5 PNW Towns That Offer European Cultural Vibes & Experiences

If you’re hungry for the taste of Europe you might not have to travel as far as you think.

There are dozens of places along the coast of the Pacific Northwest where you could feasibly fool yourself that you are, in fact, visiting the Old Country.

In addition to similar geography, many towns have either developed or maintained strong cultural traditions. In many Washington towns, for example, visitors revel in the proudly displayed heritage from foreign

In others, well, let’s just say that the town council saw an opportunity to “rebrand” their town and make a bunch of money by pandering to tourists and hopeless romantics.

While there are tons of getaway options in the Pacific Northwest, these are some of the best (at least in my opinion) if you’re looking for a more immersive cultural experience. Whether you’re just visiting the villages for the historic value or are participating in a festival you’re sure to have an unforgettable time.

You might not be able to fool yourself that you’ve actually taken a transatlantic flight but at least you’ll know you didn’t pay for one!

5 Places To Experience The European Pacific Northwest

1. Poulsbo

poulsbo

Just west of Seattle there is a quaint little town that has been going by the name of “Little Norway” for most of its life.

Poulsbo was founded by Norwegian immigrant Jørgen Eliason in the 1880s who was quickly joined by other Scandinavians that had been living across the U.S.

In fact, the name of the town itself was supposed to be a repeat of one of the resident’s hometowns in Norway. Unfortunately, those in Washington D.C. misread his handwriting, and the town was christened Poulsbo instead of the requested “Paulsbo”.

The striking scenery (very similar to Norway’s, in fact) and availability of land meant that the area grew quickly.

While it’s never grown into a full-fledged city (with a bit of 12,000 residents) Poulsbo has become a tourist destination for those who want a bit of Scandinavian experience.

Today the town houses many dining experiences, art galleries filled with local art, museums, and parks.

If you’re looking for culture, stroll through the historic downtown and stop at Sluys Bakery where you can get freshly prepared pastries and baked goodies, made just like home.

Don’t-Miss Attractions In Poulsbo

If you’re in the Seattle area, a visit to Poulsbo makes an excellent day trip. Just be sure to get there before Sluys closes!

2. Lynden

Lynden Washington is one of the largest Dutch-America communities in the U.S. and, if you’re there long enough, you’ll probably hear some of the residents speaking Dutch.

Some of the most striking European architecture is located on the historic Front Street here with several Dutch-style windmills. The largest of which is the Dutch Village Inn which featured a 72-foot tall windmill that houses three rooms inside.

dutch windmill in lynden

If you are lucky enough to book a room inside the windmill, be sure to spend the time strolling down the street and enjoy some of the shops and European architecture.

While the majority of the Dutch experience is simply architecture and the history of the town, Lynden is a fun small town to visit and spend a day or two in.

Don’t-Miss Attractions in Lynden

3. Odessa

About 90 miles west of Spokane (in the middle of nowhere) you’ll find Odessa Washington, a small town rich with German heritage.

If you’ve ever heard of Odessa, it’s likely because of their annual festival known as Deutschefest.

During Deutschefest you experience authentic German food, a Biergarten the size of a city block, parades, live music, street shops, and more! (Including a kids zone for while you’re exploring the offerings at the Biergarten).

More than 80% of residents in Odessa are either German or Russian by descent and the town really hasn’t changed much in the past few decades.

If you get a chance to visit this small farming community during their festival you’ll experience a great deal of their culture and the town’s ancestry which you might otherwise miss during the year.

And you won’t be alone. Every year, up to 20,000 people flock to the town with only 1,000 residents, so get a place to stay early! In fact, Deutschefest is known as one of the biggest attractions in the Big Bend region.

While the preservation of culture in this region is impressive, the more impressive part is that they’ve been able to do much with this dry and desolate area west of Spokane. Since its founding, Odessa has been transformed by its residents into one of the world’s richest grain-growing areas.

I won’t waste your time with a list of things to do in Odessa, just go enjoy the festival.

4. Victoria B.C.

Victoria Inner Harbour
 Inner Harbour of Victoria, Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada

If you would love to spend a day or two strolling through London’s streets but don’t have the time or money to do so, Victoria B.C. might be the next best thing.

You can actually skip the plane ride altogether and get to Victoria with from Seattle with a 90-minute ferry ride aboard the Coho Ferry. You can even take your car.

Victoria itself is the home to some of the most incredible historical buildings in Western Canada, not to mention some of the best museums that you could find anywhere.

The city itself was established by the Hudson Bay Company in 1843 as a defensible fort for trapping and trade. The holdover culture from 1800s Britain is everywhere you look in the form of formal flower gardens, hotel tearooms, double-decker buses, and even horse-drawn carriages.

B.C. parliament building in Victoria
British Columbia Provincial Parliament in Victoria

Victoria is an excellent city for both couples and families who want to spend their days walking and soaking in the culture. We were only able to spend a single day on our last trip but it felt like we had stepped onto another continent.

Plan to stay for a couple of days to experience everything that Victoria has to offer!

5. Leavenworth

leavenworth bavairan village sign

If you know anything of Leavenworth you probably expected to see it much sooner on this list.

While I love Leavenworth and visit at least once a year, there’s a reason it isn’t higher.

Let’s just say that the culture isn’t quite authentic. If you had visited Leavenworth in the 1960’s you would have found it to be very much the other small towns in the area. Devoid of culture and no future to speak of.

The town was cold, there was very little local industry, and it barely registered as a blip on the map as people passed through.

So how did it transform into the Alpine Bavarian Village that everyone knows and loves? Well, the Town Fathers got together and decided that it was a good business venture.

Reinforced by the backdrop of dramatic scenery, the townspeople got together and went about transforming the storefronts with historical (ish) Bavarian architecture. Which is what has made the town into what it is today.

Despite its past, the town has become a fun opportunity to experience a bit of European culture. You can experience authentic foods, cheese shops, art galleries, and more!

Because the town is more akin to an amusement park than an authentic cultural town the prices are much higher than you’d expect for most things. You’ll have to pay for parking, breathing, walking, and pictures. (not actually…except for the parking)

leavenworth store fronts

These days, Leavenworth is probably the most popular “cultural” town in the region and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

If you plan on visiting, Christmas is an absolutely magical time to visit, just be sure that you can get there through the snow!

If you don’t fancy the cold, you might also consider the Autumn Leaf Festival for some amazing fall colors or the Mai Fest with its parade and troupes of colorful dancers.

Conclusion

All in all, the Pacific Northwest is a great place to experience a bit of European culture without crossing the pond.

Whatever location you choose it won’t be quite as good as the actual thing but you can still enjoy the towns and, worst-case scenario, you’ll still enjoy a small town in the PNW.