavender-flavored soda, a Michigan staple. Peak season to visit the lavender farms is August, but you can see lavender as early in the season as May.

France may reign supreme for its cheeses, but Wisconsin is the dairy capitol of the United States for a reason. If you’re visiting the Upper Midwest, stop by Milwaukee for its many cheese shops where you can get everything from a sharp, aged cheddar to a soft brie and everything in between. While you’re there, make sure to sample some cheese curds! These deep-fried pockets of soft cheese are melt-in-your-mouth and famous for their “squeak.” Visit Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub to wash down your curds with some all-American alcohol, a Pabst Blue Ribbon — while it may not be the soulmate pairing that wine and cheese is, you won’t regret the experience. Before you head out, head up the stairs from the restaurant to visit the original PBR brewery and experience a small piece of American brewery history, frozen in time.

If art is what pulls at your vacation heartstrings, schedule a stop at the Toledo Museum of Art. With 45 galleries, 30,000+ pieces, and one of the most comprehensive and historically significant glass collections in the world, this museum is sure to keep you satisfied until visiting the Louvre becomes possible again. Don’t miss the Glass Pavilion, which houses a truly unique collection of glass art and even offers classes and workshops for the truly dedicated.

Replacing the Netherlands: windmills, tulips & sand dunes

Holland, Michigan is so reminiscent of the Netherlands that it’s actually named for it. Visit in the spring, and you’ll get to experience stunning fields full of hundreds of thousands of tulips — just like in Amsterdam. The Veldeheer Tulip Gardens are the perfect place for a tulip field photoshoot, and you can even pop into the gift shop afterward to try on some handmade wooden clogs or marvel at their intricate Dutch ceramics. At the Windmill Island Gardens, you can view the only operating Dutch windmill in the United States, brought over to Michigan from the Netherlands itself in 1964. Surrounded by rows of canals, lots of tulips and even a hand-painted Dutch carousel, you’ll feel like you would on a sunny day in Amsterdam — sans the bicycles. And like Amsterdam, soaring sand dunes are only a short drive away in Michigan. Climb, tumble and sand surf at Silver Lake Sand Dunes or go for a stunning hike overlooking Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. For a more traditional beach experience, stop by Holland State Park and check out the Big Red Lighthouse.

Replacing the UK: epic cliffs, shipwrecks & meat pies

If planned to head to the UK for its famous soaring cliffs, look no further than Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, instead. There are some great hikes to tackle like Munising Falls and Miners Castle, but by far the best way to view the cliffs is from the water. By renting a kayak or joining a tour, you can get a stunning vantage point of natural landmarks like Miners Castle, Bridalveil Falls and Lovers Leap Arch, all while bobbing along an iridescent blue-green Lake Superior. Along the way, you’ll pass over the eerie wreckages of Shipwreck Point, visible from your kayak. In fact, the shores of all the Great Lakes are peppered with dozens of shipwrecks accumulated over hundreds of years, many of which are visible from kayak — but I recommend packing your snorkel gear for a closer look. You can visit many of them easily, including the Portland and Albany wrecks, in Michigan’s Thunder Bay by renting a kayak and gear from Alpena on the East Coast. But before you leave the Upper Peninsula, make sure to try a Michigan pasty — their version of the traditional Cornish meat pie from England.

For my full Upper Midwest road trip itinerary, refer to the map below.

While this article offers the Europe-esque highlights, there’s lots more to find in Michigan, Wisconsin and the surrounding states including surfing, skiing and even elk watching. Although it may not quite make up for a trip to Europe, this trip will be full of beautiful nature, delicious food and exciting stops that will give you a Covid-safe adventure until it’s safe to return to international travel.

Follow along with my Upper Midwest road trip on YouTube!



Raina Kadavil

Raina is a published author & marketing professional and loves to travel (33 countries & counting). Follow at: @raina_kadavil